Tuesday, December 6, 2011

[Eden v2] Chapter 2: Isolation (completed)

Removed the original Part 1 post because of the major changes to the terms, from Floating Islands <Lagoon> to Floating Archipelago <Lagoon>. It will be a pain in the ass to change that in Part 1 as well, so I chose to delete that instead.

Oh right. Many people's asking for Onii-ai vol 4. The thing is, I am waiting for the Chinese translations as well, just like how everyone here is waiting for mine. There is no news from Nuretapantsu yet. Remember, it has only been a month since the release in Japan. For vol 2, it took nearly half a year for the Chinese translations to be done. In the worse case scenario where he has dropped the project somehow, there is still the official translations to go, although I don't think vol 4 will be coming anytime soon as it is still at vol 1.

All I am asking for is patience. There is no need to bug me on when vol 4 will be released, because I'll be updating you guys when the Chinese translations are available for it. If there isn't any, I'll just focus on Sayonara Piano Sonata and Hyouketsu Kyoukai no Eden.

Here's the whole chapter. Enjoy.
********************


{1}



"It's morning already."

"Heh?"

"Sheltis, stop sleeping already. I'll blast your eardrums with loud soundwaves if you don't wake up right now."

"Don't go about scaring me this early in the morning......"

Rubbing his tired eyelids, Sheltis got off his bed slowly.

He navigated through the dark room based only on the blurred images captured by his eyes. He reached his hands out towards the draped curtains.

"...... What, it's still dark out there."

"It's already five. You're the one who said you wanted to do the morning practice, right? Are you still tired from your practice yesterday that went late into the night?"

"...... I'll do my best."

"If you really can't take it, you can continue sleeping, you know? I'll wake you up again when it's time for you to attend the morning gathering at nine."

"I...... I will not succumb to your temptations!"

"Fufu, that uptight expression of yours is really cute."

...... She's teasing me again.

Ignoring the machine crystal <Ilis> who was flashing about happily, Sheltis grabbed a white shirt and a short black jacket from his wardrobe.

"Speaking of which, Sheltis' black jacket looks very similar to the old ceremonial clothing of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>."

"It's not 'similar', it is indeed the old ceremonial clothing. I re-tailored the clothing that I wore three years ago and made it into a jacket."

Leon's long coat is the pristine example of the newest line of white ceremonial clothing used across the board. It is because it contrasts well with the dark purples of the mateki of Yuugenshu, making it easy to spot an infected ally.

And as of now, Sheltis was the only person who was still wearing a black jacket.

"Won't you receive a warning for not wearing the white ceremonial clothing?"

"Since the cadet-guards aren't official members yet, the most I'll get is some advice to do so. Of course, it would be better if I change into the official ceremonial clothing."

It is recommended for the cadet-guards to wear the white ceremonial clothing, but it isn't compulsory. The reason is that cadet-guards will not be dispatched to missions where they are required to fight against the Yuugenshu.

"But since everyone else is wearing white, wouldn't it be better if you follow suit? Especially because you just entered the palace not too long ago."

"It would be bad if I wore white clothing. I could be easily spotted should I come into contact with mateki while wearing a set of white clothes. And if anyone caught sight of that—"

After falling into the Garden of Corrupted Song <Eden>, Sheltis' body had been infected by powerful mateki.

In exchange for the price of purging the shinryoku from his body, he had obtained the ability to nullify the mateki of Yuugenshu with his own mateki.

"Ah, I see. A typical guard would be in danger should he come into contact with mateki, but Sheltis would be fine. If you are shown to be alright despite coming into contact with mateki, you would only be inviting the suspicions of the people around you. It will be much more convenient for you to claim that you have not come into contact with mateki by wearing that black jacket, which is of a similar color to that."

"...... Mmm, though that is quite a masochistic reason."

He was the only one wearing black among the pure white clothing. That was obviously asking for attention, and him attracting the curious gazes from everyone around him was something to be expected as well. The truth is the cadet-guards were all trying to get away from him during the photo-shooting conducted the day before yesterday.

"Somehow...... while the term 'isolation' is a little too exaggerated, the only thing that I can do now is accept my current predicament."

"Yes. You will also have to take note of any people who knew you three years ago. The elite guards back then, which were the leaders or cadres ranked guards. Most of them are still currently serving as guards."

Prior to his fall into the Garden of Corrupted Song <Eden>, the cadres ranked Sheltis had teamed up with many of the guards before. Should they meet again, there will be a high chance that they will recognize him.

"Even so, you can still relax while you are a cadet-guard, since it is rare for the cadet-guards to team up with the regular guards, and there's also the fact that guards with rankings of official guards and above will all be training inside the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>."

"...... I can never be too careful."

The incident of him falling into the Garden of Corrupted Song <Eden>, the mateki in his body, as well as him reentering the palace after a lapse of three years.

None of the above matters can be revealed to anyone. The only people who know about those things are the few people in the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> whom he is familiar with, such as Ymy and Leon.

"Mhmm. Let us get back to our original topic then. That black jacket does indeed suit you really well. I have zero desire in seeing Sheltis being all prim and proper in his clean white ceremonial clothing."

"That last part was unnecessary."

After putting on the chain with the machine crystal <Ilis> hanging from it, everything was in place.

"Right, there's no point in us continuing with our conversation. Let's head out for morning practice."

"What about breakfast?"

"There's a canteen located at the outdoor training grounds. I used to eat there all the time."

After confirming that the automatic door was securely locked, Sheltis left his room.

The passageway in the early morning was still dark.

He walked through the spacious passageway, then made a turn at the junction to head towards the central elevator.

— However.

Right after he made the turn at the junction, he could hear the shuffling of feet and the bustle of many people before him.

"Strange, did something happen?"

About ten people had gathered around the elevator, and they all seemed to be cadet-guards who were wearing the whole set of the white ceremonial clothing. Upon taking a closer look, he realized that everyone was holding onto some colored cards.

At the ends of the queues, were a few desks and chairs placed together. The receptionists at the desks were all cadet-guards as well.

"What are they applying for?"

"No idea. Want to take a look?"

He made a detour to an area with less people, and peered into the crowd—

"Here— everyone, queue up properly! We will be distributing the recruitment cards to everyone now! The squad's name achievements are printed on the front, while the application form is located on the back. Please hand it over to the counter at the Law Enforcement Bureau when you are done signing it!"

"Ah, the girl walking over there. You should be a new cadet-guard who just joined us yesterday, right? Come, here's the recruitment card for our squad. We're all girls, so there will be less pressure on you if you join us. We usually hang out at sector eight of the outdoor training grounds, so please come over and take a look if you're interested!"

Before him were cadet-guards who were planning to head for their morning practices, as well as cadet-guards who were stopping them.

Next to the elevator and behind the desks, were the recruiters. The line of people gathered before the desks were the newcomers who took the commemorative photo with Sheltis the day before yesterday.

"A lobby?"

"Hard to say. From how they are distributing the recruitment cards to the nearby cadet-guards, I think it is more appropriate for you to say they are promoting or advertising themselves, rather than 'lobbying'."

"I'm getting more confused by the minute. I guess I'll understand when I get my hands on one of the cards?"

Just as he and the irregularly flashing Ilis were feeling all clueless—

"Weird, so Sheltis doesn't know anything about it? They're explaining how to join a squad."

"Eh?"

A girl with orange hair in overalls, and a little girl with black hair and an innocent smile suddenly walked out of the crowd.

"Good morning, Shell-nii—"

"Morning, Sheltis. The cards will be gone if you don't join the queue quickly."

"...... Eyriey and Yuto, what are you two doing here?"

The two who were walking away from the crowd had already amassed more than ten cards of various colors in their hands.

"Didn't I just say it? Everyone's here to recruit new members for their squads, or to look for a recommendation into a squad. See, I've received so many cards too. The registration form is located at the back of the cards."

Eyriey fanned out the red, blue, green and yellow cards in her hands. The cards vary from hand-written ones, to the mass-printed ones - the differences were huge.

"It's like what the girl with the sakura-colored hair of yesterday had said. They are convincing the newcomers to join their squads."

...... So that's whats happening.

It had only been two days since the new batch of cadet-guards enrolled. Though it was just the distributing of the cards, he was still surprised at how quickly the squads had made their moves.

"Oh right, why are you here?"

"Mmm? Well— Yuto woke up really early, and she said she wanted to play. I brought her here with the plan of finding you in your room. However, I was greeted by many people the moment I stepped out of the elevator. I was all confused about the situation, and before I know it, I had already joined the queue unknowingly and took the cards. I found you after that - something like that? It's probably because I am treated as a cadet-guard, due to me wearing the lost badge which we found yesterday— see, just like that."

Eyriey was pointing to the passageway in front of the elevator, which was of some distance away from them.

Many of the senior cadet-guards had surrounded a group of newcomers, who were just about as clueless as Sheltis.

"Hi— morning. You must be the new member here? We'll be depending on you!"

"...... Huh?"

"The training results of yesterday! Your physical strength must be quite something for you to be able to keep up with Instructor Yumelda's training on the very first day. Please consider joining us."

"...... Ah, right......"

"Then we'll be waiting for the good news."

"Okay......"

The members were proactively approaching the group of clueless new cadet-guards and shaking their hands, before moving away to look for new targets. The cadet-guards were left standing motionlessly behind them, without any idea of what was going on around them.

"Well, something like that."

Eyriey smiled wryly as she shrugged.

"— Therefore, these are the various squads and their members, as well as a short speech...... or rather, reasons for joining their squads. I don't need any of these, so take them."

After spreading out the cards, she stuffed it all into Sheltis' hands.

"I have to look through every single one of them?"

"If you want to. Though most of them were written with things similar to 'please join our squad'."

"I knew it."

"And there's some rare classics in them, such as 'It was a heart-wrenching scene to see you guys being yelled at by the Instructor and running about on the training ground while desperately trying to hold your tears back. Our hearts ache for you as we remember that silhouette of your running bodies. Please join our squad!'...... Mmm, I highly recommend those."

"Wow, it's totally tailor-made for Sheltis."

"Why is Ilis saying that too! And isn't it just weird? Everyone had indeed underwent the training yesterday while being brutally yelled at by Instructor, but I can't quite imagine any touching scenes to be seen from that?"

"Alright, the joke ends here. What are you planning to do?"

"Eyri-nee, Yuto's bored" — Yuto pouted unhappily with a bored expression on her face. Eyriey looked at Sheltis pleasantly as she patted Yuto's head.

"What do you mean?"

"Those guys over there thought I was a cadet-guard, so they told me quite a few things. As such, I have a rough idea about what the promotion system is all about. Under the current promotion system, you will not be able to accumulate points if you do not clear missions, but you can only take on missions as a squad with at least three members in it. If so, Sheltis will have to get into a squad to earn some points, right?"

"It is as you have said......"

"If so, it will be for the best if you take a look at all these cards."

She secured the thick stack of cards with a paperclip.

"Here. Well then - Yuto, let's go!"

"Right—"

The two held hands and were about to leave.

"Hold on, where are you two going? Didn't you guys come here to play?"

"You will just have to focus on reading the cards. We are heading to the aviation division of the Mechanical Bureau on the fifty-ninth story. Yuto told me there's something interesting going on over there."

The various bureaus of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>, such as the Mechanical Bureau and the Tower Controls, are located along the thirty-eighth story to the two hundred and forty-first story of the tower. While it is not a restricted area, they aren't places where commoners like Eyriey would normally be interested in.

"...... I don't know what's so interesting, but don't go about causing problems for the staff there."

Right— the duo replied to him loudly, before running off together.

After watching the two disappear from his sight—

"Sorry, but there is something that I'd like to say."

The machine crystal <Ilis> spoke with an unusually soft voice.

"Something feels strange here. Even if the other cadet-guards are not queuing up, they will still be handed cards by the recruiters. We are the only ones who are not being approached by anyone."

"...... Mmm."

Sheltis realized that too.

He had the feeling since meeting up with Eyriey and Yuto. The recruiters close to him were the only ones who refused to approach him, and there was a considerable distance between him and them. The recruiters all looked away when Sheltis was about to make eye contact with them - it was as though they had seen something extremely scary.

"Seems like everyone is trying to avoid you."

The machine crystal <Ilis> whispered.

"You are a cadet-guard who has already received your white ceremonial clothing, and yet you refused to wear them. Even though you have just joined the squad, you have already defeated a senior cadet-guard in a duel...... in their eyes, you are not an outstanding cadet-guard - rather, there's too many mysteries about you."

"...... I can't blame them."

He did not know if the smile on his face was a self-depreciating one or a bitter one, but he started walking anyway. He avoided going to the crowded elevators and made a detour along the outskirts of the crowd, and went into the emergency stairs.

"Really?"

"Mhmm, because...... I can understand their feelings."

The painful feelings of isolation he once felt back when he was expelled from the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>.

It was very similar to what he was experiencing now.

"It would be great if I could change into my white ceremonial clothing and interact with them normally."

"I guess. Still, it is better for you not to provoke the upper brass of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> for now."

The reason he could reenter the palace was because he had the joint support from five of the highest ranked members of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> - the Priestesses and Sennenshi, including Ymy and Leon.

Typically speaking, a single Priestess or Sennenshi will be more than sufficient to wield their absolute power to influence the decisions.

But Sheltis' reentering of the palace required the joint efforts of five people for the matter to pass through. In other words, there was a huge force that resisted his reentering the palace, and it required that much influence to counterbalance the opposition.

"In other words, you will have to properly conceal your true identity as long as you are in here. Should anyone ask why you wear that black jacket, you would have to reject them directly. Even if that would result in you facing distrust and criticism from everyone, you absolutely cannot allow anyone to know about the fact that you have fallen into the Garden of Corrupted Song <Eden> before, or how your body is now carrying mateki."

"...... Yeah."

It was the decision of the top brass to expell Sheltis from the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> two years ago. He had not came into contact with them yet, but they should be very unhappy about his reentering of the palace.

"The top brass of the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>, especially the directors, are all very concerned about the social order. If the fact about them allowing a person carrying mateki to reenter the palace is exposed to the public, it will cause a huge uproar among the civilians, and not just within the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>."

"I know. I definitely won't reveal my true identity, even if it means not being trusted by the people around me."

Should chaos result from the disclosure of his secret, he would definitely be expelled from the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> permanently, so as to take responsibility for all the commotions caused.

"That's how it is. Also, in regards to selecting your squad, it will be better for you to chose a squad that has as few members as possible."

"I'll try my best, though I don't know if things will go that smoothly."

He learned about the gist of the promotion system from the girl with sakura-colored hair.

He was not sure if the current system can be considered good or bad. But in the short time span of two years which he was not around, there had been many changes which he was not aware of, and he could clearly feel how he was left far behind from all the developments of the palace.

"Compared to how things were when I first started out, there really has been a lot of changes."

"Yes. But you will have to face them all, starting today."

There will be a practice on team battles conducted in the afternoon for the the second grade cadet-guards who are interested. Naturally, that includes Sheltis, who was only promoted to that rank just a day ago.

"Since it is a team battle, you may have a chance to see for yourself what the current squads are like. Try to join a squad which still has some space left for extra members, and experience it yourself."

The most important thing for him right now was to confirm what sort of squads there are via actual combat.

"In any case, I'll know how things are like by today."

Sheltis mumbled softly as he stared at the cards given to him by Eyriey, as though he was talking to himself.

***

Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>, two hundred and eighty seventh story.

"............ Leon, urm......"

Upon hearing the hesitant voice of the girl, Leon opened his tightly shut eyes.

The floors were covered with an orange carpet. From the ceilings hung a glamorous chandelier made from refined glass. Behind him was a well tidied bookshelf and desk. A spacious family kitchen exists deeper within. The size of the room is big enough to allow a family of four to live comfortably.

"............ Sorry for interrupting your meditation."

"Don't worry about it. Anything wrong?"

The girl who was lowering her head timidly.

The buds of summer, Syun-rei - the Priestess who Leon is assigned to protect exclusively.

She has black hair and eyes, and her delicate looks make her look a year or two younger than her actual age of seventeen. Her unique vestment is made up of red and white fabrics, with a purple sash tied along her chest.

"............ The deadline for the mission assigned by Queen Salah is approaching."

"Ah, that mission......"


Queen Salah holds the highest position in Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>. She is a woman who possesses the strongest shinryoku in the whole floating continent.

She leads the five Priestesses, and spends most of her time throughout the year in the top most level of the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>, which is named <<Paradise>>. As of now, she should be in <<Paradise>> focusing on her prayers for Hyouketsu Kyoukai.

During her resting period last month, the Queen assigned a mission to Leon.

A mission that will involve a certain secret - something that can only be done by a Sennenshi.

"............ 'The team should consist only of a minimum amount of people, so as to keep the issue as low as possible. Aside from Sennenshi Leon, there can only be one, at most two more people in the team. Please pick someone trustworthy to go along with you'...... what should we do?"

"Seems like the issue about the team is much more troublesome than the actual mission itself."

Having taken a glance at the mission outline, it was certain that the cadres or leader guards will not be able to participate in it. The only people who can join are those who are of low positions in Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>. Also, the person must be tight-lipped, trustworthy, and possess fine skills all at the same time.

"............ Does Leon have someone in mind?"

"There's probably only one person who can fulfill such ridiculous requirements."

***

"I had already told you yesterday during night training that we would be conducting battles in teams of two at 1500 hours."

The instructor's roaring voice echoed throughout the outdoor training grounds.

"So everyone is to find a partner and submit your application as a pair to the digital roster located at the first resting area. Those who are done with the application can rest till 1500 hours."

...... Team of two huh?

Sheltis took a quick glance at over a hundred cadet-guards who had gathered here.

"We guessed wrong. I thought it would have been a team battle of a much larger scale."

"Yeah."

If the teams were to be made up of three or four people, then Sheltis' prediction of how the teams will be made up of the usual squad members would probably come true. He can then observe the situations of the various squads to look for one that is suitable for him. But that could no longer work with the situation they were in.

"That's all. Dismiss!"

As the instructor turned away from them, the cadet-guards began to leave.

"That's quite a problem we have here."

Having heard that from machine crystal <Ilis>, Sheltis surveyed the scene yet again.

The cadet-guards were heading out in all directions in synchronized footsteps. They were all second grade cadet-guards, which means they were granted access to the Merit System. However, as someone who had just been promoted into the ranks only yesterday, Sheltis didn't recognize anyone.

There were over a hundred of them there, and they ranged from men in their forties, to girls in their teenage years. Who's good at fighting, and who's good with their strategies? What about their choice of weapons? How's their personality and habits?

Sheltis had no clue who he should team up with.

"Sheltis, over there. It looks a little strange."

"What's wrong?"

"Look at the people around you. It may look like they are dispersing in all directions, but everyone's heading towards the north in pairs in the end."

"—Eh?"

Acting on the reminder of the machine crystal <Ilis>, Sheltis hurriedly looked at the cadet-guards around him.

Only a few minutes had passed since the dismissal of the cadet-guards, but everyone was already heading towards the northern pathway with a partner. The pathway leads to the first resting area, which was where the digital roster was located at.

...... How can that be? There were no discussions on teaming up among the cadet-guards.

"Seems like the reason for the initial dispersion was so that they could make contact with their squad-mates. They will then break up into teams of two when everyone in the squad has assembled. If the squad is made up of an odd number of people, they'll probably team up with another squad whom they are on good terms with."

Things are not looking good.

I'll have to find someone who I can team up with as quickly as possible. That is of a greater priority than winning or losing.

"...... I get it."

As he bit on his lips tightly, Sheltis recalled Leon's words that were passed to him through Ymy.

He will have to be aware of the position he's in within the other cadet-guards. Otherwise, he may be ostracized.

Should he act like how he used to do so back in the past, he will face a lot of problems.

That was exactly what was happening to him. Regardless of how outstanding a cadet-guard he is, he will not be able to promote or participate in training if he is not in a squad.

...... I never thought that things would be that serious.

Without a squad, he will not be able to get a partner who he can train with. He totally did not anticipate that.

"Then again, it's not like everyone will be able to team up with people whom they are familiar with. You should approach the cadet-guards who are still lacking a partner, and form a team with them."

"Mmm— Ah, the gunner over there. Can you please team up with me......"

He walked towards a heavy-gunner and extended his hands.

"......"

Having seen Sheltis approaching him, the heavy-gunner made a forced turn and walked away from him.

There was no way he could not have heard that.

"Eh, strange? Wait............"

He shouted at the person, but the gunner did not turn back.

It was the same with the female archer after that. She turned away from his direction before he could even open his mouth to speak.

"It is indeed the same as this morning. Everyone's avoiding you."

"...... Let's try to find someone else."

Sheltis began to ask the cadet-guards one by one, but no one was willing to answer him. It was akin to him trying to grab water with his hands - no matter how hard he tried, the opposite party would somehow slip away from him.

That scene repeated on for countless times.

Before he knew it, Sheltis was the only person left.

"There's not much time left till 1500 hours."

At then, even the voice of the machine crystal <Ilis> that he was so used to hearing sounded just like the solemn declaration of his death.

"I know, but what can I do?"

Sheltis shrugged in frustration with a sigh.

The faint feelings which he had during the incident near the elevator this morning had turned into something definite and concrete.

It was obvious that all the other cadet-guards were shunning him — the unknown and mysterious cadet-guard who wears the unique black jacket. The victory he obtained in the duel on the second day should have been an opportunity for him to showcase his skills, but instead it had caused everyone to distrust him.

"What a pain it is......"

It would be okay if it was just for today. However, such things will definitely continue on from tomorrow onward.

As a cadet-guard, he has a more definite goal than everyone else, and possess exceptional skills as well. However, he was facing the helpless feeling of isolation in just about everything else.

"Seems like the only thing we can do is ask the instructor to pair you up with someone."

"That won't do. It will not be a solution to the roots of my problem............ Ah!"

Before he could finish his sentence, Sheltis suddenly ran towards a person whom he had caught sight of in the corner of his eyes.

"W-Wait, Sheltis! Where are you going!"

Sheltis sprinted on the dunes of the training grounds without answering. The silhouette of the dot in the fringe of his sight soon became clearer and clearer—

"You are......."

Upon sensing someone approaching her, the girl lifted her head.

"H-Hey! Are you alone right now? Have you teamed up with anyone else?"

"Who me?"

With one of her hands holding onto the crossed rods <Rosario>, the girl with sakura-colored hair opened her eyes wide.

"If you are here, it means you are one of the participants for the team battles, right?"

"I am...... you're not in a team yet?"

"Mmm, cause nearly everyone else has a partner already."

Having heard that, Sheltis could see a change in the girl's expression for the very first time. She was putting on a faint wry smile, as though she had seen something strange.

"How surprising, I thought you would have joined an excellent squad already."

"...... It's just the opposite."

"Opposite?"

The smile on her face disappeared, and her expression became serious once more. Sheltis spread his arms out wide and explained,

"Well...... you see, everyone's wearing white, while I'm the only one who's wearing a black jacket. After my duel with the cadet-guard yesterday, it seems like I can't break into the circles of the other cadet-guards...... Seems like everyone is finding me suspicious, and I'm always rejected no matter who I approached."

"But of course. The paired mock battles can be considered as a sort of formal exercise. It is the same as putting yourself in danger if you do not team up with a person whom you can trust."

That's right.

The words that she had said must be what the heavy-gunner and the archer were thinking back then as well.

"...... So it's indeed like that. For a loner like me......"

If that was the view of the only girl whom he had talked with and feels slightly closer to, then it would be even more so for the other cadet guards.

...... There's probably no hope in participating in the team battle this time round.

"Sorry for disturbing you then."

"Hey, where are you going?"

"To find Instructor. I'm telling her there's no one who's willing to team up with me, and I'll request for her to allow me to train on my own."

"You're here to ask me to partner up with you, right?"

"Yes, but......"

Allow me to finish what I have to say — she showed an expression as though she was saying that, and sighed,

"Well, I never rejected you, did I?"

"Eh?"

The girl seemed to be rather embarrassed, and turned her head away.

"I'll warn you first. My performance is poor, and thus no one is willing to team up with me...... Therefore, I am in the same boat as you."

"R-Really!? Can I really partner up with you!?"

"Or rather, are you sure you want to team up with me? There should be other cadet-guards whom you can still try your luck on. In consideration to my combat abilities, I think it is better for you to choose other cadet-guards instead."

"N-Nothing of that sort!"

In response to the confused expressions of the girl, Sheltis shook his head furiously.

"It's because the only person who has spoken to me and is willing to team up with me is you."

"I...... it's actually......"

"I'll be in your care then! Ah, my name's Sheltis. May I know your name?"

"...... Monica. Monica Esperanto."

Despite her surprise, she managed to tell Sheltis her name, albeit rather shyly.


"There's ninety eight participants, which totals up to forty-nine teams. That's slightly less than the original numbers, but since it will be easier for me to organize everything, I am mighty fine with it."

The suited female instructor stopped her fiddling of a tread-like tobacco, and loudly said,

"Just like what I said, you guys are gonna do team battles in a pair. I've already randomly decided on your opponents, and have already sent the details to your badges. Hurry up and head towards the combat area after you are done confirming your opponents."

"That's it. Hurry, Sheltis, hurry...... let me take a look at your badge, or else I'll hack into it."

"Ah— man, what's with the hurry?"

The badge of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> functions as an identity card and a communicator at the same time. Aside from controlling the locks of their room, one can receive instructions and commands via the simple messages sent to their badge.

"Eh? That's strange."

He could find no information about their opponents on the screen behind the card.

A malfunction? Or perhaps the instructor got it wrong or something?

"It's the same for me too. There's no records about our upcoming opponent."

Monica finished meddling around with the screen, and looked downwards with a confused expression on her face.

There were a total of forty-nine teams participating. As each team will only be facing another pair, there will be a single team left after dividing the teams into twenty four different battles. Due to their late registration, they could be the team that was left out of the battles.

"Oh, I've finally found you. Sheltis, and this is Monica, right? What are you guys hanging around here for?"

The female instructor pried open the surrounding crowd and walked towards them.

"We aren't hanging around. It seems like our opponents haven't been registered into the systems yet......"

"Your opponents are over there. I told you, I've already decided on your opponents."

She pointed the smoking cigarette in a certain direction — it was a dome made of translucent reinforced glass, used specially for major fights with spectators involved.

"There?"

"Yeah. Your opponents inside should be about done as well."

One could clearly see the clouds of dust inside the dome through the glass walls.

— That's?

An occasional streak of metallic grey light flashed from within the dirty-yellow and brown clouds of dust. There were also countless lead-colored impacts bouncing off the glass walls randomly, as though they were trying to destroy the dome.

"Seems like they are done. They will be your opponents. Oi, Jin and I'sa!"

The instructor yelled out as she lit up yet another cigarette.

The dust inside the dome gradually cleared away. With the dust clearing up, they could gradually see the two people inside.

A petite girl with her golden hair tied in twintails. There were several huge metal balls floating by her side.

A tall and stout bald male dual gunner, with a pair of heavy pistols in his hands.

Both of them were wearing the ceremonial clothing of the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>. However, there was an obviously different air around them as compared to the cadet-guards nearby.

"The dual gunner guy in the half-coat is Jin, while the girl wearing the skirt is Issha. Hurry up and enter. Don't make them wait."

"Instructor, this......? What's going on here?"

Monica turned around to question the Instructor with a soft voice. What she was looking at were the badges located on their left arms.

— The badges of a regular guard.

"I have a faint impression of that puppeteer and the dual gunner. They are the real deal, the regular guards."

Having heard Monica's words, Sheltis directed his sight back to the dome.

There was no need for him to look at the badges on their left arms. The intimidating presence of the two people were more than enough proof that they really were the regular guards of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>.

"You scared?"

"N-Nothing like that......! It's just that the difference in strength is too overwhelming."

"It's fine. Let's go."

He gave a pat on Monica's shoulders, before turning around to face the dome.

"Don't worry. Since I was the one who invited you to be on the team, I'll think up of something."

"Do we....... have a chance of winning?"

"Well, the probability's not zero. Moreover, we will have to face them sooner or later anyway, should we want to become a regular guard or even higher. Isn't that right?"

If the aim is to become the guard of the highest rank, the 'Sennenshi'.

There is no longer any no room for retreat. That was the resolve he had since returning to Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>.

"That's right, just go in and fight. The results will be for later."

As the happy voice of the instructor rang from behind them, the two of them walked towards the battlefield made of glass.

The dome has a circumference of about thirty meters wide. The internal terrain is a replica of the mountainous areas made up of sand and jutting rocks.

"A signal will be fired three minutes later. The battle shall start with the sound of the gun."

The instructor's voice blared through the speakers on the ceiling.

...... Right, what's next?

There was a distance of at least twenty meters between them and the two regular guards. Their opponents seemed to be discussing something as they looked towards them, but it was impossible to hear them from such a far distance.

"Monica's weapon is that pair of crossed rods <Rosario> right? Can you use any long-ranged weapons?"

"Sorry, I only know how to use this. What about you aside from your dual swords?"

"It's the same for me too."

"It will be a real headache for you two to face the dual gunner, since the both of you are close-ranged fighters. Not only does he have quick reflexes, due to him being a regular guard, his typical training consists of him accurately shooting down cherries that are a distance of fifty meters away. In a caged dome arena like this, there is probably no place where you two can escape."

As such, they would have to force the battle into a close-ranged one. However, there was an obstacle to that.

A regular-guard who is a shinryoku-practitioner — the female 'puppeteer' standing next to the dual gunner.

They are guards who do not rely on martial arts for combat. Different from the shinryoku arts of the Priestesses and apprentice-Priestesses, they utilize shinryoku arts that have been specially modified for combat. One of the many forms of a shinryoku-practitioner is a puppeteer.

"I think you should know already. Puppets are objects that have received shinryoku from their hosts, who will then fight by remotely controlling the puppets. She may look small, but we cannot allow ourselves to drop our guard."

Monica lifted her crossed rods <Rosario> calmly.

"Her puppets are the four spheres on the ground. It's size is about the size of a child's hugs, but their weight should be at around fifty kilograms each. If she is controlling them via shinryoku, then the range of control...... should be about twenty meters."

"Prior to getting close to the far-ranged dual gunner, we'll have to deal with the puppeteer who is in control of the mid-range...... Speaking of which, you know quite a lot about these things."

"That puppeteer named Issha is a well known shinryoku-practitioner among the regular guards."

She shrugged her shoulders as a matter of factly.

"So? Do we focus on her first?"

"That's about the only thing we can do. However, we will be easy targets for the dual gunner if we are to move together. The opponents will probably expect us to do the same as well."

Sheltis shifted his sight to the dual gunner for a brief moment, before focusing on onto the puppeteer girl again.

"So we might as well go for a one-on-one tactic. I'll try to finish the girl, and then we'll both gang up on the dual gunner."

"...... You want to take on the puppeteer, who is a regular guard, alone?"

"Mmm. As for Monica, try your best to divert the attention of the dual gunner— here we go!"

*Boom!*

The signal shook the glass. At the same time, Sheltis and Monica leaped off in two different directions.


*Bang*— the opponent's bullet came smashing through the walls at the same time the signal was fired. No, perhaps it was even earlier than that. Is that their way of greeting us?

"Monica, I'll leave him to you!"

With his back facing Monica, Sheltis focused his attention on the puppeteer girl.

He ran, and began to accelerate.

He sprinted on the sides of the hills which were faithfully replicated off their originals, and jumped off a huge boulder. His surroundings changed in an instant - he had gained grounds on the girl in a blink of an eye.

"...... He's fast."

The girl named Issha mumbled expressionlessly, and jumped backwards.

Puppeteers excel in mid-ranged combat. As he tried to chase the girl who was attempting to keep a considerable distance away from him, Sheltis dashed through the bumpy slopes as though he was running on smooth level ground.

— "Deploy, and release" —

The girl lifted her right arm.

At the same time, two metallic grey spheres came gliding in through the air.

"As for the controls of the four spheres, the opponent has chosen to utilize the basic setup of using half of it for offense, and the other half to defend herself."

The spheres were made up of highly compressed metals. Having obtained shinryoku and the potential energy, the extremely heavy objects were zooming in from his left and right at high speeds. He lured them before his eyes—

*Don*

As though he wanted to shake off the sounds of his footsteps, Sheltis immediately stopped himself from advancing further. The silver spheres which were aiming for Sheltis lost their targets, and sailed through the thin air.

He shot a quick glance at the spheres, before accelerating yet again.

"!"

The girl's expression changed suddenly as she realized that the young man had shrunk the distance between them in a flash.

— "Engage" —

The other set of defensive spheres were activated.

The extremely heavy 'puppets' which were giving off a metallic silver glow were crashing diagonally downwards at Sheltis' head. However, instead of dodging it, Sheltis chose to pick up speed in the direction of the spheres.

He seized the exact moment to swing his dual swords at the incoming spheres.

A brilliant flash of his swords.

At the same time, the floating metallic grey spheres fell onto the ground with a dull thud. The girl was totally speechless - the two fallen spheres were sliced perfectly in half along the smooth surfaces.

"......!"

That is unbelievable. He could clearly feel what the opponent was thinking from the expressions on her face. However, as expected from the regular guards, she immediately released herself from the shock, and returned to a calm state.

— "Seek, and release" —

Abandoning the destroyed defensive spheres, the girl sent instructions to the two initial spheres...... But this time, Issha was forced to open her eyes wide.

The spheres which were originally in her control were no longer moving.

"Sorry, those won't work either."

"Eh?"

Sheltis pointed towards his back.

What came to her eyes, were the other two spheres that were sliced in the same manner.

"Eh...... H-How is that possible?"

"No, all I did was make a slash prior to my dodge - or what is commonly known as 'Zantetsu'." [TLNote: 斬鉄, literally hacking of metal. I guess it is a name of a move or some sort, so I chose to preserve its pronunciation.]

"...... What a mess."

With all her weapons destroyed, the girl could only fall onto the ground in a daze.

"Are you really a cadet-guard? And not an elite guard or a cadres guard?"

— There are a lot of reasons behind what you are seeing.

Sheltis made a silent answer to the girl in his heart, and turned away from her.

Where's Monica— there she is!

The battle on the other side was exactly opposite of what had happened on his side. The two of them were fighting near the edges of the walls.

Monica had reflected all the bullets fired at her from the dual pistols. The crossed rods <Rosario> had indeed lived up to their name of sporting an impressive defense...... However, it was ultimately a situation where she had been suppressed by the opponent the whole time.

She could find no opportunity to close the distance, and instead she was slowly forced against the wall.

"Guh!"

Her left shoulder was struck by a bullet which she was unable to deflect. Despite it being a dud, it still packed quite a punch. A sharp pain spread from her shoulder to her wrists, which resulted in the crossed rods <Rosario> slipping off from Monica's hand.

"Monica!"

Sheltis yelled in her direction.

Or that was what it looked like. In reality, his actual motive was to attract the attention of the dual gunner.

"...... I'sa has been defeated?"

The expression of the dual gunner changed for a brief moment as he saw the young man running towards him at high speeds. He continued restraining Monica with the pistol on his right, and diverted his sight to Sheltis.

Sheltis had managed to close in on the dual gunner as well by evading the multiple bullets fired at him. Upon realizing that, the opponent changed his direction nimbly and made effortless jumps on the uneven rocky slopes to pull away from Sheltis.

"This regular guard named Jin is quite impressive in terms of his physical abilities. That retaliatory posture of his while jumping through the air is really graceful to look at."

Sheltis once again took chase at the dual gunner who the machine crystal <Ilis> was praising, and tried to force him against the wall by rounding him up.

Five meters remaining. It was the face-off of the young man who kept trying to close in the distance between the two in a single breath, against the dual gunner who was constantly evading him. The chase continued on for a few minutes.

— It's now!

Out of no where, Sheltis raised his dual swords.

"!"

The opponent lifted his eyebrows in confusion. As there was still a five meter distance between them, it was impossible for the twin swords to strike him. Despite knowing that, Sheltis...... tossed out both of his swords at Jin.

"...... What?"

The dual gunner gave a gasp of shock as he witnessed the swords flying towards him. He deflected the incoming swords with his pistols, then took aim at the weaponless young man.

Just then, a dull sound came ringing from within the dome.

".................."

An unexpected impact on the back of his head had finally caused the dual gunner to collapse onto the ground.

"...... This is for the shot at my shoulder earlier."

Behind him, was a panting Monica holding onto a pair of crossed rods <Rosario> in her hands.

"Ohhh, a perfect hit."

"Stop mocking me."

She turned her slightly red face away.

"Mmm, Jin and Issha, it's been tough on you two. Return to your stations for now...... As for you two."

After giving thanks to the dual gunner and the puppeteer, Instructor Yumelda turned around to face them.

"I'll ignore the initial part of the battle, which was extremely reckless. Well, the part where you threw your swords to gain the attention of the enemy, followed up by a strike from behind, is something that can be considered as a pass."

The instructor lit up yet another cigarette.

"See, I told you, you can't just go rushing in recklessly right at the beginning. Learn to use your brains for once."

"I'm already trying my best."

Sheltis gave a slight pout and retracted his blades.

Then again, he didn't remember performing that sort of combination attack with Leon back then.

As the both of them possess exceptional skills, he could easily count the number of times they had teamed up.

"But this is quite a problem for me now. I had originally planned to say 'Hurry up and get on your feet' to the both of you after you two had been soundly defeated by them. I didn't make any plans for the aftermath of your victories."

"So we are that weak in your eyes huh."

"Whatever. Do your own training for the rest of the day then. Dismissed."

"...... How very slip-short of her."

He could not come up with a decent retort, and could only wave his hands at her as she left.

"Oh right. Thanks, Monica. It's all thanks to you, that I had the chance to participate in the training."

"Ah...... Ahhh."

The expressionless girl blinked for a moment, as though she was recovering from a daze.

"What's wrong with you?"

"No...... I never expected us to win......"

As he was used to her stern disposition, that stuttering look of hers was quite refreshing in Sheltis' eyes.

"Just because they are the regular guards?"

No, it's not that.

Monica mumbled, and stared at the sky in a daze.

"...... This...... is the very first time I have obtained victory in a team battle by teaming up with someone else...... Of course, I know very well it was all due to your efforts that we won."

First time?

It sounds way too exaggerated for a cadet-guard to have not won even once.

"You think it's strange......? For anyone who can't get into a good squad or team up with good teammates, they will end up like how I am. To me, you are the unfathomable one. You are a newcomer who enrolled here just a few days ago, so how did you manage to overwhelm that pair of regular guards?"

"No, it's actually quite difficult for me as well. I guess part of the reason is they were underestimating us due to our ranks as cadet-guards. You're exaggerating by saying that I was overwhelming them. Moreover, what I'm more surprised about was how Monica was practicing the arts of shinryoku deep into the night—"

He said too much.

He realized that only after seeing the expression on Monica's face.

"...... You saw everything?"

He did not know if it was her sorrow or anger, but an intense emotion swelled up from within her grayish blue eyes.

Her delicate shoulders were trembling slightly.

"......!"

Monica's head sunk low, and she was biting onto her lips tightly. She turned around without saying a word.

"Ah...... urm...... wait, Moni—"

"Don't follow me!"

He was about to stretch out his hands, but her yell stopped him in his tracks.

She wanted to get mad, but she couldn't do it; she tried to cry, but she could not cry either. While she was hopelessly stuck in between her swaying emotions, she finally let out a stubborn yet fragile voice.

"............ Training's over............ Please allow me to rest."



{2}



"Ahh— it's finally over."

Sheltis slumped onto his bed with a sense of tiredness in his sigh.

"............"

He held his breath and closed his eyes, as though he was trying to confirm the sensation of his body sinking into the bed sheets that he was lying on.

"You don't look like you are sleeping, but rather, you are thinking about something."

"....... I just feel like I've done something wrong to Monica."

Which included him peeking at her training.

As well as knowing how she can use the rites of a Priestess.

He should not have said anything in front of her.

"...... Will she forgive me if I apologize?"

"It's hard to say. From a neutral point of view, I don't think Sheltis has done anything wrong. The training grounds are an open place, and since she chose to train there, she should be mentally prepared to be seen by someone else. It was only natural that she got seen by you."

"Well, you're not wrong, but it's still not good for me to look at her while hiding myself in secret."

"Fufu, I am not denying that. Therefore, I won't object if you wish to apologize to her."

He flipped over and stared at the ceiling.

...... Mmm, I should just apologize.

...... Because she is the first person to talk to me, and she treats me rather nicely.

Sheltis would not have been able to join the team battle without her. After countless rejections, she was the only one who agreed when he invited her to team up, and that made Sheltis really happy.

"So back to the previous topic. Why isn't that girl in any of the squads? Her abilities are not particularly outstanding, but she's not weak either."

It would be a different case if she was looking to join a squad that is made up of highly-skilled guards, but if she isn't overly demanding, she should be able to find a squad that would be willing to accept her at the very least. But from her words, it's not that she is 'not willing to join', but rather, 'she was not accepted'.

Why is that?

"In the end, we'll still have to ask her if we want to get some answers."

"Right, but you can't be overly anxious about it. In any case, apologize to her properly tomorrow."

"Mmm...... got it."

I'll just rest for today.

Just as he was about to switch off the lights in his room—

"Sheltis, there's a mission for you."

A familiar voice that leaves no room for questions blared out from the speakers on the ceiling.

............ Leon?

"I need to speak to you. Take the central elevator to the two hundred and eighty-seventh story now."

"...... Fu— Fu—"

"There's no point in you faking. I heard your conversation with Ilis clearly."

"That's just too cheap!"

Sheltis jumped out of bed.

"...... I had been suspecting this all along - is there some sort of surveillance camera installed in this room?"

Who'll be interested in photographing Sheltis in secret— after tossing the grumbling crystal onto the pillow, Sheltis looked up into the speakers unwillingly.

"Fine, I'll just have to head to your room?"

"Yeah. We'll talk in my room. And bring Ilis along as well."

The two hundred and eighty-ninth story to the two hundred and eighty-seventh story are specially reserved for the use of the Priestesses and Sennenshi. Leon, Syun-rei and Ymy's room are all located on the two hundred and eighty seventh story.

But, what sort of important mission are they going to discuss, seeing as they need to do so in Sennenshi Leon's room?

"We'll be safe from the ears of others if we are to discuss it in my room."

"Oh— Alright. Let's go, Ilis."

"Uhhhh, but I am tired already—"

After puting on the necklace with Ilis hanging on it, Sheltis left the room.

***

"That's quick of you."

The sight of a silver haired young man in a pure white coat suddenly appeared before his eyes as the doors of the central elevator opened.

Leon flashed a wry smile as he held on to a brass watch in his hand.

"I wonder who's the one who is persistently hastening me...... Eh?"

Sheltis couldn't help but blink his eyes upon seeing the faintly moving shadows behind Leon.

"Urm...... You are Syun-rei, right? Good evening."

As she grabbed onto Leon's coat tightly, the girl with black hair and eyes popped her head out of his back.

She's the forth Priestess out of the five — Syun-rei Pia Nucclene.

According to Ymy, she has severe anthrophobia. She is extremely wary towards males, to the point where she will just turn around and run away if she spots a staff of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>.

"............ G-Good...... evening."

After saying that with an almost inaudible voice, she quickly hid behind Leon's back again. On the other hand, Leon was looking rather pleased.

"Oh, Syun-rei's trying her best. So you've learned how to greet others, right?"

"............ Mmm."

The girls face was blushing slightly upon receiving the praises of Leon. As someone who is very timid even towards the other Priestesses, her partner Sennenshi is the only person whom she opens her heart to.

"In any case, let us continue the talk in my room. Follow me."

Leon began to make his move on the passageway, and Syun-rei followed tightly behind him. Sheltis followed up with them as well—

Just as the group of them was about to approach the junction in front of the central elevator.

"Eh? Leon and Syun-rei? What a surprise to be seeing you two at this hour."

A girl in her white vestment made her turn at the junction.

She greeted Leon and Syun-rei with a smile, and was walking towards the direction of the elevator - which was towards them.

"...... Sheltis?"

Ymy stopped in her tracks with a confused expression on her face.

"Why are you here? Anything wrong?"

"Ah. Well—"

Before he could even explain—

"It's about that mission from the Queen. Me and Sheltis will be carrying it out together. As we have to keep it a secret from the rest of the members, I will be explaining it to him in my room."

Leon replied before him.

"The mission about the Floating Archipelago <Lagoon>?"

"Yeah. Needless to say, the only other person coming along is Sheltis."

"...... I see."

Ymy was still standing on her spot with her eyes looking in the air blankly. Not long after, she said with a determined expression,

"L-Look, Leon. I want to tag along too...... can I?"

I wish to join the both of you. She looked at Leon akin to how a child looks at his parents as he begged them to buy something for him.

After a moment of silence.

"— That may be quite difficult."

Leon rejected her heavily.

"The mission is too dangerous for you, since you are without a Sennenshi."

"But, Leon and Sheltis are both going right? There should be nothing to worry about if that's the case."

"I do feel the same way as well, but that is not the case for the General Affairs Council, the Mechanical Bureau as well as the Tower Controls - just like how it was with Director Albert the last time round. You can try requesting to join in the mission without your personal Sennenshi, but I think you will definitely be facing stiff resistance from them."

"............"

Ymy kept silent.

Leon's words were absolutely correct, without any room for refutes.

"Moreover, without the presence of any Sennenshi, the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> will be protected by someone else during my absence. Syun-rei had planned to stay here this time, so we will be depending on the both of you."

"...... Mmm."

Ymy nodded her head sullenly - however, she then lifted her head suddenly.

"Syun-rei...... Sheltis.................. What's up...... with you two?"

"What's wrong, Ymy?"

"B-Because......"

Ymy lifted her hands. Her lips were trembling.

"You two can actually...... can actually touch each other......?"

She pointed at the left shoulder of Syun-rei.

Unknown to them, Sheltis' right arm had somehow come into contact with Syun-rei's left shoulder. Perhaps that was the case all along since their sudden pause at the junction.

...... However, that should be something that is impossible.

"How? Something like this—"

Without any clue to how that happened, Sheltis immediately jumped backwards away from Syun-rei.

Logically speaking, he should not be able to touch the Priestesses at all.

'Shinryoku' are the source of power for the Priestesses that opposes the power of the Yuugenshu, which is 'mateki'. The two powers of different nature should be repelling each other upon contact. Moreover, since he possess the mateki of the Garden of Corrupted Song <Eden>, there should be a strong repulsion occurring against the Priestesses, who are in possession of strong shinryoku.

If so, why did nothing happen even after coming into contact with Syun-rei?

"What's happening? I thought you couldn't touch the Priestesses?"

"I thought so too. But, why......"

Leon was confused as well.

"Sheltis. Leon and I know very well about how Ymy's shinryoku and your mateki will repel each other under contact. What about the other Priestesses then? Will there be the same phenomenon as well?"

The machine crystal <Ilis> broke the silence that filled the air with nervousness and shock in a calm voice.

"Well......"

He never tried. The reason for finding out the existence of mateki in his body was due to the repulsion against the shinryoku of Ymy. Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> would never agree tolet him try it out with the other Priestesses.

That's right. He had never tried it till now. Sheltis assumed his mateki would be rejected by all the Priestesses without any confirmation. It's the same not only for Ymy, but for Leon as well.

"Then, could it be......"

Sheltis could only stand in shock after understanding what the machine crystal <Ilis> was trying to say.

A dizzying bewilderment that exceeded all anger and despair gradually spread out in his heart.

...... Why is reality that cruel?

...... There's only one out of all the Priestesses whom I am repelling.

"———"

At that moment, unknown to Sheltis, Ymy had switched to a determined expression and was stretching her finger out towards his shoulder.

"Ymy! You can't!"

...... Eh?

He turned his head and saw Ymy biting her lips. Those eyes of hers were close to crying—

Her delicate finger touched his shoulders.

*Zzz...... zzzzzz......*

His shoulder and her fingertip. A blueish white electric spark was given off from the point of contact.

Elbert Resonance.

When an overly powerful shinryoku meets an equally powerful mateki, the laws of physics will be twisted. Sparks will be produced in the air, delivering punishment to the two that tried to touch each other with flames.

"......!"

Ymy retracted her burnt fingertip and squatted down.

"Ymy!"

"What are you doing—"

Leon and the machine crystal <Ilis> yelled out at the same time.

"............ Because......"

That was the only thing she managed to say.

"............ This is just...... too cruel."

That sentence alone was more than enough for everyone at the scene to understand her feelings.

Why— Why am I the only one who can't touch Sheltis. Her sorrow was clearly shown via the sight of her trembling back.

"...... There's only one explanation for that."

The machine crystal <Ilis> broke the silence yet again.

"It's the same with how Sheltis was repelled by the doors of the Grand Holy Hall. Ymy, you are in possession of the strongest shinryoku out of the five Priestesses. The reason why you're the only person to repel Sheltis...... is because your shinryoku is too powerful."

"......"

Those words seemed to have had its effects on Ymy.

Ymy stood up with her head still hanging low, as though she had accepted that explanation.

"Sheltis...... do your best in the mission."

She said that in an emotional tone.

"Ymy......"

Even though he had something he wished to say to Ymy, Sheltis chose to remain silent.

— Sorry, Ymy. Regardless of what I say right now, you will probably think I am just trying to console you.

— However...... My feelings are the same as yours.

He clenched his fists tightly, his fingernails digging deeply into his palms. He endured the overwhelming feeling of anxiety within him that could make him go crazy.

"Sorry everyone, for interrupting your mission debriefing. I'll be heading back first."

She then turned away from everyone.

Her long hair was swaying gently. They could faintly see her jade-colored eyes through the light-golden slits - there were tears that were about to fall off from the corners of her eyes.

"...... Syun-rei."

The black-haired girl turned her head upon hearing her name.

As he looked at Ymy's delicate back that was disappearing from his sight, Sheltis called out to the other Priestess next to him.

"Please, can you stay by Ymy's side?"

"............ Mmm."

The black-haired girl agreed instantly.

She nodded her head to her partner, and chased Ymy with her small steps.

"Sheltis. It may not be the best time to be doing this, but can we discuss the mission now?"

"...... I guess."

Sheltis leaned his back against the walls of the junction and stared into the ceiling. It seemed like he was thinking of something.

Though he has not found any solution to the mateki in his body, he believed there is definitely a way for him to purify the mateki within him.

He held on to the belief in him — as of now, the only thing he could do is focus his attention on the mission before him.

"Aren't we going to your room?"

"You will probably be filled with thoughts about Ymy anyway. Also, I don't wish to abandon Syun-rei and head back to my room alone."

Leon crossed his arms and smiled bitterly.

"It's late night anyway, and since they have tight controls over the entrance to this floor, I think it will be fine for us to talk here............ Well then, where should I begin?"

"Ymy mentioned something about the Floating Archipelago <Lagoon>. Are we heading there?"

"Ahh, all the Priestesses and Sennenshi know about it already. We are heading towards the Floating Archipelago <Lagoon>."

The only place where humans can live on — floating continent Orbie Clar.

That was the only continent in the world, with countless islands of various sizes floating around it.

The floating islands were used for many purposes - agriculture plantations were built there; giant windmills were constructed there as well to harness the wind energy to produce electricity. Even though the floating continent was the only place where humans could live, the Floating Archipelago <Lagoon> are equally essential to humans as well.

"Let's see...... the mission is to head to the islands? That's pretty common. There are lots of missions involving things like exploring uncharted islands, as well as investigating the geological makeup or the ecology of the islands, and so on."

He could not even cover the amount of missions he could have thought of with the fingers he had. The missions that required traveling to the Floating Archipelago <Lagoon> differ widely in nature, and there are a lot of those missions as well.

"That's right. Our mission falls under the guise of 'a mission that requires us to travel to the Floating Archipelago <Lagoon>'. Well, to start off, I think you should know the need of aircraft when we are traveling to the Floating Archipelago <Lagoon>. For the past few months. it seems like huge amounts of electric faeries have appeared along the main aviation routes. Our mission is to subjugate them."

Electric faeries are a sort of faerie that are active near clouds of thunder.

They love to store electrical charges in their bodies. However, they will cause a disturbance in the magnetic fields of nearby airspace if they appear in a large group. Though they cannot be considered as harmful as beasts, the humans can't simply ignore them either, as they will pose a problem for aircraft near them.

"...... This mission seems typical enough. Why is it considered classified then?"

Having heard that question, Leon showed a bitter expression which was not commonly seen from him.

"Because this involves the Government Sector."

"...... Them?"

On the floating continents, defense and politics were handled by two different organizations.

The Queen and her Priestesses are the ones with the highest positions in Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>, and are tasked with the responsibility of protecting the continent.

On the other hand, the Government Sector are in charge of all things related to politics. Even though they are located in a corner of the Floating Archipelago <Lagoon>, and do not reveal themselves much on the floating continent regularly, they are still in charge of various core organizations that control the legislation, laws and etc.

If the Priestesses are the symbols of miracles and mysteriousness, the Pope of the highest order signifies politics and authority.

"The relationship between the Government Sector and Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> was never good to begin with, right?"

"Yeah. I only came to know of it after I became a Sennenshi. It was way worse than I had imagined."

It's damn irritating— Leon followed up with a grumble.

As they are the protectors of the floating continent, the residents of the living sector have naturally adored Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>.

However, as an organization that is in charge of politics, the Government Sector needs to maintain its prestige as well. The Government Sector seemed to be unhappy with how a good portion of the people respected only the Priestesses of the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>, and has always stirred up trouble because of that.

"The floating island which we will be heading to is located within the territories owned by the Government Sector. They had always disliked interference from the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>. If it is a group of typical guards heading there, they may face unnecessary hindrance from them."

"Which is where Leon comes in. That may be the case for the typical guards, but if the person is a Sennenshi who protects the Priestesses, the Government Sector will not openly impede him. The reason for bringing along a low-ranking Sheltis is to deceive the public as well. Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> can claim that this is a mission done by a certain newcomer, and the Sennenshi is the supervisor who is taking care of the useless cadet-guard."

"As expected of Ilis, you got it immediately."

"...... Urm...... then my stand...... ah, forget it."

Having to face the machine crystal <Ilis> and Leon who were going along with each other seamlessly, Sheltis could only continue on with the topic aside from releasing a glare of protest.

"So, when will the mission start? Next week? Next month?"

"It's tomorrow."

"............ Right, I should be going back to sleep. I still have morning practice tomorrow."

He suddenly turned and made a sprint towards the elevator, then pressed the button of the floor where his room was located...... but before he could do any of that, Leon had already grabbed him by his shoulder.

"Are you still planning to run away at a time like this?"

"Problem is, why do I have to head off tomorrow when I just heard of the details today? I don't know how that instructor will torture me if I skip my training without a valid reason!"

"Relax, Sheltis. I have already informed the instructor prior to this."

"...... Say what?"

"She asked me to relay this to you: go ahead and enjoy that short holiday...... when you return, 'I'll be loving you tenderly'. From the looks of it, this instructor is quite a considerate person."

"Can't you tell that she's really angry?"

"Hmm, is that so?"

"...... So you're not pretending to be dumb."

Sheltis lost his will to argue, and could only surrender unwillingly.

"Well, that's all. We'll gather at the airfield on the sixty-fifth story at nine tomorrow. Remember to go to the fifty-ninth story first to carry out the standard procedures at the counter of the Mechanical Bureau's aviation division."

The aviation division on the fifty-ninth story.

Strange? I've heard about it somewhere before.

"And another thing. It's about the make up of the team."

With that, Leon pointed towards the ceiling.

"Typically speaking, it is impossible for a Sennenshi and a cadet-guard to form a two-man team. If possible, I was hoping you'd find another trustworthy and tight-lipped person to join us. Only cadet-guards are allowed."

"Hmm— that's difficult, since I just returned not too long ago."

"I guessed as much...... whatever, we'll just go as a pair then, and settle it as quickly as we can."

The Sennenshi gave a helpless shrug.

In the end, it's still the same two-man combination from three years ago.

"Understood. Well then, I'll try to come up with something by tomorrow."

"Yeah. Also, I'll ask Syun-rei to take care of Ymy while we're on the mission."

"Mmm, please."

After directing a glance in the direction of Ymy's room, Sheltis left.

***

Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>, eleventh story.

"Eh?"

Sheltis stopped in his tracks after walking out from the central elevator.

He saw someone hanging outside of his room. Since the lights of the passageway were already out, plus the fact that he was still quite a distance away, all he knew was that the petite silhouette belonged to that of a girl.

"If she is a cadet-guard, she may be there to invite you into a squad. Though everyone's shunning you, there may be some cadet-guards who are actually impressed with your skills."

"She sure knows how to pick the time."

Really.

In a deliberate attempt to make himself heard by the person before his room, Sheltis walked towards her with loud footsteps.

"Sorry, may I know the reason for......"

A bunch of sakura-colored hair appeared faintly beneath the rays of the night light. She was wearing a plain colored shirt, which exposed her ceramic-white limbs in the air.

"Monica?"

"............"

The girl pursed her lips and looked at him with a sharp piercing gaze. The memories of the day appeared clearly in his mind upon seeing the girl's face.

— Right, I'll have to apologize quickly.

He had no idea what Monica was there for, but he will have to apologize first for peeking at her while she trained in secret last night. Everything else is of secondary importance.

"L-Look, Monica. I am really sor—"

"Sorry."

".................. Huh?"

"I-I said, I'm sorry!"

Monica subconsciously raised her voice. She forgot that it was already deep into the night.

"...... I am really sorry for what happened during the day. You are the one who had invited me to team up for the battle, and it is because of you that we won. However, not only did I not thank you for all that, I threw a tantrum at you, and caused things to be so stiff between us."

She turned her slightly blushing face to the side, and bit her teeth hard.

"That's what I wished to say. Sorry for taking up your time."

"Ah. Monica, wait!"

"What?"

"You came all the way to my room just so that you could say those things to me?"

If she wants to apologize, she could have chosen to visit him tomorrow instead. However, she chose to come despite the late hour. And even though she knew he was not in his room, she still waited for him patiently.

Why is she so insistent—

"That's how I am. Is it really weird?"

"...... No."

Sheltis replied with a gentle laugh.

"I feel I should be the one apologizing. Sorry, I accidentally saw you while you were training in secret."

"Well, it's fine...... It's late, so I'll be heading back."

She was about to turn around and leave yet again.

Looking at her back—

"...... Ahhh!"

"Huh? What's with that loud yell all of the sudden?"

"G-Give me a second!"

Sheltis took out his badge from his chest pocket, and activated the communication device. He then connected himself to the Sennenshi whom he was familiar with.

"Hello? Leon? Eh, you're still training? That's not important, listen to what I have to say. I've found the third person for that mission. Don't worry, there's no problem. I can guarantee you that she is trustworthy. Mmm, please handle it then."

After a few quick words, he disconnected the call.

"Ah, sorry. I've just asked Leon - it should be fine for you to join us."

"...... Sorry, I have no idea what you're talking about."

Monica was looking at him cluelessly.

"Urm, how should I put it?"

It was as though a kid had thought up an excellent prank — that was the expression Sheltis had on his face as he asked,

"Monica, do you want to team up with me tomorrow? It's a real mission this time."

16 comments:

  1. wow nice.... must...resist urge to read...study for lab practical.... ah f*** it

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  2. It was admirable speed, multiple series at that. Thanks as always.

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  3. possible typo: anthrophobia is fear of people in general, androphobia is of males.

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  4. No, it is indeed the fear of people, and not only male.

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  5. i like this one.
    thanks for your work!

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  6. Yeah!!! It's here, thanks XD

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  7. Well, Monica's past is still a mystery, but I'm glad i found out about the mission, thanks for the update.

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  8. Wow, thanks. I didn't expect for it to be out so quickly. I will read it right away.

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  9. thank you for this release;can't wait wait for oni-ai next update(don't want to read about "piano..."before completion of vol.1.

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  10. I've just finished reading.
    And I must say that from now on, the instructor is my favorite character. She is just too great! I love her!

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  11. Wouldn't Monica be wondering why Sheltis is going on such an advanced mission, with a senneshi, and undercover? I think she will be told of who Sheltis is (unless she has already figured out by remembering how similar the boy from 3 years ago and Sheltis are). So there will be one more who knows the secret...

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  12. Well, she will learn the truth at some point if she is to be one of the recurrent characters...and I think she is.

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  13. Cool! I hope they both can show some kick ass skills and rise to the top!

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