Editor: Deus Ex-Machina, Skythewood
Itami Youji stood at rigid attention, wearing a neatly-ironed uniform that he had just taken back from the dry cleaners. His neck felt itchy, probably because he had forgotten to remove the dry-cleaner’s tag inside the collar. Still, the circumstances compelled him to remain still. That was because several of the highest-ranking members of the JGSDF were seated before him.
Itami was but a junior officer in the JGSDF, and he had not even spoken to the majority of these people before. Thus, simply standing in front of them was a great source of stress for him. In addition, this was not a good place for him to be standing. After all, this was the Prime Minister’s audience room, covered in a red carpet which made his hard leather shoes feel like they were sinking into the ground.
The massive wooden door radiated an aura of gravitas. The sound of approaching clamour came from the other side.
As he had expected, the people who came through were Prime Minister Morita, Chief Cabinet Secretary Kogure, Foreign Minister Kanou, Defense Minister Natsume, among others.
“Thank you for waiting.”
With that, Prime Minister Morita sat down on the sofa.
Kanou, Natsume and Kogure took places around him. Morita’s eye turned to Itami and he asked:
“You wrote this report, didn’t you?”
“Yes. That’s correct… is it bad?”
Morita stroked the twisted black frame of his glasses and flipped open the cover of the document he held.
The politicians sighed in unison. Everyone glanced at each other, and then looked to Foreign Minister Kanou.
Kanou was the only person here who truly understood him, who was his comrade. However, even Kanou looked uncomfortable, and spoke to Itami in leaden tones.
“Well, it’s not just bad. It’s very bad… your report is filled with good news and bad news. In all honesty, we have no idea how to respond to this. And then there’s a veritable mountain of issues we have to address. Thus, we invited you here, because everyone wants to speak with you.”
Kanou flipped through the file he had in hand.
“Let’s start with something simple. Thank you for undertaking the resource survey of the Special Region. The oil fields there are of startling proportions. Resource-wise, the mineral samples you’ve brought back are amazing finds. The researchers were grinning from ear to ear about them. If all goes well, we will no longer use the word ‘rare’ to describe them anymore. This is truly joyous news for our nation. Well done.”
“Thank you very much.”
“Next is the problem of the black mist that was blown up all over the Net… that Apo-somethingorother. We asked Youmei-sensei, but he didn’t quite understand it.”
“I don’t quite get it myself.”
“And then, there’s the mysterious cloud spreading from that Kunaptai place in the Special Region. The TV stations and newspapers ignored it at first, but they can’t ignore it anymore, and it’s caused quite a furore.”
“It’s Kunapnui, sir. And yes, if it continues spreading, the Special Region isn’t going to be a very fun place for anyone.”
The gathered people furrowed their brows at Itami’s phrasing. “Not fun” was one thing, but the report had stated “complete biological extinction”.
“Still, its relation to the Gate is unclear.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Kogure tossed the copy of the report onto the table before him.
“The report says this phenomenon was caused by the Gate. Is that not enough?” Prime Minister Morita answered.
“Of course not. Don’t you think this might have been cooked up by the people of the Special Region to drive us away? Basically, they’re trying to link a natural disaster to the Gate.”
I see, that does make sense. Itami felt it was quite convincing.
“The person who said this was not an ordinary person, but a god.”
“Let’s not speak of them as gods. That party is always talking about cults and whatnot, it’s a pain in the ass. Plus, the diplomats from religious countries are making a stink about designating living, breathing people who can speak directly as gods.”
(TL Note: That party refers to the Japanese Communist Party)
“Is that from the time I was summoned before the Diet? It would seem everyone here’s had a hard time.”
“Well, for monotheists, they can close one eye to other religions worshipping in some place they don’t know about. However, the idea that we, the authorities, would recognize someone who can actually speak of their own accord as a god makes them very upset. ‘That’s not God, the true God is our God’ and then they start trying to interfere in things.”
“But this is Japan, isn’t it?”
“It’s for diplomatic reasons - please understand. This has sparked debates on the existence of deities. It’s not a matter of ‘abandoning the Buddha and paying the gods no heed’,” Kanou said.
(TL Note: 仏ほっとけ、神構うな - acknowledge the gods, but do not revere them)
“But then, what should we call them?”
“Haaa… because they have special abilities? And then, there’s the explanation given by those espers...” Natsume said in frustration.
“Don’t you think that makes them sound even more suspicious? It’s like those TV specials about finding people with superhuman abilities.”
“Do you think this is some kind of kids’ sci-fi anime?”
“That sounds less believable and more suspicious.”
“As in, fairy tales?”
“...I guess that works best.”
“So in the end, we’re still going with that?”
“Not like we’ve got better ideas. Let’s just use that term for now. When the Diet makes its official reply or when we have to commit this to official documentation, we’ll let the bureaucrats think up something.”
They looked forward to the imagination of the bureaucrats who had changed the Flame Dragon’s name to “Special Region Type A Dangerous Beast”.
“All right, we’ll do that. Let’s move on,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Kogure said.
“Now, where were we? Right. America and the EU have gathered a great deal of money and manpower in preparation to explore and exploit the Special Region. These efforts have ground to a halt ever since these abnormal phenomena came to light.”
“Share prices have plunged and a crash looks imminent. The lobbyists pressured into exploring the Special Region by their backers have been caught off guard and can’t hide their confusion any further.”
Morita took the cue directed at him.
“Why did it end up like that?”
You don’t even know that? Chief Cabinet Secretary Kogure seemed to be saying as he looked at Itami.
“Simple. They’re starting to worry that they won’t make a return on their investment in the Special Region. If the Gate has to be closed, then the huge amount of capital they’ve committed will go up in smoke, no? However attractive that place might be, the investors will still be hounding them for some kind of return.”
“Of course, not everyone will be able to accept that. There’s a lot of annoying people who are decrying this as some sort of scheme, that we’re trying to monopolize the Gate and whatnot. These people even say that there’s no link between this abnormality and the Gate. Never mind that we haven’t released an official statement yet.”
Itami could only nod in response.
“...Well? Do you think you’ve fallen for an Imperial trick?”
Itami shook his head at Kogure’s question.
“I don’t think so. If they do have the ability to trigger a phenomenon that’s as lethal as the report says, then there would be no need to do it there. They’d just hit Arnus and be done with it.”
Itami felt that if it were some sort of unconventional weapon (as in, nuclear, biological or chemical), the Empire’s first target would be Arnus.
“Still, isn’t Arnus ‘holy ground’ to them? Perhaps they feel they cannot pollute the land with such methods.
It would seem Chief Cabinet Secretary Kogure thought that the Apocryph was some kind of Empire-created threat.
However, Itami felt that it was nonsense. The word “threat” was meaningless if it could not be explained in terms that others could understand. In addition, if the Apocryph could be deliberately triggered, then the Special Region Expeditionary Force would have to fundamentally reconsider their approach to combat. Depending on their circumstances, they might need to consider a general retreat. The consequences of such a phenomenon being generated in a concentration of JSDF personnel were too hideous to bear considering.
After one of the uniformed men seated nearby pointed out exactly that, Kogure amended his statement by saying, “Of course, I have considered that it might just be a freak natural occurrence.”
“However, minute changes in stellar alignment have also been detected here. Recently, Mt. Asama has also become active again. Perhaps the Apocryph is spreading somewhere on this side of the Gate as well. Concluding that it has nothing to do with the Gate is extremely dangerous. Even if we are not certain about the details, I hope we all agree that something has to be done.”
The Prime Minister, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, the JGSDF generals and the others launched into fiery debate.
Kanou — who was uninvolved — addressed Itami.
“...Ahhh. And so, opinions from all over the government go back and forth.”
“What a headache.”
“Indeed. The bigger headache is the proposal submitted by the Arnus Living Community.”
This was the first time Itami had heard of anything from the ALC.
They should have discussed it with him before bringing it up with the Japanese authorities, so a sense of detachment — or was it surprise? — welled up within Itami.
“What sort of proposal was it?
Somewhere along the way, everyone present had turned to look at Itami. Some were even leaning forward. The fake smiles on their faces made him very uncomfortable.
Prime Minister Morita spoke in a grave tone.
“Miss Lelei La Lelena, who once came before the Diet as an expert witness, seems to have mastered some sort of technology concerning the Gate. She has also said that in exchange for certain conditions, she could assist in the reopening of the Gate.”
Itami’s jaw dropped.
“This, this is the first time I’ve heard of this. What are the conditions?”
“Firstly, they want us to accept the closure of the Gate. Well, if the Gate can be opened, then it can be closed. That’s fine.”
“After that, she wants us to curb the spread of technology and knowledge into the Special Region. The implication is that the Special Region has its own values, culture and mindset, and rapid changes in them are not a good thing.”
“Then, the next condition is…”
“Yes, that’s the part which is giving us the headache,” Kanou cut in.
“What, what is that?”
“Simply put, they want us to give them the JGSDF commander 1st Lieutenant Itami Youji.”
Kanou punctuated the reply with a nod, and it froze Itami in place.
People’s Republic of China, Beijing - Zhongnanhai
“Chair-Chairman Dong. I am here to submit my report.”
Liu’s voice was off-key and hoarse.
It was not just his voice. He stood ramrod straight, his feet and hands trembling as though exposed in the bitterest cold. Sweat poured off his body like rain, and as a result the collar and armpits of his suit had changed color.
It was hot and intensely embarrassing. He knew he made a disgraceful figure. However, given the location, it could not be helped. After all, this was a special place.
Liu belonged to the National Strategy Department, an important component of the Chinese Communist Party, which sought to dominate Chinese people across the globe. However, the people seated before him were the six most important people in the Party. The imposing aura of dignity and gravitas they radiated made Liu feel his hands and feet were several times heavier than usual.
Dong Dechou — in his centrally-located Chairman’s seat — verified that the person before him was Liu, and then addressed him in a serious, formal tone.
“Ah, ah yes. Please, peruse this data.”
Liu opened his report and urged the bigwig before him to look through it.
His hope was that if everyone looked downward, he might be relieved of his tension. However, the elders — led by Dong — did not look away from Liu. They were carefully scrutinizing the man who had just spoken. This was because they felt that they understood people better than they did printed words on a page.
Of course, the speaker would end up feeling like he was being interrogated. But at the same time, it gave an air of seriousness to the proceedings, where levity and foolishness were not tolerated. Thus, while unpleasant, the speaker’s tension improved the quality of the discourse.
Liu swallowed to moisten his throat before launching into the meat of the matter. However, his mouth felt as dry as a desert, and his tongue was like a dessicated sponge, refusing to yield up the slightest bit of moisture. When he swallowed, it was like gulping a mouthful of sand.
“There, there are reports in Japan a-about various oddities taking place due to the existence of the Gate. The news and media tried to quash this story at first, but now they are releasing articles criticising Prime Minister Morita for not taking action against it…”
“We do not need reports that we could obtain just as easily from the newspapers. You are not mere collectors of information, but espionage agents. What do you suggest we do in response to these developments?” Chairman Dong replied sternly, sounding like a denouncement.
In response to that merciless criticism, Liu practically screamed his answer:
“I, I feel that Japan is trying to monopolize the Special Region using these changes as an excuse! Thus I strongly advise against linking these changes to the Gate. Instead, we should advocate that a peaceful, perhaps international utilization of the Gate is in the best interests of the Japanese people. To that end, we will push our message forward through the news and the media. At the same time, if we begin interfering with avenues of peaceful resolution, the public opinion of the Japanese will eventually turn towards us.”
“Let’s get this straight. There is no such thing as friendship among nations. We might make the enemy believe such a thing exists, but we must never hope for it ourselves.”
“A-allow me to correct myself. We will make sure they refrain from endangering the interests of our nation.”
It was for this purpose that China solicited investments from foreign enterprises, opened its markets, and dispenses resources. Once these enterprises set up shop in Japan, they and all the Japanese people working in them would become hostages, thus limiting Japan’s thinking, actions and choices.
“How goes the infiltration of the news and media. Will they act as we desire?”
“The journalist exchange agreement is proceeding well. They are self-censoring reports that are damaging to our country. They have cultivated the attitude of limiting exposure to anti-Chinese articles. There was a demonstration in Tokyo, about 4000 strong, against our country, but it passed without notice. This is arguably the ideal situation for ourselves. In addition, we have reminded the leaders of the companies which sponsor news channels and variety shows about the proper way to handle information concerning our country. They are keenly aware that if they wish to do business in our country, they will need to demonstrate their friendliness and willingness to cooperate.”
“Oh, that’s good. These must be the fruits of your labor. Still, it seems somewhat sedate. I would like to see your plan for increasing the intensity of the situation.”
“But, but, suggestions like that would contradict the responsibility I am tasked with.”
“I know. Taking grand actions may end up putting all our previous effort to waste. Even so, we may have to take them to protect our interests, so I want to hear what you have to suggest.”
“That, that means, we’re going to put on a show of force to intimidate Japan?”
After all, the Japanese media would have no choice but to air anti-Chinese news items if China decided to use gunboat diplomacy on Japan. For instance, if they did not report about the fishing boat colliding with a patrol boat, that would lead to the Japanese people losing all faith in them.
They had already worked to ensure that if anything happened, the media would not air anti-Chinese articles, but instead let it fade out of the public eye as soon as possible.
For instance, during the poisoned gyoza incident, as public interest in the topic began to wane, they trotted out women and children approving of good Sino-Japanese ties and published news items approving of friendliness and peace. Then, they interweaved news of capturing and dealing with the culprits in between the coverage of other big events. Before anyone knew it, all the blame had been pushed onto those people and the matter was at an end. Then they loaned out a panda or two and everyone was friendly with them again.
With this system in place, they could minimize the impact of many things, be it the Chinese police department’s reinterpretation of events, apologizing for blaming Japan for everything, and even the lack of compensation for affected industries and victims. When dealing with Japan, they covered up their mistakes and left things at that. This was China’s basic attitude towards problems.
Still, there were limits to how far that could go. For instance, if they actually tried to intimidate Japan with a show of force, that would stir up anti-Chinese sentiment in the Japanese people. Their reputation in the international community would also sink like a stone. If they did this and ended up crippling themselves for small gains, recovering from these setbacks would take a great amount of time.
That was precisely what Liu feared.
“If you think a show of force refers to military power, then you are mistaken. Gunboat diplomacy and the like are relics of the past century. We will make war in a brand new battlefield, and thus win the rights to the Special Region.”
“What, what would that be?”
The female secretary waiting in the corner advanced in silence and handed a bundle of documents to Liu.
Liu swiftly scanned through the topics.
“We call it, ‘Operation Ginza Red Flag’.”
Chairman Dong Dechou smiled to himself as he said so.
Liu gave it an once-over, and then he blanched.
“But, but… I don’t think the US and the other nations will approve of this… it seems far too risky.”
“It’s fine. There’s not need to worry. Justice does not exist in the international community; only national interests. As long as your interests coincide with the other nation, you may do as you please. This is reality… all right, come with me. I’ll introduce you to our guests, because you’ll be working with them in the future.”
“Indeed,” Dong Dechou said as he rose from his seat and led Liu aside. There were several men waiting in the antechamber.
“This is Mr. Balanov of the Russian Federation. And this is Mr. Lucre from France. After that we have Mr. Brudges from England. Mr. Hwang of North Korea. Mr. Kim from South Korea. And finally, the US Presidential Secretary, Mr. Bremy.”
Liu shook hands with everyone Dong introduced, but he still gasped, “The Americans too?!” in an unbelieving tone.
He was so tense that he did not notice his voice going off-key.
“Correct. In this, we are in agreement. Does that not mean that we should work together as well?”
“Yes, yes, that’s right.”
“Of course, this is not an ironclad working relationship. We are all here for our own reasons and we must leave for our own reasons as well. Similarly, the conditions for continued cooperation are quite strict. We must take action boldly and carefully.”
“Yes, I believe that is so.”
“The reins for this operation must be placed in the hands of an excellent commander. Thus, I hope you will be the overall coordinator for this operation. Will you accept that position?”
This was an offer Liu could not refuse, so he bowed crisply in acknowledgement. Upon seeing this, Dong Dechou smiled smugly.
“Now, Japan will be fighting on all sides.”
(TL Note: the term is 四面楚歌, referring to the battle of Gaixia)
Ibaraki Prefecture, Kasumigaura
Itami stood on the shores of the lake, looking up the sky and the huge fluffy white clouds floating up there.
He saw a speck of white in the endless azure. He heard the sound of engines from the distance. When he raised his binoculars and looked through them, he saw a civilian propellor plane.
Through his binoculars, he saw several red and white-striped points scatter from the civilian aircraft, taking flight into the clear blue sky.
These points were currently falling towards Itami’s current location.
They were falling so fast that he could not track them through the high-power magnification of his binoculars. Thus, Itami put them down and waited until he could see them with the naked eye.
A moment later, kite-like objects bloomed into existence one after the other. They then drifted slowly towards him.
Itami did not look back to Yao standing behind him, but said:
“It’s a long time to stand here while craning your neck. You don’t have to keep hanging around.”
“No. I want to be by your side.”
Itami felt a little embarrassed by Yao’s words, and he scratched his head while saying, “really now”. To him, those words could be taken as a vow of eternal companionship.
“Forget it, she was probably just exaggerating.”
To the long-lived Yao, dating Itami for life was hardly a big deal. Perhaps it would only feel like a couple of years to her. Just as Itami was thinking about that, Yao suddenly asked:
“Do you find me bothersome? I sometimes fail to get a hint; if you wish to be alone, please, tell me.”
“It’s not like that.”
“Wonderful… although, everyone’s flying quite well.”
Yao looked to the sky and then a shiver ran down her spine, as though a cold wind had blown.
“I keep thinking about what would happen if the parachute didn’t open, or if the straps broke, or if the wind blew me into the lake, and so on.”
Because I have bad luck. Yao squeezed the 50 yen coin Itami had given her.
Itami understood how Yao felt, and nodded.
“I wonder why everyone’s having so much fun?”
“It’s natural to think that way. It looks pretty boring from down here.”
In truth, skydiving did not seem very impressive to onlookers. Perhaps it would be different if there was a team of professionals performing aerobatics and a cunning array of stunts, but Itami and Yao were merely waiting for the skydivers to make landfall, so it was very boring.
That said, that was only because they could not see the airborne skydivers with their naked eyes.
Pina descended through the air, held from behind by a professional skydiving coach. When she saw Itami, she waved her arms enthusiastically at him.
They landed in a glide. Once she touched down, Pina ran to Itami, all smiles and beaming like a child.
“It was awesome, so awesome, Itami-dono! To think such wonders existed in our world!”
“Your, your Highness… this isn’t our world…”
Hamilton had landed alongside Pina. She approached them on shaky legs after thanking her coach.
“Right. This is another world… ahhhh, there’s so many wonderful things in this world. Why was I not born here? The moment when we passed through the clouds was lovely!”
Following them, Rory, Tuka and Lelei landed.
After separating from their skydiving coaches, they eagerly babbled about how wonderful it felt to walk through the sky. Even the typically quiet Lelei’s eyes were glowing, as though to show her delight.
“Aren’t you jumping, Itami-dono?”
“Nah, I’ll pass.”
“Could it be that even Itami-dono, one of the renowned Men In Green, is afraid of jumping? ...Well, Hamilton whined a lot on the way up, but she seemed quite happy once she was airborne.”
“...You didn’t think she was just scared speechless in the air?”
“Then, did you find it boring?”
“No. It was truly a wondrous experience.”
Hamilton placed her hands onto her chest as if she was replaying her feelings in her mind.
“Although, before we jumped, I still couldn’t bring myself to believe how a chunk of metal could float in the sky.”
At that time, Hamilton looked like she was on the verge of crying and screamed “How scary”.
“Say, say, Itami-dono, how about joining us next time? Hey, what do you think?”
Itami sensed Pina was bugging him in order to fly again.
“I appreciate your kind offer, but please permit me to refuse.”
Itami wanted to impress the cost of skydiving upon this Crown Princess-sama, who had no idea of the meaning of money.
“Why is that? Do you dislike accompanying me?”
“...In all honesty, I just don’t understand the appeal of this sort of thing.”
As Itami fumbled around for an excuse, Yao was chuckling behind his back as she covered her mouth.
“Do you know something?”
Tuka — who looked happy, like she had just waltzed with a wind spirit — pressed Yao for details. After Lelei and Rory joined in as well, Yao muttered, “I can’t say this out loud” before whispering to them.
“In truth, Itami-dono is afraid of heights.”
“Ahhhhh! You promised to keep it secret! And you’re scared of heights too!”
In response to that, Yao proudly puffed her chest up.
“Indeed, I fear heights. But that is because my luck is bad and leads to accidents! I’m not afraid like you are.”
“Let’s get this out of the way first. I can ride in helicopters or transport planes. I’m very familiar with rappelling, and I’ve done my share of combat jumps. I’m just afraid of Wyverns.”
“Oh? Really? Then who was the one hugging me and screaming back then?”
“Ah, well, I was holding tightly onto Yao, but I was afraid of the Wyvern…”
“Then why didn’t you go skydiving?”
As Rory and Tuka pressed him, Itami mumbled, “Er, I er, because, of, uh…”
“Were you lying about parachute jumping? Father, take some responsibility here.”
“It’s not a lie!” Itami wailed, before narrating his black history to them.
“I did jump. Really. But I hated it, so I clung to the jumpmaster and refused to let go. In the end my commander and the jumpmaster went, “Get your ass out of here” and they kicked me out the door.”
The fear of heights could take many forms. In Itami’s case, he feared having nothing to hold on to. Ropes were fine and anything he could hold onto would be acceptable. But without them, his fears would surge forth.
It was only natural to wonder why someone like him could have a paratrooper badge, but there was a reason for that.
After people shouted “What kind of SFG trooper doesn’t have a paratrooper badge?!” he had been shoved off a perfectly good aircraft five times and obtained it. Naturally, there were still some SFG commanders who still resented Itami for it.
Whenever he tried to run away from things he did not like, people would point at the badge of his chest and scold him, “Aren’t you a Ranger?! Aren’t you Special Forces?!” Even so, Itami still tried to flee those unpleasant tasks. Eventually, one of Itami’s previous commanders handed down the secret of controlling him.
“You can forget about ever taking leave again, particularly at the beginning and end of the year and during summer!”
“Ehhhhhh! But why?!”
“If you don’t want that to happen, act like you deserve that badge on your chest!”
Indeed, it was because of these experiences that Itami no longer wore his badge on his uniform.
If not for the Ginza incident, Itami would probably have been forcibly enrolled into free-fall courses, at which point he would seriously have considered a change in vocation.
However, the girls found this aspect of his terribly entertaining. He was the ideal target for their bullying.
They teased Itami about how he did not join them because he could not understand the joys of the sky.
In the end, Itami had to cajole them into moving on, saying “Hurry up and change, time’s right and we need to get in the microbus.”
Next, they would be heading to a Ministry of Defense research institute.
Once they left Kasumigaura airport, black limousines surrounded their microbus from all directions. It begged the question, “what kind of VIP would ride a microbus, anyway?”
As she saw this, Rory muttered: “I remember what happened the last time came here…”
Lelei, Tuka and Pina nodded.
“Well, that was because our movements were leaked to one and all, so everyone’s eyes were on us…”
In response to Itami’s words, the man in black seated at the seat beside the driver’s turned around, saying “Sorry about leaking your location to all and sundry… it’s been a while.”
Itami asked the man addressing them: “Who’re you?”
“You can’t tell? I’ve lost a lot of weight.”
The man — who resembled Dr. Shinigami from Kamen Rider — introduced himself as Komakado. He had been their point of contact with the local police when Itami had first led his group to Tokyo.
“Ohhh! It’s been a while. What happened to your waist after that?”
“Ah, how shall I put it… My cane’s a part of me now.”
Komokado glared hatefully at the halberd Rory was holding. Seeing how a young girl like herself held it with such ease, he had decided to snatch it up unawares. In the end, he had sprained his waist and given himself a hernia, resulting in an ambulance call.
“Well, let’s just forget about it.”
“Aye. Well, I understand. Still, I heard that security preparations are being handled by the police this time. Komakado-san, you’re from Intelligence Branch; what are you doing here?”
“Ah, my secondment period is over. I’m a department chief in the Public Security Division now.”
“Oh! You’ve risen through the ranks. Congrats.”
“No no, that’s largely thanks to you. We managed to round up all the foreign spies in Ginza in one fell swoop…”
“Really. If you didn’t notice, then never mind.”
Komakado chuckled as he said this. For some reason, it sounded like a villain’s evil laugh. He seemed kinder when he had been plumper. His bearing now had a negative effect on his image.
One could see the reed-choked shores of Lake Kasumigaura through the windows. The technology institute was further down the road. Komakado paused briefly to bring his digital communicator to his mouth.
“Intersection here, everything’s fine.”
Reports streamed in from various location. It would seem they had taken very tight measures, given the prior leaks. After acknowledging the reports, Komakado looked at Itami.
“There’s a fundamental difference between the level of security now and last time. We’ve even had policewomen cosplay as the girls here and sent them strolling around with someone who looks like you to Akihabara or Nagata-cho. There’s another microbus behind us as well.”
Komakado pointed behind himself as he said this.
“I haven’t even been told the reason you’re here. Why are you here?”
“To conduct a Gate-opening experiment.”
Itami was momentarily confused over whether to tell someone who had not been otherwise informed. Just for once, he wanted to say, “that’s on a need to know basis, and you don’t need to know”, or some other similarly overacted line. However, Lelei, who was sitting to the side, shattered Itami’s fantasies with her simple answer.
“A Gate-opening experiment? You mean to say that men can make portals between this world and others?”
“It could be.”
Komakado looked like nothing in the world could have shocked him more.
Everybody in the world understood the utility of the Special Region. If word got out that there was a way to freely open a way to the Special Region, and that the strange phenomena plaguing the world could be eliminated, everyone in the world would reach to Japan for a handout.
“You need to be very cautious about this information. Do you understand me?” Komakado told the policeman driving.
“I, I understand.”
“You are not to speak of this to anyone; not your parents, your siblings, your girlfriend, your superiors, nobody. Do you understand?”
“I understand, sir!” the policeman practically shouted in reply.
“Good. Then, we’ll have the decoys head toward Ginza as planned.”
In response to Komakado’s order, the microbus trailing them turned left towards Tokyo, taking a lot of police escort vehicles with them. Even if someone pursued them, the long motorcade would be very distracting and they would probably not notice the microbus moving ahead of them.
“Now, even if someone is observing, it’ll look like the VIPs from the Special Region are returning to Ginza after skydiving.”
“Wouldn’t that be nice~”
Rory’s nonchalant reply was laced with sarcasm, and Komakado smiled back to her, unwilling to admit defeat.
“Well, I didn’t think it would be settled so easily. The path ahead is kind of uncertain.”
In fact, the space behind them had cleared up now that the heavy police escort had vanished. There were no more cars on the road besides the ones that occasionally passed them from the front. Rural roads would be like this outside of traffic jams.
Before long, they could see the Ministry of Defense Research Institute. It was comprised of clean white buildings on an open field. They were actually pretty big structures, though the sprawling surroundings might have given viewers a false impression.
The microbus did not enter through the main gate, but took an unpaved, narrow road that was something like a trail running between rice paddies, and thus it entered the grounds from a side gate. Perhaps it was because his tension had been running high, but when the side gate closed, Komakado exhaled deeply.
“Hooo… Well, nothing happened this time.”
Yup, very tense.
The microbus entered an area surrounded by buildings.
Men in black were gathered there, awaiting Itami and his entourage.
“You’ve come at last, Lelei-san. Everyone, did you enjoy your leisure time in the air?”
Prime Minister Morita, Secretary Kogure and the others stepped forward, each shaking Lelei’s hand.
“Thank you. I had a lot of fun thanks to you,” Lelei replied primly. After all, she had heard that their entertainment had been paid from the Prime Minister’s pocket money. While it was more likely that the money had been drawn from a secret government account, stating that the PM had paid for them would change their impression of him. It was a truly devious maneuver.
Tuka thanked them for their warm reception, and expressed her worry that they were imposing upon them. In response, Morita smiled and said:
“Hardly, hardly. Such petty matters pale in comparison to your importance. Ahahaha~”
There was no anger in his laughter. Had he really dug into his pockets for them, Itami wondered.
Kanou approached him and asked, “How about them? Did they have fun?”
“Aye, they did.”
“If we can make them associate this enjoyment with cooperating with Japan, that’s a win for us. That’ll be their motivation to open the Gate. Same with your matter.”
“...Ah, Kanou-san. Are you serious about that?”
“You mean, handing you over to them? We haven’t decided that yet. It comes after we settle the matter of the Gate.”
Itami patted his chest and sighed in relief.
“If we have to close the Gate, I was thinking of ordering you to gather information in the Special Region, while taking charge of that Lelei girl’s security.”
“So you want me to be another Lieutenant Onoda?”
Near the end of the Pacific theatre of World War II, when the IJA was retreating, Hiroo Onoda-shi had been ordered to stay on Lubang Island to collect information. After the war ended, he continued his lonely crusade. About 30 years had passed before his former commander informed him that World War II had ended and personally relieved him of duty.
...The Gate was closed, and the Special Region Expeditionary Force of the JSDF was no longer there. But Itami remained by himself. And after the Gate opened again, decades had passed.
Itami’s body went weak as he imagined that future ahead of him.
“I hope you can consider it with an SF trooper’s mindset. Don’t these plots appear in light novels? Time passes differently for astronauts due to the Urashima effect and so on. Even so, the MC boldly sets forth, for the sake of all mankind.
They would probably receive someone like Kanou with a WELCOMƎ sign or something. That would be a nice trope. For an otaku, paying his entire life to serve his nation would probably be par for the course.
“So nobody’s going to ask my opinion?”
“Didn’t I say this was an order?”
“But you’re the Foreign Minister now, Kanou-san.”
“Very well. Then I shall issue that order in the name of the Prime Minister’s Office. If need be, I can get Defense Minister Natsume and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to sign off on it as well. Or will I need to continue down the chain of command until I reach your immediate superior?”
“Can I hand in a resignation?’
“We won’t fire you and we won’t let you quit either.”
“I’m glad you think so highly of me, but I think you’re overrating my abilities. Work, to me, is mainly there so I can have fun. I’d rather avoid situations where I’d have to miss out on Comic Markets. You know how their stuff sells out in a flash.”
However, Kanou paid Itami no heed as he continued:
“The fact is, the organizers of the Comic Markets have been saying that they have many copies of sample doujins which they want to donate to a national art museum. However, we need to vet the content first and sort them by their content. So we’re planning the construction of a repository to hold the anime and manga which are an important cultural legacy of our nation.”
“So you’re building a public facility like that, huh… well, you may want to build a shrine to manga, but the moral guardians will whine about it being a state-sponsored manga cafe. And… well, what does that have to do with me?”
“In any case, I wanted to say that if you were worried about losing contact with us during your time in the Special Region, you don’t have to worry. All the doujins released during that period will be stored there for everyone to read. Who knows, you might be able to spend years binging on the archives.”
“Really?! ... Ah, I mean…”
Itami’s sudden shriek of excitement had drawn everyone’s eyes. After an incredibly fake cough, Itami’s voice dropped an octave.
“Kanou-san. You must have forgotten because you haven’t been to those markets. You must have forgotten the feeling of joining a long queue, wading through the sweat and passion-laden sea of humanity with both hands, strolling past the booths and being approached by people asking you to ‘please have a look’, as well as the joy of flipping through doujin pages and savoring the beautiful cosplayer girls.”
“What are you talking about? To me, the Special Region seems like a never ending Comics Market. Doesn’t that passion burn in the Special Region — specifically, in Arnus?”
“You should know that, right? Isn’t living over there more comfortable?”
“That, that’s not…”
That’s not true, Itami wanted to say, but in the end he could not finish that sentence.
He knew he was being baited by Kanou, but he did not feel Kanou was wrong. At the very least, he was waiting for the results of this experiment because he was afraid that he would not be able to come and go from the Special Region.
If Comics Markets could be held in the Special Region, he might consider moving there, like Kurata had.
“You’re an important person to them, so they’ll try to find some way to stay in touch with Japan for your sake. You’ll have to wait a while to weather the time storms or earthquakes or whatnot and wait for them to calm down, but only this time round. After that, the opening and closing should not be a problem. I understood that much from her explanation.”
With that, Kanou inclined his chin toward Lelei and the others, who were walking along the corridor.
“Still, isn’t that very bad?”
“Frankly speaking, it is. But if this goes on, we won’t be able to invest in the Special Region any more. So I think it’s best that we hash it out right now, at this time.”
“Still, we’re not sure if the Gate can be successfully opened…”
“Precisely. Everything turns on that. That’s what the experiment we’re conducting is meant to prove. In addition, there are many things we need to discuss with the ALC, as well as how secret we’re going to keep it. If the US and China and whoever find out, they’ll probably demand the Gate be opened on their side. That being the case, that girl Lelei is now a national defense secret. However, if we keep it a secret, mentioning the closure of the Gate will incur massive opposition. Once that happens, we’ll have to hint to the other allied countries that we can open the Gate again. That part will be a very delicate balancing act.”
“Still, it’s not all bad. We might be able to travel to worlds other than the Special Region. Of course, we have to consider how best to do this while taking into consideration Gothic Lolita-san’s warning to strictly regulate the spread of knowledge and information here into the Special Region. When you think about how the North American colonists annihilated the Native Americans’ culture and practices, her point starts to make a lot of sense…”
Itami and the others listened to this explanation as they walked, until they reached something like a huge hangar.
It was a vast, windowless space, roughly four to five stories tall, with no windows. It felt familiar to Itami; it reminded him of the Tokyo International Exhibition Center.
(TL Note: I.e. the Tokyo Big Sight at Ariake, where Comikets are held)
However, he did not see folding tables there.
“Ah, it’s a Shinshin.”
(TL Note: This refers to the Mitsubishi X-2 Shinshin; an experimental aircraft.)
There was a mockup of an experimental stealth fighter here, as well as kinetic kill vehicles designed to interdict medium-range ballistic missiles, among other things.
Technicians in white one-piece coveralls stood at the edge of this testing ground, arranging cameras and machinery to surround a central platform.
The floor was covered in tapes marking off squares in a grid pattern.
A frame of white ropes — resembling a jungle gym — hung in the air, also forming a grid pattern.
They brought Lelei to the center of the elevated platform. There were familiar faces among the researchers near her.
“Ah, Professor Youmei.”
“Ohh, you’re here. I heard they were going to conduct an experiment concerning the Gate, and I was beside myself in anticipation, so I came over promptly. Although, it seems to be some sort of top secret matter and I had to sign an oath of some sort… the point is I can’t talk about it right?”
Urushibata and Shirai were there as well, waving to them.
Elsewhere, a female technician was attaching electrodes to Lelei’s head and various parts of her body.
Lelei did not seem to mind. Instead, she eagerly asked, “What are these for?” and nodded as she received her answer.
As the preparations proceeded apace, the government officials — headed by PM Morita — gathered around as well.
“It’s rare that we’re all gathered at a place like this,” Itami muttered. After all, the people here were the sort he would normally only see in the papers and news.
“Idiot, it shows how important this experiment is.”
Following Kanou’s words, Defense Minister Natsume added, “The handling of the Gate will shape Japan’s future. Should we preserve the Gate or close it temporarily? The opposition will surely use our response as a talking point.”
After that, Morita growled his annoyance.
“Why not make her existence public? That way it’ll make persuading them much easier.”
“Please reconsider, Prime Minister! The situation will deteriorate if that happens.”
“No, I don’t meant officially. I mean, through rumors and other such channels. Something like, ‘We have acquired the technology to open Gates’ or something similar.”
“In other words, our official stance is that we know nothing?”
Even so, that would be a very dangerous development. It would lead to all manner of conjectures, and might worsen the situation.
“We will begin the experiment shortly. All personnel to your instruments and stations. Five. Four. Three…”
Everyone watched Lelei with bated breath.
Lelei closed her eyes, and incanted a monophonic verse which sounded like a pigeon whistle.
“Please look, the subject’s brain wave patterns are showing surprising changes.”
“The amplitude is off the scales. It’s as though she’s having an epileptic seizure… to think she could remain conscious through all this.”
“Probably because it’s limited to part of the cerebrum.”
Not every part of the EEG display was flickering wildly. Other parts showed no changes at all.
“...Two. One. Contact!”
With the merest of movements, Lelei opened a Gate to another world before the onlookers.
It looked like a pool suspended in mid-air.
One could still glimpse the scenes of this world through the other side. It was only when one drew close that one could see it. In other words, it was like a glass windowpane. Its surface rippled slightly; unlike glass, it appeared visually soft.
“Is that the Gate? It seems much different from the one in Ginza. Smaller, too.”
“The stone structures were built to stabilize and anchor the Gate. This is the true form of the Gate. I can’t sustain it for long with my power alone; this much is my limit...”
The researchers nodded and said, “I see…” as they heard Lelei. They approached the surface, bringing their faces closer to investigate.
Someone blew at it, to see if it would raise ripples on its surface. However, there was no reaction. Whatever caused those vibrations had nothing to do with air movement, they reasoned.
Youmei swiftly produced a long rod.
“Allow me to take a look… hm.”
He poked the tip of the rod into the rippling surface, and then slowly pressed it in. The rod met no resistance, but vanished where it contacted the interior of the surface. He pulled it back, and found that its length was the same, with no changes.
However, nobody dared touch it, or look past the other side. This time, they prepared a camera on a long boom and inserted it. It might have been that the other side was too damp, but the video signal they got was blurred and whited-out, so they could not make out much.
One of the technicians sprayed something on the lens to ward off condensation and then inserted the camera again, but they got the same results.
“Maybe it was obscured by mist?”
If that was the case, they would have to send someone over to take a look.
The onlookers traded meaningless dialogues like “You go,” “No, you can be first.”
Behind the white-clad men, Itami approached Lelei.
“Lelei. Where did you connect to?”
“I don’t know. I picked a world close to us.”
“Is it different from the Special Region… from your world, Lelei?”
“You can’t open multiple portals to the same world.”
Lelei explained it by saying that a tangent only ever touched a circle at one point along its length.
“I see, so does this mean you can link the Special Region to our world?”
“However, I need a marker to find a particular world among all the others…”
Following that, Youmei said, “Let me handle the groundwork for that. We’ll use a pure crystal, without any imperfections. The more valuable, the better, and it needs to be an ancient object. I guess we could mine something like that.”
After Itami said that, he casually approached the Gate and said, “I’ll take a look before sticking his head in.
The sight of a man’s body missing its head from the neck up was highly disturbing to the onlookers. The severed… that is, the remaining portion of the neck looked like a sectional slice of a human specimen, which only added to the effect. One of the female researchers saw this ghastly sight and immediately fled to the corner of the experimental area with her hand clutched over her mouth.
“Huh, looks like medical science has progressed once again,” someone mused.
“Not just that. Surgery is going to become something truly incredible.”
Itami had no idea that the insides of his body were on review. Instead he muttered, “Where is this” and stepped forward, and his body disappeared from the sight of his audience.
Before long, a pale-faced Itami stumbled out the portal and shouted, “Lelei! Close the Gate now! Now! Now! Now! That world’s really fucking bad news!”
Kanou’s question echoed the thoughts of the gathered politicians.
“There were eggs about this size… all lined up in a row, and when I got near them, they opened up like buds…”
Itami stumbled over his description of the human head-sized eggs, arranged in neat rows on a sticky floor.
As they heard this, the faces of the technicians and the politicians blanched, as they imagined the SF film which matched Itami’s description.
“Terminate the experiment! Lelei-san, please close the Gate!”
“Security! Converge on Experimental Area Four! It may be too late! Hurry! Hurry!”
“Too late! Seal the entrances and exits to the building! Everyone, please be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for Japan’s sake. Contact the people outside — tell them that if communication with the interior is interrupted for more than 24 hours, they are to destroy this building immediately. This is a direct order from the Minister of Defense.”
As Natsume thunderously addressed the entire building, Lelei tilted her head in bafflement, but complied with the request and stopped maintaining the portal.
The translucent membrane before her vanished in an instant.
At the same time, an earthquake rocked the facility. It was roughly magnitude 2.0. Since the shocks were not that great, Itami paid it no heed, but instead turned to Lelei.
“...Haaa… haaa… haa… Lelei, don’t open portals to other worlds for the time being. Especially that world. From now on, do not ever link to it. We’ll all be doomed.”
In that moment, everyone realised that they could not blindly make contact with unknown worlds.
Since it had ended without incident for the time being, they breathed a sigh of relief. But the matter did not end there.
“Oh, oi, what’s this?!”
Two heavily-muscled men in black lifted him up by the elbows, while two more grabbed his legs, for a total of four people controlling his limbs.
Looking around, he saw many people in white and men in black surrounding him in ranks. Their blank faces were like machines, and the lack of humanity frightened him.
Natsume coldly stated: “Begin examination immediately. We must verify if he has been infected by any parasites!”
Itami was dragged to the corridor.
“No, I, I’m fine! There’s nothing stuck on me! It’s true! I, I’ve been framed!”
Itami thrashed and screamed, but that only made the people present even more suspicious.
Natsume had no idea, and so Kanou replied,
“Well, that was the promise I made to him.”
Sherry learned about this news while playing with Myui at the Emperor’s side.
Since she was familiar with the young heiress of House Formal, the Emperor had put them together and said, “You two should get along; your ages are close, after all.”
The aged Emperor was delighted to see Myui and Sherry playing together by his side.
Being weak and ill, the Emperor was practically bedridden. It would seem he compensated for his immobility by watching the girls playing energetically in the distance, and it calmed his heart.
Myui — who had been orphaned at a young age — seemed to enjoy playing by the Emperor’s side. He felt like her grandfather. Thus, she visited the Emperor’s bedchamber almost every day, sometimes reading stories, sometimes reciting poems. Of course, Sherry was not one to let a chance like that go by. In the guise of a child curious about politics, she asked the Emperor questions or let him speak, looking for a chance to fulfil her ambitions.
“Your Majesty. This one feels that continued resistance to Zorzal-sama is only possible through cooperation with Nihon.”
“I feel the same way too. Still, whether with Nihon or with our own people, we cannot pledge alliance rashly. Do you know the reason why?”
“Yes. This is because yesterday’s enemies will not be today’s friends.”
“Correct. Thus, we must sign a peace treaty first.”
“Then, what do you think of early peace talks?”
“It is difficult to say at the moment. We name ourselves the official government, but in truth we only rule over a portion of the Empire. We cannot even pay the compensation Nihon demands of us.”
“Thus, Zorzal-sama is an obstacle to that. But the help of Nihon is needed to eliminate Zorzal-sama… it is like locking a box’s key inside it.”
“Would the Nihonjin consider reducing the amount of reparations demanded?”
“That would be difficult. The Nihon ambassadors seem quite smug. We will need to cool their head down to get them to make concessions to us.”
“Are the elections in Nihon such an opportunity?”
“It is hard to say. The candidates speak boldly to gain the support of the people. Anyone who speaks without confidence will find it hard to be elected. Because of that, their terms after the election might be stricter than before. Thus, if we concede to them, their demands of us will only be more severe.”
“Still, will the people of our country not be delighted to know that we are guiding the war towards its end?”
“The question now concerns the terms on which the war ends.”
“In other words, the challenge is to concede within the Empire’s capacity to give in and thus secure the ambassador’s approval, then? Why don’t we hold a triumph for them, then? We cannot give them anything material, so let’s offer them fame.”
“Oh, I see. A triumph, then. But what if it decreases faith in the power of the Empire?”
“Can we not restore it by defeating Zorzal-sama?”
Just then, a knocking came from the door of the Emperor’s bedchamber.
Sherry and Myui hurriedly burrowed under the Emperor’s bed.
The fact was that their presence there was a secret to everyone around them. Earlier, when Count Marx had found them, he shouted, “Why are you taxing His Majesty’s weak constitution further?!” The Emperor had already given his approval, so it should have been fine, but the imperial physician disliked children and assumed the Emperor felt the same way, and his directions had been given with that bias in mind.
Thus, whenever someone came by, the two of them would conceal themselves. However, their hearts soared, like they were playing a prank. The Emperor seemed to indulge in their joy at hiding.
However, this time it was Count Marx and the head maid of House Formal who came.
“Your Majesty, your servant has received news of a matter of grave import; I wish to swiftly make my report.”
The two seemed to be in a panic. They advanced before the Emperor and began speaking.
Panache, who had been assigned to collect information in Arnus, had sent a report over. It stated, “There have been verified sightings of the phenomenon known as the Apocryph.”
In Japan, people were still discussing the link between the Gate and the phenomena. The debate over whether or not to close the Gate in order to prevent the spread of the Apocryph was currently in progress.
However, the Emperor smiled and said, “It hardly bears mentioning.”
The eavesdropping Sherry felt the same way. After all, Japan had not received anything from the Empire. Even if they decided to close the Gate, it would only happen after they had received compensation from the Empire.
“Pina said nothing, didn’t she? She must have felt that there was nothing to report.”
“Also, there is more alarming news. This is a personal letter from Hamilton-dono to Panache-sama.”
This time, it was the head maid’s turn to speak.
“Hamilton? ...I believe she is Pina’s personal assistant.”
Why did the head maid know about that personal letter? The Emperor wondered worriedly.
“Is it better if I did not ask how you obtained it?”
The head maid fearfully bowed and replied, “I pray you will not be offended.”
“According to that letter, Pina-denka has lost all passion for politics. Thus, even important information now languishes within her hands.”
“What sort of information is that?”
“For instance, that a certain magician who lives in Arnus has received the power to open Gates from the Queen of the Underworld, Hardy.”
The supine Emperor suddenly bolted upright. After the two of them carefully eased him into a sitting position, he asked again to see if he was hearing things.
“If that is so, then the situation is grave.”
Sherry also felt that something bad had happened.
This was an untimely occurrence for the official Imperial administration. More to the point, the same applied to her. This was a highly classified matter concerning the government of Italica. In other words, just knowing about it was very dangerous.
Of course, since Myui was here too, the life of the heiress to House Formal would probably be guaranteed. However, it was quite likely that they would be sequestered for a long period of time.
That implied that she would be separated from Sugawara. It was a situation she desperately wanted to avoid. To Sherry, it was nothing less than a matter of life and death.
“What’s the matter?”
Sherry raised an index finger to silence Myui, who knew nothing of what was going on. After that, she decided to crawl out from under the Emperor’s bed so as not to be spotted by the head maid and Count Marx. If she left the bedroom and ran to Sugawara’s side, at least she would not have to be worried about being separated from him.
However, just as she was about to emerge from under the bed, Emperor Molt’s hand rested lightly on Sherry’s shoulder.
“You wait here a bit.”
Count Marx and the head maid glimpsed Sherry’s form and mouthed “Dammit”. Their eyes were downcast, and it was obvious that they were considering the elimination of the witness. But then Myui revealed herself too, and the head maid’s face went pale. If she were to do to Myui what she planned to do to Sherry, she would be committing treachery.
“Hang on, hang on.”
As though sensing the head maid’s thoughts, the Emperor raised a finger and stopped her with a “Don’t be hasty.”
“Do you know who this magician is and where they are? Can you get them under control as soon as possible?”
The head maid replied with a sour face: “Regretfully, I am unaware of both their identity and location. However, Pina-denka might know…”
Count Marx said, “Your Majesty. Judging by the Nihonjin’s thinking, if they can open the Gate at will, they might lean toward minimizing the risk to themselves.”
“So we must swiftly treat with Japan and settle the matter. Who else knows about this in Italica?”
Marx and the head maid looked at Sherry and Myui.
Thus, the Emperor bade Sherry rise to her feet.
“Judging by the way you were planning to leave, I believe you understand the gravity of the situation.”
Sherry shrank into herself, like a child who had been scolded for a prank.
“Tell me how severe it is.”
There was no point hiding things now. Sherry shared her opinion as requested.
The legitimate Imperial government could continue resisting Zorzal’s forces thanks to the presence of the JSDF. If the JSDF was not there, the militarily inferior legitimate government would be destroyed by Zorzal’s armies, and the pro-peace faction would be purged once more.
What if the pro-peace nobles heard about this?
“Rather than perish with their countries, they would scatter to the four winds and throw themselves upon Zorzal-sama’s mercy. The Imperial government would thus be dissolved.”
“Umu. It seems you understand,” the Emperor nodded.
“Then, can you accept being placed in confinement and having no contact with anyone else?”
Sherry had anticipated those words from the Emperor, and so she raised a finger to interrupt the Emperor.
“I have a solution.”
Surprised, the Emperor asked, “Oh? And what is that?”
“Make up swiftly with the Nihonjin and beg them to help us defeat the Zorzal faction. Then, we will agree to any terms they state, contingent on us taking back the Imperial Capital. Of course we will ask them to reduce the reparations due, but I am sure they will accept us turning over mines and territorial deeds in exchange. In this way, they might not need to close the Gate, or even if they do close the Gate, they might leave troops with us.”
“Oh, and why do you think that?”
“This is because being able to open the Gate again is a risky gamble for the Nihonjin. They will surely consider that they may lose contact with us forever after closing the Gate.
The fact was that Sherry had worried about precisely this sort of thing. Since she did not want to be parted from Sugawara, she had been racking her brains for a solution. If there was nothing else, she planned to cling to Sugawara’s thigh and beg him to take her to Japan, but that was a last resort.
“We will not be giving them portable currency, but territory and privileges. The more we give them, the greater a shame it will be to abandon them. That is human nature. I also believe that they will work together with us to defeat Zorzal-sama in order to turn these promises into a reality.“
Though she risked admonition for her words, the Emperor nodded heavily.
It would seem that he was in a good mood.
“However, Nihon is a threat to the Empire. If they do as you say, the threat will forever remain by our side. What do you think?”
“It is not a problem, is it? Your Majesty does not intend to restart the war, I trust?”
“Indeed, that is so.”
“We should not make enemies of the Nihonjin, but use their strength. The leadership of the Empire will be difficult due to the past relationship between its vassal nations and the demihuman tribes. However, if we get along with Nihon, they will surely become reliable allies. Though it may displease you to hear it, I urge you to do this, at least until the Empire can soar once more.”
“Indeed, it is true… Being able to think of that much at your age is quite amazing.”
Following the Emperor’s lead, Count Marx added his praise:
“Your political instincts are quite astute, given your youth. I look forward to your future.”
“However, your bias toward Nihon is far too obvious. You should focus more on the Empire’s gain before speaking. I understand that you say so because you despise Zorzal, but to those who do not understand, they might think you do not have the Empire’s best interests at heart.”
Sherry broke into a cold sweat as she heard the Emperor’s criticism.
“I shall be more aware of that.”
“Still, there is logic to your words. Coveting everything will leave you with nothing. Thus, it is better to limit what one desires, and thus attain it successfully.”
“I feel the same way.”
“Hm. It would seem appointing you as an emissary for these talks would be most interesting.”
“Your, Your Majesty. Might that be unwise?”
It would seem even Count Marx was compelled to oppose the Emperor’s suggestion. Sherry felt that he had a point, but these talks were not that simple.
Sherry too was quite panicked by how her gamble had not only paid off, but had given her more than she could handle.
“I, I, I shall soon wed the Nihonjin diplomat.”
“In other words, you are still a member of Imperial nobility. Then, is it not settled? It would be quite amusing to have an innocent, lovable child like you mixed in with these irritable politicians.
“Ah, but, I fear I may be unable to successfully handle matters of negotiation.”
“Umu. Of course. Thus, the actual work will be given to the senior members of the delegation, while you may serve as the representative of the emissaries. You may well be what cools down the Nihonjin diplomatic detachment. After all, making harsh demands of a child looks bad to everyone. Count Marx, I know this is an imposition, but nevertheless I order you to give her a suitable title.”
Even if the Emperor himself had spoken these words, Count Marx was opposed to them, and he hesitated in answering. Still, the Emperor had said as much, he had to respond carefully:
“Then, let us first acknowledge Sherry-san as the heir to House Tuery and recognize her as a Viscountess of the Imperial peerage. I doubt anyone will treat her lightly if she is the head of a noble house. Then, we shall elevate her to the rank of Countess. Thus, Sherry-san will be worthy of serving as an envoy personally appointed by Your Majesty.
The Emperor looked to Sherry.
“You have lost your estate and family. Thus, you lack even a dowry to be wed. That is certainly a cause for despair. At the very least, I pray you will wear this honor with pride.”
“Ha… I am deeply grateful for your generosity.”
She might have gained a title to substitute for a dowry, but she did not think it would please Sugawara. Still, Sherry respectfully lowered her head and decided to accept it.
This was because serving as the Emperor’s envoy would be troublesome, but she had already sensed that it was ideal for steering the situation in the direction she desired. If she messed up, it would not reflect badly on her, and she would not be shamed. Thus she accepted the Emperor’s orders with grace.