Editor: Deus Ex-Machina, Skythewood
“What are you scheming?”
It was Rory’s turn to speak with Hardy after she was done with Itami.
“To make this world a more beautiful and wonderful place?”
“You could have just said you wanted to throw it into chaos.”
“That would not be inaccurate,” Hardy chuckled, like the sound of silver bells.
“On that note, the place where the worlds were joined doesn’t seem quite appropriate. Why did you make a hole there?”
“Pure coincidence, of course. Also, the culture and artefacts from the other side of the Gate have done a marvellous job of shaking up the stagnant, rotting Empire. Now that the Empire understands that there is a nation stronger than them out there, the Empire built by humans and for humans can no longer stand. From now on, all races will be able to raise their heads and improve their lot in life. These are interesting times we live in.”
More like troubling times, Itami thought. Did all those people in Ginza die for that? However, Hardy did not care one jot about that sort of thing. Telling her would probably be a waste of time.
“If that was the reason for opening the Gate, then what are you doing now?”
“I want to witness humanity’s decision firsthand, and what they will do next.”
“Decision? Do next?”
“Indeed. In order to fulfil my duties as Queen of the Underworld, I must destroy the structure at Arnus. Does that not mean I must destroy the otherworld army that has conquered Arnus and guards the Gate? However, Giselle alone would probably not be enough for that. You won’t help me either, Rory. So I needed to increase my forces. That was why I awoke the Flame Dragon.”
Yao was stunned. The question which had been asked earlier was finally answered.
“Just, just for that? If you just wanted to shut the Gate, then could you not have just told us? We would exhaust ourselves to carry out your will. There would be no need for a Flame Dragon…”
“Ah, is that so? Would you really have understood?”
“Yes, all you had to do was find someone willing to listen and tell him.”
“Do you really believe what you’re saying? You’ve experienced it before, haven’t you? Pleading with all your heart and soul and receiving no help in return?”
After hearing that, Yao could not respond.
She had humbled herself and begged others to help her protect her tribe and defeat the Flame Dragon, but nobody was willing to aid her. Even Itami — who had set out to make a move — had not done so for her sake.
Then, Hardy glanced at the silent Yao and said, “Well, in any case, it’s your problem now. Since you interfered with my plans, you need to take responsibility for it.”
“Take responsibility… What do you want us to do?”
“Go see what happens when you leave the Gate alone, and then decide what you will do next. I will simply be watching from the side.”
She sounded like she was looking forward to something exciting. Itami could not help but put up his hand.
“Then, in that case, do we need to come back here and report to you?”
“No need for that. I will send Giselle with you, and you can deal with her. All you need to do is view it with your own eyes and then contemplate what actions you will take next.”
“But I can’t contemplate or anything. It’s not like I’m an expert.”
“Then bring someone knowledgeable along. It needs to be someone who can visualize the consequences…”
If the earthquakes were only the first of many bizarre phenomena that resulted from the existence of the Gate, then it was their duty to investigate. Still, he was hoping that Hardy would go into more detail. Should he bring a seismologist along, then?
“Your face suggests that you understand and that you do not understand. Did I get my point across?”
“Youji’s face has always been like that.”
“No, I’m having a bit of trouble digesting it with just that. It’s still a little hard to take in…”
Itami scratched his head as he said this.
“That’s fine. If that’s the case, I am willing to give you a little incentive for motivation.”
“Yes. You’ll understand if you personally benefit, no?”
“What sort of incentive are we talking about here?”
“I can’t entirely resolve the problem that has been troubling you so far, but I can take care of a large part of it. What do you think?”
“And what exactly is troubling us?”
“The problem that you’re griping about, of course.”
As Hardy said this, she cast the goblet in her hand.
It traced a neat curve and struck one of the curtains in the restaurant with a high-pitched sound. No, the source of that sound was the cup striking the head of someone hiding behind that curtain.
The man tore through the curtains and collapsed to the ground.
Gray and Shandy nervously approached the fallen man. Their conclusion — from his clothing and the dagger he held — was “He’s probably an assassin”. The realization of what that meant made them tremble. They had not announced their movements, and they had travelled to Belnago via the HMV, which was impossible to outpace. Yet how had the assassins found their way here.
“You mean you can’t help us finish them all off?”
Itami wondered if she could just directly get rid of all of them.
“Of course not. I can only take care of the ones who came to Belnago. I’ve given prophetic dreams to the ones who want to kill these girls, and so the anxious ones who don’t want others to get her first will come here. Of course, some of them have not responded. They will probably be the hardest to deal with. You’ll have to take care of them yourself. Think of it as a trial.”
“Prophetic dreams… so you were the one who called them here.”
Rory bared her teeth as she glared dangerously at Hardy. If Itami had flat-out denied Hardy’s request from the start, then she would simply have hinted to all the assassins that they were in Belnago. In other words, there was no room for them to refuse.
However, Itami held Rory back and thanked Hardy.
“Forget it. It’s still a load off our backs. Fleeing will be easier once there are fewer people hunting Lelei. It should be easier for her to attend the conference in Londel now.”
If Hardy could deal with most of the assassins, then investigating the oddities would not be a problem. In addition, she had told them that they could go when they were free. Since they would be gallivanting all over the countryside for their mission, they could simply head over when it was convenient to do so.
“Don’t scare me like that, did you honestly intend to continue running?”
“I plan to run until I can’t run any more… is that bad?”
As Hardy heard Itami’s answer, she looked at Rory with a look on her face that seemed to say you’d better think of something.
“I say, Rory. You’ve been following him all this while. Why didn’t you teach him that important fact of life?”
“There was no need to. He is Youji. That is enough.”
“I find that hard to believe,” Hardy muttered. Then, she wagged her index finger at Itami, like she was his teacher.
“Is that really a good thing? The more you try to run from your problems, the more they tend to catch up with you and wait at the place where you have to return. If you continue running in spite of that, you may end up losing the path behind and ahead of you.”
He might not like her, but this was still a divine revelation. Itami nodded.
“...Aye. That might be true. I’m painfully aware of that.”
“Which means you know that and you still intend to run?”
“Yes. I dislike pain and suffering, so I try to avoid it as much as possible.”
“Someone like that beat the Flame Dragon?” Following that outburst Hardy open-mouthedly stared at him, her hands on her cheek.
“When Youji decides to get serious, pursuing him is quite the task.”
“Is, is that so… he seems a lot different from how Giselle described him.”
“Ah, what did she tell you about me?” Itami nervously asked. He was quite worried about what sort of rumors were spreading around him.
“She said you were a battle maniac who insisted on fighting any foe he encountered, and that you possessed frightening power that could desolate an area of 50 yuns in a single blow.
(TL Note: ユン is yun and seems to be a unit of measure)
The demigod Giselle seemed to have exaggerated Itami’s abilities quite greatly. While some people inflated their opponents’ strength to excuse their loss, she seemed to have gone too far.
“That’s totally off.”
“That’s right, it’s completely the opposite. Youji’s the kind of man who’ll run if he gets the chance.”
As he heard Rory needling him, Itami replied, “Leave me alone, besides, I’m a coward.”
“That’s fine. Youji, you may say that you’re afraid, but when push comes to shove and you have to defend something important to you, you’ll rise to the challenge. We’ve all seen that. I hope to see more in future.”
Yao and Tuka nodded as Rory said this.
Then, Hardy spoke up.
“You cannot run from the trial which awaits you. Your enemy has drawn up battle lines and awaits you. It is time for you to stand firm and choose. Will you let this girl present her thesis at the conference?”
As Hardy said that, she put her hand on her… on Lelei’s chest.
“...If, just if… we didn’t go for the conference and just fled right away, what would happen?”
“Do you still not understand? Your enemies will not back down. If you run, you’ll probably run back to Arnus, where you live. In the end, the people important to you will be involved in this, and many more people will have to die. That’s how it is.”
“As I thought, huh?”
Itami clicked his tongue, his brow a mess of wrinkles.
In the darkened interior of the Chinook, Lelei studied Hardy’s hair by what little light could enter through the small window.
Strictly speaking, it was also Lelei’s hair.
After being possessed by Hardy, her hair had grown out until she could sit on it. She had tied it into a braid and then cut it off below her neck. The density of the weaving had shortened it somewhat, but the braid was still around the length of Lelei’s arm. It was the same familiar platinum blonde, but it seemed have retained part of Hardy’s divinity, and it glowed like a translucent gemstone.
“Since you are not a priestess, but have offered your body to a god, I shall reward you with the right to use divine magic, using this as a catalyst. However, once you do so, the magic in question will be fixed and you will not be able to use any other kinds of divine magic, so you must choose carefully. Also, I ate a li~ttle too much because I haven’t eaten in so long. You might be worried about losing weight afterwards, sorry about that. I thought of moving the fat to certain parts of your body, but that might change your body to the type that man doesn’t like, so I did not do so. I’m pretty wise, right?”
And with that, Hardy departed Lelei’s body.
“When the priestesses of Belnago saw this hair, you could see their desire to possess it written all over their faces.”
From the priestesses’ point of view, the hair Lelei had grown out was essentially part of their goddess’ body. It was a sacred relic which should have been placed in a holy sanctuary. However, it was a gift from Hardy, so they could not just steal it from Lelei. All they could do was suggest that she should “make herself look a little better”. This resulted in Lelei’s somewhat unsightly haircut, as though it had been hacked off with a knife. Then, they tried to gather up the leftover strands which remained.
It would seem that the priestesses intended to weave the strands into a holy tapestry and place it within a reliquary.
After this, events proceeded as described.
After leaving the Belnago Shrine, Lelei returned to Londel under the protection of Itami and the others, to present herself to the conference.
Most of the assassins targeting Lelei had been drawn to Belnago like moths to a flame and captured by the shrine’s warrior monks. However, the Piper — never one to sully his own hands — could not be dealt with. Shandy had fallen for his scheme and made a big disturbance at the conference hall. In order to get him off their backs, they entered the Imperial Capital and discussed matters with Zorzal to resolve things.
Still, there was the matter of the agreement with Hardy.
They had to go to Kunapnui in order to fulfil their promise. Lelei felt quite depressed at having to inconvenience everyone for this.
“Don’t worry about it. We gave everyone a lot of trouble too, didn’t we?”
Tuka urged Lelei not to worry about it. According to her, the back and forth of “loans” and “exchanges” were a natural expression of interpersonal relationships. Avoiding troublesome things like that might be a relief, but they were also signs of a sickness called “loneliness”, which would plague one until death.
“I like you too, Lelei. So go ahead and share the things which bother you with me. Maybe if we can share our worries with each other, we can help each other deal with them.”
Rory nodded. She was seated on the other side of Lelei, sandwiching her between them.
Lelei nodded as she quietly replied.
“We’re about to take off. Everyone, please strap in.”
Itami’s call was the signal for Kurata and the others to squeeze into the cramped interior — packed with cargo — and take any empty jump seats.
Itami was the last to enter the helicopter.
“Arunusu tower, Juliet Golf 5044, request IFR clearance.”
(TL Note: This part is in Engrish)
Fragments of chatter between the pilots and Arnus Control Tower filtered out from the cockpit. Just as they were musing about the conversation that had ended up as shouting at each other, there was a loud noise, followed by the sound of a fierce impact. Itami stepped up to see what was going on, and saw the co-pilot grabbing his head.
The co-pilot was mumbling to himself, and the captain seemed to be looking down on him with pity.
“What, what happened?”
In response to Itami’s question, the captain muttered “How shall I put this…”
“Well, this guy said that Control’s English pronunciation was a little weird, so Control said Japanese was okay.”
“Control to JG5044. Cleared to Kunapnui. Ready to copy?”
As though to validate the captain’s words, one could hear Japanese through the incomprehensible English babble coming from the speakers.
“Ready to copy. Go ahead.”
“Oh, isn’t that Lelei-chan? Your Japanese is as good as always. Can you keep up with our English? I’ll feed you the data.”
Lelei recorded the control tower’s English weather data in fluent Japanese. It made the others feel sorry for themselves and that they were imposing on her.
“Don’t feel bad. It’s best not to worry about her. The truth is, she’s so smart it feels like she’s cheating, and she makes everyone else seem stupid in comparison. The right thing to do is hand off troublesome things to others. As the saying goes, it’s better for a stupid man to sleep than think. There’s no point in agonizing over things. It’s better to change your thinking.”
Itami had said this to encourage the other man. However, the copilot took it as a trampling of his pride, and his head drooped even lower as he moaned “Gueeeehh...”
“You’re not helping, Itami! Stop rubbing salt into his wounds.”
“Ah, sorry. It just slipped out…”
However, what Captain Tsuchiura saw was Lelei’s eyes, staring hungrily at the co-pilot from behind Itami.
“If you don’t feel up to it, I can take your place.”
Tsuchiura had half a mind to take her up on her offer when he saw the state of his co-pilot, but if he did that, his fellow airman’s pride might never recover.
“Ah… no need for that. It’s fine.”
Lelei’s words perked the co-pilot’s head up, and he hurriedly rushed to complete the flight preparations. In all likelihood, he must have felt that he could not keep wallowing in depression. It was less that he had pulled himself together but that someone had lit a fire under his ass.
Forget it, Itami thought. It would be fine as long as he could fly.
As he glanced back into the cargo hold, he saw that the window seats had been taken by Rory, Piña and the other aviation virgins. The other members of the team fit themselves in the spaces between them.
The professors were having a heated debate about the distortion in the world that Itami had described in his report; specifically, what form it would take. Perhaps that was why there were empty seats beside them, and Itami took one of them.
“According to the report, it appears there is some sort of astronomical displacement going on.”
In response to Youmei, Shirai said:
“Actually, questions about changes in stellar topography have come up in Japan.”
“What did you say? Why did nobody mention this in public?”
Youmei and Urushibata asked that question in the same voice.
“That’s because our astronomers are still verifying the matter. They feel the deviation is a matter of mechanical error. After all, this sort of thing would normally be unthinkable. How could the positions of stars and galaxies shift in such a short time? Actually speaking these doubts out loud would call one’s own abilities and vision into question. However, if it were to slip out at a drinking party… well, it would spread like wildfire.”
“Is that so. That would mean the same phenomena have appeared on both sides of the Gate.”
“U~mu,” Youmei grunted, stroking his beard with his fingers.
“In truth, I reasoned that the Gate must be the cause as soon as I read the report.”
“Then what about the earthquakes?”
“Well, there are earthquakes in Japan every day, including the ones we can’t feel.”
“Well, we can’t regard an increase in earthquakes as statistically significant… can we?”
As the engine’s output increased, the incredible roaring of the engines filled the Chinook’s interior.
The helicopter took off, filling everyone with the sensation of floating. The virgin team plastered their faces to the tiny windows of the cabin, entranced by the sight of the ground receding beneath them.
“Uwah, uwah, uwah~!”
Hamilton clung to Piña as the helicopter shuddered in the wind. However, Piña seemed quite nervous too, and her expression was ghastly. She kept silent, as though her right to shriek had been taken away by Hamilton.
“What a shameful display!”
As Youmei snorted in anger, Professor Urushibata tried his best to smooth things over.
“Give them a break, Professor Youmei. After all, this is their first time on an aircraft.”
“Granted, it is only expected for primitives to be astounded when exposed to the trappings of civilization. But we are not tourists. Why must we bring these girls with us on a scientific expedition? What is the JSDF thinking?”
“Don’t get the wrong impression, they’re apparently important figures in the Imperial government. Our destination is Imperial territory, so you might compare them to travel passes.”
“Oh… Well, it can’t be helped, then.”
The cameraman filmed Piña and the others, who were staring intently out of the windows.
“Is that red-headed girl really a princess of the Empire?” Kuribayashi’s little sister asked Kurokawa.
“Yes, that’s correct,” came the reply.
“The Empire is the enemy which attacked Ginza, am I right? Why are we treating them so kindly? Why haven’t we taken them as prisoners?”
“Can you tell me a little about these complicated matters?”
As she saw the younger Kuribayashi waiting with her notebook out, Kurokawa realised that she was trapped.
The clouds were like a white veil, and the Chinook ascended through them.
There was hardly any time to enjoy the sprawling view of Arnus beneath them, as the view outside the windows was soon little more than a sea of white. Droplets of what seemed like rain splashed against the window.
However, the droplets stopped splashing within moments. Right after that, the mighty rays of the sun flooded the darkened interior of the Chinook.
Piña and the others exclaimed “Uwah!” as they beheld the dream-like view before them.
“This, this is what Heaven looks like, your Highness.”
“Do the gods live in such a marvelous world?”
Rory sighed as she heard their conversation. “It’s nothing like that at all…”
It would seem she had been to Heaven before.
“Itami-dono. I wish to try walking upon that fluffy surface! Please allow me to dismount!”
“I want to go too!”
Piña and Hamilton pleaded as one. In particular, there was no trace of fear in Hamilton, who had been bleating in terror just now.
However, Itami shook his head. “Haaa~ It can’t be done.”
“Why?! Can’t you think of something, Itami-dono?”
“Those are clouds. They’re like fog. If I put you on them, you’ll pass through them and then fall until you hit the ground. It’s veeeeerrry scaaaary~ It’ll hurt so much when you hit the ground. Just thinking about how all your bones will be crushed to powder frightens me.”
Hamilton clutched her ears shut and trembled, as though imagining what Itami had just described, and Piña froze as she felt a chill down her spine.
Still, she insisted: “How, how will you know if you don’t try?”
It would seem she imagined that it was like walking on freshly-fallen snow.
“Ahhh… if you do that, you’ll die. You’ll die for sure.”
“Really? Don’t lie to me.”
“I’m not lying. If you don’t believe me, you can give it a go if you want. Still, do it when I’m not looking. I don’t want to watch a suicide take place before my eyes.”
“Gggk. Does that mean the residents of the celestial realm do not want us mortals around?”
Piña and Hamilton grit their teeth and clenched their fists. Such was their sorrow that even the onlookers could not help but share their depression.
The professors glared at Itami, as though their eyes were saying, “What did you do to them, you fiend?”
Kurokawa exchanged malicious whispers with Kurata; something like “Hey, Kurata, did you hear that? The el-tee did something terrible to Piña-denkadono. I think he deceived her or something.”
“I think it was something like jump down into the world of the gods, like he was telling her to go kill herself.”
“How is that my fault?” Itami said as he pointed to himself.
Rory feigned ignorance.
“Cheh… Fine, fine. If you’re so dead set on it, how about skydiving? We can’t do it today, but we can arrange it when we next go to Japan.”
“You… what did you say? Sky… die… ving?”
“Yup. There’s a thing called a parachute; it can slow your speed of falling so you don’t get hurt. Solo jumping needs a certain degree of training, but if it’s just for entertainment, you can jump with an instructor holding you from behind… although it won’t be cheap.”
“Let’s do it, let’s do it!”
Piña and Hamilton’s faces changed. Perhaps one might describe this behavior as manic-depressive.
“Itami-dono, I would be delighted to walk the sky!”
“Oi… is it just Piña and her?”
Rory and Tuka looked unhappy. Lelei was quite restrained, but she still made a noise of displeasure.
“Fine, fine. You can come too.”
Was falling from the sky really that enjoyable? Itami thought. He was a man who did not take pleasure in throwing himself out of a perfectly good aircraft, so he looked upon the girl’s simple joy like he had found a surprising lifeform.
They must be feeling happy because they were looking out at the sky from the window.
Things would probably be different without that infinitesimal barrier between them and the sky.
They would be directly exposed to the limitless abyss before them, and their moods would change instantly. The wind would rush across their bodies and the earth would loom far beneath them. Their smiles would probably freeze up and their faces would twitch in fear.
Itami smiled evilly as that thought came to mind. However, that made him recall his own fear-filled experiences, so in the end he could not smile.
The Chinook skimmed over the ocean of clouds, like a boat sailing over a ripple-less lake.
They slowly descended as they drew near Kunapnui. Soon, they sank into the clouds, as though falling into a hole beneath them.
Depression spread through the passengers as the movie-like scene of fluffy white clouds floating by was suddenly interrupted.
“The window’s gone white again,” Piña said. Itami replied:
“Yes, we’re descending. The weather outside doesn’t look good.”
In fact, mist-like water droplets were condensing on the windows.
The helicopter lurched up and down and side to side. It was unstable, and visibility was poor.
The members of 3rd Recon understood that a sudden change of air pressure caused by a sudden descent might cause their ears to pop. They had prepared themselves for this by adjusting the pressure in their membranes. However, given that there was no ear popping, they realized that their descent was actually quite slow.
“They’re taking a lot of care in setting us down.”
“Well, there’s a lot of people aboard who are new to flying, so it’s probably a consideration for them.”
The conversation between Kurokawa, Kurata and the others went along those lines, but that was not the case.
This was not familiar airspace, but territory they were visiting for the first time. The prospect of descending through the clouds in such a place filled the airmen with dread.
Even in Japanese airspace, there had been cases where rescue helicopters had crashed into mountain peaks under poor visibility conditions. Moving through the clouds robbed them of their sense of balance, which resulted in the pilots not knowing how to properly orient their craft.
“Settling with power.”
“All we can do is believe in the map and what they say about there being no high peaks around here.
If Itami knew that the two pilots were gritting their teeth and paying careful attention to the controls in case the ground suddenly leapt out at them, he might feel that jumping out with a parachute might be a better option.
In fact, once they broke through the cloud cover, a steep slope resembling the sides of the American Grand Canyon appeared before them. Though they were a good distance away and perfectly safe, the sheer size of the geographical feature deceived their senses, and the pilot hurriedly pulled up on the joystick.
As the helicopter shuddered, the passengers clung tightly on so as to not be thrown from their jump seats.
As they looked out the windows, they saw fog and rain lashing the steep slopes beneath them.
“What — what’s that?” the cameraman muttered as he placed his lens to the window. The rain and fog floating within the valley was not the white color they were familiar with.
Instead, it was black, resembling a cloud of ink poured into clear water. its surface was a flat plane, like a pool of still water. The black mist filled the valley and covered the land, and scattered peaks poked from the obsidian sea.
“I hope it’s not a poisonous gas.”
“Aye,” the professors said to each other with bitter expressions on their faces.
The airmen seemed to feel the same way, because they avoided touching the fog, choosing instead to hover at an altitude.
They abandoned their original plan to land within the valley, and began looking for a place to set down.
The pilot answered Itami’s query into the cockpit with a change of plans.
“Lieutenant Itami, I’m sorry to deviate from the plan, but we can’t land here. We need to pick a spot somewhat further away.
“I’ll leave it to you then, Captain.”
“Oh… frankly speaking, that helps a lot.”
One could describe the personality of JGSDF members as “thorough and stubborn”. They disliked changing their plans, and thus their pilots and operators were trained to accommodate that quirk of theirs. However, Itami was more casual in many ways, so he did not sweat the small stuff. He decided to leave the selection of the touchdown location to the pilots.
“Tsuchiura-san, how about that peak over there which looks like a mountain? Let’s land there.”
“Not in that area. The instruments aren’t reliable.”
“Maybe it’s the magnetic field in the area or something, but there’s a difference between what I see and what the instruments are telling me.”
The pilot’s instincts — honed through long years of flight experience — told him something other than what the values on his instruments said. In the face of this unprecedented occurrence, he decided to avoid setting down over there.
Incidentally, the pilot was a Captain, equivalent to Itami’s superior. However, Itami was in overall command of the operation. The reason for this was similar to the extreme example of why military medical officers, despite their high rank, could not command troops.
The pilot found a shelf-like region some distance from the black fog, and landed the Chinook there.
“Onee-sama, we’ve been waiting quite a while for you.”
There were no signs of habitation from the air, so everyone thought that this place was uninhabited. Yet, a voice greeted Itami and the others as they came down the helicopter’s ramp.
They squinted, and saw a draconic woman with bat-like wings hovering above them, her grey hair soaked by the rain.
She looked to be around 20 years old. Her deep blue skin was covered in tribal tattoos. She wore a sleeveless white goth priestess’ outfit, and her gold-pupiled eyes seemed filled with depression as she looked at them.
Itami and the rest of 3rd Recon immediately brought their rifles up as they saw her. This was because that woman was accompanied by countless Wyverns. They covered the sky, baring their sharp teeth and fangs.
“Who is that? Do you know her?” Pina asked.
“Please don’t stand behind me, it’s very dangerous,” Yao said, a LAM on her shoulder. Then, she proceeded to give a summary response.
“That is Her Eminence Giselle, the Apostle of Hardy, Queen of the Underworld.”
“What, that person is…”
Giselle landed, holding a massive scythe like that used by the Grim Reaper. She looked around herself, like a punk looking for victims among the crowd. Then she jumped as she realised Itami was there, before slowly backing off.
“I-I suffered greatly in the past because of you. But, but today, this, this will be your end…”
However, Rory simply turned and left. Giselle’s tone suddenly changed to one of begging, and she hugged Rory from behind while saying, “Ah, please wait, Onee-sama!”
“That’s why you’d better fix that attitude of yours. I’ve been thinking that it doesn’t match someone who claims to be a priest. Belnago’s rules might be relaxed, but surely they’re not that relaxed. Are they?”
Giselle’s blue skin broke out in a sweat.
She had tried speaking in a proper tone in the past, but after being infected by Hardy’s way of speech, her tongue tied up in knots every time she tried to sound formal. Asking her to switch back was too much.
Her mouth opened as she attempted to say something, but the words would not come. A pitiful expression bloomed on Giselle’s face, as though she had forgotten how to speak.
Rory patted the teary-eyed Giselle on the back.
“I get it, I get it. As long as I can see you’re trying.”
Giselle hurriedly bowed to her.
However, after feeling everyone looking sympathetically at her, she snapped, “What are you lot looking at?”
The subtext of that was “How dare you people look down on me?”
“Gi~se~lle? What was I just saying?”
“Ye-yes… I’ll behave myself.”
The demigoddess forced herself to curb her unruly tongue and with great effort, squeezed those words out in a polite tone.
After seeing all this, Itami and the others felt that there was no point keeping their heavy weapons at the ready, so they lowered their weapons without being commanded to do so.
Even the nearby Wyverns scratched at their heads, almost as though to say “Good grief.”
“So, is that the anomaly you wanted to show us?”
“Ah, er, yes. If you want to observe it more closely, you’ll need to go down the mountain… so please ride these, onee-sama.”
Giselle whistled over several Wyverns and bade them carry Rory and the others.
“We, we’re going to ride these?”
Giselle frowned as she heard Professor Youmei’s panicked voice.
“He’s a nervous wreck... ah, no! Ah… well, they understand, and they won’t let you fall, so please do not worry and mount up. Ah, also, each one can only take two people.”
After Rory glared at her, Giselle’s fumblings were quite comical.
Rory, Lelei, Tuka and Yao immediately set about playing rock-paper-scissors.
After three consecutive draws, victory was decided in the fourth round. Having shown scissors and won, Yao triumphantly pumped her fist in the air while going “Woohoo!”.
“Kuh,” the other three went in unison.
And so, the Wyvern assignments were Rory and Tuka, Lelei and Youmei, Urushibata and Shirai, the younger Kuribayashi and her cameraman, Piña and Hamilton, and Itami and Yao.
Kuwabara and the others remained with the Chinook at their landing zone. Their job was to pitch camp and stand sentry.
“I didn’t expect I would win. Looks like my luck’s taken a turn for the better.”
Yao squeezed Itami’s hand. However, Itami looked back at her with a regretful expression.
“Yao, sorry to bother you, but the truth is I can’t handle this sort of thing. I’ll leave the reins to you.”
“Eh? You’re a man in green, who slew a Flame Dragon, and you’re cowering before something like a Wyvern?”
However, that did not sound like a joke at all. Itami’s pale face was deadly serious.
“I’m only saying this because it’s you, but… but I’m really scared of heights.”
“Eh?! But you were fine on the helicopter, weren’t you?”
“Well, it was all right in there. Even if there was an accident, I’d have something to hold on to. But look at that.”
Squatting before them was a lifeform with savage eyes and sharp teeth. It made one think, “Is that some kind of giant alligator?” Perhaps touching or maybe even sitting on it would have been fine, but he would obviously be afraid to entrust his body to it and take to the skies. In addition, he did not know how to ride one. Muttering all this and more, Itami swallowed his pride and asked Yao for help.
“First things first, you have to keep this a secret. I’m only telling you because it’s you, Yao.”
Is it really okay if I take the reins? Yao wondered, distinctly ill at ease.
Yao felt that it would be very dangerous as she thought back on her bad luck.
However, Itami had already revealed his fear of heights, and he had gone pale when looking at the Wyvern. Forcing him to control it would be too much. I have to help Itami no matter the cost, Yao thought.
“It’s okay. My luck’s been getting better of late, and bad things haven’t been happening. I won the rock-paper-scissors just now, right? Her Holiness gave me that talisman too. It’ll be fine, it’ll be fine.”
Yao clutched her 5-yen coin as she cheered herself up, then mounted the Wyvern.
“Come, Youji-dono. We’re setting out immediately,” she said as she smacked her waist.
Itami nervously climbed up the Wyvern’s back.
“Please hold on to me so you don’t fall off.”
“Is, is this alright?”
“Tighter. Until you can’t let go!”
Itami did as Yao said, wrapping his arms around her slender waist and plastering himself to her seductive back.
As Tuka saw this, she glared at her right hand and grumbled, “Why did I make paper, dammit?”
“Kuh, I’m so jealous,” Rory said, staring at Yao like a vengeful spirit.
Lelei’s eyes were fixed on her hand.
Youmei asked, “Miss, is there something wrong with your hand?”
“I miscalculated,” Lelei answered.
How had it turned out like this?
“I should have won on the fifth round.”
“You-Youji-dono, I can feel your breath on my back…”
Her body-hugging leather armor transmitted the heat from Itami’s breath directly to her body. With that heart-racing sensation behind her, Yao could not help but lean backwards.
However, Itami was beyond caring, clinging as he was to Yao. Since there were no safety belts here or parachutes, all he could do was entrust his body to Yao.
“I’m so glad that I ended up with you, Yao.”
“Eh? Why’s that?”
“I can’t hug Rory, Lelei or Tuka like this, can I?”
Itami’s words referred to their frames. The other three were shorter than Itami, so it would not be less of hugging them from behind but putting his arms around their necks. Thus, Itami had to find someone around his size. In that respect, the tall Yao was ideal.
However, Yao did not interpret Itami’s words that way. To Yao, it sounded as though Itami was saying that he was embracing her precisely because it was Yao.
“Ah, so, so you mean, it’s okay because it’s me?”
An elated Yao straightened her back up as she puffed up with courage.
“I understand. Please leave it to me,” she said as she gripped the Wyvern’s reins. Her luck had been bad all this while, so she had been quite reserved. Now, Yao displayed the cool confidence that only she possessed at this time. She lightly kicked at the Wyvern to get it standing.
Itami could not hold back his shrieking. After all, the sight of looking down those sheer cliffs would strike fear even into those with stable footing. That fear was multiplied tenfold when one was on the shifting back of a beast.
Yao looked back to Itami, reassuring him.
“It’s fine, Youji-dono. Please do not let go of me. I’ll be fine, so please enjoy my breasts as much as you like. It’s embarrassing to be groped in public, but I have no objections if you wish to take advantage of me during the confusion.”
“Don’t say that! It’ll sound terrible if it gets out! Do I look like I have the time for such things now?! Just fly it safely” Itami shouted as he squeezed his eyes shut.
And so, after their preparations were ready, the Wyverns spread their wings, like planes preparing to take off from an aircraft carrier.
“We’ll have dinner waiting for you when you get back.”
Kurata waved “Bye~bye~” to them as they left, like an air marshal.
“Then, we’ll be setting out. I’ll leave the rest to you.”
After verifying that everyone else was ready, Giselle spread her own wings.
Then, she stepped off the edge of the cliff, like a glider. The Wyverns followed behind her, gaining speed from their sudden plunge.
Unlike aircraft, riding on the backs of animals had a unique instability. As he felt his organs push up into his body from the fall, Itami screamed once more, and clung to Yao with all his might.
“Huhu! What ever will I do with you?” Yao smirked. However, in that moment, Tuka and Rory (who were flying ahead of them) transfixed Yao with their gazes. The two of them seemed to be muttering some terrible imprecations, and a chill ran down Yao’s spine.
In truth, Tuka was going, “Calm down, right hand, calm down!” while clenching her fist, and Rory was incanting a prayer along the lines of, “My Lord Emroy, please forgive her sins. That woman knows not what she does”.
The two of them looked like they were cursing her. Of course, that was not the case, but it seemed that way to Yao. It caused Yao’s rapidly-soaring confidence to shrivel up, and the uneasiness that had been eclipsed by being chosen by Itami reared its ugly head.
“Ahhh, my hand’s moving by… the wind!”
Worse, the vile aura around the blonde Elf’s right hand emitted an elemental spell, slicing the string which held the protective talisman (the 5 yen coin) that hung before Yao’s chest.
The 5 yen coin looked like it was about to fall off. Yao saw this and shrieked: “Ahhh! Why’s this happening?!”
In that moment, Yao let go of the reins and lunged for the 5-yen coin, throwing herself off the Wyvern’s back.
“Look out, Yao!”
Itami was holding tightly onto Yao and was carried along by her. However, Itami grabbed at the Wyvern’s body with his legs and barely managed to stay seated.
However, Yao seemed to view Itami’s lifesaving hands as a nuisance, and tried to shrug him off.
“Youji-dono, let go of me!”
“Idiot! If I do that you’ll die! Grab the reins!”
“I can’t! Without that, their curses will—”
“Stop struggling, you dummy! You’re sliding off, if that keeps up you’ll fall!”
Itami was trying to hold onto Yao, while the latter was freaking out, and so her body slowly slid down. He attempted to keep her in place by embracing her slender waist, but Yao kicked and thrashed wildly, twisting in his grip, until she was face to face with Itami.
However, that meant Itami’s face was buried in her ample cleavage.
“I, I can’t breathe…”
Yao’s thrashing was compounded by his breathing difficulty. Her waist felt like it was going to slip from Itami’s arms. While he managed to hang on with his thighs, the fearsome view below his head and the fear that Yao might slip from his grasp at any moment only made him scream:
“Ahhhh! The reins! Grab the reins! Hurry!”
The Wyvern’s reins hung within Yao’s reach.
However, Yao was frozen from losing her 5 yen coin. It would seem she had not realized the gravity of her current situation.
“No way, no way, no way. Bad things will happen without that talisman! I’ll slip! I’ll fall! I’ll lose my purse! I’ll have bad luck!”
“Idiot! I’m the unlucky one now!”
The Wyverns flew by their own will, ignoring the fact that their passengers were not holding onto the reins. They soared through the air high above the slopes, and then down into the deep valleys between the steep cliffs.
After about 30 minutes, they reached a large clearing.
If the black mist was a lake, then the Wyverns had landed on the lakeside. Everyone had dismounted safely, but Yao and Itami were in a pile to the side, unable to stand. Itami was thoroughly exhausted and panting heavily. However, nobody paid them any heed.
“This is it, Onee-sama.”
Professors Youmei, Urushibata and Shirai, as well as Kuribayashi Nanami, were speechless as they beheld what was before them. The cameraman set up his camera and began filming the tragic sight before them.
“This, this is…”
This was the scene occluded by the black fog. They could see it from the sky, but at such close range, they understood the severity of the situation.
After dismounting from her Wyvern, Tuka had gone to one knee, staying clear of the fog — well, it was less of a fog than mist or smoke — while she examined the plants. Then, she gave a mournful cry.
“They’re all dead. Every living thing here is no longer alive…”
All the plants whose roots had been covered by the black fog had withered away while still appearing green.
If their leaves had turned red and fallen off, it would have been explainable as a natural process. However, the leaves were still green even as they had fallen off. This was an extremely abnormal sight.
The black mist spread like ink. Tuka found the corpse of an insect on the other side of the fog, and picked it up with a pair of twigs, as though she were using chopsticks. The insect’s body looked fresh, as though it had just died. It was still moist, even.
“Did it just die? Or is it that the bugs and the plants which die in this black fog do not rot away?”
In other words, even the micro-organisms responsible for decomposition had died.
Youmei, Urushibata and Shirai, who possessed knowledge of modern science, studied what Tuka was holding up. “Radiation?” “No, maybe it’s a gas,” they said as they hypothesised the cause of death.
As he heard those dangerous words, Itami hurriedly withdrew his Geiger counter from his NBC protection gear pouch.
He pointed the device everywhere, and read out the values. “All normal,” he said. Then, he took out a gas detector, and poked its head into the black fog to test for toxicity. However, when he compared the change in the detector’s color to a chemical defense field guide, there was no proof that there was any toxic gas in the air at all.
Giselle pointed to a stone peak protruding from the sea of clouds and said:
“I came here a month ago on Mistress’ orders… At that time, the fog only extended up to there. But now it’s all the way here.”
“Could, could this be the Apocryph?” Rory muttered.
(TL Note: JP term is アポクリフ, as in the apocrypha)
“Tens, hundreds of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of millions of years later, the gods will leave and humans will vanish from this world. At that point the fog of the void will swallow the world and return it to primal chaos. That fog is called the Apocryph.”
“But aren’t you and the gods still around, Rory?”
“Indeed. This is why this sort of thing should not have appeared yet. It should be far, far in the future.”
As Rory said this, she fell to her knees, as though she had been dealt a heavy blow.
“Urushibata-kun, what do you make of this?”
“At a glance, it looks like some kind of smoke…”
Urushibata advanced down the slope and reached out to the surface of the black fog, but Giselle stopped him.
“Careful. If your hand goes in too deep, you’ll lose your fingers.”
As she said that, Giselle plucked a leafy branch from a tree that was not dead yet, then thrust it into the fog and waggled it around. Then she withdrew it and showed it to Urushibata.
The green leaves at the tip of the branch crumbled into powder at the merest touch, as though they had been thrust into liquid nitrogen.
Youmei plucked several leaves and inserted their tips into the mist.
If it were some kind of vapor or fog, then there should be some sort of ripple if he stirred it up. But the black mist remained still, like a shadow. It stayed in place and did not move.
“VIsibility extends about four to five centimeters beneath the surface.”
Urushibata produced a convenience store’s plastic bag. He took out the food and drinks from the bag, emptying it. Then, he knelt down and tried to scoop up the black fog.
However, no matter how many times he tried, the black substance did not stay within the plastic bag, even when the black smoke had entered the bag.
“Umu. This is neither a gas or a liquid. In fact, it cannot even be considered matter.”
“Indeed,” Shirai and Urushibata said as they heard Youmei’s words.
The three wise men cupped their chins, observing the black fog like children gazing into a pond. The black fog filled the bag once they put the bag in. But when they took it out again, the fog did not stay behind, leaving nothing in the bag.
“Could this be something like a shadow?”
A microphone suddenly extended over. Nanami stood beside it, a smile on her face as she awaited Youmei’s explanation. The camera hovered beside her.
As they saw her face, the scholars nodded and began their explanation.
“We cannot be sure yet, but I believe this might be some kind of extra-dimensional shadow.”
“Di-dimensional? Sounds like SF stuff…”
“Umu. It most likely sounds like pseudoscience to you. I too felt that way. But that fact is that this is a perfectly legitimate branch of science. They have used the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva to prove the existence of the fifth dimension.”
“Ha, is that so… but still, can something which looks so fluffy and has thickness like this be considered a shadow?”
“Umu. That is a good question. To we who live in the third-dimension, shadows are flat surfaces to us; in other words, they are two-dimensional.”
“However, since this appears to be a substantial — in other words, three-dimensional shadow — that alludes to the existence of a extra-dimensional entity of some sort.”
Nanami nodded, as though she understood. Youmei smiled like a kindly grandfather as he saw her reaction.
Then, she smiled and said, “I don’t get it.”
“Ah, you foolish woman! I’ve explained so much and you still don’t understand!! Did all your nutrients go to your bosom instead of your brains?!”
Youmei rapped on Nanami’s head as he scolded her roundly. Nanami rolled around on the floor, clutching her head.
“Nooooooooo, I, I’m, sorry, But I really don’t get it.”
“Forget it, Professor Youmei. Calm down. There’s hardly any students in this day and age who can understand without a thorough explanation. In addition, this is the first time I’ve encountered the theory of a three-dimensional shadow implying the existence of an extra-dimensional entity.”
“Of course. I just came up with it myself.”
Urushibata and Shirai had nothing to say.
Kuribayashi Nanami had no idea what was going on, and looked at the professors while asking, “What happened?”
After that, a great shout of “What are you going to do if you can’t understand these things by instinct?!” echoed through the mountains of Kunapnui.
The sun went down, and the night filled with darkness.
The investigation party had spent half a day moving around, and they took their dinner together. The menu was the familiar combat rations, and the curry rice which few people disliked.
The stars shone brightly in the clear sky after the rain stopped. However, the ground was still muddy, so there was hardly anywhere to sit. Thus, they used the interior of the Chinook as a dining hall.
Giselle wolfed down the curry rice in the bento box.
“It tastes so good! I love this stuff!”
In an instant, she had finished two to three people’s worth of food.
The girl in the white goth priestess’ outfit sat with her thighs spread on the ground. That — combined with the way she was frantically devouring her meal — was no longer crude, but had in fact abandoned every shred of femininity. Hardy was a big eater, but at least she had class, the difference between them was like the gap between the heavens and the earth.
The fact that she’s so beautiful makes it even more of a shame. Those thoughts ran through Itami’s head as he looked toward Yao.
Their eyes met, and she said, “Alright” before Itami could even speak. Then she rose and started to prepare another portion.
Look at her, she can still eat. Heat up another helping, and pour coffee for everyone. That was what Itami had been thinking. But Yao was already in motion before he could speak, so Itami could only watch her, his mouth opening and closing in silence.
“Eh, you can communicate with your eyes? That’s pretty amazing, hm~”
Yao smiled in response to Tuka’s barb, and proudly patted her chest and the 50 yen coin which hung between it. She had been sighing like it was the end of the world after losing the talisman Rory had given her, so Itami had taken a 50 yen coin from his wallet and given it to her, saying, “This is ten times more powerful than a 5-yen coin”. Yao perked up upon seeing the coin; no, in fact, she came to life again.
“I can feel what Youji-dono wants to do from here.” Perhaps she was getting carried away.
“Ah, really now? How nice.”
“She’s even calling him Youji-dono~”
“I think it’s time we drew closer to each other, so I’ve decided to call him that. Ohhh, I can feel it now. Tonight, Youji-dono will have me spend the night with him.”
Everyone stared at him, and Itami went, “No, no, it’s impossible!”
However, Yao seemed to be humming a tune as she prepared a pouch of combat rations. Then she winked at Itami and said, “You seem quite shy, Youji-dono.”
Having seen all this, Rory quietly said to Tuka and Lelei:
“It seems she does not know the difference between her fantasies and reality. We must keep an eye on them tonight.”
Itami decided to change the topic to dispel the hostile mood in the air.
“It must be pretty rough being a god’s apostle.”
The spoon heading to Giselle’s mouth froze as she heard what Itami said.
She quietly muttered, “It’s all your fault.”
“Because of the Dragons. Mistress scolded me because of that. As punishment, I was made to lead you people here to observe the black mist…”
Giselle shrank as she noticed Rory glaring sharply at her, and hurriedly switched to more polite language.
“...That’s what my Mistress said.”
“Did she not give you anything to eat? No rations or supplies?”
“Why would a god worry about how mortals ate? What that means is that people have to feed themselves with their own strength. I ate the grass and hunted animals to begin with. However, all the animals are either dead or gone, so there was no prey for me.”
Giselle turned a teary eye to the side as she said this.
In that direction was the astronomer Shirai, who had set up his telescope and camera. He was currently observing and recording.
“What… on earth is he doing?”
“He apparently wants to record the stars in the night sky,” Yao explained as she topped up Giselle’s curry rice.
The cameraman, who was effectively Kuribayashi Nanami’s partner, was helping Shirai out, due to the matter falling within his sphere of expertise. Of course, he was filming for media broadcasts at the same time.
Elsewhere, Youmei and Urushibata had set up a camping bed in the cabin of the Chinook and were cheerfully drinking at it. Nanami was holding a 1.8 liter bottle as she interviewed them, alternating between buttering them up and listening to their responses. Everyone else clustered around Youmei and the other academics to learn what they had concluded from their studies.
“Ah, Youmei-san. How do you intend to conduct future investigations?”
Youmei stroked his chin as Urushibata spoke, and then replied, “Umu. First, I shall have to liaise with MECST and arrange for a proper research budget.”
(TL Note: MECST = Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Technology)
“But do we really have that much time?”
“We do. Granted, if the Apocryph is spreading, we will need to hurry our efforts. If it hints to the Gate being the cause of it, then we must do something about the Gate. That being said, we cannot waste time on things like “we’ll worry about it next year’ and so on.”
“Then, can we say this Apocryph stuff appeared because of the Gate?”
Nanami seemed eager for a conclusion, to which Youmei responded, “I cannot honestly say!”
“Don’t you know that the phenomenon of the Gate is one which I am hard-pressed to understand? It is impossible to prove a relationship between two phenomena which have not yet been fully comprehended.”
“So what was the point of this investigation?”
“It was simply to clarify the facts of what has already happened. Analyzing these phenomena will require further study. In a sense, realising that much is a breakthrough in itself.”
“Still, if that’s the case, does that mean there’s no need to close the Gate?”
“That may be so, but it may not be the case. Deciding on countermeasures lies in the realm of politics. Science may not be able to give a concrete answer, but we can estimate the danger from events on this side, and from there decide on what action to take. Take the Tokai earthquake predictions for example. We do not know exactly when they will strike, but we must still be prepared for them. This is a similar case; right now, all sorts of strange phenomena like the observed stellar displacement, earthquakes and this Apocryph are taking place. From this we can conclude that something must be done. While we do not yet have a clear picture of what is going on, it may be too late to act once we figure it out.”
Urushibata nodded in agreement.
“Indeed. Thus, we must get funding as soon as possible. It would be a great loss to close the Gate without performing further investigations.”
“Oi, Hazama’s boy. Where did the budget for this expedition come from?”
Itami recalled the contents of the expense plan he had read earlier.
“Ah? Oh, it was a special expense from the Special Region resource investigation budget.”
“Good, give the rest to us! We’ll gather all the equipment and recruit all the academics we can find and get to the bottom of this!”
“Please, please hang on a bit. This isn’t something I can decide by myself. I need to discuss it with my supervising off—”
“Don’t give me excuses, give me answers. In my opinion, this investigation will not only advance extra-dimensional theory, but grant new insights into the nature of dark matter. Will it not work if you phrase this as an intellectual resource of the Special Region?”
“Ah, I’ll try that,” Itami replied as he scratched his head.
“This validates the theory of matter which can only be observed as gravitational distortions…” Urushibata muttered.
“Indeed. If we can prove that this phenomenon is an extra-dimensional shadow, we ought to be able to make a connection with the current theories on dark matter.”
After placing his camera outside, Shirai returned, nodding and saying, “That’s right.”
The thing about long exposure cameras was that they had to be left alone once one opened their shutter, so there was no need for him to actually stand watch over it for the whole duration of the exposure.”
“The presence of matter distorts space, and this distortion can be observed in the form of gravitational phenomena. However, if space is distorted through some other reason, we should be able to measure some kind of gravitational phenomenon even if there is no actual material presence.”
“Space distortion is gravity? What’s that all about?”
Using a gentle tone, Youmei began explaining to the silver-haired girl who had suddenly cut in.
He pulled out a rubber anti-slip mat, and had Shirai and Urushibata help pull it taut, so its surface was flat.
“Over there, tighter… that’s it, that’s right.”
Kurata and the others were intrigued and gathered around the group. At Kuribayashi’s urging ,the cameraman began filming.
“All right? Imagine this is space. As you can see, it is flat and immaculate, with no distortions whatsoever. Now, if there were something with mass here…”
As Youmei said that, he took a grenade from Itami’s vest and placed it on the mat. Itami exclaimed “Ah!” as the old man snatched the grenade away, but the ring had not been pulled out, so he decided to leave things at that.
“Now, do you see how the mat bends in response to the presence of a mass upon it?”
Indeed, the rubber mat had dimpled inwards where the weight of the grenade rested.
“This depression causes objects to fall down into it. In other words, this depression is called gravity,”
Nanami tilted her head as she listened to Youmei’s explanation. She did not seem to understand. However, Lelei’s eyes lit up, as though she had realised something.
“So objects fall because of this distortion… this well. In other words, if matter exists, it must be accompanied by some amount of gravity.”
“Umu. That’s right.”
This was the moment when the theory of gravity came to this world.
Youmei took out a silver orb from his pocket and tossed it onto the mat.
“Professor, why are you carrying something like that?”
“Pachinko is a science. Sooner or later, I shall devise a strategy for certain victory.”
“Pachinko was only a science 40 years ago when people launched the ball by pulling a handle, right? Now it’s a game of probabilities where the shopkeeper can fiddle with the numbers to do whatever he wants.”
“Your soul is bereft of romance.”
The silver marble ignored Youmei and Urushibata’s conversation and slowly rolled across the mat. Then, it was drawn in by the dimple of the hand grenade and finally collided with it.
“The existence of matter deforms space… so depending on the size of the mass, it would be possible to open a hole in space?”
Youmei smiled as he heard Lelei’s starry-eyed question.
Urushibata began studying Lelei and muttered something along the lines of, “This little lady is quite bright considering her age. I wish I had a student like her.”
“I say, I say, can I bring her back with me?”
Those words were directed at Itami, who replied, “As long as she agrees. Don’t be mistaken; she’s a scholar in this world, and a magician. However, exchange study procedures are a big pain, so she can’t go at short notice.”
“Hoho, so you are a sage of this world and a magician? For the longest time, I have been fascinated by magical phenomena. Why not intern at my laboratory?”
“How sneaky, Professor Youmei. I had my eye on her first.”
“It doesn’t matter who was first. What matters is whose lab suits her best.”
As Youmei kept up that conversation, he removed the grenade and the marble from the rubber mat.
“Now, with nothing there, the surface is flat and without distortions. This represents normal space. Now, if space were distorted for some reason…”
Saying so, Youmei reached under the mat, got a hold of it, and pulled downwards.
The surface of the hitherto flat rubber mat dimpled into a depression.
Youmei rolled the marble in again.
“It is self-evident.”
The marble wobbled over the uneven surface, but it was eventually drawn into the depths of the depression.
“This is why we can observe gravitational phenomena even in the absence of gravity-generating mass.”
“Still, why didn’t we feel anything strange about the gravity when we went there?’ Sasagawa asked. Youmei laughed in response.
“That is because the land is massive. The distortion is tiny in comparison; you could say it is like a little wrinkle in the surface. One cannot tell the difference between those with one’s body, you know.”
As Youmei said that, he place the grenade back on the dimpled mat. The depression caused by the weight of the grenade obliterated the depression made by Youmei’s hand pulling from underneath.
“Space distortion? I don’t get it at all. Kinda weird trying to visualize it with a rubber mat. And what’s this about opera-dimensional space and whatnot?”
Youmei snorted at Kurata’s response.
“Aye, it’s too much to expect for you bumpkins to understand. Wahahahaha!”
After clearing up the mats and returning to their places. Lelei and Nanami continued asking questions of Youmei and Urushibata.
“The problem now is extra-dimensional theory. In the first place, proving its existence is very difficult. We are bound by the X, Y and Z axes and the temporal axis. So I find it nearly impossible to imagine another ‘direction’ that is different from any of these.”
“What else could there be apart from the directions of left, right, up, down, forward, backward, and the flow of time from the past to the future?”
Youmei’s face turned bitter in response to Nanami’s question.
“I do not know. The mere postulation has taxed me to my limits. Of course, I have some inkling of that, when considering the common points of all the directional axes. But it is merely a theory which I cannot prove.”
“Common points?” Nanami asked.
“The X, Y, Z and temporal axes. They extend infinitely in all directions from an arbitrary point P. Thus, three-dimensional space encompasses two- and one-dimensional space, and all this flows along the temporal axis. Thus, any extra-dimensional spaces ought to possess similar properties.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Lelei nodded. “When you phrase it that way, I can understand it.”
“What, what did you just say?”
“Magic has always been a procedure which affects the third dimension from the outside.”
“Wait, wait a minute, little miss. You mean to say you understand this?”
Youmei and the others leaned forward.
Lelei nodded. “This is essential knowledge for a magician. Beyond the third dimension is the aether.”
“That is what we call it,” Lelei explained simply.
“Understood. Please, continue.”
Lelei began her lecture. Beyond this world were various axes, called aether, sether, kether, feither and so on.
“Saying that they exist outside the three-dimensional world is incorrect. Strictly speaking, they coexist with the third dimension. However, we have no organs with which to sense them, thus we experience them as being beyond us.”
“...Coexist, you say?”
“Correct. The principle which governs the fall of a thrown object in the third dimension can also be used to lift it.”
Lelei demonstrated by levitating a rope in the Chinook’s interior to show them.
“This phenomenon is created by manipulating the ‘false principle’ of sether, which affects the ‘true principle’ of the third dimension. If we use the example of the rubber mat and the marble, this would be like pushing up the marble through the mat, thus causing it to float regardless of gravity.”
“But how can you manipulate sether?”
“Like I said, the third dimension coexists with sether.”
“Assuming they coexist, how can you affect the other side of the equation?”
“Sether overlaps with this location.”
Despite Lelei’s explanation, Youmei could only shake his head. “I cannot fathom the crux of the argument.”
“The third dimension is encompassed by sether, kether, feither, and so on. They are not separate existences. Thus, sether is here and so is feither.”
“Kuh, I regret to say I understood less than half of that. It would seem I need to sit down and properly ponder this matter. However, I do understand that you have explained certain principles and then demonstrated magical phenomena. I cannot definitely conclude that they are fifth- or sixth-dimensional axes, so I shall set that aside for now. However, there is one thing I wish to verify. I have long considered the existence of an axis called ‘possibility’. What do you think?”
“What do you mean by ‘possibility’?” Lelei asked, to determine the definition he had in mind.
“How shall I say this… in science fiction, they are known as parallel worlds, but how should I explain it…”
Itami — who had overheard this by accident — excitedly raised his hand.
“Isn’t that something like the Planet of the Apes or a world where everyone’s dressed in a different color? Or maybe a world where cities like Fuyuki, Narumi, Nekomi, Tomobiki-machi or Hinata exist?”
(TL Note: Nekomi is the city in which Ah! My Goddess is based. Similarly, Fuyuki = F/SN, Tomobiki = Urusei Yatsura, but I’m not sure what Hinata and Narumi refer to. Also, there is an old joke that monkeys are basically humans with three fewer hairs; hence Planet of the Apes.)
Lelei replied: “That is Naurtel, I believe. Within Naurtel, the world is expressed as a line of sorts.”
“That, that would be…”
Youmei nodded to Shirai.
“Perhaps. Perhaps not. Wild speculation would be dangerous.”
“Within the world of Naurtel, these ropes are not alone. One could say that they subdivide infinitely and extend from their source, encompassing the higher and lower dimensions within them.”
Lelei looped the rope before them and brought both strands near each other, so they touched near the middle. Itami and the others realized that this was exactly how Hardy had described it. Lelei planned to explain it in her own way.
“The point at which the two ropes touch is called a Gate. Usually, the Gate opens and closes in an instant.”
Youmei clapped his hands together in that moment.
“I see! So you are saying that when the Gate is held open, both worlds are tangled together?”
Youmei reached out and grabbed the rope, pressing both strands together tightly.
Shirai brought his face near them and said, “I see. So when the Gate is held open, it implies that the worlds are forcibly tangled, so the tension on the lines will continually increase, and it will be stretched…”
“Umu. It might be elastic, but how elastic can it be? The world will warp because of that too…”
The professors tried to explain it in their own words. Nanami could not follow them, and asked them to return to the original topic.
“Then, professors. Do these many worlds really exist?”
“Well, about that… they probably only differ very slightly, on the level of everyone missing just three hairs, from each other and tend to cluster up.”
“Let’s use coin tosses for a comparison. If we want to talk about outcomes, then in addition to coming up heads or tails, you have to consider that it might end up stopping at a 45 degree angle to the ground, or even a 42 or 40 degree angle. However, under normal circumstances, it will end up either facing heads or tails. This is because the probabilities have clustered in that way… at least, that is how I visualize it. How about that?”
Youmei looked around for approval, but Lelei shook her head.
“I did not quite understand that. Forgive me.”
Youmei told her not to worry about it.
“Ignorance is not a sin. To academics like myself, the fact that we do not know things is a powerful impetus to perform research. I have long considered things like why is the separation between the Earth and Venus’ orbit the way it is? Why is there no planet between Jupiter and Mars, only an asteroid belt? All these things are the consequence of the gravity of the various planets. Then, I have also considered that a similar phenomenon might exist in the realm of probability. The difference between the realms of probability will not be small, so there will be marked differences between them.”
(TL Note: this sounds a lot like Attractor Field Theory from Stein’s Gate, or atomic orbital models)
Itami and Nanami could not say anything in response to this.
“It is all right if you plebeians do not understand. However, I feel that this is the reason why our world and the world of the Special Region can coexist. Little miss, your name is Lelei, am I correct? I could use a talented individual like yourself in my laboratory. Come learn the scientific method with me.”
Youmei patted Lelei’s shoulder as he said that.
Lelei began pondering the problem. It would seem she was considering an internship after exchange studies.
Youmei nodded in satisfaction, and looked back at Kuribayashi.
“Very well, it is now my turn. I am in a good mood today, so I shall attempt to explain the spatial distortion phenomena in simple language. Surprisingly enough, this is not uncommon in daily life, so explanation will be easy enough. Did you know I experience spatial distortion every day?”
“Nanami began babbling: “Do you mean places like the Sargasso Sea? The Bermuda Triangle? Are those places really linked to another dimension?”
“Don’t conflate this with the contents of trashy tabloids!” Youmei growled as he knuckled Nanami on the head.
“Besides, these other dimensions don’t exist! We need a three-dimensional model of space and time in order for us… for matter to exist. We exist within the three-dimensional envelope created by the Big Bang, and we have proven it. Even if there were another side, it would merely be another three-dimensional plane on another probability axis, much like this Special Region!”
Itami raised a hand to suggest an example he could understand more easily.
“Isn’t that similar to how video game characters can only exist in computers?”
“A strange example, but an accurate one. These characters are only conscious of the world within the computer. A higher dimension exists outside the computer, but the principles of the higher dimension still apply within it, even if the characters within the computer do not realize it.”
“I see,” Itami nodded, thinking of an MMO. game.
“Now, let us discuss spatial distortions. For instance, what I believe to be flat land is actually the surface of a massive sphere, so surely it should be spherical, no? However, the sheer size of the sphere means that I am not conscious of that distortion. Similarly, the shortest point between two points on the Mercator projection of the world is a straight line. However, compressing the surface of a sphere into a two-dimensional projection would distort it, so in truth, the shortest distance between two points is actually a curve.”
Haaah… the audience seemed somewhere between understanding and confusion.
“Still, how can you conclude that space is warped after half a day of investigation?”
In response to Kuribayashi Nanami’s question, Urushibata asked the cameraman if he could replay the day’s footage.
“Sure,” the man said, and he put the video on the monitor LCD screen.
Youmei and Urushibata were fiddling with various sensors, and someone said, “Forward a little”, and the image drew back. Then someone said, “Oh, this is the spot”, and the image stopped.
“We tried a lot of methods, but this was the most direct way.”
Everyone stared at the LCD screen.
They were looking at Urushibata and Youmei measuring how much ground the black mist had covered. They did not know how far it was, but they had already laid out 25 meters’ worth of tape measure.
“Is that it?” Kurata asked.
“I have no idea what this is,” Kuwahara said.
“Please tell us, Professor.”
Youmei ignored Nanami’s question and looked to Lelei.
“Do you understand, little miss?”
Lelei replied in a calm and logical tone.
“If you’re measuring the distance between two points, the measuring rope must be pulled straight. But the measuring rope in the image is bent…”
Lelei looked at Urushibata and Youmei after pointing that out. Sure enough, the screen showed the straightened measuring tape now formed a gradual curve.
“Precisely. I originally intended it to be perfectly straight. In other words, this tape measure represents the shortest distance between two points. Under normal circumstances, it should be a straight line. However, as you have just seen, it is clearly curved. Why is that? The tape measure was not blown by the wind, nor was it stuck on something.”
Youmei smiled as he said this.
Lelei walked unsteadily into the tent she had been assigned and sat on her bed.
She unconsciously took off her robes and hung them on a hanger, and then hung it onto a spar within the tent. Then she took off her Wyvern-scale armor and draped it on her knees, leaving her in her T-shirt and shorts. Gazing off into the distance, she expelled the heat in her chest with a heavy exhalation.
“Ahhh, what a pain in the ass! I can almost hear Hardy laughing at us!”
Rory took off her black Goth outfit as she uttered words which a member of the clergy should not have spoken.
It was a complex garment of interwoven pieces of fabric held together by knots and ribbons which passed through numerous metal loops. Putting it on and taking it off was very tiresome. However, Rory nimbly undid the ribbons and knots with practiced movements and slid the outfit off. Clad only in her revealing underwear, she plopped herself down on the bed.
“We need to close the Gate before the Apocryph swallows the world. The problem is that not everyone thinks that way.”
Rory began combing her hair.”
“That’s right,” Tuka said. She slid her legs free of her tight-fitting jeans and continued, “There’ll be people who will say that the Apocryph has nothing to do with the Gate. The ALC relies on the Gate for a living, so there’ll be strong opposition.”
“Is that what she meant by watching what humanity would do, that bitch!”
“Wouldn’t anybody want to do something after seeing that?” Yao asked. “If it were me, I would definitely try to settle it once and for all.”
After Rory, Tuka and Yao shared their opinions, they all turned to Lelei.
However, Lelei simply folded up the armor on her knee and replied:
“We can’t convince the people who oppose it. Even if the Gate is closed, it can be opened again.”
“Really?” Tuka and Yao asked in unison.
“The Queen of the Underworld gave me this as payment,” Lelei said as she produced the braid. “By using this, I can open a portal that links worlds.”
“Hang on! If you use that, you’ll become one of Hardy’s minions, Lelei!”
“What is wrong with that?” Lelei — ever logical and thoughtful — replied in an even tone.
After all, she might become a minion of Hardy after drawing on her power, but that did not mean that she would become a worshipper or priest of Hardy, and thus Rory’s enemy.
Regular priests received special abilities by venerating their gods. Under those circumstances, opposing the god who granted them power was heresy. However, Lelei’s body had been hijacked by a god and used for her own purposes, so this was simply power that had been given as a payment — perhaps even as compensation. Thus, even if that power was directed at Hardy, she would not be blamed for it.
That said, to Rory, it was like a relative of hers using a weapon from the enemy, and it deeply displeased her. To all the people of the world, taking that weapon meant aligning themselves with the enemy. If Lelei demonstrated that power, everyone would think that she was a minion of Hardy. Indeed, the problem lay in Rory’s perceptions.
“However, if that happens, won’t the Apocryph appear again?”
Tuka and Rory were caught up on different matters, and they worried about different things.
“Indeed, that is so.”
Rory tried to persuade Lelei to come around, but Lelei banished that worry.
“The solution has already been hinted at. This is happening because the Gate has been left open. If we open it at appropriate times, there will be fewer problems. One might call this a form of protecting the environment. The important thing is not to accumulate distortion.”
“I see. Then, closing the Arnus Gate will not be a problem for the groups who depend on it.”
“There’s a big problem there! Lelei, do you want to live a life of opening and closing the Gate?”
Unlike Tuka and Yao, Lelei was a short-lived human. It would be a shame to use one’s short lifespan as a Gatekeeper.
“I don’t want that either,” Lelei said as she shook her head. She acknowledged that there were a pile of other problems as well.
“We don’t have a way to find Japan from the countless other ways. Without that, we won’t know where to point the portal even if we could open one. In addition, when we close the Gate there’ll be chaos in the Naurtel to relieve the accumulated distortion. There is also a time differential between here and there. It is possible that even if we open the Gate again the next day, another year might have passed over there.”
“That, that’s terrible! Youji would have become an old man and I would already have ascended by then. Isn’t that a terrible thing?” Rory wailed.
Tuka and Yao expressed their agreement.
After that, the hitherto silent Giselle spoke.
“It’s just as Mistress said…”
“What did she say?”
“Mistress said that humans would not be able to reach a conclusion. She said that humanity would not be able to make a decision when their future clashed with their desires. Because of that, the gods have to force a conclusion through disaster.”
“Kuh,” Rory moaned in despair.
“Onee-sama, you should know what you have to do.”
Suddenly, Lelei’s hand stopped. It was small, but she noticed a hole in the material of her armor.
She thought about it, and then continued in a stern tone.
“...Youji will not be a problem. We will lock him up when the time comes to close the Gate. I’m certain the Japanese government will trade him as a condition of opening the Gate again. Because of that, being able to open and close the Gate is a priority, and I hope I will be the only one to do this. I hope everyone here will give me their full cooperation.”
Lelei laughed coldly, with a perfectly flat expression on her face.
As they saw her like this, Rory, Tuka, Yao and even Giselle could not help but lean back.
They felt a chill down the spine from that emotionless smile on her face.
What? It sounded like that. Rory and the others shook their heads while saying, “No, it’s nothing~”
The hole Lelei had discovered in her armor was not a round bullet hole punched through it, but a slit, like a buttonhole. It was roughly big enough to admit her index finger. When she flipped it over, the scales on the breastplate were not damaged. Why was there a hole like this? How surprising.
Still, this was not the work of a smith, but the production of the children of Arnus. It might have been made with Wyvern scales, but they had used the small, irregularly shaped or damaged scales which could not be solid. Sometimes, one would find small gaps depending on the way it was worn.
The fact was that the hole in the garment looked like it had passed through the gap in the scales.
When had that hole appeared? Lelei tilted her head and rummaged through her luggage, and took out a needle and string.
“Ah, Lelei-dono? If that is the case, I feel you will be in grave danger, Lelei-dono.”
Looking back, she saw that Piña was speaking, and Hamilton was combing the Crown Princess’ red hair.
“Why is that?”
“Because you will be drawn into the schemes of the Empire and the Japanese. At the very least, if Zorzal-niisama hears about this, your life will be in danger again.”
From Zorzal’s point of view, being able to close the Gate implied that Japan had given up on plundering the world on this side of the Gate and had retreated, so it would be a wonderful thing. It would be even better if the Gate could not be opened again. Naturally, if someone had the power to open the Gate, he would hate them. If that person were Hardy, Goddess of the Underworld, he would not be able to do anything about it, but it would be a different matter if that person were human.
“We cannot keep this secret.”
Lelei began sewing the hole in her clothes as she replied.
“Why is that…” Piña asked Lelei.
“This is because being able to reopen the Gate is the precondition that the Japanese government and everyone at Arnus will have for accepting even a temporary closure of the Gate. Without that, everyone will oppose it. There won’t even be room for negotiations.”
Piña knew she could not persuade them by herself, so she looked around for someone to help her. However, Tuka and Yao merely shook their heads in silence.
Rory was feeling quite miserable too. Hardy had already foreseen things would develop this way, which was why she had given Lelei that power. She could sense that Hardy wanted to make Lelei the eye of the storm as she threw the dice around her.”
“The official government of the Empire would certainly be against it. Even if we could open the Gate again afterwards, Father… His Majesty would certainly decree that the Gate not be closed. Even I would once have opposed the closing of the Gate.”
“Why is that?”
Hamilton raised her head and answered Tuka’s question.
“This is because the military power of Japan, quartered as they are in Arnus, is critical for the survival of the official administration at Italica. Even if we were certain that the Gate could be opened again, the blank period where we would be deprived of Japan’s military might during the closure of the Gate would be unacceptable. It is a matter of life and death for us. Anyone who had been through the purges would be begging Japan not to abandon them.”
“Are the Empire and Japan still at war? Aren’t they getting along quite well?”
“Please understand. The situation has changed.”
“Then how about killing Zorzal directly?”
Rory hoisted her halberd, feeling that that would be a very simple solution.
“Your Holiness. If you do that, Father will be the next to take Lelei-dono’s life. The official government feels that Japan is necessary due to the power of Onii-sama’s power. Without him, Japan will be a hindrance to the Empire. So defeating Zorzal only means he will be replaced by Father, and defeating Father will only mean he will be replaced by someone else, and they will all attempt to assassinate Lelei-dono. This is a matter of circumstances, not because they are Onii-sama or Father.”
“Then why not have Emperor Molt abdicate and become Empress, Piña?”
“Please give me a break. I have long tired of politics. If I became Empress, then I would be the one to have to make the decision to eliminate Lelei-dono. And besides, I hope you won’t force me to do something I don’t want to do.”
Piña sounded very depressed as she said this.
“What a headache,” Rory groused, as though to speak for everyone else.
“Dammit, Hardy. How dare you repay kindness with treachery…”
From Rory’s point of view, Lelei had been singled out for her abilities. Since the person who had singled her out was Hardy, it was more like the goddess had cursed her. However, Lelei did not seem bothered by this at all as she said:
“What else is there to be perplexed about?”
“What else… Lelei-dono, did you hear what we said just now? This is a matter of your life and death.”
“That’s fine. Youji will protect me. He will help me.”
Tuka laughed unhappily at this.
“Haha, so was that your objective? You’ve been spoiled ever since he protected you in Londel.”
Lelei nodded gently to Tuka.
“As I thought.”
“I will not deny that. I do not deny it, but that is not all.”
“So it’s to keep Youji here by force?”
“I don’t think Father will abandon me and go back to the other side if my life is in danger.”
“I’m certain of it. If Youji won’t help me, there must be some reason for it. It must be a painful decision, made after weighing me against something even more important.”
“Still, just assuming, if things get to that extent, what happens?”
“I die with grace. That is all a wife can do.”
Lelei’s face blushed a faint pink as she continued stitching.
Rory, Tuka and Yao looked at each other, muttering things like, “She’s amazingly reliable,” “Lelei’s a breathtaking woman”and so on.
Perhaps she had not realized it, but Lelei muttered, “What? I’m heavy?”
It would seem she did not quite get the meaning of the phrase.
(TL Note: Breath-taking woman derives from 重い女, one who gives everything for her man when she falls in love. At heart, the base word 重い refers to weight.)
“Come to think of it Lelei, what have you been doing since just now?”
“I’m mending a hole. Mending holes is important.”
They had been talking about holes (portals) for some time now, but Rory leaned forward to inspect the movements of the needle in Lelei’s hand.
Then, her eyes shot open, and her gaze shifted from Lelei’s hand to her chest.
Rory suddenly reached out and lifted up Lelei’s T-shirt, gazing from her flat tummy to the faint swell of her breasts to the skin near her throat. This savagery was only possible within the women’s tent.
“W-what? What? What?!”
Lelei pushed away Rory’s hands in a panic. Her protestations were also a form of inquiry — what on earth are you doing? However, after sliding her fingertips along Lelei’s pure white skin to verify that she was unharmed, her lips curled up into a wicked, smug smile.
“Don’t you think it’s… gotten bigger?”
“...Eh, ehhhhh?!” Lelei yelped as she covered up her chest.
She had not noticed earlier, but Hardy’s gluttonous binge might well have wrought havoc on Lelei’s figure. The others had called her a breathtaking woman. What exactly did that mean? If that were the case, she had to do something about it immediately.
Lelei privately resolved to go on a diet.
Elsewhere, the existence of the Apocryph had a major impact on Itami and the other JSDF servicemen.
They knew the appropriate countermeasure was to close the Gate, but everyone here had worked hard to build relationships with the people of the Special Region. It was not something they could accept by saying, “Oh, so that’s how it is huh?”
“El-tee, what should we do?”
“What do you mean, what should we do?”
Itami was reading manga on his folding bed, and he was starting to find Kurata very annoying.
“If the Gate closes, can we live here?”
However, the next thing that entered his ears wiped that all away.
“What, what the hell did you just say?”
Itami bolted upright, studying the earnest look on his subordinate’s face.
“Ah, well, actually, I, uh, I’ve got a good thing going with Persia-san…”
“Oi oi, are you imagining things? It would be bad if you ended up becoming a stalker because you got the wrong impression from her.”
“No, we’re pretty much in a relationship now.”
“There are girls who don’t want to be tied down by bonds, and they tend to have one-night stands because of that.”
“That’s fine, because she’s not that kind of girl.”
This conversation took place within the same tent, so their words reached everyone else even if they did not want to hear it. Katsumoto and Sasagawa cheered, while Kuwabara smiled bitterly.
“Not bad, not bad at all! Woohoo!”
“It’s technically a violation of the regs… so don’t go spreading it around.”
In response to this defeatist talk, Kurata replied, “Hey, I put effort into it too.”
Everyone could attest to that. Every time he went down to Italica, he sought her out and wrote letters to her.
“Still, you… you’re really willing to migrate to the Special Region from Japan for a woman? Are you going to resign from the JSDF? What will your family think?”
“Well, I don’t want to quit, and I’ll miss Japan. But I can’t bear the thought of not being able to meet her again.”
“Ohhhh! That’s Kurata for you. Well done!” Katsumoto enthused.
“Well, I have to take my hat off to you. You’ve taken your love for nekomimi that far, after all,” Sasagawa chimed in.
However, Kuwabara injected a dose of reality into the proceedings.
“How will you make a living here if you quit the JSDF? If you get mar… no, if you live together, how will you provide for your partner?”
The words, “I’ll get married after this”, “We’ll have a kid after this” and so on were strictly forbidden in 3rd Recon. Thus, everyone was careful not to use those kinds of words
“How about signing on with House Formal? I’m sure I can apply my knowledge from Japan in things like domestic matters or the military. Maybe if I could spread what I know in a pioneer village or something…”
Itami halted Kurata mid-sentence.
“Well, that won’t work. Things aren’t that simple.”
“For instance, there are the JOCV (Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteers), experienced and skilled people who have a long history of helping out in developing countries in Africa, East Asia, South America and so on. But do you know how much time and effort it took for them to get those results? Seeding the fields, building irrigation systems, even tilling the fields took a long time period of encouraging and lecturing the natives and making them understand the concepts behind them. If you go in with the attitude that all you need for irrigation is to dig a ditch, you’ll be finished. The water source will soon be clogged up by sand and rocks. The reason why volunteer groups in Afghanistan and the Middle East have so much success is because they have incredible willpower, and not because it’s profitable to do so. It’s an incredibly bad investment. Nothing at all like what you might have read in web novels about pioneering and survival.”
“El, el-tee… you really thought this through, huh.”
“Ah, how shall I put this… I’ve already considered what you’re thinking about.”
“Ahahahaha, as I thought.”
“I did some research into it. What I learned was that it was too much for an amateur like me.”
“Still, the Arnus Living Community did it.”
“That’s because they adhered to the universal principle of buying low and selling high and had good products to trade. They managed to grow their business by making the most of the special privileges afforded to them. It’s nothing special in the Special Region, and the traders did not need to change their thinking. Thus, the world at large could take it in. There’s people who want to become instant millionaires by playing with stocks and market prices, but people will view hoarding or exchanging large amounts of currency as troublemaking, so that’s not sustainable, is it?”
“I’m not telling you not to migrate. Do it if you want. But you should sit down and calmly think about your strengths and talents. If you throw yourself into this because you’re in love with a woman, you’ll most likely regret it. Mar… no, putting your chop on a form isn’t the end. Life after that will be hard, and your relationship might even end because of that.”
“As expected of a divorcee, your words drip with wisdom.”
“I was pretty shocked back then,” Itami sighed.
“You’ll get burned if you think you’re unstoppable just because the Special Region is backward. Don’t look down on them.”
“Understood. Still, you’ve thought heavily about this. As expected of you, el-tee.”
“It’s because I once said, ‘It’s fine, leave it to me’ or something like that. I felt that it was important to make sure that there was a way for the refugees to continue living even without me around, which is why I thought so much about it.”
“Eh? Aren’t you staying in the Special Region, el-tee?”
“And why would I do that?”
“I mean… you’ve got the black Goth loli, the blonde Elf, the magical girl… oh, and even the Crown Princess joined in too. From an outsider’s point of view, they all look pretty serious.”
“Ahhh, well, I guess you’re right. I need to think about it.”
“Think about it… el-tee, things being what they are, do you even have the luxury of thinking about it? Do you think you can run away?”
Kurata and the others nodded. Even old man Kuwabara nodded.
“But I didn’t lay my hands on any of them.”
“Even if you didn’t do anything, if the girl gets serious about you, you have to take responsibility for it.”
“Responsibility? I didn’t even do anything!”
“Aye. Still, this is what they mean by strict liability.”
The way he described it sounded like a traffic accident.
“But I’ve been divorced before.”
“What difference does that make?”
“That means anyone who knows my true nature will run for the hills.”
In response to Itami’s self-deprecation, Katsumoto gulped and asked, “Don’t, don’t tell me you think the others don’t know who you really are?”
Sasagawa mumbled, “It’s obvious enough that they completely understand you. The hell are you saying, normalfag? Hurry up and drown already!”
“Ah? Drown? Me? Why?”
“You should be drowning in women. Hurry up and blow your damn bubbles as you sink!”
“Oi, oi, you guys are taking this too far.”
“El-tee, you’re the one who’s gone too far.”
Yes, it’s him, Kurata and the others seemed to say as they looked to each other and nodded in unison.
“Why? Let’s take that blonde Elf for example. How come she’s so sweet on you?”
“So you think she loves me because I helped her, like some kind of H-game? You’re being too naive. Tuka isn’t an easy woman like that. Sadly, I think she can only be at peace when she thinks of me as her father. If I wound up in a relationship with her because of that, the friendship we’ve built so far will go down the drain.”
“How about the platinum blonde Dark Elf?”
“Yao is my servant, so it’s different from that sort of thing. If not, how could I end up with such a good woman? Taking advantage of our relationship would be a form of abuse of authority.”
“Then, the magical girl?”
“Lelei is naive and romantic. She must be confused, like measles. If I were to take advantage of that, could I even consider myself an adult? Plus, how could such a smart girl be satisfied with me? She’d get tired of me in no time.”
“How about the black Goth loli?”
“Laying hands on Rory is a crime, isn’t it? If we were in Japan, there’s no doubt that I’d be charged with violating the Child Welfare Act and the Youth Protection Ordinances. Well, her real age being what it is, the authorities probably won’t convict me… but I still have to consider my public image. Maybe if she looked a little older…”
“I see…” Kurata nodded. “Then, el-tee? If say, we were to go after one of those four, what would you do?”
“Going by cliches, I would transfer the person in question to the 4th Brigade. How about that?”
“To the frontline?”
The men looked at each other, convening a silent tribunal.
“What, what’s wrong with you guys?”
“Please be quiet, el-tee. Court is in session.”
Soon, they seem to have reached a conclusion. Kurata was the first to speak.
“El-tee, put an end to it. The greatest sin for someone like you is being indecisive.”
“That’s right, that’s right. Please show me your strength in going out with all four of them at once,” Katsumoto added.
“If you assert yourself a bit more, you could end up with a harem. A harem,” Sasagawa said.
Itami’s men patted his shoulders as he said this.
“The shift change is coming soon…”
Since she was female, they had selected Kurokawa to take one of the earlier watches. The next man up on sentry detail would be called just before the first one ended. Usually sentries were posted in pairs, and the other member of this pair was one of the airmen.
“Oh, I’m up next.”
Kurata reached for his rifle as he put on his boots.
Sensing something in the air, Kurokawa asked Itami: “What’s wrong?”
“Ahh, see how much we’ve been talking about the Gate? Well, what comes next is going to be pretty troublesome.”
Since he could not actually speak the truth, Itami decided to try and bluff his way through. However, Kurokawa continued in her usual tone,” Indeed. But El-tee? Do you really think you can run away from that problem?”