This took a while to get out because real life happens.
EDIT: And I accidentally changed Igun-I back to Igneed. Whoops.
EDIT: Had to use the format codes for < and > to get them to work in the title. Didn’t notice Horn and Viola were missing from it until just now.
Mushrooms were piled up in a mountain on the cutting board.
From pure white mushrooms as thin as string, to bright red mushrooms that looked as solid as stone, spotted poisonous mushrooms that were uncannily moving and mushrooms that were currently in a balloon state and spouting spores.
Sheltis glared down at that ominous mountain of mushrooms.
He had reddish brown frizzy hair, looks with some cherubic and impish qualities still present and a slimness that couldn’t quite be called slender.
“Which ones are poisonous and which ones are edible……”
He had taken off his favorite black jacket, and was wearing a striped apron over his shirt.
As for why he was sporting such an appearance, it was because he was currently in the kitchen. But even if he was in the kitchen, it didn’t mean that he’d be left with cooking duties and what he’d been handed was a guidebook instead of a knife.
“……I can’t see anything except poisonous mushrooms though.”
With the book labeled ‘Mushroom Encyclopedia‘ on its spine in one hand, he compared the images on the pages to the mushrooms on the cutting board.
For example, this spotted poisonous mushroom. The uncanny movement was a feature but this was written for it in the ‘Mushroom Encyclopedia‘.
‘Compound color spotted poisonous shimeji
The red and yellow flecks are its trait. It moves about once every three seconds and you can see that this is a reaction to releasing spores. Do you understand?
Anyway, don’t eat this unless you’re reckless; actually, don’t even touch it. It’s a potent poisonous mushroom that will keep you from leaving the toilet for a week with bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. If you’re unlucky, your kidneys and liver will fail and you’ll die.‘
“……For the time being, that means this one can’t be eaten.”
It was written not to touch it so the poison might be transferred from the skin too. He timidly tried to move it off the cutting board with the edge of the knife──
“Ah, wait, Sheltis. I think it’s this one. The one on the left page.”
Machine crystal <Ilis> which was at the end of the pendant hanging at his chest was blinking.
“Yes, if it’s that one, then it’s edible. Why not consider it?”
“Compound color spotted pseudo-shimeji
The red and yellow flecks are its trait. For movements, it moves about once every four seconds and doesn’t have spores. (It’s a pain so look at the right page.)
Unlike the mushroom on the right page, this one is edible, so you can boil or fry it or whatever you like. The difference with the poisonous mushroom to the right is in the movements. That one moves once every three seconds and this one moves once every four seconds. Distinguish that. ……Well, sometimes that one takes four seconds and this one takes three seconds, so just think of it as having bad luck and give up if that happens. You’ll be fine if you’re normally a good person. Pray. I also ingested poison because of this once.”
“How am I supposed to tell!?”
“No, look, it says if you’re normally a good person then you’ll be fine even if you eat it──”
“No, no, no! Isn’t this guidebook completely worthless!? Rather, isn’t this sentence here non-explanatory? ‘Pray, I also ingested poison because of this once‘, isn’t this irresponsible!? Who’s the author…………Va……iel?”
He had to be seeing things. The name of the author on the guidebook was the same as the name of a man who belonged to the same unit.
……Come to think of it, Vaiel did seem to specialize in cooking.
Putting aside the two women of marriageable age, Monica and Kagura, he was the only one who could cook actually cook in their unit.
“Nah, it couldn’t be.”
He became a best seller when he published an explanatory book on “Men’s Cooking” borne of living alone most of the time. Though sharp-tongued, his thorough and heated explanations are supported by an wide variety of readers. ……Lately, he was scouted by a unit of three kids in his main occupation as a Guard. What a paiiin.
“Isn’t that great; if it’s someone you know then we can trust what’s written. As expected of the unit’s head chef.”
“I wonder about that……”
As I thought, let’s avoid dangerous things. From the pile of mushrooms, he took the thin white mushroom and looked at the guidebook again. And──
“Hey, Sheltis, did you call me just now?”
The woman chopping rhythmically in the center of the kitchen looked over.
It was the store owner of the open-air cafe, ‘Albireo‘, located in the Second Living District. She was still young……most likely, she was in her early twenties yet managing this shop, and she was normal for her to be known as head chef in the store.
“Nope, not you, head chef. A different person.”
“Oh my, is that so? By the way, are you done with the preparations for the mushroom nabe I left you with?”
“Mm─, I’m still selecting the mushrooms.”
“My, my, it can’t be helped. Then I’ll handle this. You look after the nabe over there. Add some water if it looks like it’s about to boil over.”
“Okay, okay. ……This is how it’s like when I come back after a while.”
It’s almost been a full two months.
Just when he thought he’d returned to the place he’d lived and worked at until he re-entered Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>, she hadn’t said “welcome back” or “it’s been a while” and instead bluntly went “help with the cooking preparations”.
“It’s exactly because it’s been a while.”
She smiled spinning her knife skillfully.
“But it was great timing. I went hunting for mushrooms on the last holiday but because I took anything I could find, it’s hard to tell which ones are poisonous. If you hadn’t come, it would’ve been too much work so I would’ve just boiled it all and served it to the customers.”
“You’re brimming with the intent to kill with poison!?”
“It’s fine. I’d hire somebody to taste test for poison before that……about ten healthy ones.”
“It’s not fine at all: it’d be terrible for those people!”
……Ahh, I’m glad it was stopped before victims appeared.
……Actually, I don’t think this is something that would normally be considered at an open-air cafe.
“But there’s a ton. Did you gather these all by yourself?”
“Of course I went with Eyriey. We rode on her three-wheeled vehicle to the Biotope.”
“The Biotope? Eh, but that place”
The floating continent <Orbie Clar> could be largely split into three areas.
First, in the middle were the Living Districts that people inhabited.
On the outside of that was the Nature District. This area had nature preserved and was comparatively safe.
Further beyond that lay the Biotope ── it was a savage land with vast nature that hadn’t been touched by humans and which extended to the edges of the floating continent <Orbie Clar>. The chances of encountering wild dragons and large carnivores and, above all, Yuugenshu was high in this area.
“There are swarms of wild carnivores……”
“Yes, it’s been a long time since I enjoyed such a full-out thrill. An earth dragon, a fire-breathing bird and a ten metre-long super poisonous centipede. I recalled the past without trying to.”
“Head chef, who are you?”
“You sure say some strange things; aren’t I just the owner of an open-air cafe?”
Chop, chop chop chop chop chop. She precisely sliced the vegetables thinly with the knife in a reversed grip.
……It’s strange when she holds the knife in reverse. It’s exactly like when I hold my dual blades.
“Ah, and Sheltis. Was Meimel doing well?”
“Yes, there should be a Priestess in Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> by that name. You’re a Guard of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> so I was wondering if you already met her. Come now, it’s that Priestess that loves to tease. No matter how busy she is, she’ll drink a day’s worth of vegetable juice and won’t go without an hour of calisthenics.”
“I’ve met her but……wait, wh-what’s with that suggestive information! Hey, why does an open-air cafe shopkeeper know about a Priestess’ private life!?”
“Eh? This is obvious──”
The head chef said up to there and then shut her mouth and crossed her arms in thought.
“……Let’s talk about this some other day.”
“Uwaa, suddenly acting like it’s none of my business!”
The second Priestess, Meimel, and the head chef.
……I’m curious but also kind of scared to find out.
He wanted to know but would avoid getting in deep. Somehow feeling something cold down his back, Sheltis gave up on pursuing the matter further.
“By the way, where’s Eyriey who went to the Biotope with you?”
“She’s shopping at a market on the outskirts. But she’s late. It’s been an hour since I asked her so it wouldn’t be strange for her to return any minute now.”
The head chef frowned with a puzzled expression.
“Maybe she’s loitering around again.”
“No─pe, I wasn’t. There was just an unusual arrest so I went to take a look.”
The shop’s back door opened slowly revealing a girl holding paper bags with both arms.
“I’m back! Oh, Sheltis, you should’ve said you were coming back ahead of time. You were in the Governmental Sector until the day before yesterday, right?”
Eyriey put the paper bags down on the kitchen counter.
She had unkempt orange hair and not a shred of make-up. Her favorite clothes were oil-stained overalls which had none of the showiness of a sixteen year old.
“Yeah, we put together the report after returning yesterday and finally got to take a break this morning. That’s why I wondered if I could go outside during that time. There’s another meeting in the evening though.”
“Heh─, a meeting? Then maybe Yuto and I will come play too.”
“……I wonder how the topic just now made you think of coming to play.”
“We’ll wait patiently in your room while you’re at the meeting. Let’s play after the meeting ends? Okay? Yuto also said she wanted to visit Shel-nii.”
“If I get the time then.”
“‘Kay─! Then let’s finish today’s job in a flash. It’s just inspecting the errand bike’s engine so it should take just a few minutes──”
“Would you wait, Eyriey?”
The head chef quickly caught by the neck the girl who was about to run out the back door again.
“It’s fine if you’re going to do your job but isn’t there something to report before that? It looks like your shopping took a while. What’s this you were saying about looking at something?”
“Ah, I was interested in that too.”
An unusual arrest she’d said, but what did that mean?
“Right, right, I thought you’d say that.”
Eyriey tapped her fist to her palm while still being held by the neck.
“At the plaza a little while ago, I saw a purse snatching. The thief aimed for an elderly’s purse and ran away after snatching it.”
“Oh my, that’s unusual. A thievery.”
While looking sideways over at how the boiling nabe was doing, the head chef rolled her eyes in surprise.
Although a light crime, it was rare for thievery like that to happen in the Living Districts where public order was good. There were reporting devices installed in places and everyone knew that the criminal’s face would show up plain as day on the observation cameras.
“Since it was an arrest, of course it was a security officer who caught him.”
“I saw a stranger scene than that, head chef!”
Eyriey clenched her fist with an excited tone of voice.
“The criminal who stole a purse at the plaza and ran away! Ahh, what is the fate of the obaa-san’s purse!? ── or so I thought, then an onee-san came from the intersection on the other side with a huge rifle and when I was wondering what she’d do, she pointed the gun at the criminal and ‘bang!‘.”
“It was a rubber bullet for suppression though. Yeahhh, it was surprising. Since the security officers in town carry stun guns, right? She had such a heavy rifle! Her outfit was the blue one security officers wear either, but some kind of dark camouflage suit.”
“Eyriey, I have a feeling that wasn’t a security officer. According to my information, rifles aren’t on the list of large guns carried by security officers.”
“Ah, so it really isn’t? But it was amazing! That onee-san held that rifle in one hand and shot the criminal from within the midday crowd in the plaza. Even though she’d hit a civilian if she missed…………she really nailed him.”
“Of course she would. I think she’d hit him even if she shot a hundred times.”
“She’d hit him.”
“Yeah? Sheltis and Ilis, what’s up, you know her?”
“Eyriey, that was probably a Guard and not a security officer. And a ridiculously famous one.”
Exceptional physical strength that made it possible to one-hand a two-handed rifle. That and the courage to shoot within a crowd without hesitation were the makings of a sniper.
Above all else──
“Say, Eyriey, was that woman wearing a strange blindfold?”
“She was, she was! Shooting a rifle with both eyes covered, that’s so amazing!……so who is that person?”
……The sniper with a blinder.
……So she has returned to Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>.
“I think even you’ve heard at least her name. Come on, think of who would be the most famous sisters on the floating continent <Orbie Clar>.”
“Horn Nova ── she is the little sister of the third Priestess, Viola Nova, and holds the position of the third Sennenshi, Ex Machina. She is the representative master shooter of the floating continent <Orbie Clar> and the user of the ‘Magic Bullet‘.”
Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> aboveground, the gate restricted to personnel.
“It’s rare for somebody to go outside.”
In the seat for security that would check badges should be sitting, a person he knew was sitting there for some reason.
“……Kagura as well, what are you doing?”
“Receptionist parttime work. Come on, show me your badge.”
The girl with the machine helmet worn low over her eyes replied nonchalantly. She was a Cadet Guard in the same unit as Sheltis and computer specialist at the same time.
“This parttime job fits my preferences; to be able to do my hobby and make money at the same time is a dream job.”
“Umm, you mean observing people?”
“That’s almost correct. I’m taking a sample of when people enter or exit the tower. It’s interesting obtaining the movement patterns of unexpected people.”
Kagura was of the demi-human race, the ‘Nell people‘. Their special trait was the ears that poked out on the sides, they were inherently strong in the fields of mathematics and statistics and were also very wary. Kagura’s hobby of observing people was probably also derived from that.
“By the way, did you go out to The Two Swans <Albireo>?”
“You know it?”
“It’s where my rival works so it’s obviously within the realm of expectation.”
She nodded smoothly.
“But you came at a good time; the unit captain was looking for you. Even though there’s a meeting in the evening, you were nowhere to be found. Vaiel’s cooped up in his room so we were wondering just what the men in our group were doing──”
“Vaiel’s in his room? That’s rare.”
It was his daily routine to be hard at work having a nap on the bench at the training grounds.
“Yes, he said he was busy writing something. ‘After mushrooms……maybe wild grasses?‘ he said, though I don’t know what it means.”
“……It’s coming, the continuation of the ‘Mushroom Encyclopedia‘.”
“Do you know something about it?”
“Nope. Rather than that, the meeting’s pretty soon so aren’t you going to have a problem doing your parttime job here──”
“No need to worry. ……4…………3…………2……1…………okay, now my parttime job is done.”
Kagura jumped off the security chair.
Looking sidelong at her standing beside him, Sheltis turned towards the tower gates.
“I wonder if today’s meeting will take long.”
“……The topic being what it is, I wonder.”
Still facing straight forward, she shrugged a little.
The Governmental Sector which was based in the floating archipelago <Lagoon> which lay far from the floating continent, Orbie Clar.
Having gone on an expeditionary mission there as an escort, they’d only returned to the floating continent <Orbie Clar> the day before yesterday. They’d taken the entirety of yesterday to put together the report for that and today was the meeting about that report.
“Apparently our personal reports will go first and Cadres Guard Ishtar will make a final summary report. That’s what today’s hearing is for. After that, they’ll confirm our information on ‘them‘ whom we confronted. It looks like Priestess Ymy will also be attending.”
The third organization that those two they’d met with belonged to.
“It’s just that important of a matter.”
It definitely wouldn’t be a short meeting.
The meeting would……no, the response for beyond that would take long.
“The meeting room is on floor 268. I think Cadres Guard Ishtar is waiting, so let’s go.”
Whispering that like a monologue, the machine helmet-wearing girl tightened her lips.
“Ummm, then I’ll continue Kagura-san’s report. I wonder if Kagura-san’s report is really basic? You might have written too much plain fact and lack your own considerations. The complete opposite of Vaiel-kun’s report─”
At the seat of honor for the table in the meeting room, the golden-haired woman with a report in one hand shifted her knees.
Cadres Guard Ishtar. She was a spear user who had went on the expedition to the Governmental Sector as the Priestess’ escort.
“Now then, Monica-san’s is……yup, well written! It’s really fitting for the unit leader!”
Sitting in the seat opposite Ishtar, Monica bowed many times in embarrassment.
She was dazzling with her light sakura-colored long hair and looks. She had once studied shinryoku spells as an apprentice Priestess but she was now the wielder of the crossed rods <Rosario> who led Sheltis’ unit.
“Okay, then that’s the end of the mandatory hearing. Ah─ so tireeed. I wanna see I’sa-chan’s faceee. I haven’t seen her for five hours now.”
Ishtar sighed after closing the file with the reports.
“……Then shall we enter the topic that everybody’s been waiting for? That pair of two.”
The meeting room became silent again.
Monica and Kagura’s shoulders stiffened at the same time and even Vaiel who’d been resting his head on his hands looked up with a tiresome expression.
“There was a pair of two that attacked the Governmental Sector’s office building head-on during the last day of the conference. It’s pretty much exactly how it was written in everybody’s reports. It actually became a big fight so that’s a given though.”
This was a report meeting in name but this was today’s true topic ── the summarizing of information related to the mysterious two who had attacked the Governmental Sector.
“Just Golden <Maha> and Blank <Igun-I>? The organization those two belong to is still unknown. It looks like the chances of there being a third organization unrelated to the Governmental Sector really is high……and what Ishtar wants to ask is this next part. Ishtar fought Golden <Maha> and Monica-san’s group fought Golden <Maha>’s clones. After that……”
“Is it about me?”
Being pierced with Ishtar’s deeply meaningful gaze, Sheltis corrected his posture.
“Yup, yup. You chased after Blank <Igun-I>. It’s fine no matter how small the detail. Could you tell us any hint, conversation or some kind of proof that you saw or heard without leaving anything out?”
You first ── being looked at by Ishtar’s smiling face, Sheltis lowered his voice and muddled his words.
“Mm? What’s up?”
Head propped up on her hands, the Cadres Guard instead urged him for his response with an expression that said she was enjoying this.
“An important person hasn’t come to the meeting room.”
“Ymy-sama, you mean?”
He wordlessly nodded at Ishtar’s reply.
They would have the Priestess also join them and listen in on the matter concerning Golden <Maha> and Blank <Igun-I> that would unfold starting now. Time-wise, it wouldn’t be strange for Ymy to have shown up, but she hadn’t yet.
“Shall we wait?”
“Mm─. No, we’ll receive contact from her when she’s coming. Ymy-sama had training until just before this meeting so once she’s done with that, she’ll meet up with us. Isn’t it just that her training’s running late?”
The Cadres Guard had a carefree tone.
Monica, who’d been silent until then, spoke seriously.
“I’m sure that Ishtar-sama is also aware but Priestess training is extremely harsh. Because it’s harsh, strict adherence to the time is basic.”
If the training went longer, there was the possibility of causing grave damage to the Priestess’ mind and body. That was why there was always an exclusive doctor monitoring the Priestess’ condition.
“Ohhh, is that so? Ishtar doesn’t really know about those things.”
Ishtar raised a brow while still leaning on her hands.
“But you know, Monica-san, if her training isn’t running late, then do you have any idea of what else is keeping her?”
“……If you say that, I don’t really have any.”
“Then it’s fine. It’s a waste of time so we’ll just continue on like this. Ishtar will inform Ymy-sama. It’s fine if she makes it before the meeting ends. Are you okay with that too?”
Being looked at head-on, Sheltis was at a loss for words for a moment.
……I have no reason to refuse.
The fifth Priestess, Ymy Ele Soufflenictole ── in reality, Sheltis and she were childhood friends before entering Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>. However, that was a private secret so he obviously had no intent of asserting it at a public meeting like this.
“Good decision. Then the continuation ── wait, where’d we stop? I forgot so I’ll ask you again.”
“I mean, while Ishtar was fighting Golden <Maha>, you chased after Blank <Igun-I>. Did you see or hear anything that would serve as a clue during that time?”
“……Though you said that, that’s exactly where the conversation was.”
Immediately after Golden <Maha> and Blank <Igun-I> retreated, everybody including Ymy was diagnosed by a doctor starting with the heavily injured Monica. During that time, he’d talked with Ishtar for around an hour and covered all the major points.
The joint struggle with Zeadoll of the Governmental Sector’s secret military unit ‘Heaven’s Wheel‘.
About how the man named Blank <Igun-I> had a completely black appearance, and how he’d activated some kind of power of ‘Mikuva’s Crimson Eye‘ and summoned a Yuugenshu and mechanical weapon.
And the most uncanny thing above all…………
“Ahh, that’s right, was Blank <Igun-I> somebody you know?”
With Ishtar’s words.
He felt all the stares in the room pierce him.
“Umm……I don’t know him; he just said that on his own. I feel like I said the same thing when I first reported this though.”
“Is that so? Sorry─, Ishtar’s memory is bad.”
Of course, she probably knew and did that on purpose. With a mocking smile upon her lips, the person herself had no sense of shyness, still propped up on her hands.
“……Sheltis, about what the Cadres Guard said.”
“That’s the truth. I’ll repeat myself: I don’t know Black <Igun-I>; he just said that stuff on his own.”
With Monica double-checking, he shook his head from side to side slowly to convey his answer.
……That’s right. I shouldn’t know him.
I haven’t met him. That should be it but──
“You know me. Ahh, that’s great. I’m really happy.”
“That’s fine. It’s fine if you don’t know. It’s fine if you feel it even if you don’t know. Hey, Sheltis, ‘Nice to meet you.‘ and ‘It’s been a while.‘. I’ve been eagerly waiting the time we would meet in this world.”
The throb I felt at that time……
That ── which made the inside of my chest run wild ── what was that strange unease?
“We can think of it as a diversion.”
Kagura said that while holding the machine pearl <Machina>.
“In reality……that thing called the Governmental Sector’s treasure, I believe it was, after coming into contact with that, they escaped from the Governmental Sector’s territory, right? They might be experienced with those kinds of tactics.”
The one who answered faster than anyone else was Vaiel who was suppressing a yawn.
“At that time, that Zea-whatshisface hardened mercenary guy from the Governmental Sector was also there. In that case, there’s no point in just causing one side to waver. This is why you’re a brat.”
“Wha, y-you don’t know that!? What made you think that ── hey, are you listening! Hey, listen!?”
Kagura was talking on and on quickly and Vaiel was treating it as bothersome. ……Unexpectedly, Ishtar turned to him with a sigh while looking at those two from the corners of her eyes.
“Well, whatever. Then that means you have no new information?”
“……I’ll tell you if there’s anything.”
“You do that. Then next is Monica-san beside you──”
Ten minutes after that.
With nobody producing any worthwhile information, the meeting came to an end.
“Mm─……no worthwhile information. Well, it can’t be helped so let’s stop here.”
Slipping the folder with the reports under her arm, Ishtar stood up first. Next was Vaiel, Kagura and Monica.
“Come on, Sheltis.”
Being urged by machine crystal <Ilis>, Sheltis also timidly left the room.
“Ah, that’s right.”
Ishtar tapped the handle of the long spear she was carrying against the floor while standing in front of the automated door.
“The Lords of Unusual Books.”
“Ishtar will share one more piece of information with you. When she was fighting at the Governmental Sector, Golden <Maha> declared that name. He said he was the third of the Lords of Unusual Books. That’s probably what they call themselves but what Ishtar wants to tell you is something different from that common name. Have any questions or do you understand?”
If he was the third, then there were at least a second and first.
And they had no idea how many more there were from fourth onwards.
“We don’t know how many members there are to the Lords of Unusual Books and we don’t know where they’re hiding. The chance that they’re hiding somebody equal to or stronger than Golden <Maha> here in Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> isn’t zero either. Taking a stroll around the tower in the middle of the night alone is like asking to be attacked.”
Maybe it was the heavy pressure of fear but something unseen filled the room.
“You four have become involved with the Lords of Unusual Books and it’s a given to think that they’ve seen your faces. If they’re planning to eliminate the witnesses──”
If somebody were being targeted ahead of anybody else in Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>, then the target of the attack would naturally become one of them.
“……Well, I think that possibility’s low though.”
Ishtar smiled faintly after discerning his nervousness.
“If they were the types to eliminate witnesses, they wouldn’t attack the Governmental Sector at high noon. There are like a hundred witnesses in the Governmental Sector too.”
At Ishtar’s warning, that was the foremost feeling that Sheltis had. But he didn’t go as far as to voice it. In any case, the goal and everything else of the Lords of Unusual Books was unknown. They should be more cautious just to be cautious.
“It’s better to keep it in mind. You’ll become stronger if you don’t like being afraid. That’s what Ishtar wants to say. See ya〰”
The Cadres Guard left with a wink.
“Jeez, that’s not appealing at all.”
Vaiel let out a gloomy sigh and strangely, Monica was of the same opinion.
“It makes you wonder.”
“About Golden <Maha>?”
“There’s that too but it’s something else. Something closer to you.”
Machine crystal <Ilis> blinked and continued on in a suggestive tone.
“Ymy never did come in the end.”
Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>, Floor 287.
Continuing down the deserted corridor wrapped in gentle light, just as she was about to reach the intersection.
“Oh my, how rare for you to come to the Priestess’ floor.”
“Hello, Meimel-sama. I’m just looking for someone─”
Being called to by a calm woman’s voice, Ishtar turned around.
Meimel in Carnation ── the second Priestess who specialized in barrier spells. Amongst the women, Ishtar herself ranked in the tall category but the woman before her was also indomitably tall. She had beautiful eyes, dazzling, long jade hair and an impressive vestment like a dress.
“Meimel-sama as well, isn’t your room one floor up?”
“Yes, I had something to talk with Ymy about but, unfortunately, she hasn’t returned so I was just heading back.”
……She hasn’t returned.
“Why are you here? Or it looks like you were actually looking for Ymy too.”
“That’s iiit. Ishtar actually had a date planned with Ymy but she was stood up at the last moment. She came to check if she was busy with something else.”
The Priestess folded her arms below her chest and a sigh leaked from her glossy lips.
“What a troubling child. To have immersed herself in training to the point of forgetting the meeting.”
“Fumu, fumu, so it really was training. It also became a topic at the meeting but are the Priestesses strict with time when training?”
“Yes. But Ymy’s a little problematic. I was consulted by the medical specialist not too long ago. ‘Ymy-sama wishes to extend the training but I wonder if it’s alright.'”
……Now then, I wonder what the circumstances are.
“Has there been anything like this until now?”
“Periodically. Truly a troubling child……even though raising the difficulty of the training will just burden her mind and body. It’s worrisome.”
“Shall I go stop her training? You have a report for her as well.”
“Thanks. But it’s fine because I already asked somebody else suited for the job. You’ll understand if I say it’s the third Priestess.”
“Viola-sama, huh. I heard she returned with her little sister, Horn-chan. I think it’s been several months since those sisters have come back?”
“Right. But that’s──”
The third Priestess.
The Priestess, who could be compared to the first who was on an expedition and the Queen who continued to pray for the barrier, had a rare shadow cloud her expression.
“That really makes Ymy suffer, especially the existence of the Sennenshi, Horn Nova.”
A very tiny splash plopped.
The deep blue block of ice that spread as far as the eye could see.
Bluer than the emerald green of the sea at a shoal, more vivd and translucent than the ultramarine of the deep sea. The faint white mixed in was countless bubbles that had been sealed in the ice as they were.
The room of ice that even stagnated the flow of time. Within the room that was so large that its far walls were blurry, the sound of ice water droplets hitting the icy surface echoed.
A world of ice.
Several dozens of degrees below zero, a temperature that would halt an organism’s time. No special devices were necessary as the temperature was supported solely by the azure ice filling this room.
“Four hours have elapsed since the establishment of the barrier. Owing to this, the training will now end.
Priestess Ymy Ele Soufflenictole, thank you for your hard work.”
The operator’s voice came from the broadcasting device attached to the ceiling. The clerk had the qualifications of a doctor and was also well-versed in the operation of the special device used in Priestess training.
The azure ice filling the room cracked.
What began as a crack line gradually grew and went from the surface of the ice to the center ── in an instant, the gigantic azure ice, which was how many thousands of metres across and had incomparable weight, broke apart and scattered.
The puddle on the ground reflected the outline of the girl who was without a stitch of cloth.
She spread her hands and took a deep breath. No matter what, she’d just spent forty hours frozen in a state of apparent death. Because even her breathing was stopped while frozen, she had to consciously breathe at a fixed rhythm like this or she would end up asphyxiated or possibly breathe too much and hyperventilate.
Hugging her dripping wet shoulders, Ymy yelled out.
“C-cold……actually, this hurts!……My body’s gonna burst!?”
The barrier of ice constructed with shinryoku. It was fine because her senses were paralyzed while in her state of apparent death but when they returned, the cold would pass the point of being “cold” and attack her as intense pain.
She bit down on her purple lips over and over and over again.
Her hands that were wrapped around her shoulders had their nails digging into the skin enough to draw blood. She was in a state where she had to do that to bear the agony and spend a little while just breathing.
Crouched in the puddle of water on the floor, Ymy just barely managed to lift her head.
“Good work. The changing room out the door has been heated and there is hot water prepared in the pot on the table so please take it easy.”
Trepidation entered the operator’s voice from the girl’s silence.
“It’s already been eight hours.”
“It’s already been eight hours……let me continue on like this.”
The sound of the operator gasping was transmitted through the broadcast device.
“Th-that’s……are you insane!”
The operator’s reaction was correct. It wasn’t ‘Are you serious?‘. What Ymy wanted was something that would elicit doubt for her sanity from somebody who knew the harshness of Priestess training.
“You have already extended your training four hours past the regulation thirty six hours. It’s already been forty hours total. And you……want to add another eight hours to that!?”
“It’s not enough yet.”
Ymy stared at the ceiling and nodded in response to the shrill voice of the female operator.
……Yes, it’s not enough.
……More and more until my limit. I want to reach more and more into the beyond of the beyond.
“But if you go any further than this, your life or at least your mental health will be in danger.”
“That’s fine; I want to do the next one right up to the limit.”
Ymy’s answer rendered the operator speechless.
“Please let me continue just a little longer.”
……It’s no good at the current pace.
Nothing will change from what that person said if I keep going through the same training.
“Only you haven’t changed one bit since three years ago.”
Those words had been stabbed into her at the Grand Holy Hall by the woman who named herself as Tsali.
Three years ago ── since the time Sheltis had fallen to the Garden of Corrupted Song <Eden>, no matter how hard she thought she had worked, she’d been told that nothing had changed about her.
“You’re doing your best as a Priestess? You’ve worked hard and grown? Those are illusions and that training that you throw your body into is also a phantom. A phantom with no corporeal body.”
“Change. There is absolutely no opportunity to make your shinryoku bloom.”
She didn’t know whether pushing herself to the limit in the Priestesses’ harsh training would become that opportunity. But she couldn’t do nothing. As long as she held the title of Priestess, she couldn’t allow herself to be overpowered by Yuugenshu.
……The world a thousand years ago and the Yuugenshu a thousand years ago.
……I was overpowered by the Yuugenshu’s mateki at that time.
But my shinryoku shouldn’t lose. When I grasped shinryoku as a ‘wavelength‘, Meimel said that I wouldn’t lose to anyone with just the size of that wavelength.
“Go─t it, Ymy? If you fail to purify mateki, keep in mind that it’s not that your power isn’t up to the task; it’s the opposite. Your shinryoku is too strong so you can’t fine control it, so you should be wary that you can’t release all your stored-up shinryoku.”
──The reason I was oppressed by the Yuugenshu’s mateki is precisely because of that output efficiency.
Suppose that the Yuugenshu she fought in the world of a thousand years ago possessed 10 mateki and she had 20 shinryoku within her. However, compared to the Yuugenshu who could manifest 100% of its mateki, she probably hadn’t even manifested half of hers.
10 mateki x an output efficiency of 100% = 10.
20 shinryoku x an output efficiency of 40% = 8.
In other words, even if her shinryoku was above, it would lose out when put in the form of a spell.
“That’s why you’re not suited for fine control-type spells like those of the Territory type or Barrier type. It’s your natural disposition and not because you lack training. Can’t you just focus on improving your shinryoku output by even one percent in the Baptism type that best shows your strength?”
“Please, just a little more……at least just four hours──”
Still hugging her shoulders that were shivering from the cold, Ymy looked up steadily at the broadcast device. My problem is my shinryoku output efficiency. In order to look for an opportunity to compensate for that, I need to devote my body to training even more dangerous than before.
Two hours only then please; the moment she said these words.
“Ah……well, there’s a guest for you, Ymy-sama……they’re waiting in front of the floor’s elevator.”
“A guest? Who?”
A Priestess’ training time is not to be infringed upon. It’s normal for the time to be changed no matter who it is so long as I’m secluded in training. It’s rare for somebody to boldly put that aside and visit. If there was anybody, it would have to be my Sennenshi……I don’t have one, so maybe it’s a fellow Priestess?
“Is it Meimel or Syun-rei?”
“N-no……but you’re right that it’s a Priestess.”
“It’s Viola Nova-sama. She says she wants to see Ymy-sama.”
She was standing in front of the elevator doors with a smile upon her lips.
“It’s been a while, Ymy-san; you look well.”
A woman dressed in a robe-like vestment made of a single cloth with just a hole for the head. Her slender body was not much different from Syun-rei in height and she looked like she might be mistaken for a child from afar.
“W-we’ve really had no contact at all! It’s truly been a while……”
Running right up to her, Ymy bowed deeply with ragged breathes.
Viola Nova ── her senior Priestess who held the position of third Priestess. She had spent more than half a year patrolling the Biotope with her Sennenshi partner and competent Elite Guards.
“Sorry……u-umm, I think it was four days ago. I knew you had returned to the tower but I was busy and couldn’t come greet you.”
“It’s fine. I was also busy having just returned and you just returned from the Governmental Sector the day before last yourself, right?”
She had a gentle gaze that would relax those who saw it.
She was also petite like Syun-rei but the calm tone and gentleness of the Priestess in front of her was contrary to her physique and gave one a mature impression.
“That’s right, I’ll give you your souvenir before I forget. Here you go.”
She grabbed Ymy’s wrist and held it to chest-height, then wrapped her fingers around something.
It was a polished black stone. The surface was smooth like it had been polished with something and the entire thing had a roundness to it.
“It’s obsidian I picked up in the Biotope; isn’t it curious how it’s been polished so beautifully by nature?”
“……Viola, I see you still have your hobby of collecting small stones.”
Ymy smiled ironically in front of her senior Priestess. Her hobby of collecting small stones and adding “-san” when addressing other people irrespective of whether they were her kouhai hadn’t changed.
“How was it outside the tower? You patrolled the Biotope the whole time this time too.”
“It’s the same great bundle of nature as always. The large dangerous beasts are and even the climate is all jumbled. Just when you think it’s shining like in a desert, there’s a blizzard the next day and the day after that is a downpour. Having your tent blown away by a gale is also a commonplace event.”
“……You sure made it though that all right.”
“I got used to that bustle so it feels like something’s missing here with the tower being so calm.”
She smiled as her flaxen hair fluttered.
“By the way, Ymy-san, I’m sorry for being so sudden. I know you were in the middle of training.”
“N-Not at all! The regulation time was over already!”
That she had wanted to do a little more and been in the middle of negotiating it was a secret, of course.
“That’s actually a lie.”
“I didn’t come knowing you were in the middle of training; I came because you were in the middle of training. I wanted to disrupt your training.”
Viola looked fixedly up at her with her light brown eyes.
“Ymy-san, don’t you know that excessive training will just burden your body?”
……I see, I thought it was strange.
This was a woman who was overflowing with consideration. She wasn’t the type who would interrupt her training just to hand over a souvenir or because she wanted to see her.
……She’d intended to stop my excessive training from the start.
“I heard about it from Meimel-san. That it’s been like this the whole time lately. But it looks like several days……from just before you left for the Governmental Sector and after returning have been especially terrible. I was a little worried after hearing that. As for why──”
Viola spoke with a tone like she was scolding her own child.
That’s definitely how it is. This person is……this ‘older sister figure‘ is always worrying about her junior Priestesses, Syun-rei and I, as if we were her children.
“I was thinking one of the reasons you’re overdoing your training is related to my younger sister, Horn.”
“So it really is?”
“……I don’t know.”
Viola looked directly up at her. She couldn’t avert her eyes and it took her utmost just to muddle her words.
……But it’s probably just as Viola says.
Wanting to purify the Garden of Corrupted Song <Eden>’s mateki that resided within her childhood friend, Sheltis, was her thought as a childhood friend.
On top of that ── as the Priestess of Baptism, she thought it wouldn’t do to remain this way, and that was probably because she was indebted to the Sennenshi, Horn Nova.
“Your younger sister is……”
“You’ll understand if I say she’s in Ward D of the hospital on floor 22, right?”
The clinic within the tower was divided into four wards based on patient condition.
Ward A handled emergency outpatients and the lightly wounded.
Ward B handled inpatients with grave wounds requiring surgery.
Ward C handled patients that were in serious life-threatening conditions.
And then, separated from even those three wards by a large door was Ward D. All patients taken to this ward were those showered in mateki. The response team was not of doctors but of apprentice Priestesses and those that the apprentice Priestsses could not treat were directly purified by a Priestess.
“……I see. That’s right.”
Sennenshi Horn had returned to the tower for only one reason. It wasn’t to give a report but to visit a child who continued to sleep in one of the Ward D rooms.
“It’s not something you need to apologize for. Meimel-san and I……even the first Priestess, Elmeetia-san, couldn’t purify that mateki so it’s not solely your responsibility.”
Her words blamed herself. Exactly because she understood that, Ymy could not pretend to not have heard it.”
“……But everybody else has different specialties in spells!……I can’t use anything other than Baptism-type spells well. I can’t become anything other than the Priestess of Baptism.”
“You think it’s natural that you’d be the one to heal that child?”
In reality, it was something Horn Nova had said to her.
“Ymy Ele Soufflenictole……you couldn’t save Tessha!”
“Who cares about being a Priestess. This……even though you can’t purify the mateki of a single child……even though you can’t save a single child, what about you makes you a Priestess of Baptism!”
In a hospital ward with a cold wind blowing through it.
Those words spoken in front of that child whose eyes would not open were directed at me alone.
“……I thought you’d say that.”
Viola slumped her delicate shoulders and sighed.
“The truth is I didn’t really want to return. Because, Ymy-san, it’s a given that you’d go overboard in your training and ruin your body when Horn returned to the tower.”
“……But I must.”
“I understand that you feel responsible for not being able to purify mateki while known under the honorary title of Priestess of Baptism, but please don’t overdo it. The Priestesses’ primary duty isn’t to purify mateki. It’s to maintain the barrier that seals the Garden of Corrupted Song <Eden>.”
It was something she’d been admonished for countless times since her time as an apprentice Priestess.
A Priestess had to be ruthless. No matter who had to be sacrificed and even if she wanted to save someone near her, she had to focus her power solely on maintaining Hyouketsu Kyoukai.
“That’s why it’s Horn’s fault for having excessive expectations of Priestesses.”
“Please tell me if my little sister says anything to you. I’ll scold her as her older sister.”
Well then ── conveying that softly, the third Priestess turned around. She watched her as she used the elevator to head to her own floor.
Letting out a truly deep sigh towards the ceiling, Ymy loosely stumbled to the wall. ……I can’t put any power into my limbs. When she noticed that, the strength left her knees and she collapsed.
“Having excessive expectations of me……that just means she had that much expectation for me. ……She probably believed in and relied on me.”
She couldn’t fulfill Horn’s expectations that day. Even though she was probably her last hope, as the one known as the Priestess of Baptism.
“……Ah……ah……haha, it’s cold.”
Maybe it was because of the training. It couldn’t be helped that her body was freezing so she curled up and crouched there.
…………It’s been a while since I’ve been frustrated to the point of wanting to cry.
“Why……is it……so cold, I wonder.”
The girl’s hoarse laughter echoed.
Before long, that laughter had changed to a faint sob at some point.