"It's only the morning training, and yet you guys are all worn out already? Don't give me that, you brats!"
The furious roar from the instructor rang through the outdoor training grounds.
There are close to a thousand cadet guards, and ten instructors who are in charge of training everyone. While about half the cadet guards have already rose to the second rank and are already carrying out missions, the training grounds were still filled with people everywhere.
Sheltis was sitting leisurely on the bench at a corner of the training grounds.
He was murmuring the name of Eyriey's friend while staring at the training.
"Ah— can't do it. There is no way I can recognize her. If only they have her picture on the electronic name list."
Everything started from an hour ago.
"There are two people who fulfills the criteria."
After searching for 'Kagura' in Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>'s electronic name list, he had obtained two results. However, there lies the problem.
— There are actually two person named 'Kagura'.
And Sheltis had no way of differentiating which Kagura was the one whom he was searching for.
One of them is from the computer development division of Towers Control, and is in charge of controls management.
The other seemed to be the same as Sheltis - a cadet guard.
"...... So who is the Kagura whom Eyriey was talking about?"
He scanned through the vast training grounds.
Out of the two Kaguras, he had decided to focus his attention on the cadet guard. After coming to the training ground with that intention in mind, he then realized that it was not easy to find a specific person within such a huge area.
The root of that problem lies in the fact that he had no idea how Kagura looks like, and he did not know any of her unique traits either.
"Since it's not easy to find her here, should I try looking at the Towers Control instead...... But I have never went to that floor before."
The other Kagura who is in the computer development division.
The computer development division maintains and manages the mainframe of the whole tower. That division has no direct link with Sheltis, who is a guard. Simply put, that floor is not a place where he could get close to easily.
"...... As with the way things are now, it's not about whether I like it or not. I'll just give them a visit."
He was about to stand up from the bench.
A female cadet guard walked past him.
A girl holding onto a pair of crossed rods <Rosario>, with her long sakura-colored hair tied behind her back.
On her beautiful face was a pair of grey eyes that were sharp and serene. Her slender figure could be seen clearly despite the pure white ceremonial clothing that she was wearing. Each of her hand was holding onto a crossed rod <Rosario> crafted out of black gold.
Just as he was thinking of her name, the other girl turned her head around at the same time as if their thoughts were connected. Her eyes widened.
"Ah, long time no—"
He did not have the chance to finish his greeting. Everything happened in an instant.
"Why didn't you tell me you have been discharged?"
"Eh? No, I am discharged, but I am still recuperating, so it's nothing huge."
The second 'idiot' from her.
However, that line was filled with gentleness that was missing from the first.
"Even so, you are to report that to me as well. Because I...... well..... I am very worried, you know?"
Monica turned her face to the side, perhaps so that she could use her sakura-colored hair to hide her blushing face.
"...... You're right. Sorry, I didn't think of that."
Thinking back, that was indeed the case. Monica had visited his ward countless times for the past two weeks. She must have been really worried about him.
"I am not demanding an apology from you. Then again, it's great that you are fine now."
Monica took a glance at the empty seat on the bench. Go ahead — after giving her a nod of approval, Monica sat herself on the other empty seat.
Sheltis sneaked a peek at her side profile.
She should be a year older than him - a cadet guard who is eighteen years old. She used be an apprentice-Priestess, but she changed class to be a cadet guard.
"Since you are not participating in the training today, that means that you have not recovered fully yet?"
"The doctor's instruction is that I am banned from training for a week. Only after that does she finally agree to me recuperating at my home."
"What. That's not long, but not short either."
Monica seemed to find that pretty interesting, and let out a light laugh.
"It will not be easy for you when you return back to the squad after your recuperation period is over. The term 'just recovered' does not exist in the dictionary of the instructor."
"...... Spare me from that."
Monica's ceremonial clothing was slightly dirty and her face was glistering from her sweat. She had probably just gone through the hellish training of Instructor Yumelda.
"Speaking of which."
Monica sorted her feelings a little after ending that topic on a happy note.
"It's obvious you'll be continuing with the training, but will you be accepting the missions under the rewards system as well?"
"After my body recovers, since I'll not be able to take part in the test that is required to get myself promoted as a regular guard if I do not take up missions to earn myself the reward points. I'll have to work hard on that."
After a moment of silence.
"Have you decided on which team to join?"
"How can that be? Monica, you should know very well about how I am being ostracized by the rest of the cadet guards. I'll probably be rejected even if I want to."
"...... I see."
Disappointment and relief. The two conflicting feelings were sandwiched in Monica's words.
At the exact same moment.
The both of them spoke and looked at each other.
"D-Did you want to say something?"
"You too, Monica."
Monica's face went red from embarrassment as Sheltis pointed that out.
"I-I am fine with saying it after you, so you go first— Hey, why are you laughing...... I am being serious here!"
"Ahaha. Sorry, it just feels really funny."
She has always given him the impression as someone who is always calm and collected, so her flustered expression was something rare, and she looked really cute. However, he would probably receive a harsh scolding from her should he say that to her.
"You can go first."
"...... Okay. I'll go straight to the point then."
She coughed lightly once, and then—
"I hope you can join the team that I have created."
— He had never heard her talking about it while he was hospitalized.
She must have really wanted to tell him about it, but she dare not do so.
"I have been thinking about it for a long time......"
The girl's hands that were on her thighs were trembling, as though she was releasing the emotional feelings inside her.
"Before I met you, I have always been a failure. I am very clear about the fact that no team will want me...... but deep down, I was still holding on to that glimmer of hope...... I naively believed that one day, there will be a team that will welcome me in....... But that won't do. I will never change if I continue to wait passively."
She bit her lips and looked into the sky.
"So this time, I want to invite you into the team that I have created myself. My abilities are not as impressive as yours, and I have no experience as a team leader. But at the very least...... there is something that I can do."
"I will become a team captain who trust my team members more than any other captains of the other teams."
It was as though she was telling him her dreams.
Her grey eyes which originally gave people the impression of calmness were suddenly giving off a shine - they were lit with a passion that was never seen from her before.
"And so, I hope you can join my team."
"I can wait if you need time to consider. You can just reject me if you are unwilling to do so."
"No, that's not what I meant!"
Sheltis raised his hands and waved them around when he saw Monica looking at him with an uneasy expression in her eyes.
"It's not that I am unwilling...... I was just surprised. I thought that the previous mission was the last time I will team up together with Monica."
"....... I thought that the other teams would have approached Monica already."
Just as he had discussed with Ilis back then, Monica's capabilities are definitely not poor.
After the fight against the Yuugenshu at the Floating Archipelagos <Lagoon>, she might have regained her confidence. During the two weeks when he was in the hospital, there was a possibility of her joining a team which she liked. Either that, or she might have already gathered some teammates to set up a new team.
"D-Didn't I say it just now!? I...... you know...... I wish form a team with you."
Monica blushed as she explained with an almost inaudible voice.
She was waiting for him. And despite the fact that she could start her recruitment first, she deliberately waited for him, and had thus delayed the formation of the team.
"We were together during the team battles as well, so...... it feels like there's an affinity between us."
— That's right. And that's the reason why Sheltis was surprised.
He had never dreamed that someone would invite him into a team.
He is the only cadet guard to wear black among all the others who wear white, and he did not reveal everything about himself. Not only do the people around him look at him with strange glances, most of the teams were filled as well, so there were no place for him to join in.
Under those circumstances, should he want to earn the reward points, he could only hope for teams that are recruiting temporary members, or to perhaps sneak into the existing teams whenever a mission pops up. He had already prepared himself to do all that.
"...... I'll confirm with you once more. You sure you are fine with me?"
"Is there anything that is holding you back?"
That concise question stabbed deep into his heart like a sharp blade.
"Well...... I am personally very concerned about it."
— There is no way I can reveal my past.
That I am someone who had fallen into the Garden of Corrupted Song <Eden> three years ago, and is officially proclaimed by the authorities as dead.
The twin sword wielder who has returned from the Garden of Corrupted Song <Eden>. He had lost his shinryoku that should exist in all human beings, and instead he brought along with him mateki, which is the same as those in Yuugenshu.
"I am feeling very uneasy about myself."
"...... Perhaps because of how mysterious I am compared to all the other cadet guards."
Sheltis bit on his lips and looked upwards into the eyes of Monica.
The twin swords wielder with a mysterious past — there is the possibility of him bringing mistrust to the whole team due to his existence. It is a team that Monica created after much difficulty, but the problem of mistrust may arise because of one heresy cadet guard.
"I...... can't quite talk about myself. Even if Monica is willing to believe in me, the other teammates will still treat me with mistrust. That will obviously lead to the breakdown of the camaraderie of team, which will in turn be a problem for you. Therefore—"
"So that's what you are worrying about."
Oh you — she heaved a sigh while smiling wryly.
With her arms crossed in front of her chest and her eyes narrowed, she looked just like a mother who was about to enlighten her naive child.
"Isn't that something very normal? Everyone will have one or two secrets that they cannot reveal to anyone. It's the same for me, and the same for you as well. If there are secrets that cannot be revealed, then there are secrets that can be shared with everyone as well. It all depends on you."
"No buts. Think about my words carefully. Is there anything wrong with what I had said?"
He thought about it repeatedly...... and finally, Sheltis nodded his head hesitantly.
"...... There's nothing wrong at all."
"Then there's no problems here. I want the relationship between the teammates to be built on trust, and not prying deep into one another's heart. Should there be anyone who meddles with the privacy of others, I'll definitely reject him."
"I am not sure about the secrets that you are holding, but I am not planning to ask, nor will I allow the teammates to do so. Should there be that sort of person...... Hmm? What's wrong? Why are you being so silent all of the sudden—"
"............ Ahaha, ahahahahahaha, ahaha!"
Unable to contain his laughter any longer, Sheltis laughed so hard his body had curled up into the 'ㄑ' character.
"Hey, I am being really serious—"
"Ah, ahaha...... S-Sorry, I have no idea why I am laughing as well....... It's probably because I am feeling really happy right now."
He gently brushed away the tears at the corner of his eyes.
He never thought there would be someone who is so passionate about getting him into her team.
Despite being exiled once by Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>, and also the fact that he is carrying the curse of mateki in his body, there is actually someone who wants him. Upon realizing that fact, his body relaxed immediately, and what followed next was the urge to laugh out loudly.
"Geez. Is the condition of your head injuries actually worsening?"
Monica stared at him with a dumbfounded expression and gave a sigh.
"Maybe. Mmm, thanks to you, I feel much better now all of the sudden."
...... If the person is Monica.
Despite the mateki in him, he wants to repay her trust. That was his heartfelt feelings.
"Well then. I'll be in your care from now on, Monica."
"Y-Yeah. It is me, the newbie, who needs your assistance."
She was a little shy and a little embarrassed at the same time.
Monica replied in stutters without knowing what sort of expression she should be putting on.
"I am really sorry though. You have finally got the team running, and yet I am still recuperating from my injuries."
"One week passes by really quickly. Moreover, there's a bunch of procedures that I will have to take care of first. For instance, I'll have to register the new team at the Law Enforcement Bureau, apply for the communication frequencies for our team, and so on. But most importantly, we have to get one more team member."
The subjugation of the harmful beasts, protecting the VIPs as well as investigating the Floating Archipelagos <Lagoon>.
All missions issued by Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>, including those from the Law Enforcement Bureau, generally require the teams to have at least three people - which means himself, Monica and one other person. Though they can get a temporary member for the missions if it is something really urgent, for the sake of the stability of the team, it is still better for them to get a fixed teammate.
"I have no idea who to get. What about you, Monica?"
"I have someone in mind. I'll say this first though - that someone is a little strange. That person has no desire of being promoted to a regular guard despite being in the lowest rank of the cadet guards. Why don't I introduce you to that person right now?"
With that, Monica began to move. From the direction in which she was heading to, it seemed like she was not walking towards the training grounds. Instead, she was heading to the main path which will lead them to Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>.
"Urm, what's the reason for that person not wanting to promote to a regular guard?"
"In the words of that girl, it's 'because it is a part-time job'. She only trains for about ten days a month, and the rest of the days are spent on her main job, which is research. She is in the computer development division of Towers Control, which is the division in charge of controls management."
"So she's a girl...... and from Towers Control?"
Sounds like he had heard it from somewhere.
Computer development division of Towers Control — he was very clear about that. Back when he was searching for Kagura who was recommended to him by Eyriey via the electronic name list, there are two people who fits the criteria. One of them is a cadet guard, while the other belongs to the division which Monica was talking about.
Meaning, they are both the same person?
"Did that person participate in some sort of calculator contest held by the Mechanical Bureau before?"
"You know Kagura?"
Monica turned her head around swiftly in surprise.
"Whoa! So it is really her. Well...... I do know her, but I have never seen her before."
"I am sorry, but I have no idea what's the relationship between you two."
"...... Seems like I'll have to explain everything from the beginning."
Sheltis shrugged and flashed a wry smile while looking at Monica, who was all confused.
"Investigate on the patterns to Yuugenshu's appearance? So that's the reason Eyriey introduced Kagura to you?"
Monica was crossing her arms while walking on the floors of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>.
"Mmm. So what is she like?"
"From what I know about her? She's a petite girl in terms of looks. Not good at sports, and her age is probably somewhere around sixteen. She is not used to looking into the eyes of the person whom she is talking to, so she is always looking at the computer screens instead. She has a strange personality, but possesses exceptional talent when it comes to numbers and machines."
"...... Sounds like someone who is hard to get along with. I wonder if she will be willing to accept my request."
"It will depends on how you go about doing it."
After turning past the corner with quick steps, Monica continued,
"Her interests is to gather data. Once she gets interested in someone, she will take the initiative and approach them regardless of whether they are the clerical staff or her fellow squad mates. For example, she'll go, 'You are Monica Esperanto, right? I am very interested in you, so please answer my questions'. So long as you answer her questions, she'll help you in exchange for that."
"...... Seems like she is someone who is really difficult to handle."
You will get used to it — Monica smiled wryly as they continued to chat while walking.
"That was how I got to know her. Kagura asked me several questions for quite a few times, probably because she found my history to be really interesting. That was how we got close to each other."
Monica is someone who converted her class from an apprentice-Priestess to a cadet guard. There should be lots of people who will be interested in her should they get to know of her past, and not just Kagura alone.
"So you answered her truthfully?"
"That's right. She is strange, but she speaks in a very serious manner. I am very satisfied about the results, since we managed to become friends."
"Thank you, Monica. You are always honest and thorough in your answers towards my questions."
"From my judgement, you are a person whom I can trust. Please look for me should you face any troubles, okay? I will do my best to assist you."
"That's pretty touching. But she is becoming more and more unfathomable as you speak."
Considering her personality, he could imagine Monica being especially patient towards Kagura's questions.
But it sounds a little too exaggerating for Kagura to declare Monica as 'a person whom I can trust'. And judging from her next line, 'Please look for me should you face any troubles, okay' - isn't her change in attitude a little too quick?
"It's because she is a human subspecies. Do you know about the Nell?"
"The 'People of Nell' who lives in the Northern clusters of the Floating Archipelagos <Lagoon>?"
On the Floating Archipelagos <Lagoon> away from the floating continent, lives many human subspecies, and they formed their own cultures over time. One of the groups are the 'People of Nell', and some of them are actually serving in Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> as well.
"I remember them being a race that is incredibly strong in mathematics, right? For example, they are knowledgeable in the complex movements of the heavenly bodies, or they can formulate equations from the laws of nature and integrate them into their calendar."
"Seems like it. And Kagura appears to be one of the most capable of her race...... and there's something important to take note: she has inherited one of their other unique traits as well."
Monica gave a small shrug as she continued walking. Sheltis nodded his head in agreement as he looked on from her side.
"The people of Nell are incredibly mistrusting."
The people of Neil are born with incredible mathematical talents. At the same time, they are very mistrusting towards others. They will never open themselves to people whom they are seeing for the very first time, and adopt a cold attitude when doing so. On the other hand, they will become incredibly sincere and warm towards those who deserves their trust.
Monica is deemed by Kagura as 'someone trustworthy'.
"So in another words, I will have to first answer her questions or help her out to gain a certain amount of trust from her before I can get Kagura's assistance?"
"Yes. In any case, let's pay her a visit. I'll try asking her."
The first story of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>. Monica quickly walked past the main foyer that was filled with visitors and the waiting crowd. She was not heading towards the middle area where the central elevators are located, but a small high-speed elevator located somewhere on the first floor. That elevator is used specially for getting to high places that are at two hundred stories and above.
"The computer development division of Towers Control is located on the two hundred and nineteenth story."
Monica said that as she stared at the scenery on the other side of the reinforced glass.
As the elevator began to move, the scenery outside turned into a blur.
The sound of a bell rang, and the elevator stopped.
"Speaking of which, I rarely come to the Towers Control. How about you, Monica?"
"It's the same for me, so I can only bring you to Kagura's research laboratory...... Don't get yourself separated from me, as it is difficult to search for people in here."
"Ah, w-wait! You're walking too fast, Monica!"
He increased his speed to catch up to Monica, who was already ahead of him.
...... If only Ilis is around. He would not get lost.
He never thought he would come to miss the benefits brought to him by the machine crystal <Ilis> - who has the interiors of the towers well within her grasp - that quickly.
After making a few more turns as well as passing by countless clerical staffs—
"Here we are."
Monica suddenly stopped in her tracks.
What appeared before him was a silvery-grey mechanical door. As the doors of the rooms at either sides were painted in warm colors, the grey door gives one the impression that it will lead the user into another dimension.
"A mechanical door made by Kagura herself. According to her, it is equipped with a surveillance camera, fingerprint recognition, voice recognition, vein mapping and so on. Basically, she has installed all the possible safety features that came to her mind."
He had no idea if that was due to the mistrusting nature of the people of Nell, or was it purely for protecting the secrets in the lab. In any case, one could clearly see the some of the personalities of Kagura from the door alone.
"Kagura. It's me."
Monica stretched out her hand to touch a blue sphere on the door. The sphere was flashing at high speed, as though it was checking something.
The sound of a *beep* came a few seconds later, and the door opened slowly towards both sides.
It was a dark room.
Shelts took a step into the room, and realized there was barely any lighting inside. The only illumination in the room was the faint glows coming from the three huge giant screens that were encased onto the wall.
And at the center of the room, was its owner staring at the middle screen.
"It's been a while, Monica. And also, it's the first time I am meeting you, Sheltis Magna Yehle."
The girl turned her chair around to face them.
"You know me?"
"Collecting data is an interest of mine. I dare say that I possess a greater volume of data as compared to Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>'s data vault. And they are much more accurate too."
Kagura told him in all seriousness.
Actually, they could not see her true expressions at all. She was wearing a mechanical helmet with a visor, and the only way to guess her expressions was via the movements of her mouth.
"Monica, are you here to discuss about the formation of the team which you had talked about earlier?"
"Actually, there is another thing as well. I hope you can investigate something for me."
"If the subject is something that interests me."
"It's about the Yuugenshu."
Kagura's lips tightened into a straight line when she heard that.
"...... Carry on."
"Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> are in possession of data on where the Yuugenshu will appear on the floating continent. From these data, we will like to know if there is any patterns to the appearance of the Yuugenshu. It's not about the probability of their appearances, but rather, we wish to get hold of how their movements."
"This is quite a difficult request, and the difficulty lies in the point that even if we can filter out the data, we have no way of proving if the results are accurate or not. As such, this idea is pretty much still in its infancy."
"We can take care of that. Should you be able to filter it out successfully, we are willing to investigate the different areas of the floating continent based on the pattern that is discovered."
"...... I see."
Kagura became silent.
After a while, she raised up her head as she thought of something.
"Monica, this idea is extreme and very flexible at the same time, so it should not be from you — is it your idea, Sheltis?"
He could clearly feel the gaze of Kagura through her visor.
Her gaze was not locked on Monica, but onto himself.
He could only nod his head in admission, as there was no way he could hid it from her any longer.
"Monica should have told you about me being one of the people of Nell. We are a race that are timid and shy. I am not an easygoing person, so I will not usually agree to help someone whom I am meeting for the very first time...... However, I have been interested about you since a while back, just like how I used to be interested in Monica. Therefore—"
"You have a condition, right?"
Sheltis replied before her.
— Monica was right.
Prior to gaining her trust, he would have to accept her conditions before he could raise his own requests.
"Yes. Please answer this question of mine. You will pass if you can answer it, and I will respond to your request sincerely."
"Just a question?"
"Yes. I have no other conditions."
...... Was it because of Monica that she was being easy on him?
He should be easy to answer her right on the spot if it was just one question. Just as he relaxed his body—
"Where and what are you doing three years and two years ago?"
He could feel a sudden chill down his spine. A chill which he had never experienced before, and one that surpassed any fear.
Three years ago was the time when he had fallen into the Garden of Corrupted Song <Eden>.
And two years ago was when he was exiled from Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>.
"............ What do you...... mean by that?"
"Just like what I had said. Please tell me the incidents that has left the deepest impression in you three years and two years ago. Don't tell me you have forgotten them?"
Kagura's tone was incredibly calm and unchanging like a machine. However, her words sounded undeniably sharp and cold to his ears, just like icicles.
— Sweat streaked past his cheeks.
He could finally understand the meaning behind the words that she had said at the beginning.
"Collecting data is an interest of mine. I dare say that I possess a greater volume of data as compared to Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>'s data vault. And they are much more accurate too."
The data detailing everything about him up to three years ago that was deleted off from Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> — could someone have duplicated the data and kept it for their own use?
...... If there is a copy of my data of three years ago.
...... This means that Kagura has been suspicious of me right from the very beginning.
She was suspicious of the twin swords wielder named Sheltis.
She suspected that Sheltis and the person who had died three years ago after falling into the Garden of Corrupted Song <Eden> could be the same person.
"Are you unable to tell me? My question should not be a difficult one to answer."
There was no way he could say it.
He is a heretic who was infected with mateki after falling into the Garden of Corrupted Song <Eden>. Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> will definitely be thrown into chaos should they come to know about how a person like him is undertaking the role of a guard here.
And should he spark a huge uproar, he will definitely be exiled from the place permanently. More importantly, he will never get to fulfill his promise to become Ymy's Sennenshi.
"...... Can you change your question to something else?"
"Sorry, but this is the only question that I want to ask."
Monica took a step towards Kagura, who was putting on an aggressive tone.
"Kagura, this is not like you."
Her voice was calm and strong at the same time, just like the surface of a frozen mirror.
"I do not know your reason for this, but can't you be more flexible and change the question?"
"I can be very obstinate at times. Moreover, what I am doing may be for your own good, Monica."
Just as Monica was narrowing her eyes in surprise.
"Hey— Is Kagura around—? Please give me an answer regardless of whether you are in there or not—!"
The mechanical door opened all of the sudden, and a girl in overalls with fluffy orange hair walked straight into the room.
"Ah, so Sheltis is here too. What, I was thinking that you may not be able to find Kagura, so here I am talking a look at the situation. Ah, so Monica's here as well. Long time no see—"
Eyriey was originally heading to the upper levels of the tower along with the machine crystal <Ilis>. She happily waved her hands in the direction of Monica before turning her body to face the owner of the room.
"...... So it's Eyriey."
The edges of Kagura's lips broke into a slight smile.
That was the first time the girl was putting on such an expression.
"So you knew both Sheltis and Monica? What a problem...... I never expect the you to be the cause of all these things."
"Hmm? But all I did is to introduce Sheltis to you."
"That's what I meant!"
Kagura suddenly threw a tantrum for some unknown reason.
"Well well. Let's put that aside for now. How's things going for you, Sheltis? Are you successful with the negotiations?"
"Urm...... Well...... Nope."
Eyriey shot a meaningful glance at Kagura.
"Well, Kagura is busy most of the time. I see, I guess it's better if I am in charge of this. After I am done with the matters of the machine crystal <Ilis>—"
"P-Please hold on a second, Eyriey."
Kagura stood up hurriedly.
She was a lot shorter than Eyriey. Out of the people Sheltis knew, she is probably of about the same height as Syun-rei. Even after taking into consideration that she is a girl, her stature is petite in comparison.
"I never expect this...... that you have actually involved yourself in the analysis to the possible regularity in the appearance of Yuugenshu."
"Actually, I am the one whom Sheltis approached immediately. I was busy then, so I asked him to seek your assistance instead. But since the negotiation is not done yet, I might as well—"
"D-Didn't I ask you to hold on a second!?"
Kagura wove her fists about and yelled.
"Sheltis...... though I am very unwilling, I will agree to your earlier request."
He had yet to answer the question in exchange for her assistance.
"It's fine. I have already found what I should be doing, and it had appeared right before me."
She stared hard at Eyriey and pointed in the direction of her nose. It was as though she was not even paying any attention to Sheltis.
"Listen up, Eyriey - let's have a showdown between us! We shall see who can correctly churn out the patterns behind the appearance of the Yuugenshu!"
"Hmm? What? I have no idea what's going on, but I guess I'll accept your challenge."
Eyriey agreed readily despite her being all confused about the situation. On the other hand, Kagura was putting on a sinister smile on her face.
"...... Fufufu, I will definitely show you my skills this time round. With the pride of the people of Nell on the line, I will definitely not lose to you, a representative of the human race!"
"Eh? I am representing the human race here? How very embarrassing."
"What's there to be embarrassed about!? You should be showing some nervousness at the very least— Ah............"
Perhaps she had finally noticed.
Kagura turned her body away awkwardly, and cleared her throat.
"Ahem. In any case, leave that to me."
"A-Alright, you can leave! Eyriey too, please leave this room immediately. Since it has already been decided, I'll like to be alone so that I can focus."
— What's going on here?
Sheltis and Monica glanced at each other while Kagura was shoving them away.
"So Kagura's willing to help. That means everything is settled peacefully?"
After the mechanical door was shut, Eyriey turned around to face them.
"I can focus all of my attention on the machine crystal <Ilis>, and Sheltis can finally relax himself and recuperate."
"That's how it is, but it seemed like we had caused some troubles for you, no? Kagura suddenly issued you a challenge out of the blue. What's with that?"
"Ah— I am already used to that."
Eyriey's laughter echoed in the corridor.
"She may not look it like, but that girl hates losing. Whenever she feels like it, she will always come and 'challenge me to a showdown', whether it is things like guessing the winning digits to the lottery, or predicting the amount of rainfall. Generally speaking, all challenges are in the areas of numbers or machines, and that has been the way ever since our very first encounter. But that's fine, since it is rather interesting."
"I have finally seen another side of her as well."
Next to Eyriey, Monica was nodding her head repeatedly.
"That was the first time I see Kagura being that stirred up. Did you win all the challenges, Eyriey?"
"Nope. I was losing all the way—"
...... Eyriey lost?
Eyriey possesses an incredible amount of knowledge as well as skills when it comes to machines. Even after knowing her for two years while staying at the living sector, Sheltis has barely seen the real capabilities of Eyriey. The machine crystal <Ilis> was also deeply impressed by her techniques when she was hacking the main computers of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>. There should be no doubt about her talents.
And now, there is actually a mechanic who is of the same age as Eyriey, who is even more skilled than her? Sheltis couldn't quite believe that right away.
"That means Kagura is better than Eyriey?"
"How should I put it? Hmm— she should be very strong? Isn't that fine? I have never put any thought into this. Why don't you ask her directly?"
Eyriey pointed towards the mechanical door. Compared to the emotional Kagura, Eyriey was relaxed and at ease throughout the whole thing.
"I do want to, but I will probably be yelled at by her should I enter her room now."
Monica smiled wryly.
"Let us head back for now. We will attract the attention of others should we stay here any longer, since we are cadet guards. Also, Instructor Yumelda will be angry should I not head back for my training soon."
— Before her was a passageway made of ice walls that was giving an azure brilliance.
...... It's cold.
Cold that was beyond iciness. No— it had surpassed the limits to her body's sense of touch. All she could feel was pain on her exposed skin.
It was a world of ice that extends outwards endlessly - there were no ceilings nor the normal walls.
Two hundred and ninety first story of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>, the highest story which is named as <<Paradise>>. Different from the stories below it, it would be more adequate to say that this place is of another world.
There were no shelter above her, only light that seemed to come from the white night.
Beneath the brilliant lights was a scene of erected azure ice walls that stretches on forever. The surfaces of the ice walls were crystal clear and more dazzling than any other crystals. It's like mirrors that are showing the reflections of the world.
The warmth of her body.
Everything was frozen in this world. And that includes her memories and her conscience.
It is pointless to wear any winter clothing here. All living things, all objects and even the Yuugenshu. It is a barrier that freezes everything and seals their soul and time — Hyouketsu Kyoukai.
"Ah— it hurts. It's cold and it hurts."
Meimel was wearing just her vestment as she walked in the frozen world.
The colors of her feet which walked on the frozen floors were pale from the lack of blood. The sharp ice shards scratched her skin, which resulted in tiny traces of blood on the places where she stepped on.
However, her expressions remained composed. She was even putting on a smile.
It was not that she could feel no pain, nor was it because she was showing no reaction to the iciness. As of now, her lips were purple and her shoulders and fingers were trembling non-stop.
Even so, the Priestess' expressions were at ease as she continued walking in the frozen world.
"Allow your heart to calm down. You must be more tranquil than the huge trees that were rooted for over hundreds of years, or the giant boulders erected at the faraway canyons. Your heart must be burning with a will that is stronger than anyone else."
She had already said those lines to her junior Priestesses for countless number of times, and she herself does follow strictly to what she preaches as well.
All the pains that one is experiencing on her body, as well as the corrosion of her mental wellness. Even if she has lost her rationality, and even if she collapses from a mental breakdown, she will continue praying for the barrier.
That is the culmination for a Priestess.
And the one who portrays that culmination is the second Priestess, Meimel in Carnation.
"Meimel is here, your Highness."
She had reached the center of <<Paradise>>.
In the middle of what seemed like a giant pool of steam waters, was an incredibly large azure ice crystal. A woman was sealed in the center of the clear crystal.
One could faintly see the pure white vestment which the woman wearing deep in the azure ice.
She is someone who sacrifices her body into the azure ice which freezes everything, and prays continuously for Hyouketsu Kyoukai by herself.
"Well then, Queen Salah—"
She stretched out her fingers to touch the azure ice crystal.
phia-So la telah sitra
<The triangular door shall light up our prayers>
She said the opening prologue. Her words were filled with the power of shinryoku that was released from her own body.
"As of now, I shall take over Hyouketsu Kyoukai for the next three days."
The remains of her shinryoku transformed into a light barrier. The azure light enveloped the whole of Meimel's body. It was as though those light was a supreme sacred-raiment that was made out of azure threads.
As she coordinated herself to the singing voice of the Queen, Meimel began to sing with her own voice as well.
Yu/ Uhw =C r-sanc uc Eden
<Under the foils of the slumbering Eden>
term-l-pile xel, xin, ole fusen elchel
<The falling stars, time and dreams covered the eyes and faces>
Shinryoku <melody> — 'Seventh Heaven Rhythm <Sophia Code>'.
A mysterious melody which maintains Hyouketsu Kyoukai, it's a song of prayer that is passed down only to the Priestesses of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>.
xearcs let laphin yahe, bie omia hec lihit clar
<There is no key to the doors-of-speech which is sketched by the transparent fingertip>
noi-roo-xin, noi melras I noe-l-habes pianic cia eyen
<In the never-ending world, the jade-like phantoms had stopped their laments>
It was at that very instant.
It is incredibly difficult to reach the instance where the two singing voices resonate, but it was the point where it sounded especially beautiful — and that is why Meimel loves the arrival of that very instance the most.
The feeling of the tone ringing in the cold and yet clear world of their throbbing souls.
=C hypn phenoria, Eec qhaon nes ei getie, nephies paf lef bis cley kis ei roos
<Sleep, children. Your wings are still young, and branches of safety are still too far away>
=C hypn phenoria, Eec wat nes ei getie bies killis cley kis ei mihas
<Sleep, children. Your feet are still weak, and this frozen land is still too painful>
She closed both of her eyes.
Meimel sunk even deeper into the hard and transparent azure ice crystals.
"...... Everyone's working really hard."
Sheltis stared at the training while sitting on the bench located at the outdoor training fields.
It was the team 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 team 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 team 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 team 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 nineteenth 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 team 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 do sound like something you will say...... and it's an answer that I, as a people of Nell, is unable to say. 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.
Sheltis stared to and fro the ceiling and the piece of paper in his hand as he laid on his bed in his room.
He turned around to lay on his sides, and mumbled,
"...... What a headache."
It's a copy of the official reply from the Government Sector. Something that Leon passed it to Run, who then passed it to him.
The contents had them protesting against Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>'s unauthorized landing on the Floating Archipelagos <Lagoon>.
"It's all about them protesting. They did not give any answers to the most important question, which is that of the facility. This is quite unlikely, but since they insisted on not knowing the things that were witnessed personally by the guards of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>...... does that mean that the Government Sector is very certain about it?"
The underground facility which was incubating the Yuugenshu.
And also the girl in the image who is surrounded in mystery, and claims herself as the Forbidden Crystal.
Since they were dead set on denying it, it means that they must hold a lot of confidence to do it. However, it is not known if they were really clueless about it, or if they were confident of eliminating the evidence before Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> could request and start on a new investigation.
....... There would be no way of investigating on this should the evidence be removed.
"Ah— Damn! How can I possibly ignore this!"
It is stated on the official document that they will be holding a conference next month.
The envoys of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> will head down to a place prepared by the Government Sector. The reason for Leon to pass him that copy was a message from him asking Sheltis to 'come along as well'.
"....... I'll have to tag along after reading this official document, huh. Damn, I've been had by Leon. I was finding it strange all along - how can he allow a cadet guard to see this classified document!"
He jumped off his bed and stared at the papers in his hand.
"I wonder who else will be going. Me...... and the other witness, Monica? There should also be the upper brass from either Towers Control or General Affairs Council. Then I'll have to add in the cadet guards who will be on a protecting mission, as well as a handful of regular guards, and then......"
"Sheltis, you are to head to the outdoor training grounds immediately."
Just as he was about to sort out his thoughts, he was interrupted by an announcement coming from the speakers located in the corner of the ceilings.
"...... I've said this a lot of times already, Instructor Yumelda, but I cannot participate in the trainings—"
"Our dear Priestess is about to give her speech."
The Priestess' speech.
He could not recall any scheduling of such an event.
"It was something decided while you were still hospitalized. You should know that today's the day where the handover ceremony of the barrier will be conducted between the Queen and the Priestess?"
"I do know that."
A change of the prayer. The Queen can only rest for three days every month. The handover ceremony is a ritual to allow the Priestesses to maintain the barrier while the Queen is resting. No one knows what sort of spells are used, or how the ceremony will be conducted. It is something passed down in secret between the Queen and her Priestesses only.
"The ceremony has just ended. Priestess Meimel has successfully took over Hyouketsu Kyoukai. Priestess Ymy will personally relay that news to the public. All staff and guards of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> are to gather at the outdoors training grounds."
The Priestess will relay the news to everyone in Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>.
— And Ymy's the one doing it?
"I heard it is something decided during the directors meeting. There are many people in Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>, as well as those residents of the living sector, who are worried about how the infiltration of the Yuugenshu will happen once more. This is a measure taken to quell the fears in them. Now stop wasting time and get here immediately. Lateness will not be tolerated."
"Eh? Ah, wait, Instructor...... Geez, why can't she tell me that sooner?"
He sighed in the direction of the silent speakers.
After slowly expelling the air in his lungs, Sheltis stopped lying on his back and got to his feet.
"There's over a thousand guards, and there should be more than ten thousand working staff in Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>...... That's a really incredible number."
Probably not everyone will be attending this, but the number of participants should be somewhere in the thousands.
It should be difficult to stand in front of that many people. Moreover, the person who will be doing so is none other than his childhood friend.
...... The Ymy whom I know will probably be too nervous to speak.
Standing in front of the public, and tasked with the responsibility of protecting the floating continent.
That's what a Priestess is.
"The Ymy whom I am not familiar with...... huh?"
Despite being very happy to be able to see Ymy's taking on an active role as a Priestess, Sheltis could not help but to be depressed by how out of reach she had become.
Sheltis left his room with those conflicting feelings in him.
The madder-red colored sky.
The sun at the edges of the sky was about to sink into the other side of the horizon. It painted the colors of the yellowish dusk on the canvas made out of the sky.
"...... So it's already evening."
Sheltis looked up into the sky as he walked on the paved roads.
It was back in the morning when he visited Kagura together with Monica. He then met the puppeteer and the dual gunner slightly after noon. After reading the report which he obtained from Run, it was already evening before he knew it.
— But, are we really gathering at the outdoor training grounds?
It is probably the only place that can fit everyone from Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>. However, his current impression of the place was still fixed at the scene where the guards were all focused on their training back in the day.
"Ah, considering the personality of Instructor Yumelda, she had probably concentrated all the training in the day, as she cannot use the training grounds in the evening...... Mmm, that is most probably what happened. Or rather, that's the only possible scenario. Am I right, Ilis—"
Just as he was about to speak to the machine crystal <Ilis> which was hanging before his chest, Sheltis finally came to his senses.
— Oh right, I have already handed Ilis to Eyriey for the check.
There was no one who can reply him. And that was the first time he realized that.
All that was missing was something which he had taken granted for - the truth is, he could not get used to not hearing the voice of the machine crystal <Ilis>.
"...... Ah— mmm. In any case, I hope Ilis' check-up will be completed successfully."
While thinking of that, he walked past the paved roads and made his way to the turfs. It was then when he heard the sounds coming from the huge crowd.
Countless conversations. Sounds of the shoes. The rubbing of clothes.
All the sounds mixed up together and reverberated beneath the skies of dusk which was originally enveloped by silence. He was a considerable distance away from the training grounds, and yet he could already hear those noise from his place.
In another words, there were already that many people at the training grounds?
"Shit, has it started already?"
He quickly ran through the turfs under the urge of his accelerating heartbeats, and made his way to the training area where the ground was filled with fine sand. Finally, after making past the barrier erected out of metal wires,
Sheltis was awestruck by the scene before him, which made him stopped in his tracks subconsciously.
The training ground was already dyed red due to the brilliant rays of the madder-red colored sun of dusk.
The gigantic area was filled to the brim with people.
Male staff in their suits and with a employment pass hanging from their necks; the female attendants in charge of servicing the Priestesses; also, there were the directors of the various bureaus in the tower. Further on were the faces of the fellow cadet guards whom he was already familiar with. Standing behind them were the elite guards — the elites who are candidates to be the next Sennenshi.
"...... That's quite a sight."
He had never seen such a scene before.
"You are one hundred and seventy seconds late."
Came the voice from behind.
"I have already made it here in haste."
He turned around. As expected, the voice did come from Instructor Yumelda.
She was not biting on to a stick of cigarette, probably in consideration for the crowds. Instead, she put on some purple lipstick, which made her look especially striking.
"Maybe. My estimation was that you will be late for roughly two hundred seconds."
"It is an important event."
"You think you are here to protect her? I am sorry to say this, but there is no room for you cadet guards to show your worth here. The responsibility of protecting the Priestess is all handled by regular guards and above."
"Ah, no...... That's not what I meant."
"Hmm? Whatever. That does not matter."
The instructor said that with a meaningful tone. From the looks of how she was silently crossing her arms, it seemed like she will not ask him any more questions. And after shifting his sight away from her slightly—
"It is indeed...... a really important event."
Sheltis bit on his lower lips softly and said that with an almost inaudible voice.
— I want to know the Priestess side of Ymy as well.
This was something Monica told him before.
"A Sennenshi cannot just protect a Priestess. Only when a person can fully understand the pain and loneliness of a Priestess' training, as well as understand the importance of reducing those emotions, will he be qualified to take on the role of a Sennenshi."
Sheltis is confident of knowing Ymy better than anyone else, if it is about the side of her as his childhood friend.
However, that does not give him enough qualification to become her Sennenshi. In order to protect Priestess Ymy, he will have to understand the Priestess side of her as well.
...... And that is exactly what I am lacking right now.
"Oh, it's about time."
Instructor Yumelda pointed towards the glass dome that was situated in the center of the training grounds.
The dome was made out of translucent fortified glass. It is the place used whenever they are holding a major competition with spectators involved. It is also the most conspicuous building within the training grounds.
...... It's where Monica and I took part in the team battle.
Back then, the interiors were set to be of a rocky terrain. As of now, the floor was paved with a simple carpet, and on it was a small platform along with a microphone on its stand.
And next, the surroundings became silent.
The noise which he was hearing had all disappeared. No one was willing to give off any sound. The silence was as though he was standing in a forest piled with snow.
Before long, two Priestesses appeared within the glass dome.
One of them was a tiny girl with black hair and eyes. She was wearing a woven vestment, and was sitting uneasily on the chair with her head lowered.
"You are to call her Priestess Syun-rei! But it's surprising for her to reveal herself before that many people. I mean, she has a really delicate personality."
The instructor was probably expressing her views in a roundabout manner by using the term 'delicate'.
She has an extreme fear towards people.
She was sitting on the chair while biting on her lips and clenching her fists...... It seemed like the black hair Priestess was trying her hardest to endure the situation.
Just then, Syun-rei's trembling shoulders—
"Hey, compose yourself. Straighten your back."
The young girl, who was wearing a ceremonial clothing with a Sennenshi badge on it, placed her hands on her shoulders.
Run — she was originally the Sennenshi who is supposed to be protecting Meimel. This time round, it seemed like she had also taken the role of protecting Syun-rei in place of Leon.
As Syun-rei lifted her head with an uneasy expression on her face, Run whispered into her ears with a smile on her face. And at that very moment, a glow reappeared in the Priestess' eyes.
"Leon will definitely be shocked should he know that you are able to come here by yourself. Therefore, you must hold on for now so that you can show Leon how brave you are. Understand?"
"............ I will do my best."
As he watched the Priestess and the Sennenshi smile at each other, Sheltis could almost hear the above conversation playing in his ears.
— That's really something to be envious of.
That casual interaction was especially dazzling in Sheltis' eyes.
It's because the distance between the Priestess and Sennenshi which is depicted in that very scene is something he yearned for ever since he came to Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>.
"Good evening, everyone."
The second Priestess - the girl with pale golden hair and wearing a pure white vestment - stood on top of the stage in the dome.
Ymy Ele Soufflenictole.
The place was dead silent. Hundreds and thousands pairs of eyes had all gathered on the body of the young girl who is a Priestess.
"Urm...... Well...... It's nice seeing everyone here."
Ymy began by greeting everyone as she grabbed onto the microphone stiffly.
It was a large, unfamiliar stage. And despite being at a place that was hard for her to speak and caused her legs to be wobbly, the Priestess still did her best to maintain her smile.
Her face was stiff, and her smile showed her nervousness.
However, it was that clumsy smile of hers which conveyed something to everyone there.
The sight of her trying her hardest to keep her smile had clearly showed everyone something - the feelings of hers while she was making her speech on the stage.
"U-Urm...... firstly, I wish to apologize on behalf of all the Priestesses...... One month ago, Hyouketsu Kyoukai was breached and we came under the attack of the Yuugenshu.
As the Priestesses whose tasks are to maintain the barrier, we take full responsibility for what had happened. As a result of the breach, many are injured and countless buildings were destroyed. The whole floating continent was scarred as a result, and we Priestesses will shoulder the responsibility for all that had happened...... We are really sorry."
Ymy bowed her head deeply.
Syun-rei stood up and did the same thing as well.
"And that is even more reason why we have to do our best to ensure that the barrier will not be breached again.
For the past month, everyone of us Priestesses have been working around the clock to check on the spells of the barrier. We discussed and ensured that everything is safe and secure.
— And just a while ago, Priestess Meimel has already took over the barrier from the Queen successfully.
I believe there are those who feel uneasy and fear that Hyouketsu Kyoukai will be breached via the same methods once more. As a Priestess who had once allowed the barrier to be breached, I may not be qualified to ask everyone of you to be at ease. Even so...... I do wish that everyone here, as well as those who are listening to my speech in the living sector - I hope that everyone can be at ease.
...... Because I feel that this is what a Priestess is supposed to do."
Fuu— after taking a deep breath, the seventeen years old Priestess took a firm grip on the microphone once more.
She did that with her frail shoulders and slender arms, as though she was not willing to let it go.
"And all that is what I am supposed to be telling everyone as a Priestess.
— Next, allow me to voice out my own views."
She took a pause and looked at the thousands of people of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> who had all gathered at the place—
"...... I am a human being.
I cannot survive if I do not breathe. I will get hungry if I do not eat. I will sleep talk while dreaming............ Just like everyone else, we Priestesses are all human beings.
Therefore...... there will be times when we experience failure. This is not an excuse. I am really a muddle-headed Priestess who always fails no matter how careful I try to be.
B-But, I do really work hard! That is a definite truth!
And so...... I wish to make a request here.
I am doing my best despite my incompetence, so I hope everyone can support me. To all the staff of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> as well as the guards, I do hope everyone of you can offer your support to a Priestess like me."
She said that with a voice that was close to shouting.
And then, Ymy lowered her gaze and shook her head slowly.
"— No, I am not the only person who yearns for the support of others.
I hope everyone can offer your support to the rest of the fellow members of the tower. Not just to me alone.
When someone is in trouble, you should offer your helping hand without waiting for him to ask for your assistance...... I can only maintain the barrier, but I believe that everyone here can do much more things that I can possibly do.
And so, please, do not ever be reckless and put yourself at risk.
...... You should not work hard all by yourselves. Rather, you should do what you can do and help others by doing so. I hope everyone can build a relation where people will help each other.
...... This tower is just so tall.
And without the support of everyone, it will collapse."
Ymy's face turned red. She fidgeted about and showed an embarrassed smile.
"And so, urm...... from now on, let's support each other...... Because we are fellow companions who are all living on the floating continent, and residing in the same tower.
...... S-Sorry for saying all these things...... I had thought about it for the whole night, but I still could not come up with a beautiful way to end my speech......"
No one spoke a word.
There were no response from the thousands of people whom she was conveying her message to. As such, the young girl with the microphone in hand felt a little depressed and disappointed—
"............ W-Well? So...... this still won't do? I'm sorry—"
At that very instant.
A round of applause broke the silence and spread throughout the training grounds. It covered over Ymy's words.
The applause went on endlessly like the torrential waterfalls.
Regardless of whether the person is Instructor Yumelda, who is famous for her devilish training; the stern leader guards or the director who was putting a solemn on his face - everyone was convinced by Ymy's words. They offered their unreserved applause.
Offering it to the Priestess who is much younger than them, and still has a slightly childish air around her.
"S-So everyone is willing to give me a round an applause? ...... Thank you!"
The Priestess bowed repeatedly.
That act of hers in reply to the applause had made it confusing for one to discern whichever side was of the higher position.
The applause and the cheers continued on for a long time.
It showed their respect, reverence and praise to the Priestesses who are protecting the floating continent.
Even though Ymy was waving her hands in embarrassment to signal 't-that's enough!', the cheers showed no signs of stopping. And among all the commotion—
Sheltis was the only one to remain standing on his original place. He gently closed his eyes.
Amid the darkness, the only thing that was transmitted to him clearly were the resounding rounds of applause.
"That's incredible, Ymy. You have really...... became an outstanding Priestess."
She had said words that seeped deep into the hearts of thousands in front of her who were listening to her speech. And she did all that while protecting the floating continent as a Priestess. That is the person his childhood friend is currently.
She has became so incredible within the two years which they were apart.
In comparison, he was just one out of the thousands of people who were here to listen to the Priestess giving her speech. As a cadet guard, the only thing he could do is to give her a round of applause.
— She's so far away from me. However, I must get to where she is.
And not only that.
"I hope everyone can offer your support to the rest of the fellow members of the tower. Not just to me alone."
"It's...... indeed like something that Ymy will say."
Sheltis put on a light smile while standing among the crowd.
That has not changed even after she has became a Priestess. He's dumbfounded by how dazzling and straightforward his childhood friend is. She is an undeniably kind girl.
— And that's the Ymy whom I want to protect.
Ever since he had made up his mind on that, Ymy has never changed till now.
"Yeah...... This tower is just so tall, so it will need the support from everyone."
He will have to obtain the highest position, the rank of a Sennenshi, with his own hands.
However, he should not be overly rash in his quest for it. Should he focus on only the peak, he will definitely miss out those beside him who has fallen and need his help.
"And so, please, do not ever be reckless and put yourself at risk. "
It was as though she was deliberately conveying that line to him, who was ostracized by the rest of the cadet guards.
"...... You don't have to worry. I feel the same way too, Ymy."
There is no need for him to be frustrated, nor is there a need for him to work hard by himself.
All he needs to do is to help out the fellow companions in the tower as much as he can, and make his way towards the peak one step at a time. Because Ymy will be waiting for him.
"I'll try my best."
Sheltis murmured and turned his back towards Ymy.