Editor: PervySageChuck, Nate, Skythewood
The girl wore a set of white Goth clothing.
She looked to be around 20 or so.
Her deep blue skin was covered by lace-edged white cloth. A pair of firm, perky breasts swelled from her chest and pushed against her clothes, and the space from her cleavage to the shiny belly-button piercing was displayed for all to see. The clothes on her torso were held together by lace tapes, which compressed and bound her exposed flesh. The sleeves of her clothes seemed to have been torn off, while the white skirt of her clothing was torn and tattered. Her skirt was designed to show off the full length of her luscious legs. The skin of her belly, her arms, her legs and her face were covered in tribal tattoos. There seemed to be some significance to them; perhaps her whole body was tattooed.
The girl had a head of thick, white-gray hair, and her gold pupils were slit vertically and gleamed with an eerie light. She rested the shaft of an enormous scythe on her shoulders and licked her lips. She resembled a yakuza resting his sword across his shoulders, down to her confident, imposing attitude. When Itami realised the situation he was in, he had the feeling of impending doom — she seemed ready to rush out at any time and kill everyone around her.
“Onee-sama, you’re the bride-to-be of my master, letting a filthy human casually touch your body is too carel- ack.”
Perhaps she was not used to speaking politely, but she nearly bit her tongue, and then she muttered, “dammit”.
“What a pain, who’d want to be a wife to that woman?”
As Rory grumbled, she tried to stiffly raise her trembling body.
After rejoining the cut surfaces of her severed arm, her bloodstained limbs could move at last. However, she still could not use her strength. The halberd which she would normally swing about like a matchstick needed all her strength just to hold in her hand, to say nothing of raising it.
“Aren’t you glad to meet my mistress, Onee-sama?”
“How many times have I said this already… my god is Emroy, who rules over death, judgement, madness and war!”
“Haa… is this what they call marriage blues? How sad.”
After that, she added a dangerous pronouncement at the end: “As I thought, I’ll need to bring you back by force.”
“What do you mean, wedding blues? What’s sad and not sad? Aren’t you just saying that on your own? And then you go mumbling on and on by yourself over there!”
And then, Rory clung to Itami like a child, with a “I’ve had it” look on her face, almost on the verge of tears.
As the girl in white saw this, she directed a suspicious look at Itami.
When the girl in white spoke to Rory, she was clearly trying to convey her respect, but when it came to Itami, it was plain she viewed and addressed him with scorn.
“Oi, that male human over there, could it be you’re trying to commit adultery with my master’s bride-to-be? If you are, I’ll rip you a new asshole.”
Itami thought, ‘Why me? Adultery?’ He was filled with the desire to deny this ridiculous charge, so he shook his head like a child’s rattle drum. However, Rory was still clinging tightly to him, and she said, “I can’t use my full strength right now, so please buy me some time”. Itami had no objections to that. Under these circumstances, in order to understand the girl in white’s relationship with Rory, Itami felt he needed to communicate with her.
Itami raised his hand, and the girl in white grumbled, “What is it, you’re a pain,” before clicking her tongue and saying, “Fine, fine, hurry up!”
“Well, my first question is, who are… Ah, sorry about that. I am from the JSDF Special Region Expeditionary Force, 3rd Recon Team, and my name is First Lieutenant Itami Youji.”
The girl in white had a pair of large wings on her back. She spread those draconic wings and gently glided down, landing soundlessly before Itami and Rory. After that, she looked him up and down, like she was inspecting a fruit. The way she stared at him felt like she was licking him with her eyes. The girl in white’s slender pupils and actions made Itami think, She must really be related to reptiles.
“Enough with the fancy introductions. My name is Giselle, and as you can see I am an Apostle of Hardy.”
The way she bowed and lowered her head reminded Itami of the working girls in Arnus Town’s canteen. Rory quietly told Itami that she was a Demigod of the Dragonkin race, and she was also the youngest apostle in this world.
“Hardy… I mean, so Hardy-sama is a god, then?”
“Of course. Speaking of which, you must be really ignorant not to know that.”
In response to being berated about his cluelessness regarding the Special Region, Itami simply chuckled sheepishly and said, “Ehehe, people often say that about me,” as though he was the fool in a manzai act. Then, in order to preserve the current atmosphere, Itami continued asking, “I’ve been thinking since just now — that god Hardy seems to be female, am I correct? And she intends to take Rory, also female, as a wife. What’s that all about?”
“That’s right. What’s so funny? You got a problem with that?”
“No, no, not at all. I was just thinking, from a human point of view, that a woman marrying another woman is new to me. Of course, I’ve heard of this in other countries, but I haven’t actually witnessed it myself, so I just wanted to make sure.”
“Everyone likes different things, gramps. Don’t ask about this again, jii-san.”
While Itami was old enough to be called an “uncle”, this was the first time anyone had ever said that right to his face. This simple word was very damaging, and Itami took it straight to the heart. While he was quite hurt, he hid his feelings away and returned to the strong and confident Itami.
“What an open-minded deity she is.”
As Itami finished, Giselle said, “Haaa, what will I do with you?” Then she cricked her neck and shrugged.
“In truth, I don’t even know what my master wants. Although, I don’t think it really matters if my master likes men or women. If you ask me, all you need to do is accept it. Of course, under normal circumstances, who would understand a god’s heart?”
“Not me, for sure. I’m only interested in women.”
“In any case, that’s how it is. Ahhh, what a pain… In any case, it’ll be a long while before my master’s feelings are accepted by more people,” Giselle said as she sighed. Then, she looked to the horizon, where the sun was coming up.
“In other words, these things are a matter of personal preference. Then, Giselle-san, do you like members of the same sex like Hardy-sama? Or do you prefer the opposite sex?”
“Me? I prefer men too.”
“Then, how do you feel about what’s happening now? Ignoring someone’s wishes, dragging someone away by force, and then forcing them to marry a person of the same sex, whom they don’t like. How would you feel if that were you?”
Itami’s words made Giselle furrow her brows. She looked away and clicked her tongue.
“Ahhh, what you said is so annoying. However, bringing back onee-sama is my god’s wish. As an Apostle, I have no choice but to obey. All I can do is what my master says. Don’t you agree?”
“And because of that, you’ve been fighting her until now?”
“Yup. I didn’t expect to meet onee-sama here, so when I saw her we had at it.”
“I’ve always felt Rory was very strong. Did you beat her into this state by yourself?”
Rory’s wounds were grievous. Of course, they would heal, but when he first saw her, she was covered in deep wounds, and her Goth outfit was drenched in blood.
“Are you an idiot? Onee-sama took all those wounds for you.”
As Giselle finished, she spat onto the sand.
“No wonder, someone like myself could never have hurt her like that. If I fought the apostle of Emroy, god of war — Rory the Reaper, the most I could manage was a draw. But then how had she ended up like that? Her movements were slow, and she was wounded before we even started fighting… at first I thought she was looking down on me. Later, I realised onee-sama was suffering your injuries on your behalf. After a closer look, I saw that your bodies and hearts were linked,” Giselle said.
Itami was shocked when he heard that, especially after realising he had not been hurt at all. He lowered his head to the silent Rory and asked, “Why did you do that?”
Then, Rory stuck her tongue out at him and shrugged. “Why not? It wasn’t bad or anything.”
Rory’s easygoing tone made Itami feel powerless, and his heart felt like it was being crushed by something.
“Well, we can sort all of that out later. This time, I’m going all out on onee-sama.”
As Giselle finished, she turned to the two Young Dragons behind her. Somehow, they had approached without anyone realising. Giselle stroked their large bodies, and the two Dragons seemed to like it, purring deeply from their throats.
“If I fought one on one, it would be a draw. But with these two guys around, I’m pretty sure I could beat onee-sama.”
Between the two Young Dragons, one was red and one was black. They probably hatched from the eggs in the Flame Dragon’s nest. Their scales and the aura they emitted made one think of the Flame Dragon’s savage form. However, they lacked the fearsome presence of their parents, and their bodies were smaller. That said, they could still be described with the word “huge”, and were disturbing to look at.
“You seem qu-quite close to them. Aren’t you worried they’ll get hurt?”
“Ah? I’ve been taking care of these two ever since they were born. I woke the sleeping Flame Dragon, had it mate with a Water Dragon, had it lay its eggs, then when they hatched, I trained them up to this state. It was really tiring, but it was worth it. The combination of the Flame Dragon, Young Dragons and myself are invincible. Just as planned.”
“Th-then why are you starting this fight again?”
“You are stupid, aren’t you? My goal is to defeat all the other demigods, including onee-sama. Speaking of which, Rory-nee-sama, how’s your body healing up? It’s about time for round 2, and this time you won’t need to hold back.”
As Giselle made her challenge, she took a stance with her scythe. The two Young Dragons behind her spread their wings, taking an attack posture while keeping their distance.
Rory detached herself from Itami, and levelled her halberd at Giselle. However, the weapon’s weight pulled on her body and made her tremble. Although her body was regenerating, the severe wounds she had taken had had an effect on her.
“Please wait, your Holiness. Was what you said true? Did you wake the Flame Dragon?”
Yao’s question instantly dispersed the gathering tension between both sides.
The way she questioned Giselle while she clutched her wounded left arm with her right hand and limped forward was worthy of respect.
“What? And who might you be?”
“Why! Why did you have to do that!?”
The way Yao shouted those words in anger struck Giselle as quite rude. She replied in a low, dangerous tone.
“Do you have a problem with that?”
“Of course! My people and I worship Hardy as our chief god, and we have been faithful followers. Instead, our god rewarded us with the disaster of the Flame Dragon. Why is that?”
Giselle was starting to get a bit annoyed, and she exhaled deeply.
“You shouldn’t question anything my master says. If she says something is black, then regardless of whether it’s white or red or anything, it’s black. As believers, all you need to do is follow and believe. Isn’t that what you’re for?”
“Hardy-sama has a plan for you.”
“Was leading us to destruction part of that plan?”
“Of course. If your faith was really that strong, it would be even more obvious, don’t you think? You lot should be glad to be able to contribute to Hardy-sama’s plan. Even if you die, die in silence! That’s what faith is, am I wrong?”
As she heard Giselle’s answer “Did you have to ask such an obvious question?” Yao’s entire body shuddered, and she wailed miserably.
“If, if it was just me, I would faithfully obey Hardy-sama’s command. But turning me and my people into sacrifices is far too much. Did Hardy-sama really want us to be eaten by the Flame Dragon?”
Giselle laughed and clapped as she heard Yao speak.
“What’s this? Ah~~ so you were the ones the Flame Dragon was eating. I was wondering where it was getting its food from. So Dark Elves, was it. Well, it must have been unfortunate for you.”
Yao was still agitated just now, but Giselle’s words left her speechless.
The Dark Elves becoming the Flame Dragon’s food — if it was Hardy’s will, that would have been fine, but the truth was that it was not clear. In other words, the response of Hardy to her worshipper’s prayers was blind ignorance.
“Unfortunate? Unfortunate, you say?”
Yao fell to her knees, her hands dangling on the ground.
“I prayed so many times, I cried so many times, I was hurt so many times, I implored Hardy so many times, I begged for help so many times, and I lost hope so many times… but every time I thought of my god, and I cheered myself up, stood myself up, went in search of hope, left my home behind and travelled.... but no matter how many times I prayed, Hardy never answered. She may not even have heard.”
The blood streaming down Yao’s face from her scalp looked like tears of blood. Giselle looked a little lost for words, and she frowned before answering Yao.
“How could the gods listen to every little prayer of all their little worshippers? Things like, ‘I want to get rich’, ‘Save me’, ‘Let me win the top prize’, ‘Grant me a good harvest’, sometimes even ‘Grant me victory’... if Hardy-sama had to listen to and grant each and every little one of your desires, how busy do you think she would be? People who can only beg others for help deserve to become lunch for the Flame Dragon.”
That was the last straw for Yao. The notion that a sincere prayer from the depths of her soul could be compared to a selfish request filled her with explosive rage.
She drew her saber and slashed at Giselle.
However, Giselle’s scythe was faster than Yao, and its curved blade arced down at her.
In the blink of an eye—
As he saw Yao about to be cut by the scythe, Itami charged forward and tackled her to the ground.
If Giselle and Rory started to fight, Itami and Yao would be drawn into it.
Fortunately, the scythe merely grazed Yao. Rory took advantage of this opportunity to swing her halberd at Giselle.
Giselle nimbly evaded the blow with a graceful dodge. The Red Dragon decided to step in, and swung its sharp claws at Rory. This time, however, it was Rory’s turn to dodge.
Itami hugged Yao to him while drawing his 9mm pistol from its thigh holster and firing three shots in the direction of the Red Dragon. The three rounds hit the Red Dragon pursuing Rory, but they bounced off its tough scales. Though they did not do any harm, those shots managed to check the Red Dragon’s advance. Unfortunately, this meant that the Dragons and the Demigod now treated Itami and the others as enemies.
An arc of light flashed out, and then both sides backed away from each other.
Rory raised her halberd again, and Itami helped Yao up and moved to Rory’s side. Lelei and Tuka were being marked by the Black Dragon. Just running away had sapped all their strength, and now the two of them had no means of attack. Their stamina had been depleted in the battle against the Flame Dragon and there was no time to recover it.
He had wanted to avoid getting involved, but instead they were fighting. Itami realised that his pistol was useless against the Dragon, so he pointed it at Giselle instead. As she saw this, Giselle smiled and said, “Oi oi, a mere human male thinks he can challenge me? You have good eyes. I like brash people like you.”
“Of course, he’s the man who defeated the Flame Dragon, after all,” Rory panted, in order to preserve the moral advantage.
“Say what?... Koff, ah, no. Forgive me. Now, I believe just now onee-sama said he defeated…?”
“The Flame Dragon. I said, he defeated the Flame Dragon. I mean, he did make it out unscathed, didn’t he?” Rory whispered the last part to Itami.
Under Giselle’s keen gaze, Itami nearly shouted, “I didn’t defeat the Flame Dragon.”
All Itami had done was set the plastic explosives. The real fighting had been done by the Dark Elves and Lelei, and the final blow was dealt by Tuka. However, Itami realised that he had to lighten Rory’s load, and the way to do that was to make Giselle think he was a worthy foe. He used all of his acting talent to pretend that he was fine.
And then he muttered, “Why am I dealing with stuff like this…?”
The Special Forces Group created fictitious back stories in order to cover up the truth of their members, and he had become the Hero of Nijubashi despite not doing anything fantastic. The legend and the truth about him were very far apart. Who among them could understand the frustration of having to be someone he was not? However, at this moment, he rose to the occasion. With practiced ease — or rather, with long experience from pretending — he projected the image of a veteran warrior.
“I’m not lying. Go look in the volcano’s mouth and see, The Flame Dragon’s corpse should be there. Oh wait, I destroyed the outcropping where its nest was because it was in the way, so it should probably be buried under tons of rock. Ahahahaha…”
Itami was trembling fit to burst at this point, but he could not show his fear. Rory quietly elbowed him in the side and said “Good job,” in a small voice lest someone hear it.
Giselle jerked her chin and the Black Dragon took wing, flying over to investigate the crater.
“Hehe, well, what I do know is that you barely escaped with your life. Even with onee-sama’s protection, what can one mere human do? Anyway, that male human over there. Speak your name again, I forgot it just now.”
“Youji. Itami Youji.”
Rory cut in before Itami could answer. Then, she grabbed Itami’s hand, like she was buying him.
“I’ve already made a contract with Youji. As for you, you might have two Young Dragons, but my partner’s the man who could beat a Flame Dragon.”
“I see… not bad, onee-sama. Not bad at all.”
Just then, the Black Dragon which flew near the volcano cried out. It was a cry of despair because it knew its parent was dead.
“Ara, how exciting! I didn’t expect a fellow like you among the humans. Looks like I didn’t become an apostle for nothing.”
Then, Giselle moved her scythe to an attack position.
“Do you really think you can beat Youji and me with just your two Young Dragons?”
As Rory was exchanging words with Giselle, Itami was fervently praying, “Please God, make her go home, make her think she can’t win and flee, come on, go, get out of here…” However, the person he was praying to leave was right in front of him, and she — Giselle — had already said that “The gods will not listen to every little prayer of their worshippers”.
“Haa~ well, this makes things interesting. Towat! Mout! Don’t hold back on them!”
In response to GIselle’s command, the two Young Dragons took wing, flapping their wings against the backdrop of the freshly-risen sun. Giselle raised her scythe, and Rory raised her halberd.
“Here I come!”
“Dammit! I never asked for this!”
Itami had never intended to fight from the beginning. His plan now was to run up, grab Rory, and run off.
“Yao! Take care of Lelei! Tuka, run!”
As Itami shouted to her, Yao seemed to forget her pain and picked up Lelei. Tuka set off running as though she had been launched from a bow. What had been the prelude to an epic duel had now turned into a great escape. Giselle was completely taken aback by the proceedings and stood still in stunned confusion as she tried to make sense of what was going on.
A cold wind blew across the now-empty slopes of Mt. Tyuba. The freezing gusts seemed to come from the gaps between the rocks, and one could hear what sounded like a crow in the distance.
How could they have fled so fast? By the time Giselle came to her senses, Itami and the others were already small points in the distance vanishing into the horizon.
“How, how, how… how could this be?”
The Red and Black Dragons looked at Giselle with a “What now?” expression on their faces.
“Quick, get them!”
And so, the two Dragons flapped their wings, rising into the air as they gave chase.
No human being could hope to outrun a flying Dragon’s pursuit, no matter how fast they ran.
They spread their wings wide, rapidly gaining speed and altitude. After that, they prepared to breathe flame from mid-air. But just as they did—
A quartet of vapor trails traced a serpentine path through the air and struck the two Dragons.
“Kurihama, has the target gotten smaller from the last time we saw it?” Kamikoda asked as he launched the Sidewinders (infrared homing air-to-air missiles) he had locked onto the targets.
“There’s two of them, they’re completely different targets!”
“But we can confirm that Lt. Itami’s being pursued by those two life forms.”
Kamikoda nodded his head as he heard Ltc. Mizuhara’s voice.
“Military power. Weapons free. Combat maneuvering, go, go, go!”
As Kurihama said so, Kamikoda added, “Get them!”
“Kamikoda you have the red target, Nishimoto will handle the black.”
The proximity triggers for the air-to-air missiles activated, and the Young Dragons were enveloped in explosions. However, if attacks like that could finish them off, this job would not be so difficult. Kamikoda locked onto the Red Dragon in his HUD, and squeezed his trigger.
The M61 Vulcan Gatling-style rotary cannon fired its 20mm ammunition at a rate of 6000 rounds per minute. The storm of lead that headed their way was far beyond hurricane-force, and the Young Dragons spun around like they were in a power mixer.
The two Dragons lost their balance and the ability to stay airborne, and they fell to the ground.
And then, the Dragons proved that their reputations were not for show — though their movements were sluggish, they climbed up again and spread their wings in preparation to take off again. Their fighting ability was excellent. Even though they were youthful Young Dragons, they were still members of the Dragon race, who laid claim to the title of “Rulers of the Sky”.
“Rounds impacting — now!”
The shells from 15 pieces of 155mm SPHs (Self-Propelled Howitzers) — a total of 150 kilos of TNT — burst over the heads of the Dragons. The surrounding land and air — including the Dragons were shaken by thunderous explosions, and the hits kept coming, without a moment’s respite.
“Fire for effect!”
The Dark Elf elders were covering their ears, surprised looks on their faces, as they looked at the flames belching from the muzzles of the Type 75 SPHs. The surroundings were wreathed in smoke, and visibility was close to zero. Amidst the smoke, the loaders got to work.
“What are these people doing?”
“Could it be some sort of ritual?”
They did not realize that these thunderous noises were the sign of an attack being carried out on a target several kilometers distant.
However, the continuous hail of howitzer shells were blowing up the slopes of Mt. Tyuba.
“Ohh, such magnificent power!”
King Duran of the Elbe Kingdom was seated on an observation helicopter, and through his binoculars he watched the distant battlefield, gasping again and again.
The slopes of the mountain were covered in the smoke thrown up by the barrage of shells, and he watched the two Young Dragons being surrounded and pounded by the impact and destruction of the artillery attack.
“When those things came down, I had no idea what was going on. However, it is all clear from a distance. It was a miracle I escaped from that battlefield.”
The noise in the helicopter’s cabin was so great that one had to shout to be heard. So it sounded like Duran was barking angrily at Col. Youga, who was seated next to him.
“That would be Your Majesty’s good fortune,” Youga replied as he nodded.
“Good fortune? Well, it still remains to be seen if being allowed to escape with my life was fortunate. Then, let me see what else you have in store.”
Youga pressed a button on his wireless set and ordered, “All right. Cobra flight, engage!”
And so, the two AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters angled forward and advanced at great speed. The two attack choppers shifted into attack position, and then launched their TOW missiles.
Since they were an older model of wire-guided missiles, they required a human operator to track their targets with an optical sight that would send signals to the missile that would correct their course. In this way, the guided missile would close in unerringly on their target.
These missiles were designed to destroy MBTs. When these arrows fell from the sky and struck home on the Young Dragons, it tore their bodies apart.
The Dragon’s scales, famed for their toughness, were shredded with contemptuous ease. Blood and flesh sprayed out all over the surroundings, and under the effects of two or three more anti-tank missiles, the two Dragons were cut to pieces on the chopping block of Mt. Tyuba.
“What, what is this!? Why… is this happening…!?”
Giselle had been caught in the first wave of shell bursts and was half-buried in the surrounding dirt and sand. She dumbly watched as the Young Dragons she had raised by hand were swallowed by explosions. She had been so lost in her battle-lust that she failed to notice anything outside of her field of vision.
As a result, when the distant shells and guided missiles flew over, their destructive power stole her attention. She completely failed to notice where those things had come from, and so she made a mistake —
“Is, is this the power of Itami Youji?”
If Itami were here, he would probably be going “No, no” and trying to correct her misconception. But of course, he was not.
And now that the explosions had ended, she could hear a voice going “Gi~-se~lle~? Where are you~?” coming from the direction of the blasts. When Giselle turned, she saw the form of Rory Mercury.
Rory’s tattered skirt was blown up by the downdraft of a helicopter, and her hands, caked in dried blood, were holding her halberd as she looked for Giselle.
Several lines dropped down from the helicopters, and the infantrymen fast-roped down. The men who descended slowly approached the Young Dragons, to verify their deaths. However, at this point the two Young Dragons resembled a seafood platter.
With this scene behind her, Rory grinned widely as she stepped forward. Though it was not cold, Giselle broke out in goosebumps as the beautiful terror drew close to her.
Her legs were shivering, and her arms were shivering. She flattened herself on the ground to avoid discovery and slowly crawled backwards.
“Crap, if this goes on they’ll find me.”
This was what it meant to alternate between offense and defense. Right now, it was her turn to be the prey.
“Gi~-se~lle~? Where are you~? I’ll lock you up nice and good, so come out~”
Demigods would not age or die, and the flip side of that was that they could not be killed. This was both a blessing and a curse.
Even if her arms were chopped off, even if her legs were severed, even if she was decapitated, Giselle — as a Demigod — would not die. Some Demigods had had their limbs removed and ground to dust, or burned or fed to wild beasts, but their limbs grew back from the stumps.
Therefore, in a battle between Demigods, victory meant removing one’s opponent’s freedom. The loser would have their limbs amputated, they would be cut in half, perhaps even left as a severed head, or they might be imprisoned in a temple, where they would wait, perhaps hundreds of years, for someone to free them.
Some Demigods had been imprisoned underground for the thousand years it took for them to be freed from the prison of their flesh. It was not difficult to imagine what kind of evil deities these demigods — who had been trapped under the earth for centuries — would become.
Some Demigods had been captured by cruel people, who commanded wild beasts to tear them apart with their jaws and continuously gorge on their regenerating innards. Since they had bodies, they could feel pleasure and, of course, pain. But since they could not die, what awaited defeated Demigods was a fate worse than death.
“Gi~-se~lle~? Where are you~?”
Giselle looked over the people following Rory. They were Itami, Lelei, Tuka and Yao. Two humans, and two Elves. Normally, they would be nothing for her. Right now, though, she had no hope of winning. With Itami as her opponent, the man who had finished off the Flame Dragon and who had demonstrated the awesome power that had exterminated the two Young Dragons, there was no way she could hope to win.
Giselle decided to flee. She did not care if her body was dirtied by the ground. Escaping from this place was her number one priority.
Thus ended the Battle of Mt. Tyuba.
The men of the 1st Combat Group streamed onto the ground, and they began verifying the corpses of the two Young Dragons. The two orbiting F-4 Phantoms dipped their wings twice and flew off.
After that, the troopers who had received Itami’s report descended into the volcano’s mouth and discovered the Flame Dragon’s corpse. At last, they could confirm that Tuka had had her revenge.
The JSDF, who were used to disaster relief operations, respectfully recovered the corpses of the Dark Elves from the volcano. In addition, they transported the corpses of the Flame Dragon and the two Young Dragons away, for research purposes. They airlifted the Dragons’ corpses underneath their helicopters, which proceeded without a hitch.
Itami and the others leaned against each other as they watched the activity unfold before their eyes.
Tuka and Lelei rested on Itami’s shoulders, while Rory was asleep on Itami’s knees. As for Yao, her back was to Itami’s. She sat in silence. The god she worshipped had betrayed her, and it had been a heavy blow for her.
Both joy and sorrow required energy. In their exhausted state, they had no energy to feel. The only thing they could do was sit there and stare blankly.
“Yes, we did…”
Tuka’s still, small voice was the only thing that answered Itami. She was the least fatigued of all of them because she had been sleeping until before the battle started.
“We did it…”
“Mm. I got my revenge,” Tuka replied tersely.
“So don’t call me Father again.”
Tuka slowly turned to Itami, and replied without hesitation.
“I’m used to it.”
Somehow, Itami felt that nothing mattered any more.
“Suspended for two weeks, docked one month’s pay…”
Itami received a document from Maj. Higaki’s office the moment he came back, and he drooped his shoulders. Although he’d been prepared to accept any form of punishment, actually receiving the summons to a court-martial was quite depressing.
The other Recon Team leaders hardly looked at Itami, each of them working on the documents they had before them.
“And also, you are relieved from command of 3rd Recon.”
Higaki picked up a new folder and pushed it in front of Itami — it was a letter of dismissal.
“It’s only to be expected. No matter the reason, you abandoned your subordinates and went AWOL.”
After Higaki finished, Itami could not help but nod.
“That is all for disciplinary action,” Higaki said to Itami. And then —
The footsteps from behind made Itami jerk up straight, and everyone else rose as one.
Lieutenant General Hazama appeared in time with the footsteps. Beside him, a line of JSDF servicewomen followed him, holding black trays brimming with certificates and the like.
“First Lieutenant Itami. For your efforts in liberating the kidnapped Japanese citizen, the Minister of Defense has awarded you the Distinguished Service Medal, 1st Class.”
Hazama handed the certificate and the decoration to Itami.
“Next will be the commendations from the Special Region. First, from King Duran of the Elbe Kingdom, to the Japanese government, and then to 1LT Itami; a letter of gratitude — ‘Thank you for slaying the Flame Dragon. As such I award you the title of Lord, and from this day on you will be a noble in my Kingdom.’ Next, from the Schwarz Forest, the Council of the Dark Elf tribal leaders has sent a letter of gratitude to the JSDF Special Region Expeditionary Force and to yourself. You have been given the title of an honorary tribal elder among the Dark Elves, and this is for you.”
Hazama handed the raw diamond Yao was hauling around with her to Itami. The diamond was the size of a human head, and it was weighty in his hands. If this were exchanged for cash, it would fetch an almost incalculable price. It might well be equivalent to winning the grand prize for ten lotteries in a row.
“Human trafficking is illegal in Japan, so you’d best take good care of that Yao girl.” After Hazama finished, he handed Yao’s documentation to Itami. Slave trafficking existed in the Special Region, so of course Yao would have a proof of ownership attached to her.
“What’s next? Rube Village of the Dwarfs… here’s a letter of gratitude for you. And another one from a place called Reizobaum. And one from Torte Village. All of them are letters of gratitude thanking you for your heroic deeds in slaying the Flame Dragon. And then…”
A never ending parade of female staff officers handed a plethora of scrolls, documents and the like to Itami from black trays. The final item was a piece of black parchment, which was tied by a black ribbon and sealed with wax. It looked very ominous.
“From the Belnago Shrine? Does such a place exist? Well, never mind…”
The award certificates, the decorations, the raw diamond, as well as a stack of letters — they were almost too much for Itami to carry. Therefore, they had to just jam the black parchment into the rest of the other things.
And then, a final service woman handed a piece of paper to Hazama.
“Oh, there’s this. After all the awards and praise you’ve received, if we just punished you, it would look badly on us. Therefore, you have a new assignment. First Lieutenant Itami, I name you a Special Region Resource Investigator.”
“Mm. Your job scope will be to run around the Special Region and find us useful resources. Was this not what you always wanted?”
“Once your suspension is lifted, go do your job.”
“Yes, understood, sir!”
Hazama patted Itami on the shoulder, and then he left, along with his train of female officers.
Itami was left alone, carrying a huge pile of things in the center of the room. The others treated him as invisible once more, going back to their work. However, this time, some of them were secretly smiling, while others were glaring jealously at Itami. Both responses made him uncomfortable.
“Ah, sorry about that.”
As though on Itami’s command, jealous voices from all around him shouted, “You bastard!”, followed by a hail of thrown documents.
When Itami asked her that question, Rory smiled thinly.
“That’s a shrine of Hardy.”
Itami was in the co-driver’s seat of Risa’s van, and he raised his eyebrows when he heard Rory’s answer. The scenery of the Kanto region’s outskirts sped past the window, and there were fields and gardens among them. There were few vehicles on this road, and at the junction for agricultural vehicles, a tractor was kicking up dust devils as it drove on.
“Do you want to go?”
The black letter from the shrine was an invitation for Itami.
When Rory asked him, Itami shook his head. The gods of the Special Regions were beings which could not be judged by standard logic. He had no idea what they were up to, so Itami wanted to avoid their schemes as much as possible. However, Rory said that she wanted to go.
“This is an invitation they sent, so we can march right in, bold as we please, into Hardy’s territory, My plan is to say, ‘I don’t want to be your wife’, and then ask her what she’s up to.”
“The Lindel Campus is near Belnago. If you’re going there, so am I,” Lelei said. She had already published her thesis and was applying for a position as a sage.
“Hehe, Kato-sensei allowed Lelei to skip past the savant stage and directly apply to be a sage!” Tuka said cheerfully.
Becoming a sage meant that one was a keeper of great secrets, and it implied that as a wizard, they were ready to become a master in their own right. Although Lelei was probably the youngest ever to apply to be a sage, a magician who could aid in the defeat of a Flame Dragon had no business being a mere apprentice, and so Kato agreed.
“I will personally witness the moment Lelei is acknowledged as a sage!” Tuka’s words reflected everyone’s wishes.
“If I have the chance to go to Belnago Shrine, I plan to inform the Goddess of my will. Therefore, your Holiness Rory, I have a request of you…”
“I know, but is it really all right?”
“Mm, of course.”
“What’s the matter?” Tuka asked, and then Yao smiled and answered.
“I plan to change my name, Yao Ha Ducy, daughter of Dehan, of the Ducy tribe, of the Schwarz Forest, to Yao Ro Ducy.”
“Uwah!” Tuka said, her eyes wide.
“Ah, I don’t quite get it,” Itami said, a confused look on his face. Tuka explained to him.
“Well, for instance, my full name is Tuka Luna Marceau. Luna refers to the god of music, Lunaryur. This means that I venerate Lunaryur as my god.”
“I see… then, what does ‘Ro’ mean?”
“It refers to her Holiness, of course.”
“I don’t think a Demigod has ever had worshippers before.”
“Well, rather than praying to a blind and deaf god, the Demigods not only can hear their believers’ words, but they can respond to them, so they are more worthy of worship.”
Yao thrust her chest out as she said that.
“Then, Rory, when you ascend to divinity, what kind of god will you be?”
Itami already knew the answer to Yao’s question about Rory. This time, it was Rory’s turn to answer.
“Emroy governs Death, Judgement, Madness and War. Her apostles can carry on her portfolio when they ascend, or they can take a portfolio nobody is in charge of, or become the guardian deity of a certain domain.”
“Then, what sort of domain will Rory take charge of?”
“Judgement would work.”
“I personally think Madness would suit her style.”
As everyone started with their wild guesses, Rory lowered her head and blushed before quietly giving her answer. Apart from Risa, who had no idea what they were talking about, her answer froze everyone else solid.
“Oi ~ what’s with you guys?”
Risa turned behind to ask what was going on with them, but they all stayed still. Although Risa felt this was all a bit ridiculous, if the driver had frozen up as well, there would have been a traffic accident, so this was actually a blessing in disguise.
Then, the answer which affected everyone so badly was—-
“Love… is that so wrong?”
Itami got off the vehicle when he heard Risa’s voice.
They were in a patch of agricultural forest, and a medium-sized hospital building came into view. It looked old from the outside, and it would seem it had only 30 years left in its life. Perhaps if one could endure the age of the building, it might be a relaxing place.
“Itami-dono’s okaa-sama lives here.”
“My father’s mother… should be my grandmother, then.”
Itami could not find it in himself to take a step forward. Now, Tuka pushed him.
“Go see her.”
Now, Tuka had forgiven Itami for pretending to be her father, and also for dragging her to go exterminate the Flame Dragon, but the condition was to “go see your mother.”
Of course, Itami had pretended to be Tuka’s father for her sake. Still, he felt guilty about that, and it was messing up their relationship. Therefore, Tuka used the excuse of “My conditions and your punishments are two separate things”. She gave her own punishment to Itami, because she felt that was the only way they could remove the gap between them.
Itami was also aware of what she was thinking. However, the thought of meeting with his mother made him uneasy.
“I got it, I got it…”
Itami took a deep breath as he said that. However, his cowardly attitude toward this annoyed the impatient Risa, to say nothing of Tuka, Lelei and Rory. The latter three each kicked Itami in the butt, with a “Just go already!” look on their faces.
The BGM-71 TOW (Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided) missile is an anti-tank missile that uses thin wires to steer it in flight.