"...... Everyone's working really hard."
Sheltis stared at the training while sitting on the bench located at the outdoor training fields.
It was the teamed battles between the cadet guards.
A team of two great sword wielders were fighting against an archer and a heavy gunner in the artificial desert terrain. At the forest terrains further away, the cadet guard with throwing knives was up against a dual sword wielder.
Mock bullets were used for the guns, while the swords had their edges removed. However, the fights were no less intense than actual battles.
"You seemed pretty bored, Sheltis."
Instructor Yumelda walked towards him while stomping on the sands. She was wearing a blue suit without creases, and the cigarette in her mouth was still emitting swirling smoke.
"Get yourself up immediately. You'll be up next for the teamed battle."
"...... I am still recuperating."
"I know that. It's just a joke."
The instructor said that as she looked at the slowly rising smoke. Contrary to her words, her expressions were serious and the tone of her voice did not sound like she was joking.
"So when will you recover?"
"I should be able to resume training next week."
The cigarette which was thin like a needle was twirling about in the instructor's fingers. With his eyes chasing the path of the spinning cigarette, Sheltis told her just as how he was instructed by the doctor.
"Next week? That's boring."
"...... You know, I do hope you can show some sympathy to a patient who is still in his recovery."
"That's not what I meant. I was planning to get you on a mission."
The instructor sat on the bench. Her gaze were sharp as thorns.
"Fourteen hours ago, we lost contact with a group of cadet guards that were sent to patrol the nature sector."
"...... Was there an accident?"
"It all started when we did not receive a scheduled response from the team despite it being way past the zero hours. In accordance to paragraph four of article number fifty eight of the Tower's Law, we issued orders for a team of cadres guards to be on standby. As we were still unable to come into contact with them three hours later, we had deemed them to be in some sort of trouble. Four hours after that, which is seven o'clock this morning, six elites of the cadet guards were chosen to form a rescue team, and were dispatched to investigate on the matter."
It's something that happens every year — the instructor lifted her head to look at the rising cigarette smoke as she murmured those words.
"I think you should know this as well, but such things will happen every year. It could be a malfunctioning of the communication devices, the encountering of a Yuugenshu...... there are plenty of causes, but we do manage to rescue them successfully for most of the cases. I was originally planning to draft you into the rescue team."
"You are planning to recommend me?"
There is only one condition to be successfully drafted into a rescue team, and that is exceptional performance."
Should the capabilities of the rescue team be too weak, they will just end up in the same situation of the predecessors. To prevent that from occurring, it is stipulated that the rescue team must be made up of outstanding cadet guards that were drafted in by the instructors personally.
"I won't deny the fact that I do think highly of you, but there is another reason for me to recommend you this time round."
"It's the injuries on your head. I have no idea how you get yourself injured like that, but it does not seem minor, am I right? In other words, you may become the next person to be in the KIA list if you were unlucky. I had thinking of making you see look at those involved in an accident, so that you can learn a lesson or two from them."
If something was to go wrongly, he could very well be the next person to appear on the KIA list.
He had personally witnessed the scenes of accidents before, so he could understand how horrible it is. He reminded himself that he must never make the same mistakes.
"I will be more careful from now on."
Her tone was cold and straightforward, as per usual. However, there some other expressions mixed in to the stern face that the instructor usually wears.
Silence fall upon the bench—
"Ah— finally! I've found you!"
However, that was immediately broken by the shouts of a girl.
"I'sa, it's fine for you to appear all of the sudden, but can calm yourself down?"
"Ah...... Uhhhh. Sorry for my interruption, Instructor Yumelda. It's a pleasure to see you here."
The girl pinched the edges of her skirt and bowed respectfully.
She was a girl with golden twintails which was shimmering brightly under the rays of the sun. She was wearing a pure white ceremonial clothing, but the bottom half was replaced with a skirt instead. On her left shoulder was the badge of a regular guard.
"Eh? That girl from before?"
Sheltis blinked in surprise when he saw the familiar person.
It was something that happened two weeks ago. She was one of the two regular guards who were his and Monica's opponents during the teamed battles. If he remember right, her name is......
"I am I'sa Isu Ishmeal, a regular guard who uses shinryoku-arts. My class <type> is a 'puppeteer'...... Don't tell me you have forgotten me already?"
The young girl flashed a proud smile.
"I do remember. So, do you have any business with me?"
"Of course! I want to have my revenge for our last fight!"
The young girl pointed her finger in Sheltis' direction as her hair and skirt swayed in her movements.
"Calm down, I'sa. You are not making sense."
Just then, a stout dual gunner suddenly grabbed her by her arm. Sheltis recognized him as well. He was the regular guard whom I'sa paired up with. He remembered that his name is 'Jin'.
"Urm, you two are the opponents whom I had faced back during the teamed battles, right?"
"It's great that you can remember us. We have learned our lessons from our last defeat, so we want to request for a rematch."
Contrary to I'sa, Jin was calm and composed.
"Fu fu fu, we'll not lose to you this time round. Since that last defeat, I requested my Onee-sama to conduct some special training for me. Wait till you see the new frontiers that I reached after much difficulty—"
"It's not referring to how the control over the number of 'puppets' have increased from four to five, or something along those lines. Right?"
Upon hearing those murmurs of Sheltis, I'sa pressed her hands against her chest and straightened herself as though she was struck by lightning.
...... Eh, so I actually guessed it right?
The four huge metal balls which floated around her. He was just randomly saying how the numbers have increased from the previous four to five.
"J-Jin, this is not good! This person here actually knew about my secret techniques! What should we do? He must have seen through your plan of using the dual pistols at close range as well!"
"...... Why are you revealing my secret plans?"
The young girl was complaining to the dual gunner with teary eyes.
As for the person who was being complained to, he looked like he was already used it.
"Don't you think it's about time you two stop with your couple's acts?"
The slightly dumbfounded instructor crushed the empty cigarette box with her bare hand.
"Sorry for the wasted trip. You two came at the wrong time today."
"That's because this idiot had injured himself while on a mission, and is currently recuperating."
The girl let out another loud scream yet again.
"What are you doing, you idiot!? Do you know how tough it was for me everyday back when I was training together with my Onee-sama!? T-To think that——!"
"Why is everyone calling me an idiot!?"
First Monica, then the instructor, and now this girl here.
Why? He had done nothing bad, and yet he was called by others as 'idiot' recently.
"What to do? I deliberately skipped training to come here. I wonder what will Boss say if she comes to know of this."
"She's the captain of the Second Lions Squad. Actually, it will be more appropriate for me to say 'Sennenshi' instead...... Crap, I guess I'll just lie and say that Instructor Yumelda had asked me to assist her in the training. I'll pretend that I have to fight against the cadet guards—"
A hand appeared on I'sa's shoulder before she could finish her sentence.
"You know, what were you saying about how it's bad if I come to know of something?"
"Whoaaaaaa............ C-Captain Run......? W-Why...... are you here?"
"Obviously because I had tailed you two all the way here."
Run — she is the guardian of Priestess Meimel, and is one of the five strongest guards in Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>.
The badge of Sennenshi was worn on her left shoulder.
Her yellow hair was cut casually, and her amber-colored eyes were like those of a cat. Her pure white ceremonial clothing was designed to be a short sleeved shirt that is paired with short pants, both revealing her tanned limbs.
"So you two skipped training without valid reasons and chose to slack here instead?"
"C-Captain...... my neck, my neck is being strangled...... I cannot breathe!"
...... It's probably a habit of I'sa's.
It seemed like her way of speech will become very polite she is speaking to someone of higher ranking than her.
"Alright, so where's the 'crazily strong cadet guard' who made you two came over here despite your training? I do want to take a look myself since I am already here— Eh?"
Run's eyes opened wide in his direction as she released her hands that were strangling I'sa's neck.
"Oh— isn't this Sheltis? How are you doing? I heard you went to the Floating Archipelagos <Lagoon> together with Leon?"
"Whoa! Y-Y-Y-You can't say this here!"
Run's curious expression was just like those of an inquisitive kitten. Sheltis lowed his voice and said,
"The mission about us going to the Floating Archipelagos <Lagoon> is top secret. We can't talk about this here."
"Oh— yeah! Ahaha, I have nearly forgotten that! Sorry."
...... Is that really fine?
Sheltis felt slightly weak when he saw the Sennenshi laughing in a relaxed manner.
Speaking of which. He had met Run for quite a few times already, since she is Meimel's Sennenshi. However, this was the first time he was speaking to her face to face like this.
"I finally get it— I was wondering why I didn't see you recently. So you are still a cadet guard. Which means, the 'crazily strong cadet guard' whom I'sa is talking about is......"
"Ah— I see. It all makes sense now."
Her gaze alternate between Sheltis and I'sa for quite a few times. She then finally said with a voice full of pity,
"It's hopeless. You're still ten years too early for this."
"Ehhhh!? Whose side is Captain on!? And why are you speaking to him in as if you two are very close to each other? Could it be that Boss actually know this dual sword wielder!?"
"Nope, not at all."
"No way—!? Please do not shift your eyes away, Boss! Just what exactly is the relationship between the both of you!?"
"You are to call me 'Captain', not 'Boss'. Also, is this the attitude that one should be having even after she has skipped her training? Alrght, Jin, take I'sa away."
With that, Run grabbed I'sa with only a single hand.
"...... U...... Whaaa! B-Boss...... please stop! You'll cause my skirt to lift up—"
The girl was tossed high up. Her body soared through the air before finally landing in front of the dual gunner.
"Understood. Let's get going, I'sa."
"Uhhh...... I'll be leaving, Instructor Yumelda."
Jin nodded his head silently. Having seen the actions taken by Jin, I'sa pinched the two sides of her skirt unwillingly and lowered her head.
"What about you, Run? Don't you need to head back?"
"Ah— me? Well, Meimel will not return for the next three days as she has to maintain the barrier. And since my sparring partner Leon is outside patrolling, my schedule is boringly empty till the evening."
...... She did seemed to be really free.
Run was slumping lazily against the bench. She looked just like a cat which is listless in the summer heat.
"Right, Sheltis, why don't we spar against each other? I'll get bored to death if I don't move about once every hour."
"Why do you make yourself sound like a bunny...... And it's regrettable, but I am still recuperating."
"You're right— okay, I'll just go straight to the point then."
"Is there something you want to say?"
"Mmm, I suddenly remember it after seeing you."
Run took out a folded piece of paper from the pocket of her shorts.
"Here. Leon wants you to take a look at this."
Two hundred and ninety first story of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>.
Monica was heading towards her friend's room. On her way there, she passed by many of the staffs from Towers Control who were all walking briskly on the passageway.
"...... It's probably my first time doing this?"
The first time she visited Towers Control twice within the same day.
"Kagura, it's me. Sorry for disturbing you once more."
While standing in front of well guarded door, Monica placed her hand on the blue orb of the scanner.
The door opened as though it was the sea that was parted into two, revealing the silhouette of her friend.
"It's really rare to have someone visiting my place twice in the same day."
"Are you working?"
"If you are referring to the my from Towers Control, then I have already finished up to two weeks worth of my workload, so there's no need to worry. Also, I am really sorry for not receiving you properly earlier. I should have at least brewed you some tea."
*koto* — Kagura placed a small bottle on the desk.
It was a capped bottle that is sold in the tower. It will not spill its contents onto the machines should one tip it over accidentally,. There were absolutely no glasses or teacups to be seen in Kagura's room.
"I am sorry for coming here without informing you first."
"Since you are an important friend of mine,"
Kagura turned her chair along with her body to face Monica. She stared straight into her.
"I know the reason for you coming here. It's about the analysis on the possible patterns behind the movements of Yuugenshu. The stuff we talked about in the morning. Right?"
"There's something that really bothers me back then."
As she sat down on the chair offered to her by Kagura, Monica began to recall the exchange a few hours ago.
The meaning behind the question that Kagura raised for Sheltis to answer.
"Where and what are you doing three years and two years ago?"
"What are your reasons for asking those questions?"
What was Kagura's intentions for asking those questions?
And also, Sheltis chose to reply with an unnatural silence as well.
"Do you know something about him?"
Kagura did not answer her directly. Instead,
"Just not too long ago, he was having a friendly conversation with an important someone of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> - Sennenshi Run."
"Captain Run and Sheltis?"
Monica is well aware of Kagura's very own information network.
That should not be a mistake. If so, then why does Sheltis, who is a mere cadet guard, knows Run, who is a Sennenshi and holds the absolute rank in Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>?
— And right after Caption Leon, was Captain Run?
"Monica, don't you find everything about Sheltis strange?"
"...... Please go on."
"Firstly, his abilities are incredible for a new cadet guard who has only been in the palace for a few weeks. You should know this better than anyone else, since you two were together during the teamed battles."
I'sa and Jin.
Both of them are famous puppeteer and dual gunner among the regular guards. However, that young man had obtained victory almost all by himself. It was at then when Monica finally caught a glimpse of Sheltis' actual strength.
"That's surprising. You are very thorough in the investigation."
"I have installed hidden cameras without prior approval from my superior. There's above ten of them at the training grounds alone. And that includes the shots of you wiping your sweat in the shelter of a tree after training."
"I'm confiscating them."
"I am really sorry, but the CDs and the photos were already all sold out."
"You sold them!?"
"— Let's not talk about that for now. Aside from what I had mentioned earlier, there are also a few other suspicious points."
Kagura gave a fake cough.
"What I am most curious about is how his past history is a total blank. The only information I obtained is he was living in the living sector a month ago. On the other hand, he seemed to be an old acquaintance with a few of the Sennenshi. To look into that even deeper, there's also that black coat which he wears...... it looks like something that is modified from the old ceremonial clothes of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>. Why does he possess the old ceremonial clothes despite only entering into the palace not too long ago, and why is he insisting on wearing it?"
"So that's your reasons for asking him for his history three years and two years ago?"
It was exactly two and a half years ago when they abolished the old black ceremonial clothes and replaced it with the white ones that Monica was wearing. Should they know what happened before and after that time period, they should be able to guess Sheltis' past.
"And there are other reasons for me to do this as well."
"...... There are still other reasons?"
"Yes. But— just as I had expected, he was unwilling to answer my question. If my speculations are correct, then he............"
Kagura was about to say something, but she snapped back her senses and raised her head. Her mechanical helmet and visor swayed about her head due to her movements. She then let out a huge sigh.
"No, forget it. It's still too early for me to be making conclusions."
"You can't reveal it even to me?"
"I am doing this because of you in mind, Monica."
...... What does she mean?
Just as Monica was pondering the meaning behind those words, Kagura said,
"In any case— It seems like Sheltis is being ostracized by the other cadet guards. I feel the same way as well. He obviously does not fit into his surroundings. I am interested in him due to the mysteries behind his real identity, but it's another thing altogether if we are to talk about trust. Not only that, I am extremely wary of him."
Sheltis, a dual sword wield whose background is a total mystery.
"...... I guess, since even I do not know everything about him."
The Yuugenshu which was incubated in the facility at the Floating Archipelagos <Lagoon>. She had personally witnessed him being perfectly alright despite being coming under direct exposure to the mateki of the enemy. As an ex-apprentice-Priestess, she was really curious as to how Sheltis defended himself against those mateki.
"Maybe. But Monica, do you really trust him and want him into your team?"
"Yeah. I wanted to tell you this all along...... I don't know how to explain this, but I think I can trust him."
She was indeed worried about all the secrets that Sheltis is holding. However, she believed that he will definitely tell her everything when the time comes.
"That answer does have your style...... it's an answer that I, as a people of Nell, is unable to say. And it's something that I am envious of."
Kagura showed a wry smile after a pause.
That was probably something which can't be helped. Kagura is someone who belongs to a race with incredible wariness, and unlike Monica, she did not have any experience of carrying out missions together with Sheltis as well. It was normal for her to see Sheltis as a guy with a shady past.
"And that's the reason why I am keeping my distance away from him...... however, due to the circumstances, I had no choice but to accept his requests. And since it has turned to that, I will work hard to come up with the possible patterns to the movements of the Yuugenshu. I should be able to come up with something substantial by this week."
"Thanks for your help."
"Monica, there is no need for you to thank me, since you are my friend."
It was as if her eyes behind the visor were putting on a smile.