Editor: Deus Ex-Machina, Skythewood
This was the JSDF Central Hospital. Itami was warded in the Contagious Diseases block.
Given the pathogens it was designed to handle, all the windows in the building were sealed shut. The interior was kept at a lower air pressure than the outside so airborne bacteria and viruses would not flow to the outside.
Entry in and out of it was heavily regulated. Itami in particular was practically imprisoned, followed and observed by powerful-looking security troopers around the clock.
Why did these men carry Ithaca shotguns and other non-standard issue weapons? Why were NBC suits and man-portable flamethrowers permitted within a hospital? Anyone would wonder out loud about those things. In contrast, Itami spent his days lying lazily on his bed, his face buried in some manga or light novel which had been obtained through an online shopping service named after a certain South American rainforest.
“So, why are you wasting your time here~?”
Rory sat on a round cushion stool, looking at the big guy beside her.
His uniform had a black badge with “MP” stitched on it. He stood in the corner, unmoving and silent, like some kind of decoration.
“Ahh, well, the truth is I decided to pass the time with a joke…”
While walking along the hallway, Itami decided to see what would happen if he suddenly doubled over, clutched his belly and rolled around while screaming, “Ah, dammit, it’s coming out! Fuck! Gwaaaargh!” and before he knew it, he was already doing it. Naturally, it caused a big ruckus and everyone got mad at him. Very mad, in fact. Thus, he was currently repenting his sins here. Except, he did not feel repentant at all. The reason was because he was overjoyed.
As one might expect, that prank had lasting consequences. The hospital had passed their judgement on Itami. The nurses gave him the stink-eye, and the doctors constantly subjected him to painful examinations with nothing remotely resembling patient care.
This was an age where “Try Again” and “A Society Where One Can Start Afresh” were trumpeted as big things, but Itami had personally experienced the fact that there were some things from which one could not recover.
More specifically, Itami’s prank highlighted the fact that a conventional security posture could not deal with emergencies of this nature.
The people around him had panicked and could not respond effectively. Once they knew it was just a prank, they were angry of course. But at the same time, they were greatly relieved. The people in charge had watched many sci-fi movies featuring alien parasites, and they demanded increased security.
This was the result.
The security troopers escorting Itami were fully outfitted in bullet and knife-proof body armor, carrying shotguns loaded with buckshot, and they paid attention to even the smallest abnormalities. Itami was never left unattended during his two weeks in this place. They waited for him in front of the door even when he went to the bathroom or showered.
“Objective has reached toilet!”
He could not remain still once he heard the voice from outside.
They gave a report any time he spent more than 5 minutes in the same place. In addition, the security troopers refused to respond to him no matter how he tried to chat them up. It was clear that they did not intend to open up to someone they might have to execute if the situation went bad.
“H~m… so why not treat him as an ornament~?”
“I think that would be too much.”
“But can he really stay like that without moving a muscle~”
“I’ve tried ways and means, but none of them worked.”
Itami told Rory that he had told jokes and danced in front of him. It would seem he had been very free.
An evil gleam filled Rory’s eyes as she looked over the security trooper. Then she suddenly drew close to Itami and kissed him.
Even the security trooper’s expression changed, to one of surprise.
Rory smiled to herself, as if to say, he gave in.
Itami touched his lips as well, replaying what had just happened to him. However, Rory continued holding on to him, pressing her body against his, and her breathing grew rapid and ragged as she guided him towards the bed.
“I say, how long are you going to be here? It’s been so looooong, I can’t take it any more…”
Her sweet voice and hot breath washed over Itami’s ear.
The security trooper looked at Itami like he was a criminal. Well, that was only to be expected; Rory might be over 900 years old, but from the outside she looked like she was 12 or 13. Sexual contact with a girl of that age, even if it was consensual, was still a form of statutory rape. Said rape was currently in progress, so even the JSDF MP could not help but react to this.
“What, what do you mean by ‘so loooong’, I don’t get it. We don’t have this sort of lewd relationship, right?”
“Why are you trying to hide it? Haven’t we come all this way already?”
Itami glanced at the security trooper every now and then.
The man’s face was flushing red, and he was clearly uncomfortable as he tried to fix his eyes elsewhere. Judging by the way he was gulping, he was trying to think of something else. His conscience and duty were probably warring within him.
“Ah, no, you see, there’s someone else here, Rory-san…”
“It’s not as though he’s looking this way…”
Rory mounted Itami, eyeing him like a carnivore sizing up its soon-to-be prey.
“But, but he can hear us…”
“So let him listen, it’s not like it’s a bad thing. All this time, Lelei and Yao and Tuka have always been by your side, so I can’t cut loose and have fun. Now that it’s just the two of us, it should be okay, right~?”
“Like I was saying, it’s not just the two of us…”
“There’s nobody else here~”
“No, there is.”
“Just the two of us~”
With that excuse which barely even counted as such, Rory leaned in and licked Itami’s neck.
The security trooper finally made his move. Unable to stay still any longer, he dashed out into the corridor, trailed by the sound of footsteps.
“Yay, we win!”
Itami and Rory exchanged a high-five of “Victory!”
After savoring the peace and calm the two of them shared, they realised exactly what kind of situation they were in.
Rory was mounted on Itami’s thigh, facing him with her arms around his neck. Since there was a blanket between the two of them it was not too bad, but psychologically speaking, they could not possibly be closer.
Rory blushed and lowered her face in embarrassment.
“Ah, well… see, maybe it’s time you… got off?”
“If you don’t move your arm… I can’t get off.”
At some point, he had put an arm around Rory’s back. Itami immediately let go and raised his hands, as though in surrender.
After that, Rory pressed her lips to Itami’s. Unlike the gentle fluttering of earlier, this was a savage, hungry kiss.
However, just as Itami was about to put his arm around Rory again, she broke away and got off the bed.
She smoothed out her bunched-up skirt and rearranged her messed-up clothing and hair. Then, she acted as though nothing had happened. If someone asked her about it, her reply would be “I have no idea.”
This was one of Rory’s tricks. Even though he knew it, Itami was still hard-pressed to hide the pangs of longing regret within him.
“Alright… this is what you asked for~”
Rory nonchalantly dumped a bag on Itami’s knee.
Unwilling to admit defeat, Itami pretended as though nothing had happened and glanced at the package on his knee.
“Thank you, that was a great help. Did you successfully cut it in two?”
“They’re not exact halves. I just split it.”
“That’s fine. Thanks.”
Saying so, Itami peeled off the sticker from the delivery service and pasted it on the bag.
“What are you going to do with this diamond?”
“I have no idea what’s going to happen to it, so I wanted to send it to my mom’s guardian. After all, I’m being used as political capital and might be given to somebody at any time, right?”
Itami was trying to make a dig at her, but Rory neatly ignored it.
“What’s a guardian?”
“It’s someone who manages finances for people whose judgement is impaired. He handles the hospital fees and other expenses.”
“Hmm… that’s pretty handy.”
“With people like him around, my mom can live without difficulty and worries, right?”
“Looks like you’ll need to make more change, then,” Rory replied. “Speaking of which, how long are you going to stay here?”
“Personally speaking, I don’t mind staying here forever. After all, I might be infected with some sort of unknown pathogen or parasite, right? It’s my duty as a JSDF trooper to minimize that sort of risk to the nation, right? Hahaha…”
“You say that, but it looks like you’re just slacking off here.”
Rory looked around as she said that. The area around Itami’s bed was littered with mountains of doujins, manga, light novels. There were some PET bottles and snacks too. It would seem he was having it pretty good here.
“Still, even if they ask me to work hard here, there’s nothing I can do.”
Indeed, all Itami could do here was submit to a battery of tests.
They ran erythrocyte counts, biochemical assays, CT, X-Ray and PET scans on him, took cell samples and cultured them, and after the full course of those examinations, all they could do was observe him every day. Since he was still being paid for this, Itami was beside himself in joy.
Rory sighed at Itami’s state, and rubbed her left arm.
One of the nurses had drawn a blood sample from Itami’s arm with a thick needle. The process made Rory wince as she saw it, as though she were the one in pain. Perhaps that sensation still lingered.
“Speaking of which, what are you guys up to? What’s everyone doing?”
“Mm. Lelei’s conducting magical experiments. Tuka and Yao returned to Arnus and they’re explaining the situation to the ALC.”
“How about Pina and Hamilton?”
“They’ve been having fun everywhere. I think they’ve been visiting Lisaa every day now.”
…Lisaa? Ah, it must be Risa, Itami thought. The lightbulb above his head flickered two or three times like a fluorescent lamp before springing to life.
“Does she really not want to be involved in politics anymore?”
“She said something about art being enough for her.”
“Ah yes, about that, how’s the handling of the Gate going? Has everyone agreed on shutting it down yet?”
Rory sighed depressedly at Itami’s question.
“Frankly speaking, keeping Lelei’s situation a secret is very difficult. The Japanese won’t give us a concrete answer. There’s only one way to close the Gate, but they haven’t quite resolved themselves yet.”
“Ahh, that’s politics for you. Even if it’s an open and shut case, they can’t rush into it. Life would be much easier if we could make choices so easily.”
It was true that the Gate-opening experiment was a success, but it was no guarantee of the permanent link between worlds. This was the first time humanity had tried to manipulate the unknown phenomenon which was the Gate. It was only natural for people to be wary of things they were not sure about.
“Still, we can’t just leave it be. We have to convince them to close the Gate.”
Rory frowned at Itami’s phrasing, which sounded as though he was talking about somebody else.
This man always seemed to think that things like these did not concern him.
Loneliness filled Rory, as though she had been abandoned. Granted, it was their fault that they had used Itami as leverage without discussing the matter with him, but was it too much to have him understand their reasons for doing so? They knew well that this was infatuation on their parts, but even so, that was a girl’s heart for you.
This loneliness only grew stronger because Itami was only worrying about Lelei, who was responsible for the opening, closing and management of the Gate.
“Personally speaking, I don’t like the idea of Lelei becoming a device to open and close the Gate.”
As Rory agonized over whether to speak, she puffed up her cheeks, and Itami proceeded to lightly poke them as she went “Hmmph~”. Eventually, she decided to explain herself to him.
“Well, I guess there’s no need to worry about that.”
“Why do you say that? Isn’t Lelei going to be tied down for the rest of her life?”
Itami felt that in Lelei’s case, a life of being responsible for connecting Japan to the Special Region was not worth living.
“I’ve discussed the matter with Lelei. In the end, we came to the conclusion that, ‘we’ll think of something~’
Rory nodded slightly.
“We plan to talk to Belnago Shrine and have them take over the responsibility for opening and closing the Gate.”
“How are you going to sell the idea to them? Hardy’s relic can’t be used by anyone other than Lelei, right?”
“The power of the Gate falls under Hardy’s jurisdiction, Because of that, anyone with that power will become a vassal of the Queen of the Underworld. But Lelei is an outsider who is not connected to Hardy. To the priestesses of Belnago Shrine, this is highly irregular.”
“Bringing Lelei to their side would be the best way to correct that irregularity, am I wrong?”
“But Lelei hates Hardy. Could it be that they’re going to force…”
After being possessed by Hardy, Lelei was still trying to lose the weight she had put on. There was no way she would bear any goodwill for Hardy.
“As if I would allow them to use force. It’s because of that point that we can make a deal. We allow them to manage the opening and closing of the Gate, and in exchange, we will give Belnago Shrine the relic and the right to use it...”
Itami clapped his hands in understanding.
“I see… but can you even transfer the rights to use it?”
“This way, Lelei will be freed from having to administer the Gate.”
“And then, Hardy’s shrine will be able to proselytize as the price of their passage.”
Giselle had followed them from Kunapnui to Arnus, where she was currently roaming around town, so all the Shrine had to do was give her orders to that effect, Rory said,
“Well, on the other hand, it just means that if we can put up with that, we won’t have to worry about Lelei being bound by the Gate.”
“Is that so. But will she have her movements restricted or something?”
Rory smiled and nodded.
“Still, if that’s the case, couldn’t we have had the Belnago Shrine run the Gate instead? According to what you said, anyone could use Hardy’s relic, not just Lelei, right?”
Rory commented that he was making too light of the situation.
“That won’t work. What I’ve said since just now will only happen after Lelei begins managing the Gate. After all, that sort of thing isn’t Hardy’s true intention; she would never help us like that from the start~”
“...Isn’t it strange, though?”
“The priestesses are quite proud of themselves. They dislike being ordered around by others, and they do worship that Hardy.”
That Hardy… Itami could not approve of those words.
“I see. But doesn’t that mean the Gate will be fine? All we have to do next is convince everyone.”
However, Rory put on a vulnerable, worried expression and threw herself on the blanket on Itami’s knee.
“That’s going to be haaaard~”
“Why is that?”
Rory sighed again, and looked lazily at Itami.
“We’ve been running around like mad to protect our darling Youji, but we aren’t very persuasive when it comes to making them give up their livelihoods. The ALC trades with the JSDF and sells high to the merchants of the Special Region. In other words, everyone makes a living with the Gate. If we take the Gate away, we take away their livelihoods.”
“How do people who live without troubles and who already have their most precious thing squared away work up the audacity to tell others to “give up your way of life?”
“Then just cancel the demand for me.”
“I don’t want to!”
Rory did not say it was impossible, but that she was unwilling, and thus she revealed her feelings.
“Why is that? How could that be?”
“It’s nothing,” Rory said in a tone of what appeared to be anger.
“You blockhead! You dummy!”
She smacked Itami.
“Tell me, what’s so good about me?”
“There’s no rhyme or reason behind liking someone. Feelings which exist for a reason vanish when that reason does… Strength? Attractiveness? Might is ultimately a momentary thing, while looks fade with age. Even a super-intelligent man will lose the keenness of his intellect as he grows older. Liking anyone for those reasons implies that it will be a short-lived infatuation.”
“Still, I don’t think I deserve to be with a woman like you.”
Rory smiled brightly, and brought her face closer to Itami’s as she whispered:
“When we were young, we could declare our love freely and openly, because we did not need to worry about many things. But as we grow older, that particular trait vanishes. The important thing is what you feel when you glimpse a person’s soul, but people have gradually come to forget its importance. I say, put your faith in that miracle.”
Rory pointed to Itami’s chest. “Correct.”
“I’ve been searching the world over for a soul like yours. I’ve waited too long, far too long for something like it,” she said.
Itami could not help but get embarrassed. He could not even come up with a witty retort.
“I’m glad to hear that, but I can’t give you an answer right now. It may be that I cannot separate myself from Tuka, Lelei or Yao. Like now.”
“Someone aiming to be a goddess of love would be unworthy of that position if she demanded that of her partner. That is our problem, so please, don’t worry about it.”
The church of Rory taught: One had to keep one’s beloved by their side, never letting them go, never letting the chance slip away. One had to fight for them and win them. Rory had even exhorted Lelei, Tuka and Yao to live by these words in their daily life.
“There’s a song in the story Galaxy Express 999, where one of the lyrics says “parting is a form of love too” or something along those lines.”
Rory raised her face and glared angrily at Itami.
“Life is not a play. Praying for the other person to be happy? How stupid is that? The story doesn’t end after the curtain falls. No, in fact, that’s when life begins!”
Having said that much, Rory lay down on Itami’s knees again and cupped her head.
“How can I criticize people for being greedy when I’m spouting sappy romantic lines like these…”
It would seem the topic had returned to persuading the members of the ALC.
Be they the Japanese or members of the ALC, everyone knew the importance of closing the Gate. However, they did not understand the vulnerability of having the Gate, so they were not on their guard. Thus, they chose to maintain their present lifestyles. It was a natural decision.
“So because of that, we have to open the Gate again?”
It was for that reason that Lelei had come to Japan to conduct research. By increasing the reliability of Gate-opening techniques, she could dispel their unease.
“We might be able to convince the Japanese government like this, but it won’t work on the ALC’s members. We’re hinting at it in a roundabout way, but we can’t actually say anything which they can get behind.”
Once people learned about Lelei, she would become a target. If that were the case, even hinting about her would be out of the question. Still, if they did not even do that much, they would not be able to begin making progress on convincing them.
In other words, there was no way out.
“Tell me… what should I do?”
This was a rarely-seen side of Rory — her vulnerable side. Itami patted the hair of the girl on his lap and encouraged her:
“It’s fine. There’ll be a way.”
“I hope you can convince everyone of that.”
“Me? Don’t, ow!”
Itami’s patting hand had slid down and tweaked Rory’s nose before she bit his fingers.
Rory slowly say back up, looking at the man who refused to return her advances with an expression of vague disgust. “Hmmmph~” she smirked.
“How can we chase them out~?”
“What? Chase who? Where to?”
As Rory saw this, coming as it was from Itami, the eternal runner, Rory pouted and said, “As I thought” before telling him in an exaggerated manner:
“The legitimate Imperial government approves of the closure of the Gate, but they hope it can wait until after dealing with Zorzal. But where did they learn this from?”
If Tuka had told the ALC members about the situation, then it would have spread from there. Even so, the news had spread too fast. However, it was an open secret that House Formal of Italica had sent spies to Arnus, so Itami felt that it had probably leaked through them instead.
Even Itami felt the matter had to be handled carefully.
“So they’re telling us to deal with that Zorzal… huh. Has news about Lelei gotten out as well?”
Once people had their eyes on Lelei, she would be forced to flee constantly. Even Itami had picked up on that.
As she saw the look on his face, Rory smiled darkly, as if to say, “great!” and proceeded to fan the flames further.
“For the time being, I’ll watch over Lelei. Still, word is going to get out~”
After the experiment at Tsuchiura, Lelei had remained in Japan. This was because she was cooperating with Japan to research magic and the Gate. Realizing her importance, the Japanese had increased their guard over her, but given Japan’s current anti-espionage stance, that would only invite scrutiny from other nations. Because of that, Japan was unsure whether to strengthen or soften their stance. Komakado must surely be agonizing about this.
“According to Lelei, she wants you to protect her, Youji~”
“The problem is Arnus. I understand, I’ll try to go back as soon as I can so until then…”
He grabbed Rory’s hands.
“I’m counting on you. The fact is, I’m feeling very uneasy about all this. It makes me want to escape from here right away. Something tells me that if I don’t, terrible things will happen. Ah, look, the goosebumps are rising up on me...”
Rory stared at Itami, and Itami stared at Rory. They looked into each other’s eyes, holding hands.
And then, at that moment, the ward door crashed open. A line of stout security troopers were lined up outside.
“First Lieutenant Itami Youji! You are under suspicion of sexual misconduct involving a minor! Confess!”
“What?! I didn’t do nothing!”
“Aren’t you at it right now?!”
Dozens of fingers pointed at Itami and Rory’s hands.
“These hands are the proof of your guilt!” the troopers shouted as one.
“Ro-Rory’s not a minor!” Itami shouted. Incidentally, the Child Welfare Act designated anyone under 18 as a minor.
“That’s right, I’m not a child~” Rory replied.
“It’s okay now. Were you afraid?”
However, a female police officer protectively embraced Rory and carried her out of the ward in an instant. That was a movement which would have earned top marks when it came to protecting an abused child. In addition, she had done so purely out of kindness, so Rory was reluctant about forcefully resisting her.
“Do, do you guys not watch the news!”
The incident where Rory had come before the Diet and revealed her true age as being over 900 had become quite famous. However, there were quite a few people in the world who cared nothing for such things. Perhaps the security troopers of the MPs harbored many such boneheaded people.
“We don’t know anything about that!” they replied in unison.
“I didn’t do nothing!”
After all, it was not a prank this time. The security people were all deadly serious.
Itami was dragged to another room, where he was brutally questioned.
“What did you say?”
Diabo lay on a bed that occupied more than half the room it was in. On his chest was Panache, her pure white body entwined with his, as she narrated the details of the actions taken by the official Imperial administration.
“I see. So things have already developed to that extent… how interesting.”
Diabo smiled to himself.
“His Majesty is now begging the Nihonjin to subdue Zorzal.”
“So it’s come to that. Still, that is only a natural development. Without the Jayesdeef, Zorzal would crush Italica like he would an ant. The Nihonjin aren’t happy, are they?”
“Still, the Nihonjin are starting to tire of the extended negotiations. They might be eager to conclude the proceedings and offer help.”
“Is that so… then the problem will be the terms offered… currently, the government has no funds. All they can do is promise the moon to them. Even if they retake the treasuries, there will not be much gold and silver currency to reclaim. So they must give up their land and sign an unbreakable treaty. They will surely be forced to turn over the rights to the mines.”
“It is as you say, Diabo-sama. Thus, I feel that if you make your move now, you will be able to play an important role within the official administration.”
“Are you kidding me? I’m not laughing. I’ll be Pina’s slave until the end of time if that happens. I’m not interested in that sort of thing.”
“Still, what else can you do here?”
Ever since Diabo had fled to Arnus, he had remained hidden in Panache’s room.
He could only rule over this room. This place alone was his domain.
His followers were Panache and his attendant Metmes. He could not count the cleaning maids as part of them, and more importantly, Panache was still loyal to Pina.
Diabo seemed to believe that a woman could be tamed by romantic relationships, but Panache did not consider herself such a woman. Her heart and body might have been female, but her mind and heart had been honed in a masculine fashion.
“Really now. I have a card up my sleeve.”
“What would that be?”
Diabo seemed to realize that he could not fully conquer women, so he had not laid all his cards on the table. Slowly, painstakingly, he revealed his plans, like he was a stage magican.
“First, I’ll inform Zorzal about this.”
“Is, is that really advisable?”
“Aye, just keep quiet and watch.”
Personally speaking, Panache hoped that Diabo would rein in his ambitions.
She hoped that Diabo would take his rightful place in the loyalist administration and then live a peaceful life with him. It was not simply because of the relationship they had. She believed that she and Diabo could assist Pina in her capacity as Empress and support her rule, flourishing in her government. Of course, part of that also came from the fact that she did not mind becoming Pina’s sister-in-law.
However, men’s ambitions led them to aim for the top. This made Panache uneasy.
A strategem like this which could return him to power was fiercely addictive. Panache sensed this, and she could not contain the discomfort surging forth from her heart as a result.
Could she control a man like this?
Could she return this man to reality?
The knowledge that she could not stop this man who was rushing towards destruction frustrated her, and the despair-filled woman buried her face into his chest.
“Your Highness, please reconsider. I beg you.”
The pleading which Panache loathed had finally slipped out.
“There’s no need to worry. The situation will change dramatically soon. It may be dangerous, but we will be able to ride the rising tide to a high place. I’m betting on that.”
However, if you plot your course poorly, the waves will devour you. Panache wanted to persuade Diabo with that.
Perhaps he felt sorry for the troubled look on her face, but Diabo decided to elaborate on his scheme.
“Don’t worry, it’ll be fine. Zorzal will surely attempt to eliminate that magician girl. Japan will also try to stop them, but what if there is a third or fourth party? The situation will be thrown into chaos. At that point, the one who can protect the girl will control the situation.”
“Please, please don’t do this!”
Panache wanted to shout that and stop him, but the man whose eyes were clouded by the flames of ambition was smiling to himself, and not looking at her.
And so, even though she was in a physical relationship with him, the knowledge that her words could not reach his heart filled Panache with a sense of powerlessness.
At the same time, the major media outlets released online exposes about the ongoing debates concerning the unusual phenomena, taken from the outgoing House Budget Committee.
“Excuse me, Mr. Prime Minister. What countermeasures are you implementing against the problem of the Apocryph in the Special Region? Popular opinion seems opposed to closing the Gate, but there is no way to deal with the strange phenomena besides closing the Gate, am I wrong? I am compelled to state that it would be a big mistake to decide hastily without properly verifying the link between the Gate and the Apocryph. This is a prime opportunity to make contact with another world. I feel that we would lose much by letting this chance pass us by. I beg you to reconsider.”
That was the beginning of the questions from the head of the Socialist Party, Funamoto Mitama.
After being addressed by the committee leader, Prime Minister Morita rose to answer him.
“Ah~ let me explain. We do not fully understand the circumstances and mechanisms of the occurrences within the Special Region. However… ah, well, it’s not certain whether we can leave the matter be. I feel that there is a high chance these occurrences have taken place due to the existence of the Gate. Thus, it is only natural that the deliberation of any countermeasures taken must also include the possibility of closing the Gate,
The Prime Minister’s reply, read by rote off the notes below him, were naturally low-energy.
Funamoto rose once more.
“Still, we have not yet received reparations for the Ginza Incident, have we? So what exactly have we allocated so much of our budget and risked so many of our people’s lives for? Is it wise to not ask the people about their opinion before making a decision like this?”
“Our stance regarding the reparations is that we are currently at a critical moment in talks. In addition, we wish to deal with the Gate from a risk-management point of view. I hope you will wait to see the results before submitting them to the judgement of the people.”
This was ridiculous. Making the decision without consulting the people was utterly ridiculous. The opposition party councillors were agreed on this, and noises to that effect could be heard from the ranks of the incumbents as well.
After the catcalls died down, speaker Funamoto asked:
“If we close the Gate, we will not be able to interact with the Special Reason. It will incur tremendous losses both within and outside the country. How do you feel about this problem?”
Defense Minister Natsume rose to answer in PM Morita’s place.
“Regarding this topic, I feel it is necessary to consider the danger which might result if the situation is left unattended. The Gate is believed to be the source of the phenomena which are occurring in the Special Region, and now they are no longer limited to that area. Even in our country, there has been a slight increase in earthquake frequency over the past few days. Mt. Azama is showing signs of activity, and the astronomers are starting to report that the positions of stars in the sky are beginning to deviate from their usual positions. The astronomers believe that it is not the stars which are moving, but the Earth or more precisely, the space around it which is warping and thus producing a gravitational lensing effect. If that is the case, these phenomena may well develop into a disaster of worldwide proportions. At that point, we, as the controllers of the Gate, will receive stern censure.”
Funamoto would not let the matter be.
“It may be as you say. But if nothing happens, who will take responsibility for the loss of the Special Region?”
“Well, if nothing happens, would that not be good as well? The principle of risk management is to plan ahead and foresee events which might come to pass. If we do not receive a payout from an insurance policy, we do not lament that we have paid for nothing, but feel relieved that nothing happened. This is a necessary expense.”
“Which is why I am asking; haven’t we invested too much in this already? The expectations of the Special Region have grown beyond the people, no, beyond this nation, but have spread to the entire world!”
“Well, hindsight is always 20/20 when it comes to deciding whether or not we have spent too much, right? Since we cannot see the future, we cannot calculate the exact amount needed. For instance, people have recently criticized us for investing too much in countermeasures against the new influenza strains, like vaccines. But I feel that risk management needs to be excessive to be effective. While aiming for a sweet spot in preparations might appear to eliminate waste, if a sudden, acute outbreak occurs and other variables are factored in, the situation will become worse and possibly irrecoverable. Thus, I feel the term ‘exact’ implies that we will be abandoning lives which we could have saved.”
Just then, the speaking time allocated to Funamoto expired. The other councillors were rubbing their hands in anticipation. Some even shouted “Hurry and wrap this up”, among other things.
Funamoto ended by saying that “The disposition of the Gate should be a subject of national referendum” before leaving the speaker’s pulpit.
In the end, the debate in the Diet was merely a microcosm of public opinion.
Said public opinion was divided into the “Close” camp which wanted to close the Gate and the “Preserve” camp, which held that there was no proof linking the phenomena and so they should not act hastily.
The media and philosophers and scholars joined in the debate as well.
They drew up battle lines and declaimed the worthiness of their causes, and began a war of words and advertising to secure support and agreement.
However, perhaps it was because they wanted to censure the government or because they were angry about the fact that all this had been covered up before it was exposed, but much of the media took the side of the Preserve faction. Their position was sold on the premise that closing the Gate would violate national interests and it would be a hasty decision.
Thus, the neutral faction which held no strong feelings about the matter either way began to be strongly influenced by the media.
And so, it became a situation where many voted to preserve the Gate and only a few wanted to close it.
During televised debates, there were even cases where Professor Youmei and those who opposed him shouted at each other and even came to blows.
In addition, there were many who took direct action to maintain the existence of the Gate.
These people belonged to groups who demanded that there should be an international effort to migrate through the Gate. They swarmed Ginza with signs reading “DON’T CLOSE THE GATE” and so on, while protesting in parking lots around Ginza. Some of them even planned to form a human wall around the Gate, but were dispersed by the police for obstructing traffic.
They shouted over their megaphones, “Japan has a history of being conquerors. They have caused much damage to many developing nations. Because of that, developing nations should know what to do now. Thus, Japan cannot be allowed to take unilateral action and should consider the opinions of the developing nations.”
The Chinese government released a statement along those lines.
“Japan has the right to demand reparations from the Empire for the Ginza Incident. Similarly, our country has the right to demand reparations from the Empire. This is because there were Chinese citizens in Ginza as tourists during the Ginza Incident. Our country would like to open talks with the Empire to discuss the appropriate damages. This is in the fundamental interests of the Chinese people and our government strongly opposes this course of action which infringes on our rights. If the Japanese government insists on closing the Gate and interfering with our negotiations with the Empire, then our country feels that the Japanese government should instead pay compensation in place of the Empire.”
Naturally, the Japanese reply was “Go fuck yourself.”
(TL Note: おとといきやがれ!)
To be precise, they said, “Our country has no intention of interfering in talks between China and the Empire. However, our country had no obligation to mediate for them either. If they wish to speak, they should go ahead. If they wish to declare war on the Empire, they should do so as well. However, please do so directly, without using Japan as an intermediary. The problem of the Gate is an entirely domestic matter.”
“How will you allow us to negotiate directly?” the Chinese newscasters shouted on a television broadcast.
The Japanese speaker replied, “How about shouting in their direction from Beijing? Who knows, you might be able to break the wall between worlds and reach them. At the very least, Japan will not open a path for you, nor do we have the obligation to help you either.”
As opinions went back and forth, the surprising thing was the silence of the financial world on the matter.
Many believed that they would be strongly against the closing of the Gate, but they seemed to have adopted a wait-and-see attitude instead.
This attitude was shared by the United States. Thus, there were rumors that “Japan knows how to open the Gate” circulating around Kabuto-cho. Taking the hint, the leadership of various countries around the world did not show their opposition. These rumors caused the market to fluctuate violently.
(TL Note: Where the Tokyo Stock Exchange is located)
In order to verify the truth of this rumor, the reporters pointed their mikes to the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister.
“Prime Minister! Is it true that Japan has the technology to open the Gate?”
Morita smiled, and then replied: “Well, if Japan did have that technology, it would be great. I think it would be a wonderful thing if we did.”
“In other words, the rumor is false?”
“Sadly, Japan does not have that technology. It’s true.”
Indeed, Morita was not lying.
After all, it was Lelei who could open Gates, and not the Japanese government. If the reporters had asked, “Do you know of someone who can open the Gate?” or “Are you working with her?” then Morita -- who could not act to save his life -- would not have been able to answer. Then he would have lied and tripped himself up. However, one could only ask questions like that after learning the truth. Thus, Morita easily evaded the reporters’ questions.
“Then, Mister Kanou… the news that Japan has gained the technology to open a Gate leading to the Special Region is just a lie, then?”
“Correct, President Dirrel. Calling it technology is actually somewhat problematic. It might be better described as a ‘miracle’, or a ‘special power’. It is not something which anyone can control. All we can do is ask the person who possesses this ability to help us.”
“What is all this? I hope you will go into further detail.”
“There is a person who possesses the technology to open Gates in the Special Region. It was because of that our country… Ginza was attacked. Of course, the person who opened the Gate did not originally intend to let the Empire invade Japan. Whatever the case, the Empire made use of this. Our country is considering a temporary closure of the Gate in order to prevent the strange phenomena occurring around the globe from turning disastrous. It is not so much that we are going to analyze and understand the Gate and then shut it down, but more that we are going to destroy the maintenance device the Empire built to sustain the Gate.”
“Your country will, of course, introduce this person who can open the Gate to our nation, of course? We should consider elevating this special ability to a science that will serve all mankind.”
“The person who opened the Gate to Ginza seems to be called the Goddess Hardy.”
Kanou was telling the truth, but not the whole truth.
“A goddess? Please be aware that I, as the American president, will only recognize the Lord as my God.”
Incidentally, Allah in Islam and the God which the President was speaking of were actually the same entity under different names.
(TL Note: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abrahamic_religions)
“Indeed. President-kakka, I believe that when you were sworn in, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to the one true God?”
“Indeed. My country respects freedom of religion, but there is a place and time for all things to be said. That aside, I cannot find it in myself to condone the misuse of the word ‘God’.”
The power of the Christian Church in America was such that no politician could disregard it. The debate on whether Creationism should be taught in schools was the subject of much debate and even lawsuits.
“Still, will this not cause problems for your country? The fact is that the goddess Hardy resides in the Special Region. Declaring that you do not acknowledge her existence and at the same time trying to get in her good books might be difficult, to say the least. In particular, Hardy is a goddess, and displeasing a woman will make things very difficult in all sort of ways.”
“So you want me to abandon my faith?”
“That would be your choice, Mr. President… Our country is one which is home to thousands, if not millions of gods. We visit shrines every month we call upon priests at funerals, we pledge our love to each other before a pastor at weddings, and recently even All Saint’s Day has been recognized as a religious day for pagans… no, for the open-minded. We can accept them all as gods. It doesn’t matter to us what kind of gods the Special Region has. For all we know, that might be why the Gate opened in our country.”
“Kanou, I believe you’re a Christian?”
“Yes, but I am also a Japanese citizen.”
“Hmm… then let me ask, is that goddess Hardy a person who is real and can speak, like that girl in the black gothic outfit who claims to be over 900 years old?”
“No. She seems to be an incorporeal being who requires a human as an intermediary to interact with the world. I don’t think sending your vaunted special forces to the Special Region to abduct… no, forcefully invite her would be effective.”
It took about 30 seconds before the reply came. The President bared his heart in those words.
“That was a pretty annoying incident. Forget it; it’s too risky a venture. So if we close the Gate for the time being, the Apowhatever and space distortions will calm down? That’s fine. As long as Japan doesn’t monopolize it, we can put up with it. Our country doesn’t want to be fingered as the ones who put the world in danger to make use of the Gate. We’ll wait until the Ginza Gate opens up once more.”
“I am very grateful that you understand us.”
“Ahh. I look forward to you becoming Prime Minister, Kanou.”
With that, the line to the White House hung up.
Kanou exhaled deeply, sprawling himself on his desk in exhaustion. His secretary nervously asked the Foreign Minister, “Does President Dirrel understand us?”
“As if. He must be pretending to go along before he grabs us by the short hairs. Better be on your guard.”
“Sir… the Indian Prime Minister is calling.”
“So it’s India now. Doesn’t he normally call PM Morita instead?”
“People are bothering the Prime Minister for explanation from all over, mainly the financiers.”
“...Is that so. Well, it can’t be helped… put him on.”
With that, Kanou picked up the handset with an annoyed look on his face.
The Special Region Problem Countermeasures Vice-Minister Shirayuri felt faint as she beheld the Imperial ambassador. Her jaw dropped and she was unable to speak for a time.
“What, what is His Majesty thinking?”
She knew it was rude, but she could not help asking.
Of course, she also knew it might be followed by a “How rude!” from the person she was addressing. However, the person who stood before Shirayuri in the capacity of one who possessed the Emperor’s trust replied, “I understand how you feel, because even I find it difficult to get used to my present circumstances.”
“Then, what happened, Sherry-san?”
“Well, the fact is, my inheritance of the Tuery estate has been formally recognized.”
“Congratulations are in order… I believe?”
Shirayuri knew well that Sherry could only have succeeded to the position of family head upon the deaths of her parents, so she was very careful with her choice of words.
“Of course. I am grateful for your kind words. Although my home and all my property in the Imperial Capital are lost and I lack any lands to inherit, my family is a pedigreed member of the Imperial nobility. Thus, while it is a shame to lose my estate, it is through His Majesty’s grace that I am in this present situation.”
The use of the word “situation” implied that she was not happy with her present circumstances and that things were developing poorly. Upon hearing this. Shirayuri considered that Sugawara might have taught Sherry in error. However, she had her doubts about how easily she corrected her own perceptions of her opposite number as an ambassador. It might also be Sherry’s own style of humor, for all she knew.
“In addition, His Majesty has elevated me to the rank of Countess. Apparently, it is meant to be a substitute for a dowry.”
Sherry sighed lifelessly.
“A, a dowry, you say?”
“Yes. I do not know if a noble title without any lands or holdings attached to it will delight Sugawara-sama. However, there has been a change in my place within the Imperial government, or perhaps it is just that my situation has changed, In addition, one has to consider that one has to be a Count at minimum to be considered for the position of emissary, and other reasons… Well, there were many reasons at work there which I did not fully grasp, given my youth, so I had no choice but to become the representative for the Empire during these negotiations.”
And so, many things happened.
Shirayuri said, “It must have been hard on you” and nodded between sighs. Then, she decided to look at things from a different point of view. In truth, it was she who had to conduct negotiations with a child who was having a hard time.
“I have had enough of the myriad changes in politics. I lack learning and experience in this field, so in truth I wish to hand the real work to Cicero-sama, Pulconius-sama and so on. Please bear that in mind as you treat with me, Shirayuri-dono.”
Sherry turned to face the two lines of Imperial Senators as she said this.
All of them were pro-peace members of the nobility, who were skilled in the field of diplomacy. They had all appeared at similar meetings before, so they were largely familiar faces.
“Is that so? I understand, Countess-dono, you are quite astute.”
The tips of Sherry’s ears flushed red as Shirayuri praised her.
“There is no need to flatter me so. I will be embarrassed.”
“I understand. Then, what do we have to discuss, gentlemen?” Shirayuri asked Pulconius, who was seated beside Sherry. Even if I know, I won’t say it; that was a basic tactic of diplomacy. In addition this would let her know who was in charge by who answered the question.
Surprisingly, it was Sherry who answered.
“It concerns the matter Sugawara-sama brought up earlier; petitioning your country to defeat the Zorzal faction. Can we expect the Nihon government’s cooperation?”
“My, my country would be glad to help, but that will need to wait after a proper treaty has been ratified. How about negotiations? Can we conduct them here?”
“Yes. I have heard that the peace talks have gone on for a long time, and both sides have listed pretty much all their demands. It seems that the terms for this endeavour are all out in the open, so let us waste no time in signing the treaty.”
She’s speaking far too plainly. Shirayuri could hardly believe her ears.
“What is it, Shirayuri-dono?”
“I believe you said just now that you were a nominal representative and the actual work of the negotiations would be handed to the gentlemen beside you…”
“Yes. As I said, I am but a humble representative in name only. That said, if I say nothing at this formal occasion, my father’s departed spirit would surely chide me for playing around here. Thus, I have practiced the lines which I must speak.”
Saying so, Sherry looked around her once more. Cicero had a mocking expression on his stiff face. It was plain to see how he felt about having his time to shine stolen away. However, if he brought it up he would be viewed as being immature, so he was bearing with it for now.”
“...I see. Then, I take it that the contents of your speech are the product of discussion by your side and can be taken to be an official position on the matter. Am I correct in assuming that?”
“Yes, that is correct… I am currently seated here as one who has been invested with all the rights and power of the legitimate imperial government.”
Sherry punctuated her statement by looking Shirayuri in the eye.
In that instant, what Shirayuri had taken to be a cute little girl had swelled up to be a towering monster in her eyes.
I must be tired, she thought as she rubbed her eyes and verified that there was, in fact, a petite little girl seated in front of her.
“If I misspeak, I am sure the gentlemen here will correct me without delay.”
“Is that so. Then, let us continue.”
Perhaps Shirayuri should have trusted her instincts. Perhaps she should have recalled Sugawara from Italica and had him sit in on this. After all, only Sugawara understood that the person before her might appear to be a child, but she was in fact something else entirely. Shirayuri and the others were deluded by her appearance and could not heed the alarm bells clanging within their hearts. Until the end, they could not understand why they were sweating buckets when a little girl turned her gaze on them.
And so, the talks went as the Emperor had foreseen.
Shirayuri and the skilled diplomats with her could not make harsh demands of Sherry.
“If Nihon abandons us, then Zorzal-sama will surely annihilate us. And it is not just we, but the people and many others who will be exposed to the storm that swept through the Imperial Capital. After considering that point, we can only throw ourselves upon your mercy. Thus, I pray that your country will not close the Gate.”
How many people could coldly cast aside a cute girl pressing her palms together while looking at them with pleading eyes?
And so, they swiftly secured cooperation in defeating Zorzal. And then, Cicero and Pulconius added, “We should also discuss terms for a peace treaty”, following on that logic to ask for more relaxed terms.
When the Japanese presented a staunch refusal, Sherry stepped up. “We had not prepared for this,” she said in a deeply apologetic tone. “The legitimate government is currently penniless. We will pay, of course, but before we retake our Empire, I hope we can benefit from your leniency.”
She said so with her eyes brimming with tears.
“In exchange, we will grant you the mineral rights you desire and the area around Arnus. Our side has no objections to these terms, and we hope you will accept them.”
The way she said it, like it was the first time conceding to them, made the Japanese want to cry foul.
The Japanese valued consensus. With that point in mind, they were willing to make small concessions for the sake of agreement. In addition, they adopted a stance of “don’t make a mountain out of a molehill” and strongly promoted an attitude of humility and largesse, calling it magnanimity. However, they were caught between a rock and a hard place during these talks, as though someone had stepped on their toes while shaking their hands. These many small concessions added up, leading to them being forced to accept very disadvantageous terms.
The Japanese demand that the Emperor apologize for his actions and take responsibility for the war was met in such a way. When Sherry said in a hesitant tone, “His Majesty Emperor Molt is a bedridden old man. I feel that he does not even have the energy to travel to Arnus, let alone Japan,” they could not press him too hard.
“Instead, how would you feel about having the Crown Princess who is currently in Japan express her regret for the incident during the signing of the treaty?”
Both sides could agree on this more realistic settlement.
After that, both sides agreed that after the matter was resolved, they would arrange to have Pina crowned Empress, so as to show that she would take responsibility for the matter.
That said, the Japanese were not always on the defensive during this exchange. While their plan to add more conditions had been set back, the Japanese had already been amply rewarded. Thus, the contents of the peace treaty were quite satisfactory to them. However, the people present at the negotiations had the feeling that they had been defeated.
In any case, the girl made them all deeply uncomfortable. That sense of unease only got worse when the girl went on to say:
“I heard that the kidnapped person has safely returned. Zorzal-sama is truly a despicable man. I hope your country will soundly thrash him.”
Still, because she shrank like a student anticipating a scolding from a teacher, Shirayuri and the others could not bring themselves to resent her.
Incidentally, during this time:
Pina took advantage of her stay in Japan to spend her days drowning in “art”.
Every page she turned drew a cry of delight from her.
She had lost herself in her delight. Much like a weeaboo who had learned Japanese to read manga and watch anime, Pina had mastered the language in order to understand doujinshi. However, her conversational Japanese was still fragmented.
“Kuh… so that’s what they do here? Manly love should be like this.”
“Oi~ Pina-san. Don’t stop~”
She had already spent two weeks in Risa’s home. Risa and her friends were rushing to complete their manuscripts in time to be printed and bound for the impending doujin flea market. They were so busy that even Pina the passing-by guest had been roped into the whole mess like it was her natural place. This allowed the Imperial Crown Princess to personally experience what it was like to create what she called “art”.
“This, this title, “Mercurius, Fernan X Ku”, it’s outrageous! It’s terribly outrageous!” Pina squealed as she once more began the work of making a book.
(TL Note: けしからん)
“Shut up!” (lol)
“Be quiet!” (lol)
The playful scolding of the gathered fujoshi as they wrote blended with the snipping and clicking of scissors as they cut out pictures. After all, there was no author who would not be delighted to hear the sound of their readers being enthralled by their work.
However, Pina’s mouth opened and closed, like it had been hurt. She seemed baffled by their tone, and took their words at face value.
Risa practically had her face pressed to the screen of the tablet she was holding. In this state, she translated everyone’s intentions for Pina.
“So you do like it, Pina-san.”
“Why not live here?’
“That’s right, that’s right, let’s do it.”
One of the fujoshi, who was finally asleep after burning the midnight oil for three nights running, reached an arm out of the blankets like a zombie crawling from a crypt. Then, she poked her face out to express her approval. Her hair was a mess due to her terrible sleeping posture. Perhaps it was because she had not fully awoken, but her face looked like she was still half-asleep.
Then, Pina answered:
“Nono, I was intending to extend the invitation to you all instead. Why not move to the Empire?”
“I’m glad for the invitation, but I’ll need to think about it.”
“Mm. I’d like to go to the Special Region, but staying there… didn’t they say they had to close the Gate?”
“If I can’t go back…”
Their responses echoed the sentiments of people the world over. The media constantly broadcast the need to keep the Gate open, reports about how the Gate was not the source of the various phenomena happening around the world, but there was once a show which stated the Gate to be the cause of such things, which everyone firmly believed.
And then, after prefacing her words with a “this is a secret”, Pina whispered:
“Actually, the Gate can be opened, even if it’s closed.”
“Ehhh, so that rumor’s true?”
“Then… maybe it would be okay to go.”
“It’s just that there’s almost certain to be some kind of time difference… even if they decided to open the Gate the next day on the other side, a year might have passed here. And if you’re unlucky, maybe ten years might have passed.”
“Is, is that so?”
The fujoshi ground to a halt.
“A difference of about a decade is pretty much the same as bidding farewell to your family here. Maybe it would still be easy to deal with if it were just among ourselves, but asking others to wait that long might be too much to hope for.”
Ten years was really that long. Murmurs of “so we can’t do it after all” filled the air around them.
“Still, on the other hand, I could look forward to enjoying a decades’ worth of your artwork. The thought of that is quite delightful.”
“That… well, that’s quite enviable.”
As this conversation was taking place, a sharp rapping rang out from the door, and then it crashed open without giving anyone time to answer.
“Is Her Highness here?!”
The person calling breathlessly to her was Hamilton. There were men in black visible behind her, most likely plainclothes police officers.
“Hamilton, you again,” Pina exclaimed in surprise. But her secretary continued in a plaintive tone:
“Please, your Highness. You have to go back.”
“I believe I have indicated my disinclination towards that. It is quite troublesome.”
“But, but you are the Crown Princess, your Highness.”
“And I do not want to return. I never accepted my position as Crown Princess in the first place.”
“But His Majesty designated you…”
“Ahhhhh, shut up! I’m busy now! Look, everyone’s stopped because of you. Tell Italica not to bother about me anymore and figure something out themselves!”
“Your, your Highness…”
It might have been a plea from her long-suffering adjutant Hamilton, but Pina’s attitude remained cold and aloof.
“I no longer wish to involve myself with politics. Only bad things have happened every time I have done so, be it for me or the Empire.”
“But, you’re here, as the Crown Princess, and if you don’t show up to the signing of the peace treaty, the Nihonjin might take it as an insult...”
“Nobody ever informed me about that.”
And then, a voice came from behind Hamilton: “Please allow me to pass, Hamilton-sama. I will speak directly to Pina-sama.”
Hamilton replied in the affirmative, and stepped out of the narrow threshold to the cramped apartment, clearing a path for the owner of that voice.
“Oya, and you would be…?”
Pina frowned at the sight of the girl-child who had showed herself. She was apparently the heiress of the Tuery family. What was she doing in Japan?”
“Your Highness, we have been long parted. This one is called Sherry.”
“Indeed, it has been a while. But why are you here? If you wish to join the knight bands, you need only speak to Bozes at Italica.”
“It is not my intention to enlist in the knight bands.”
“Then what do you want of me?”
“I am here today to beseech your Highness to return to her station.”
“And why must a child do such a thing?”
“This is because the terms we have negotiated may not be finalized due to your Highness’ selfishness.”
“You speak as though everything were already decided.”
“Your Highness, that is precisely the case.”
Hamilton interrupted from the side.
“What did you say?”
“Sherry-san no, Countess Sherry has already settled matters with the Japanese.”
“Is that so…”
Pina laughed coldly.
“Well, it seems Father has finally decided to discard his pride. Any negotiations can be concluded if you but give ground. And then, he’ll pin it all on a little girl and make excuses. That must be it. How shameless of him!”
However, Sherry chuckled heartily.
“His Majesty appointed me as his emissary because most of the difficult negotiations were concluded. Of course, I cannot guarantee that His Majesty was not thinking along the lines of what your Highness implies, but I believe that is not the case.”
“And what would you know, given that you are the living personification of a child in curls?”
“I may be a child, but I am also the official emissary of His Majesty. If talks with the Nihonjin were potentially beneficial, he would not pay them no heed. Thus, I did my best in the process.”
Hamilton added, “Your Highness. The fact is that the terms secured for the Empire were quite favorable. We are now at the practical stage of discussing how to eradicate his Highness Zorzal by military means.”
“Ah, so you’re saying that we will fight shoulder to shoulder with Nihon against Onii-sama?”
Given the state of Italica, their current situation qualified as exactly that.
That situation came into being thanks to the existence of House Formal. However, that was also as far as it could go. Since Japan and the Empire were officially at war, fighting together was out of the question. In addition, the idea of both side deploying their forces to fight Zorzal was essentially turning yesterday’s enemy into today’s friend, and Pina could not imagine that.
“We came to discuss peace for that reason.”
After hearing Sherry’s words, Pina could not conceal her surprise.
“How surprising… if Japan fights in earnest, Onii-sama will not last a second.”
The hellish scenes of carnage which she had witnessed while fighting bandits at the Battle of Italica replayed themselves before Pina’s eyes. They might be aligned with Zorzal, but they were all still Imperial troopers. They would be subjected to an utter massacre. It would be a one-sided slaughter, with no room to retaliate, without any hope or mercy.
Pina’s chest ached, the way her stomach did when it cramped up. It was a familiar sensation; one she had experienced many times when she worried about the Empire’s future.
“What do you think, Princess Pina? Can you return?”
Hamilton seemed to be peeking at her expression as she said that.
However, Pina replied: “No, I’ve decided not to get involved with this sort of thing anymore,” and then she turned her face from them.
Hamilton shouted: “Why?! Isn’t this the chance for you to take the Empire into your hands, your Highness?”
And then, Pina glared at her secretary.
“I don’t want the Empire!”
“What, what are you saying, at this point?”
“I’m saying, Hamilton, that ever since the war started, I do not believe anyone has run around and racked their brains about the Empire’s future the way I have. Am I wrong about that?”
“No. Your Highness has probably worked the hardest here among all of us.”
“See? I struggled so hard for the Empire. I suffered and agonized to defend the Empire. I ran back and forth and strove to open fronts and avenues for negotiation. I bore all the shame and insults heaped upon me. And then all my efforts were denied. I was strung up as a scapegoat and all their frustrations were heaped upon me! I’ve had it. I say, rather than harboring high-sounding ideals about saving the nation and the people, why not pretend to be an airheaded political tool to be married off to some royal family in the boondocks? Wouldn’t that be better?!”
“Your, your Highness…”
“I say, Hamilton. You were the only one who protected me then. Did you not find it painful? Did you not find it sad?”
“At that time, all I thought of was defending you, your Highness.”
“At that time, all I thought of was protecting the Empire, and so I strove with all my effort. But then, the Empire said that it no longer needed me? Can you understand how I felt back then? You endured the slings and jibes of many to protect me back then; can you imagine how it would feel if your charge turned around and berated you? It felt like I was being stabbed in the back.”
“Not everyone in the Senate felt that way. It was only the pro-war faction which said so. The pro-peace faction would never think that they did not need you.”
“Then how about the other half? Even if they disagreed with my political views, they should have at least recognized my efforts and feelings.”
Even political enemies should acknowledge their rivals’ sacrifice and effort, Pina said. Perhaps this was an expression of her political ideals. Since she was the sort of person who had come up with the idea of her knight band after watching a play, it was only natural that she might think that way. Still, this idealism only deepened the shock and despair she felt at being betrayed.
Pina messed up her beautiful red hair and clutched her forehead like she was cradling it.
“I was abandoned by everyone. How do you think I felt when Diabo-niisama cast me aside and when I looked at Bozes flying off into the sky? Who saved me from that hellish palace? In the end, the only one who reached a hand out to me was Itami-dono, was it not?“
“Your Highness. At that time, it was all everyone could do to save themselves.”
“And you expect me to accept that? And you expect me to take the lead in committing fratricide? I’m done! I’m finished! Hamilton, don’t you think I’ve been fighting too long? While I was struggling, wasn’t everyone taking it easy? Then what’s wrong with me idling this time round?”
And Hamilton had nothing to say.
After all, nothing could sap the will to fight more than being censured and rejected by the very people one was striving to protect.
The answer to the question “What am I fighting for?” was the only thing which allowed a warrior to overcome the pain and suffering they felt every day. Was it for someone else? Was it for themselves? Even a childish dream or mundane desire would suffice. One needed something to prop themselves up.
However, the blame and shame from behind shook that pillar of support, and robbed them of their will to fight.
I was betrayed. I have no obligation to fight on after being covered in wounds. I have fully discharged my duties as a member of the Imperial household. So I will now take my leisure. What is wrong with that?
Pina could understand the thrust of Pina’s argument. It was a very compelling one. Being that she understood her, Hamilton could not bring herself to persuade Pina to take the field once more.
However, Hamilton was not the only one here.
The petite girl stepped forward.
“I pray your Highness will not speak as though you were the only one who went through hardship.”
As she heard what was apparently the starting bell of a calamity-comparing contest, Pina shot back with a “Say what?” She had anticipated someone would use the old chestnut of, “there’s people worse off than you” and she had mentally prepared herself to systematically shoot down every single point which was raised.
However, the girl’s words did not go in the direction Pina had predicted.
“I do not wish to draw a comparison to the pain your Highness has suffered, but I hope you will understand that at the time, everyone was being targeted and many people died.”
Pina felt like she had raised a spear, only to have it snatched away. She went, “And so?” while showing that she wanted to hear what Sherry had to say.
She did not realize this was what Sherry was aiming for.
Battle was a means of convincing others of the righteousness of one’s cause.
Of course, there was a difference between explaining with words and resorting immediately to violence to force an understanding, but at heart, once one was convinced of the other side’s validity, they would concede.
The Japanese lost the Pacific theatre of World War 2. Thus, they had the mindset of the victors forced upon them, and they were made to acknowledge the righteousness of their cause. Their own ideals were branded as “imperialism” and “invasion of others”, painted in the blackest shades and rejected. Of course, imperialism and the invasion of others were still regarded as vile by today’s standards, but everything they touched was similarly stained in sinful colours.
The secret of persuasion was to make the other party listen to you. However moving one’s words were, they counted for nothing if they were not heard.
Pina was the founder of the knight bands, and to some extent she was a professional warrior. However, she was not adept at the dance of words. Or rather, it was because she was a professional combatant that she disdained the art of verbal persuasion. While the combat curriculum she had studied was essentially diplomacy and governance in a different form, she did not understand that ultimately, the purpose of politics and diplomacy was to convince the other party through the medium of negotiation.
Therefore, in this battle of words, Pina had started in an unfavorable position.
“Did you know? Bozes-sama charged into the Imperial Capital by herself to rescue you, Pina-sama.”
The work of persuading Pina would have to start from nullifying the source of her stubbornness.
This was the reason behind picking a topic which could not fail to make Pina change her mind.
Pina replied, “What, is that true?”
She looked at Hamilton, and her adjutant nodded silently.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Bozes isn’t the sort of woman who would excuse herself of defeat by saying she tried her best. The fact is, being unable to save your Highness was equivalent to abandoning you, in her eyes. Thus, she was deeply ashamed and could not bring herself to face you…”
Pina sighed deeply.
“Is that so. Back then, Bozes… so that was how it was.”
Pina had not met Bozes and the others after that.
She could not bear to stay in Italica, and had withdrawn from the temporary Imperial Palace.
By the time Bozes and Beefeater had recovered from their wounds and returned, Pina was no longer in Italica.
“My parents are both no longer in this world. All this is the fault of your Highness’ brother.”
Zorzal was Pina’s elder brother. That said, she was hoping that Sherry would not emphasise that fact. This was because saying so falsely implied that Pina was at least partially responsible for Zorzal’s sins. However, Sherry’s direction was not clear. She wanted to emphasise the fact that Zorzal was Pina’s brother to induce a sense of responsibility within her, and thus motivate her to take part in the treaty ratification.
Pina put on a front. This is just the shallow thinking of a child. How could I fall for it?
“Let me get this straight; I have severed ties between Ani-ue and myself.”
And then, Sherry laughed.
“Really now? What a relief.”
Her relieved expression was once again counter to expectations, throwing Pina’s mind into chaos.
“W-Why is that?”
“I swore an oath to exact revenge upon Zorzal-sama. Ever since I have been praying for his demise.”
Pina could not say anything in the face of Sherry’s blunt and direct statement.
Any Imperial noble would have their doubts about saying such things. The pro-peace faction wanted to support Pina’s cause, but from another point of view, it was because they wanted to make her responsible for the murder of a member of the Imperial family.
“Well, you said that you had severed your ties to Zorzal-sama, so that’s fine right, Pina-denka?”
Sherry’s lips had curved up into a crescent moon, and one could practically hear her going “fufufu” or perhaps “kekeke”. It was a spine-chilling smile.
Pina could not help but lean back.
“But… but how will you avenge yourself on Ani-ue?”
“Well, the strong must be dealt with by those who are stronger.”
“Which is the reason for this peace treaty, right?”
“Yes. I intend to borrow Japan’s power. This is what we discussed.”
“But, but if that happens…”
“Pina-sama. The ladies of the knight band suffered great losses while battling the oprichniki. They fought, bled and died to defend me, who fled into the Emerald Palace. And Zorzal-sama went on to denounce their actions as treason. If Zorzal-sama continues winning, the people who gave their lives to obey your command will be branded as traitors to the Empire. Pina-sama, can you remain unmoved after seeing the names of your knights and your soldiers trampled into the dust like that?”
“No… how could I not be moved?”
Pina bit her lip in agony.
“Because of him, we could not conduct proper peace negotiations and the war continues. That man has stained the honor of the Empire by involving the innocent in war. Can you really ignore that, your Highness?”
“How could I?!”
“Then, where will you go from here?”
“I… I will not take sides. Ani-ue… is still my older brother!”
“Did you not say you had broken your bonds with Zorzal-sama?”
“Which means you intend to have us kill each other, then?”
Ultimately, Pina was hesitating over having to fight her brother.
Looking back on history, power struggles between brothers for the throne were hardly an uncommon sight, but Pina did not think it was proper. To some extent, she had the most common sense of all of them.
“I do not desire your Highness to cross blades with your esteemed brother. The Japanese gentlemen can handle that. These people are deeply offended by Zorzal-sama’s actions. However, they have been reining themselves in for political reasons. I wish to strip off the shackles of their self-restraint. In that way, they will inherit the will of we who were rescued from the Imperial Capital and destroy Zorzal-sama.”
“...S-Sherry. Who, who…”
Who are you? Pina did not dare ask that question. She was afraid that if she actually did bring it up, she would hear a terrifying answer.
“I do not wish your Highness to do much. No, in fact, I hope that your Highness will do nothing at all. When the treaty is ratified, I pray you will play the role of an air-headed political marriage piece and simply sit down. I will handle e~verything else. That much should be fine for yourself, am I right, your Highness?”
Pina could not respond. She was like a frog under the eyes of a snake, crushed by Sherry’s presence.
“Then, Pina-sama. Come, this way, please.”
Pina had no reason to reject the hand Sherry offered.