Planet Ar Ciel has been finally regenerated. Five years have gone by since that day, but the people of Sol Cluster still continue living in the Third Tower.
Right now, the lifespan of Tilia, who is also the Third Tower herself is coming to its end. Sol Cluster is plunged into chaos now they have to face her death, which also means the disappearance of the Tower. To save the people, Aoto and the others have started a plan of extending Tilia’s lifespan, but doing this means she will undergo a tremendous suffering.
A completely original story showing what happens after the popular PlayStation 3 RPG of the same name. Characters from the first two games also make an appearance and provide their help as everyone faces together the Third Tower’s disappearance. So, what will be Tilia’s final fate…?
Beginning ------------------------------------------- 3
Five Years Later --------------------------------- 13
The V-Board Grand Prix ---------------------- 51
The Three Origin Sisters ---------------------- 81
Convincing Tilia -------------------------------- 121
The Frozen Great Fang ---------------------- 161
Work on the Telomere ----------------------- 174
Sisters in the Binary Field ------------------- 203
Clusternia ---------------------------------------- 254
Sol Ciel ------------------------------------------- 275
Work on the Satellite -------------------------- 296
Initiating Dive ----------------------------------- 306
700 years ago, the planet Ar Ciel lost its surface in a great catastrophe known as the Grathnode Inferia, and the people who remained after it ended up clinging to the “Towers” existing in each of their three regions for their survival. These were the Soundwave Amplification Tower located in the region of Sol Ciel: the First Tower of Ar tonelico, the incomplete Second Tower floating above the region of Metafalss, and the setting for this novel, the Third Tower that stands above the region of Sol Cluster.
The Third Tower had as its original goal shooting the XP Shell into the Planetary Core, conversing with the Planet, and use said conversation as a means to regenerate it, but due to the Tower being created in an incomplete state, it could never carry out its goal.
There were three great powers in Sol Cluster: Clusternia, the Reyvateil nation that existed on the upper floors of the Tower; the Great Fang, the mountain range protruding around the Tower; and Archia, the city-state that was recognized as an independent power despite being located inside the Tower and ruled by humans.
And thus, the history of the humans being ruled over by the Reyvateils continued.
-Summary of the Game [Ar tonelico 3: The Girl's Song that Pulls the Trigger for the World's Demise]-
The humans of the Great Fang lived fearing Clusternia's oppressive rule. In a small village located within that region, Aoto from the Blue Canyon Hamlet met Saki, a girl who could cause [Miracles]. As Saki was being pursued by Clusternia, Aoto ran away from the village with her, and they saved and started traveling alongside a girl who used to work at a bistro called Finnel. As Saki was a [γ-Sublimate] created by the Archia Think Tank, she also carried the burden of being destined to neutralize the [Antibody Brain], the core existence to the Antibodies who constantly caused large losses of human life. On the other hand, Finnel lodged within herself the Antibody Brain due to the intrigues of Ayatane, who intended to completely obliterate humanity. Both also lodged many Wills of the Planet within their Soulspaces, which caused their life spans to decrease dramatically. Aoto and his friends sought to meet the Administrator of the Tower: the Reyvateil Origin Tilia, and by providing them with additional Telomere, their lives were saved.
The life of Planet Ar Ciel was also nearing its end, but thanks to the encounter the Wills of the Planet lodged within Saki and Finnel had with Tilia, the party started working towards realizing the true purpose of the Third Tower: the Planetary Regeneration. After Aoto and his friends overcame several battles, Tilia remembered the Song that was used to create the Tower: [Rebirthia Protocol], thanks to Aoto Diving into her.
The [Heart of the Land] that would serve as an essential component of the Planetary Regeneration was brought over from the Second Tower by Cocona, and thanks to her and Sasha, who had also come with her from Metafalss having made their greatest efforts, the Third Tower was finally completed. And after having boarded the XP Shell with the Heart of the Land in their hands, Aoto and his party were shot into the Planetary Core. After a final battle with the Antibodies, they finally could hold a conversation with the Planet's Consensus of Wills, and Ar Ciel finally accepted the Heart of the Land together with the humans' feelings, allowing the Planetary Regeneration to begin.
This describes the characters' setting as they are when they appear in the book. The numbers between parentheses denotes which [Ar tonelico] games they appear in.
A young steeplejack. After having saved Saki and Finnel, he was very deeply involved in the Planetary Regeneration.
A Reyvateil who loves children. She is the being that personifies the [maternal side] of the Planet.
A cheerful yet clumsy Reyvateil. Her forte is astrology.
The third Reyvateil Origin. She is the Third Tower herself.
The Mainframe (AI) that controls the Third Tower.
The mayor of Archia City and wife of Hikari Gojo. She is a former Clusternian General.
The Clusternian General. She and Finnel are childhood friends, and thus share a very close friendship.
The representative of the Great Fang. He used to be the leader of an anti-Clusternian organization called Fallen Heaven Peak.
A Grand Bell Knight. He was a valuable part of the creation of Metafalica in the Second Tower.
The Maiden of Mio of Metafalica. As the head of the Grand Bell, she is also the region's political leader.
The Reyvateil Origin of the Second Tower. Shun is always protecting her.
A digital lifeform that is extremely lovey-dovey with Frelia. He used to be human.
Cocona (2, 3)
The girl who brought the Heart of the Land from Metafalss to the Third Tower.
Sasha (2, 3)
A genius girl that came from Metafalss with Cocona, and who provided an invaluable contribution to the Planetary Regeneration.
Jakuri (1, 2)
Also known as Mir. A Reyvateil who long ago caused a tremendous crisis in the First Tower.
A [Knight of Elemia] from Platina, in the First Tower. He is the son of Commander Leard.
The Reyvateil Origin that serves as Administrator to the First Tower. Her true name is Eolia.
The Bishop to the El Elemia Church, whose beliefs have Goddesses Eolia, Frelia and Tilia as their core.
Women who have their minds connected to the Song Magic Servers, allowing them to craft Song Magic. There are three main kinds to them: Origins, Pureblooded β-Types and Third Generations.
The very first three Reyvateils created, they are the First Tower Administrator Eolia, the Second Tower Administrator Frelia, and the Third Tower Administrator Tilia.
Reyvateils cloned from the Origins, which have a lifespan of approximately 150 years. Many of them exist, like Misha, Jakuri, Finnel and Akane. Origins and βs turn into water upon dying.
People descended from a human and a Reyvateil or their descendants that happened to have their Reyvateil qualities active. Many of them exist, like Cloche, Luca and Aurica. They must be periodically administrated a drug called the Life Extending Agent.
This is an organ that determines how long a β’s lifespan will be. Since the Triangular Nuclear Loops can work stably for about 150 years, the Telomere exists to prevent any abnormalities from happening in the Loops' functions by terminating them before that can happen. Tilia is the only one among the Origins to be equipped with a Telomere.
It is theorized that since she was never planned to stay functioning beyond a very short span of time, Tilia was equipped with a Telomere and configured to have a very short lifespan as a precaution due to the advanced abilities she possesses, but the details on this are unknown.
Triangular Nuclear Loop
The being that serves as the core of the formation for the bodies of the Origins and βs. In a way of speaking, their bodies are maintained as long as the Loop [continues singing]. The Third Generations need the Life Extending Agent precisely because they don't have a Triangular Nuclear Loop. None of the methods used for creating and reproducing the model used in the Origins remain.
Heart of the Land
The being that serves as the core of a Planet. As long as the Heart of the Land [continues singing], the lands filled with abundant life will continue existing. Five years ago (during the game's ending), it was thanks to the Heart of the Land that the Planetary Regeneration was successfully carried out.
A floating continent that was born above the region of Metafalss. Many Reyvateils gave form to a Heart of the Land with their feelings, and thus they could make a reality the utopia from their legends.
The act of interfering the personal consciousness (Cosmosphere) of a Reyvateil to craft stronger Song Magic. A Dive Machine is used for this purpose.
The ultra-high wave frequency region of the Song Magic Servers. It is located beyond the areas where the Individual Consciousness Fields and Shared Consciousness Fields exist, so it could be called the Tower's Soulspace. It is impossible to Dive into it using conventional methods.
Robots shaped after shrine maidens that are deployed in the Towers. In the First Tower, there are the housekeeping droid Meimei who resides at the Observatory in the higher areas of the Tower and watches everything that happens in it; and the Plasma Bell guardian Kanade. In the Second Tower, Raki, the droid who possess the strongest combat abilities in all history; and her side-grade Reki are deployed.
Chapter 1: Beginning
A Planet that had been covered by the Sea of Death for many centuries: Ar Ciel. The people were unable to descend to the surface, and thus they had to live clinging to the surroundings of the three enormous Towers that extended far into the highest reaches of the sky: the three Towers of Ar tonelico.
However, five years ago the admirable act of regenerating the planet was finally accomplished successfully.
Below the now-inexistent Sea of Death, the people could see again the surface they had sought for so long, and the entire world was filled with enthusiastic happiness.
However, almost no one of them thought they would descend to the surface and start living on it.
Cities constructed on the outer walls of the Tower, an artificial floating continent that was created around a Tower, a gigantic mountain range that extended from the surface.
Most of the population was concentrated in such narrow places, but yet they still considered these areas their home regardless of anything else that happened.
And even if they descended to the surface temporarily, the only thing they found there was a barren, undeveloped land.
They would have to relinquish all the essentials they had gained up to that point, and no matter how wide it was or how much freedom they had to do whatever they wanted in there, life was so difficult and inconvenient that no more than a handful of people ended living on the surface.
It was due to these reasons that despite five years having gone by from the day the planet was regenerated, there were still so few people that dared to descend and live on the surface.
The people that lived in Sol Ciel, which had the First Tower of Ar tonelico at its center, didn't find their current lifestyle inconvenient in the slightest, while the people of Metafalss, which had the Second Tower of Ar tonelico at its center, had just started a new life in the gigantic floating continent of Metafalica.
And the people of Sol Cluster, which had the Tower that contributed the greatest to the Planetary Regeneration: the Third Tower of Ar tonelico; had ironically gotten too used to living in it and thus didn't want to let go of that lifestyle.
Yet they didn't realize that the end was nigh for their current way of life.
Chapter 2: Five Years Later
There were several girls called Reyvateils in that place, all of which had the ability of putting their feelings into Songs to use a mysterious power known as Song Magic.
There was a country in the Third Tower of Ar tonelico where many such girls lived.
It was called Clusternia, and while they formerly treated the humans as slaves, it was the country that ruled the entirety of Sol Cluster.
Even now they had decided to coexist with the humans, the fact that Clusternia was the ruler of Sol Cluster hadn't changed at all.
The reason for this was the existence of a gigantic room called the Harvestasha Module in the deepest areas of Clusternia, as it was where Harvestasha, the master computer that controlled the entirety of the Third Tower's systems was installed. Therefore, it was natural that Clusternia ruled the region due to the controller for the Tower's systems, Harvestasha being inside their territory.
So whenever any incidents that involved the Third Tower took place, all the leaders from every single settlement in it would gather at Clusternia.
The proof of this was that there was a large meeting room inside the Governorate, and the leaders from all its major areas had assembled in it.
The leader of Clusternia, who was also the Supreme Commander of its army: a girl called Akane.
The mayor of the Archia Corporarchy whose history was even older than that of the Tower: a woman called Rikkaryosha.
The representative of the people residing on the gigantic mountain range that rose around the Tower called the Great Fang: Gengai.
The gazes of each of these three representatives were directed towards a lone young man.
Compared to the three representatives, the young man didn't feel like he had any clear calmness, charisma or intelligence, and was as plain a person as any other young man his age.
If anyone who didn't know him was told that he was a central part of the group that played the most important role in the Planetary Regeneration, they would probably think they were going insane.
Rikka then asked him with a slightly annoyed voice:
“So Aoto, when is Tilia coming? You know that despite appearances, I don't really have much time I can spare, right?”
The young man called Aoto replied while looking a bit worried:
“Tilia's not coming. She told you all this before, but she's not going to talk any more. That's why I came in her place”
When they heard him say “in her place”, they understood that it had been planned to make Aoto come to this meeting from the beginning, despite the fact he was supposed to only be there as Tilia's escort.
“If Tilia isn't coming, then there is no point to this meeting. I'm sorry, but I have to get going now”
“Ah, w-wait a moment!”
Upon seeing how Rikka was raising from her chair, Aoto tried to get her to stop in a very rough manner.
“Well, are the plans for the evacuation going well? You know we don't have much time left, right?”
In contrast to how Aoto alternately looked at one and then at the other, both Gengai and Rikka only sighed in reaction to his question.
Aoto wasn't the only one surprised by this: Akane was astonished as well.
“I cannot believe this. You two mean to tell us that you have been doing nothing this whole time?”
“Wait just a minute, Akane. I can't just stay silent after what you just said!”
Rikka glared at Akane.
“I have done what I had to. Just like I said, I recommended the people to evacuate at the last Archia City assembly”
“How about you, Sir Gengai? Have you dispensed such advice to the residents of the Great Fang?”
Upon being called, Gengai replied:
“After you guys called and explained us all that, I went and told the folks at the Great Fang what we should do”
Upon saying that, he leaned against his chair's back and strongly closed his eyes. He was as if he didn't have absolutely any interest in the conversation that was taking place there at the moment.
No, it might be more accurate to say that he indeed wasn't interested in the meeting at all.
“Then, why no one has started evacuating the Tower!?”
Aoto raised from his chair as he slammed his fists on the table.
“Even knowing that the Tower could start disappearing any day now!?”
There had been talks about the Third Tower being destroyed some time ago.
Tilia was born into this world as a Reyvateil Origin: a completely artificial lifeform.
The Tower that rose high above this world, the Third Tower of Ar tonelico had been built several centuries ago after Tilia relinquished her own material body and transformed herself into the Tower.
However, an unforeseen incident took place while the process for her Tower transformation was being carried out.
Due to this, while the Tower transformation was carried out successfully said event caused it to take on the incomplete form it still had to the current days.
And the Tower also suffered lethal damage five years ago.
In order to regenerate the Planet, it was necessary to hold a conversation with the Wills that created and maintained it.
Additionally, the Wills of the Planet were beings that didn't possess a physical form, so they couldn't be seen with the naked eye.
Therefore, a gigantic Dive Machine was prepared in order to make that conversation possible.
As Dive Machines are machines that allow to enter into the Soulspaces each Reyvateil has, called Cosmospheres, when a partner Dives into a Reyvateil, they are being granted entrance into her Soulspace. Furthermore, this allows both the Reyvateil and the partner to hold conversations at a far deeper level than it would normally be possible.
The enormous Dive Machine that was prepared for the conversation with the Wills of the Planet was no other than the XP Shell.
It was a bullet-shaped facility designed to be shot into a position as close to the Planetary Core as possible to then allow a Dive into and conversations with the Wills of the Planet.
However, that was the problem.
A facility as large as the XP Shell needed appropriate amounts of Symphonic Power in order to be shot to the closest possible point to the Planetary Core, which the Third Tower was unable to provide by itself due to its incomplete state.
If the XP Shell was shot under that Symphonic Power deficiency, the core that gave form to Tilia, her Triangular Nuclear Loop would have completely shattered. And if this had happened, Tilia would have instantly died and thus the Tower would have vanished as well.
It was due to these reasons that the Third Tower ultimately drew power from the Second Tower five years ago, and it was thanks to that it could endure the shooting of the XP Shell.
This doesn't mean it could endure it with no side-effects remaining though.
Given that the Symphonic Power the Second Tower sent them was just a supplement for making the shooting of the XP Shell possible, it wasn't enough, and the difference Tilia had to wring out in order to cover the required amounts ended causing damage to her Triangular Nuclear Loop.
Now it had sustained damage, it was natural her Loop couldn't continue working normally as it had done up to that point. Its energy balance broken, it was steadily getting closer to its own destruction with every passing day.
And Tilia herself also started feeling things were about to get dangerous, which was why she warned all the residents of the Third Tower that they should evacuate as soon as possible, but three months had passed already since she issued her last warning.
“You two know that if Tilia dies, the Tower is gonna collapse, right?”
Neither Rikka nor Gengai showed any particular reaction to Aoto's words.
It was just as if Aoto had said something they were completely unable to comprehend, and their eyes showed they couldn't care any less about it.
“...Well, let's suppose...”
Gengai opened his mouth.
“Let's suppose Tilia really died and the Tower vanished because of that. But that wouldn't really affect us Great Fang residents, you know?”
As the Great Fang was the mountain range rising around the Tower, even if the Tower collapsed, that wouldn't mean the Great Fang itself would collapse too. Even if the cities built in the Tower fell down, the possibility of the Great Fan getting pulled into the disaster were null.
“If this actually caused harm to everyone in the Great Fang, we'd have evacuated without thinking it twice. But there's not even one guy now who thinks we should leave our homes”
“Well, it really seems like that, but...”
“And I say the same”
Rikka raised her hand.
“I don't think either there is any reason to be so flustered over”
“Even you, Miss Rikka!?”
“I think the same as Mr. Gengai here. Archia isn't part of Tilia's Tower, as the city's core is actually the Tower of Origin”
The Tower of Origin was a structure that was made as a base camp and a residence place for the researchers who were designing Tilia's Tower before its creation.
Despite being called a base camp, its inside was actually furnished with all the commodities all the personnel related to the design of Tilia's Tower would need to live without being subject to any inconveniences. It would be no exaggeration to call it a miniature city. Furthermore, it was also the place where the device lodging the Soulspaces of almost all the Reyvateils who resided in the Third Tower: the SH Server, was installed.
The city of Archia merely made their cornerstone out from the foundations that were employed during the Tower of Origin's construction.
Therefore, the city wouldn't disappear even if the Third Tower was destroyed.
So given the situation, who was the person that wasn't upset in any way, yet seemed to be the one who should be panicking the most?
“Aoto, shouldn't you be explaining this all to Akane instead of doing it to me or Mr. Gengai? After all, the ones that should be the most troubled over the Tower disappearing are the people of Clusternia”
Despite the conversation being swung to her so suddenly, Akane spoke in a relaxed way very similar to Gengai and Rikka's own.
“There is no need to worry. While steadily, the residents of Clusternia have started evacuating to the other Towers. It is true there are still some citizens remaining even now, but they are in stand-by and prepared to evacuate as promptly as possible”
“Oh, you started evacuating already? Was it so easy to convince the citizenry?”
“It was possible because Tilia was not the only one: Harvestasha has judged as well the current conditions are far too dangerous. If she gives the order, there is no one who would question her”
“...Yeah, that may be right. If Tilia and Harvestasha say so, you'd think it'd be natural for us to just believe them unconditionally, right?”
If both the Tower's master computer and Tilia, the Tower herself said it, it would be obvious that the information would be credible enough to believe it.
However, there was still a reason why they wouldn't just accept it.
“But we're not going to go through the same thing twice”
This wasn't the first time they were warning everyone about the danger of the Tower being destroyed.
Two years prior, Tilia noticed her life was steadily getting close to the end and warned about it to the leaders of every single settlement in the region.
She said that once her life started flickering out, her Tower would start collapsing in less than a month.
Upon hearing that, Rikka and the others started carrying out actions to evacuate their citizens as quickly as it was possible.
Initially, they were even uncertain that they would be able to get everyone to safety in such a short time span as a month was.
However, when the evacuation proper started, they did it so with astonishing swiftness and completed it with no great problems.
There was a single reason why the First and Second Towers had agreed to accept the inhabitants from the Third in condition of refugees, and also why these same people believed without questioning that story.
It was because the ones telling it were the systems controlling the Tower, Harvestasha, and the Administrator of the Tower who also was the Tower herself, Tilia. This was what made the people decide that there was no room for doubt.
However, and despite the fact that the evacuation was completed incredibly quickly, the destruction of Tilia's Tower never happened, no matter how much time passed.
The estimated day came, then the day after it, then the next... A week went by, and then a month, which caused doubt to plant its seeds into the hearts of the refugees.
They started wondering “What if the Tower never actually collapses?”
It was natural to think this. After all, they had lost their homes, businesses and everything else due to having to flee from the Tower.
While they initially thought their lives were the only thing that mattered, the story changed when they noticed the Tower wasn't collapsing.
“Why did we have to abandon everything and live as refugees if nothing is going to happen?”
And while this was happening, a certain transmission from the people who were surveying the Third Tower got to their hands.
It was informing that the now uninhabited Third Tower had been targeted by sky pirates, which had started gathering in its neighboring airspace.
Knowing this, the people weren't willing to just watch while the sky pirates went and stole all the belongings they had left in the Tower. Naturally, the people that weren't directly affected by this didn't think it was right to return to the Third Tower.
But still, it would be a lie to say these people weren't yearning to go back to their cities and homes.
So a little time after the first group went back to the Third Tower, the number of people who decided to follow them gradually increased, and in two months, about a 30% of the Tower's population had already returned to their homes. However, the destruction of the Tower they had heard so much about didn't take place.
And after three months had gone by, there was a certain rumor that served as the cause that made all the remaining refugees go back to the Third Tower at once.
It was that everyone who had returned to the Tower had already started working to go back to the lives they used to have before they were evacuated.
Once they heard this, the people couldn't continue bearing with the fact of having to live as refugees.
It's not known who first said that rumor, which stated:
“The Tower isn't going to collapse. It's a misunderstanding that caused an unprecedented pandemonium”
But regardless of who said it, these news quickly spread throughout the refugees.
Now they had heard these words, it was impossible to find out who started these rumors or stop the people from going back.
So half a year after they had been evacuated, the entirety of the refugees returned to the Third Tower and restarted their lives in it.
However, this didn't mean everyone went back to having the exact same lifestyle they had before the evacuation. The people who had their houses sacked by the sky pirates during the time they lived as refugees, and the organizations they were employed by originally were the ones who returned to the Third Tower before anyone else, yet there were a very significant number of people who were lost about what they would be doing now they had all their belongings stolen.
So naturally, all their dissatisfaction ended up being directed to each and every one of the leaders that prompted them to evacuate in the first place.
“I think you already know about it, but my approval rating hit rock bottom because of the evacuation we led back then. It's a miracle I could still retain my position as mayor, so do you really think I would be able to lead the entire population into another evacuation attempt?”
Her expression gradually became angrier as she spoke.
The first time she issued these warnings during the city assemblies, the first thing she got was people sneering at her.
No one believed anymore what Rikka said.
Five years ago, she received a special promotion and became the mayor of Archia City, and she worked so hard while she occupied that seat that she even spent sleepless nights over it.
Thanks to her great efforts and enthusiasm, she could procure the trust of the people. But after the evacuation incident took place, she only received jeers and sarcasm in an everyday basis. There were even especially hard days in which she got terrible treatment even within her own home.
So now Rikka was barely anything beyond a figurehead mayor, as it would be no exaggeration to say that her influence in the city assemblies and her trust among the citizenry was pretty much inexistent.
“And if all that wasn't enough, the sky pirates that started gathering around here two years ago have made this area their territory. Thanks to that, we're getting reports related to their attacks every single day, to the point in which I can't even get any part of my actual work done”
Aoto knew that the damage the sky pirates were caused was getting worse every single day, but this was the first time he heard that things were going so badly.
Both Gengai and Akane made a small nod in agreement after Rikka said it. It seemed that the issues with the pirates were causing them a great deal of worry, similarly to Rikka's own situation.
“We at Clusternia are trying to send out as many battleships as we can in order to help solve this problem, yet we cannot really send too many due to our current situation. It cannot be helped”
“It's the same for us at the Great Fang. The airships we got aren't hot stuff like the ones they've got at Clusternia... So unlike the Clusternian fighters or the sky hunters, we're sure to get crushed if we get into a dogfight”
“Sky hunters? What're those?”
Again, this was something Aoto didn't know anything about.
“Some crazy bastards who steal goods and weapons from the pirates”
“T-These guys really are something... But we should be safe as long as people like them are around, right?”
While their methods weren't praiseworthy in the slightest, it was the truth that the hunters had caused the number of pirates around the Third Tower to decrease. Aoto thought this was something they all should be happy about. However, a bitter expression appeared on Gengai's face after hearing Aoto's words.
“It's not so simple. The pirates attack and steal stuff from the people, but what you think's gonna happen if they're the ones attacked and robbed blind? You think they're just gonna let 'em go?”
Of course, since Aoto had never actually fought or got involved with the sky pirates in any way, he couldn't do anything beyond answering what his imagination told him.
“...I think they'd retaliate”
He knew very well that the sky pirates were a bunch of savages. He thoughh that even if the Clusternia and Archia armies were attacking them, that wouldn't be enough to put a stop to those outlaws.
Rikka replied to Aoto's words:
“If they just took revenge and did nothing else, that would actually be better for us”
“But once they have suffered an attack, they won't just retaliate: they'll also attack more of the commercial and private airships in the area to also cover what the hunters stole from them. And naturally, receiving the damage reports and coming up with the countermeasures against them is just one of the many works we have to do'
And having said this, Rikka rose up again from her chair
“I'll be going heading back now. I'm extremely busy at the moment, as we have to make preparations for hosting the V-Board Grand Prix in a few days, so I don't have time to waste in pointless discussions like this one”
“No... Please wait, Miss Rikka!”
Rikka didn't make any signs of stopping in response to Aoto's voice.
However, this didn't mean she completely doubted what Aoto was telling her. Still, if the Tower was really going to collapse, she was in complete agreement with him in that making the people flee from the Tower would be the best way to guarantee their safety.
And despite knowing this, actually being capable or not of carrying out the evacuation was a completely different matter, as given the current situation, there was no one who would believe anything she said.
“...Sorry everyone, but I've gotta head back too”
Gengai followed Rikka's example and got up from his chair too.
“It's not to the same level as Rikka here, but I've got heaps of work waitin' for me. Can't really be wasting more time around here”
“Even if it risks the lives of many people? Are you planning just to let them all die!?”
Upon seeing how these two were leaving the room, Aoto shouted in rage.
Regardless of how hard their current position was, they were still the heads of Archia and the Great Fang.
If that was the case, wouldn't it be natural for their actions to put the people over everything else all the time?
Both of them were completely confident that nothing they had said to this point was wrong.
So when Rikka stopped after Aoto said that, she felt a great happiness in her heart.
“...Aoto, what you are saying isn't wrong”
“Yeah? Then why--”
“But you know, even the best arguments can come out as mere idiocy when you say them aloud”
Upon turning around, Aoto noticed that the expression Rikka was giving him was a mocking one.
Her expression was one that gave off a feeling of pity toward a poor human, which at the same one was filled with an arrogant superiority.
“I've heard everything that you said, but what would you say is the best way for us to make all our citizens to vacate the Tower? No one will listen to anything I say, so what should I do?”
Aoto knew very well there wouldn't be a second chance if they failed, and that they didn't have any way to do it at the moment. But it was still a hard pill to swallow for him emotionally.
Seeing how Aoto was failing to come up with an answer, Rikka continued talking, her expression unchanging.
“And besides, while it seemed you had a sound argument by even preparing this place for the meeting, you actually know it well too, right? That making the people evacuate is impossible for us at the moment”
“You don't really think that, right? I know you got angry, Miss Rikka, but it's disappointing to hear you say that!”
“Oh? So that means you're still having some hopes on us?”
“Of course! I wouldn't be asking you two this if I didn't know I could trust you, Mr. Gengai, Miss Rikka!”
As Aoto had known them both for a long time, he truly held a great deal of trust in them.
It might be true they both were in a difficult situation now, but he was still completely sure that if someone could explain everything to the people, it would be these two.
It was this same belief that drove him to call them both to Clusternia.
However, Rikka was completely unable to believe that Aoto trusted in her.
“If you believe in me so much, then why did you call Lady Cloche from Metafalica?”
Metafalica, the floating continent that had been born in Metafalss.
The people who had the highest political positions in that land were the two Maidens who had crafted it, who were also sisters:
The Maiden of Homura, Luca Trulywaath.
And the Maiden of Mio, Cloche Latel Pastalie.
Of the two, Cloche was the younger sister, and the one who handled single-handedly everything related to politics.
On the other hand, Luca took care mainly of tasks such as inspections and festivals that required her presence as the original Maiden, so it was pretty rare for her to get involved into the political business.
So while Cloche was effectively the person with the greatest authority in Metafalica, she suddenly arrived at the Third Tower a few days ago.
As for Cloche herself, she said she was doing a field trip because she had never gone to the Third Tower before, yet it was unthinkable for anyone to think she would have purposely come to this place while it was in such a chaotic state for no actual reason.
“Now you mention it, Lady Cloche's here, right? I've gotta go and greet her before she goes back. Is she staying at Clusternia?
As Cloche's arrival had been so sudden, Gengai hadn't gotten even a single chance to meet with her.
He was thinking he wanted to take advantage of this chance to express his gratitude for how she took care of the refugees from the Great Fang during the evacuation that took place two years ago.
However, Aoto swung his head from a side to another in response to Gengai's question.
“Lady Cloche's staying at Archia now. But Cocona and Sasha came with her, and they're gonna stay here at Clusternia”
“So these two came too, huh? But if they came with Lady Cloche, why's she the only one staying at Archia?”
“Well, you know, that's...”
Upon noticing Aoto's embarrassment and how he was looking at where she was sitting, Rikka opened her mouth.
“It's because I invited her. We'll be holding the V-Board Grand Prix soon, and I thought it was an event she shouldn't miss out”
The V-Board Grand Prix that was held at Archia was a national-level event for the inhabitants of Sol Cluster. Rikka wanted Cloche to come and see the Grand Prix as a modest token of gratitude from her for having agreed to receive the refugees they were sending out from the Tower. Upon hearing Rikka's proposal, Cloche was glad to accept.
Upon hearing this, Gengai said “Ah, gotcha” as he nodded. But a certain question surfaced in his mind and made him frown.
“Hmm? But is that part about only Lady Cloche staying in Archia true? So that means Cocona isn't gonna participate in this Grand Prix?”
As Cocona was a girl who really loved V-Boarding, she always she said she wanted to participate in the Grand Prix. But during the Grand Prix from five years ago, which was the only one she took part in, there were some troubles in the middle of the race that caused her to end up disqualified due to getting out from the racetrack. This should have been a good chance for her to try again, so it didn't ring true for Gengai that she was just going to stay at Clusternia.
Rikka felt the same way about that question.
“I noticed that too, and I heard she had no intentions to take part in this Grand Prix. That she wasn't going to do it because she had to help Sasha with something... I don't know either what Sasha is going to do here though”
And after a brief sigh, she turned her eyes in Aoto's direction, and then in Akane's.
“I have a guess about it: weren't you and your friends who called Sasha and the others from Metafalica, Aoto? We can't get the people to evacuate at a moment's notice, and so there's the possibility we won't get them all to safety in time if anything happens. So you called Sasha here so she could help you to find out another way in case that happened?”
While she spoke with a normal tone, Rikka's eyes were sharp as daggers as she glared at Aoto and Akane.
“...That is correct. It is all just as you said, Lady Rikka”
Akane spoke in Aoto's instead, as he had been overwhelmed by the pressure from Rikka's glare to the point he couldn't even talk.
“It wouldn't be abnormal for the Tower to begin disappearing at any time in its current state. Therefore, if we will not be able to evacuate the people in time, we wish to at least seek alternative methods that will ensure the safety of every single person in it”
Another warning about the Tower disappearing was issued three months ago, but no one in Archia or the Great Fang showed any intentions of evacuating. After what happened two years ago, it was natural the people wouldn't be willing to obey such orders.
But despite this being natural, it didn't mean it was a topic that should be ignored.
It was then that Aoto and his friends thought that if they couldn't get all the people to escape in time, they could at least find another way to help everyone who was too late in escaping.
And to help them in finding that way, they asked the young genius Sasha for her help and made her come to Sol Cluster.
Upon learning her guess on the matter had been correct, Rikka let out a large sigh.
“In that case, I can also hazard a guess about why Lady Cloche came here: she must have heard from Sasha how the Third Tower was about to disappear. And so, she noticed we didn't send another request to accept our people as refugees, which caused her to be worried about Sasha and Cocona, and come with them... So, how spot-on was I?”
“As far as Lady Cloche herself is concerned, she came to see the situation in our land and while she has yet to say anything on the matter... Perhaps you are correct in your assumptions, Lady Rikka”
Upon hearing this, Rikka let out another purposely large and drawn-out sigh.
“...So you've been making all these plans without us knowing about them, huh? And you still dare to say you trust us? What kind of sick joke is that!?”
Akane kept herself silent, unable to reply back to the indignant Rikka: she thought that if she was in her place, she would be exactly as angry as Rikka was.
It was then that it dawned on Aoto that while he said he trusted Rikka and Gengai, their actions could only be seen as a betrayal by them. However, he didn't think that anything they had done was wrong.
“I understand why you're so angry, Miss Rikka, but we couldn't just stay here doing nothing, you know? If the Tower really disappears, everyone's gonna die before they've got a chance to escape!”
“All that was what caused the mistakes from two years ago! And thanks to that, everyone looks at us as if we were the cause of everything that's terrible in this world... And to top it off, you've now made the whole story spread all the way to Metafalica and made one of its VIPs worried enough to come and check things herself! That's going to make them think we're slow, dim-witted leaders who can't take any actions to protect their own people!”
While Cloche was younger than Rikka, her power, actions and charisma as a politician made her of a lofty existence and unreachable existence.
Given she was still relatively inexperienced as a politician; Cloche's qualities made her an object of Rikka's admiration.
When they evacuated to the Second Tower and Rikka saw the Metafalica continent Cloche ruled over and the people who lived in it, she started dreaming with becoming a politician as skilled as Cloche was for the day she ever built a second Archia.
And it was to the same Cloche she admired so much and held as the standards she wanted to someday reach who they had shown how incompetent and useless at planning Rikka was.
“So I beg you, don't do anything else that will cause the citizenry's trust in me to drop any further! Don't cause me more problems!”
And actually meaning to leave this time, Rikka rose from her chair and walked to the door.
But right when she was in front of the door, she stopped and clapped her hands as she muttered “Ah, yes”.
“I think this is the best time to say it. Aoto, I do believe in you. No matter what I say, you were still the most central person among all the ones who contributed in the planet's regeneration. Even I fully acknowledge it”
As she was talking now in a calm voice, unlike how she was a moment ago, Aoto felt a little relieved.
Maybe it was because she said everything she was bottling up that her mood had improved? And in that case, maybe this would be the best chance to ask her.
“If you really believe in me, how about making everybody evacuate and--”
“But you know... Even if I do believe in everything you say, it goes without saying that there are things I just simply can't do”
And as if she were twisting the knife further, she added:
“Besides, no matter what or how much you say, you know you are no more than a normal person, right? No matter how close you might be to Tilia and Harvestasha, you have zero authority. Besides, you're not even a resident of Archia. And given I'm the mayor, don't dare to call and start spouting orders at me in such a relaxed manner ever again”
And having said this, she finally did as she intended and left the room.
For an instant, Aoto took a step intending to follow her, but his legs didn't respond him when he tried taking the next one.
All the belief he had into Rikka had just been denied, and in the end, the belief she had in him turned out to be even weaker than Aoto ever thought.
That was what she had just directly told him. No matter how much Aoto tried to insist on the issue from that point on, he thought it would have no effect beyond worsening her mood.
“...Well, sorry to say it, but both Rikka and I feel the same. Honestly, this hasn't been fun to watch for me at all”
Gengai and Rikka felt the same way about how Aoto and Akane got a VIP from another Tower involved without even consulting with them beforehand. If the other leaders came to think they didn't have any real authority, they would lose their positions as leaders themselves.
“Aoto, I know very well how you're always thinking about everyone's safety, but try to think too about how many problems we're having”
“...I'm sorry, Mr. Gengai”
“There's no need to apologize... But well, there's nothing we can do 'bout it now. Try to remember that. And well, see ya later”
And saying this, Gengai left the room too.
Only Akane and Aoto remained inside.
Aoto looked at Akane and smiled emptily.
“I give up... I knew it wasn't gonna be easy, but I didn't think they'd go as far as calling me worthless...”
“Please cheer up, Sir Aoto. I imagined the situation would take such a turn from the beginning, but we still did so because we need the cooperation of Lady Sasha and Lady Cocona”
“Yeah, you might be right about it...”
Aoto still believed they hadn't done anything wrong. Yet still he could feel an unpleasant gloomy feeling building up inside him, which manifested as a complicated expression in his face.
Akane was feeling the same as Aoto, so she forced a smile and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“We will not be able to reach a solution if the situation continues like this. Anyway, we must report this to Lady Tilia and Lady Harvestasha: that neither of them has any intention to commence the evacuation”
Upon leaving the meeting room Aoto and Akane headed to a room that was located next to the Harvestasha Module.
Said room was actually one that had been prepared to lodge VIPs from other Towers, or in other words, Cloche and her guests.
Aoto stood in front of the metallic door and pressed the buzzer for a second.
They heard some heavy footsteps approaching from the other side of the door and the lock being removed the next instant. The door automatically opened by sliding to the side.
“Welcome back, Aoto and Lady Akane”
The person who greeted them was a man covered in white armor.
He was initially smiling, but upon seeing the expressions Aoto and Akane had on their faces, he frowned.
“From your expressions, I guess the meeting didn't go well”
He had struck the nail straight on the head.
Unlike Aoto, who just hung his head as if saying “I give up”, Akane stepped forward.
“To be more precise... I wouldn't say that the meeting we held could actually be classified as a conversation in any way. In any case, we must report this at once. Lord Radolf, is Lady Tilia here?”
“Oh, excuse me. This isn't really the place to be talking, right? Lady Tilia is enjoying the tea time right now, so please go in”
So the man, Radolf stepped aside from the door and invited them to go into the room.
After walking through a short corridor, they found themselves in a very wide room.
Everything in the room seemed to have been prepared to accommodate three people: there was a table with three chairs, two sofas for three people placed in a way that faced each other, and three double-size beds at the innermost part of it. There were also other pieces of very detailed furniture placed around, but the room was wide enough for it to not feel cramped despite holding so many things in it.
They saw a lone girl sitting in a sofa at the center of the room that was placed with the back pointing to entrance.
“We're back, Tilia”
Aoto said to get the attention of the girl: Tilia.
The sofa's back was so high they could barely see Tilia's head, but she slightly moved in response to Aoto's voice.
While she seemed to have turned around, anyone who was in Aoto's position was unable to see Tilia's face due to the sofa's back.
Upon noticing it, Tilia turned around to go back to her original position.
“Welcome back, you both. Did you have fun?”
It seemed she wasn't in the mood for standing up and turning around.
“It wasn't fun... It seriously was awful”
Aoto walked over to the sofa that was right in front of her and plopped himself down on it.
As the sofa was so soft, he sank into it more than he expected and his expression instantly became stiff.
And while he did all this, Tilia was sitting right in front with her eyes fixed on him.
She had a piece of agepan in her hands, but she had stopped while she was on the way to giving it a bite,
“If I had taken a bite from this agepan, it'd be a disaster. The soybean flour on it would have burst out and fallen all over like diamond dust”
“...Wouldn't you be fine if you bit it? The flour isn't really gonna burst like that”
“People who laugh at others' failures are the worst... Boohooboo”
She made it look like she had purposely put one hand on her chin and was feigning laughter.
While he wanted to say something back at her, it was clear that anything he said would only embarrass himself further.
So he finally decided to ignore Tilia and sit back down in silence.
But Aoto thought something when he saw Tilia sitting there.
“...No matter how much I see her, she doesn't look anything like someone who's about to die”
The Tilia he had before him and the Tilia who was the Tower were both the same person.
Strictly speaking, the Tilia that was eating agepan before him was actually no more than a holography: a projection of the spiritual self of the Tilia who was the Tower.
Since Tilia lacked a body that would allow her to freely move as she pleased from the day she became the Tower, it was in this way that she could continue making it seem she lived as if she had an actual body. And despite being a holography, this version of Tilia could actually do things like touching other people and eating.
It was thanks to this that Tilia could enjoy the agepan she loved so much now.
Akane took a look around the room.
Before they went to the meeting room, she was sure there had been other two people in this place aside of Radolf and Tilia, but she didn't see them anywhere.
“Where have Lady Aurica and Lady Cocona gone to?”
“Oh, if you are worried about Sasha and Aurica, be at ease. They went out to buy more agepan for Lady Tilia, and they should be returning anytime now...”
And no sooner he said this; the door's buzzer rang again.
“And speak of the devil, huh?”
Radolf went again to unlock the door.
After seeing him go and waiting for a few more seconds, Aoto and the others saw how Aurica and Cocona entered the room carrying several paper bags in their arms.
“We're back! We've bought you the agepan, Lady Tilia!”
Aurica went and placed the paper bags she was carrying in front of Tilia.
She dropped off three bags, but from their size and roundness anyone would have noticed they had actually placed other three bags inside each one.
“Thanks Aurica. But don't you think you bought too many?”
Apparently, so much agepan was excessive even for Tilia, who was an agepan lover herself.
But it wasn't just these three, as Cocona was also carrying other two bags.
There were five bags, but in total these would have held in at minimum 15 agepan pieces. They really had bought too many.
But Aurica didn't really mind this, and filled with confidence and satisfaction, she began opening the bags and showing off their contents.
“It's fine! I've brought you agepan of all the flavors they had! This one's sugar-flavored, this other one is cocoa, that there tastes like greens, and the ones Cocona's carrying are cinnamon and soybean flour!”
She puffed her chest proudly while humming.
It might be true they were all different flavors, but still they were too many.
While she was glad to have so many different kinds, Tilia ended up troubled about how she'd manage to eat them all.
And while she was pondering about this, Cocona went and dropped off her bags at her side.
“Since you're both here, that means you already had the meeting with Rikka and Mr. Gengai, right? Did it go well?”
Having Cocona ask him about it was what had been making him so uneasy.
But Cocona could imagine very well what the result was from how he was behaving without having to ask.
“Yeah, we gotta tell you about it. But I don't really think we could really call that having a discussion...”
Remembering Rikka's words caused Aoto's heart to sink down.
Unable to just stand around and watch how Aoto was, Akane decided to continue where he left off.
“I shall take care of explaining. It should not take long, but even so, please take a seat”
“I see... So both Archia and the Great Fang said they don't care about the evacuation, huh?”
Tilia said in an indifferent voice after listening to Akane's report.
“Indeed. After the incident that took place two years prior, it seems no one will listen to them even if they bring the topic evacuation up again”
“Well, that's to be expected. Or so I'd like to say, but I knew this was going to happen from the start”
After the Tower didn't disappear two years ago, Tilia issued this warning once she knew that the people had started returning to the Third Tower:
“It's true the estimated date has gone by and the Tower hasn't disappeared yet, but its unstable condition still remains. We don't know when the risk of the Tower disappearing will come again, so you'd do better to never go back to it”
It was a fact that she didn't have much time left, which was why she ought to warn the people who had returned that they should flee as soon as possible.
However, it was clear they wouldn't be able to conduct a second massive evacuation in the same smooth way the first one was carried out.
While she thought this would happen while she issued the warning, the people decided instead to ignore her and go back to the Third Tower anyway.
“However, this is troubling. To think they are ignoring the words of Lady Tilia, who is both the Tower herself and a Goddess”
This wasn't amusing in the slightest to Radolf.
He initially worshipped the three Tower Administrators as Goddesses because he was the current Bishop to the Church of El Elemia.
However, the Church didn't exist in Sol Cluster: it was an organization that existed exclusively in Sol Ciel or in other words, in the First Tower of Ar tonelico.
From their viewpoint, Tilia might have been a Goddess, but since the people of Sol Cluster didn't believe in any Gods, Tilia wasn't such a divine being in their eyes.
They still respected her as the Administrator of their Tower and as an important person though.
“But Archia and the Great Fang aren't inside the Tower, right? That means nothing should happen to them like the mayor and the leader said, no?”
Aurica was trying to confirm what Rikka and Gengai had said: that since they weren't inside the Tower, it seemed there was no need to worry. That if Archia and the Great Fang wouldn't disappear even if the Tower did, they could still escape if they started having difficulties after the Tower actually disappeared even if they didn't make it in time.
Tilia answered her question,
“It's true that neither Archia nor the Great Fang will disappear even if the Tower disappears. However, Archia was built and the people started residing in the Great Fang after the Tower was created. That's why we can't accurately predict the damage they both will suffer once the Tower disappears”
Tilia said this because she only had full knowledge of what happened in her own body: in the Tower itself.
By nature, she didn't have any reasons to worry about Archia and the Great Fang since they weren't located inside the Tower.
However, it was out of mere gentleness that she thought about what could happen to both areas after her Tower disappeared and thus also directed her warnings to the people in them.
“But they're saying that if they don't live inside the Tower, it's no problem, right? In that case, there's nothing else I can do. After all, I'm the Tower Administrator. I can't administrate what happens outside it”
She wasn't saying this because she was angry at the people for ignoring her warnings.
She was just giving the greatest respect she could muster to the claims Rikka and Gengai were making.
It seemed that what they said was right, and it seemed like a reasonable argument now Tilia was saying it.
So maybe they should agree to just leave them alone then.
“Well, I don't have a good understanding of the situation since I don't live here, but can I think of Archia as it being a country existing on the Tower's outer walls? Since when looked from the outside, it seems as if it was clinging to the Tower”
Tilia separated the agepan from her mouth in response to Radolf's question,
“It's true it's connected to the Tower, so you can get inside the Tower walking from it. So the only thing that should happen is that the road to the Tower would end up being cut-off and turning into a dead-end... Maybe”
And finishing her reply with that single worrying word, she returned to her task of gnawing at the agepan.
“...But you said “maybe” because you think some kinda problem could happen, right?”
Tilia just shrugged in response to Cocona's question.
She was pretty much saying “I don't know”.
“If that happens, the only thing we'll be able to do is trust in Sasha and the others”
“That reminds me... Lady Cocona, have you not gone to see how Lady Sasha and her companions were doing?”
A little further next to the room they were in there was the Harvestasha Module.
In it, there were three people talking to each other: Harvestasha, Sasha and Katena, who worked as the factory chief over at the Moebius Factory located in the Great Fang.
They were seeking a way to minimize the damage the Tower's destruction would cause to the people as much as possible.
And in order to do that, they had spent many days and nights having heated arguments.
“They say they've seen a possible course of action, but looks like they still haven't reached an actual answer”
“Yeah... We'd like to help too if could, but looks like it's impossible at this stage”
“But it'd be better that we forgot about going in there. Sasha's gone to the point of having her hands on her head”
Sasha was a reliable young genius of the type whose number could be counted in one hand in Ar Ciel.
But as far as the current situation was concerned, it seemed even her couldn't actually find a way to help the people in this place.
“But they've really come to see a course of action?”
“Yeah. Looks like the most reliable way is actually making the people evacuate, and that they're searching for a way to buy us enough time for that”
“So there isn't really another way... Well, even if they buy us time, I don't know if we'll be able to make everyone evacuate”
“Besides, they still haven't actually found the way, that's why I said they're still looking for one. And if anything happened to the Tower and everyone panicked, we wouldn't be able to make them all evacuate at once”
“We have a limited number of airships available right now, after all”
The airships would be essential for the evacuation.
Since the Sea of Death had covered the entirety of the planet's surface until five years ago, the people were forced to reside in places located at high altitudes.
Coming and going between Clusternia and Archia in foot was possible, despite being very time-consuming.
But when it was about going to the Great Fang, to the surface or to the other Towers, it was impossible doing so without an airship.
“Huh? But we saw lotsa airships when we got here, right? There were so many anchored they couldn't get any more to enter the airport”
Aurica was remembering how Archia looked from the airship that brought her to Clusternia.
Archia was after all the city with the largest airport in Sol Cluster.
Yet there still was a long line of airships there waiting for their turn to be allowed entrance into the airport.
As Clusternia was located far above Archia, she could see not only the airport, but the entirety of the city from it.
It was bustling and overflowing with people everywhere, as if there was a festival in the city.
“It's because the V-Board Grand Prix is gonna be starting soon, so people from the Great Fang and Clusternia are gathering there to go watch it”
Cocona actually wanted to take part in it too, but in the end she just looked at her own board, which was leaning against one of the room's walls, and she muttered regretfully.
“Besides, Archia has always been a very crowded city. Even if there were enough airships to overcrowd the airport, they still wouldn't be enough”
“Whoa”, muttered Aurica in admiration.
“If that's the case, we might be better off hurrying up and making our own airships once Sasha and the others manage to get us more time before the Tower disappears”
Akane lowered her head apologetically in response to Radolf's words.
“I apologize. This is a problem that by nature we, the people of Sol Cluster should solve by ourselves”
“No, don't worry about it. And if you have to lower your head for anyone, it shouldn't be for me: rather, it should be for Ayano, the Tenba President. After all, they mainly funnel their technologies and staff into the airship construction business”
Constructing airships was actually one of the hidden plans that Aoto and the others had prepared.
Even if they could convince the people to evacuate, the airships they had available at that time wouldn't be enough to save everyone.
So what they should do to have enough airships?
Naturally, the answer was that they had no other choice but to build new ones.
And not only that: normal airships wouldn't cut it, as they would need especially large airships that could transport large crowds of people at once.
However, there was no one in the current Sol Cluster who had thought of building such kinds of airships.
After all, no one was thinking about evacuating either.
It was then that it was suggested to ask a company from Sol Ciel: Tenba, to build these airships instead.
Once Tenba learned about the crisis on the Third Tower, they dispatched a skilled engineer team led by their technological advisor, Krusche to the Third Tower.
At the same time, the Church dispatched several of their technicians to help with the effort, which joined forces with the staff sent by Tenba, settled in the surface a little away from the Third Tower and started making airships in case an emergency presented itself.
Incidentally, both Aurica and Radolf were staying at Clusternia for two purposes: one was receiving the reports from the staff working in the construction of the airships, and the second one was looking after Tilia and keeping her company given that death was so close for her.
“Um, Mr. Radolf. Are you gonna get any reports on how Krusche and her guys are doing?”
“Hmm? Are you worried, Aoto? Be at ease, as I can guarantee there's no one better at building airships than Krusche”
“I'm not worried about her skill. There's just one other thing that's bugging me”
They couldn't count on either Rikka or Gengai helping them.
Even the salvation proposals Sasha and the others were working on were no more than a course of action: the method they would actually use was still unknown.
So given this, Aoto at least wanted to hear that the construction of the airships was proceeding smoothly.
That at least that was going well, as he only wanted to get a single, small piece of good news.
“Got it. In any case, it seems that Miss Sasha and the others have decided on a course of action and were planning to inform us of it. Once they do, I'll go and ask on how much they've progressed on the airships”
“Please do it... Honestly, I'm afraid we won't have enough airships for everyone even if they get us more time”
“That's why they should've listened to me and gone find a second life in the other Towers instead of coming back here”
Tilia had already finished the agepan in one of the bags and was now sticking her hand into the next one.
Chapter 3: The V-Board Grand Prix
The day a V-Board Grand Prix was held, the entirety of Archia was covered in a crazy enthusiasm from sunrise to sundown.
The people who had bought their tickets for the event in advance made lines to enter the stadium and slowly disappeared into it.
At their side, the place was filled with people who couldn't buy the tickets, and there were people who screamed they would be willing to buy them at double, even ten times their original price.
However, it wasn't like they couldn't watch this V-Board Grand Prix if they didn't get to enter the stadium.
As it was a national event, people could watch it being broadcast live either through their personal telemos or through the large monitors that were installed around the public areas throughout Archia.
“Oh my, to think they would be even willing to buy the tickets for ten times their asking price just to watch the event... With this I can understand the popularity level the V-Board races enjoy”
Said Cloche as she walked next to the line for entering the stadium.
Rikka was walking at her side and smiled upon hearing Cloche's words.
“It's because V-Board racing has quite the massive appeal, as it's a sport everyone: men and women, young and old enjoys greatly. Excuse me for my rudeness, but you have never seen a V-Board race before, correct? Lady Cloche?”
“I have quite a few times... But perhaps it would be more proper to say I have only seen V-Boards being used in special ways, as I only saw Cocona using one as a weapon while she faced off against a new recruit during the training sessions for the Grand Bell Knights Corps”
“...It seems that girl is spreading a wrong way to use the V-Boards, huh?”
V-Boards are vehicles similar to surfboards that float above the ground, which are capable of flight thanks to the propulsive power provided by the DW-Engine attached to the back of the board.
Given the great speeds the boards can reach, it's necessary to have a minimum level of skill to not fall and get seriously injured, and it's feared that in the worst causes it could result in death.
However, that was the reason it was so exciting for the people.
It was a sport that gave many thrills, which is why people gave in to wild enthusiasm and delirium whenever they watched a race.
Only those who had mastered the control of the V-Boards and could handle them expertly were allowed to participate in the Grand Prix.
Rikka led Cloche to the backdoor, which they used to enter the stadium.
Beyond a short dark corridor, they could see an entrance that was exclusively reserved for staff members.
However, Cloche and Rikka didn't just stop there, as they approached a flight of stairs that were midway through in the corridor and walked them up.
“Please, excuse me. We don't have elevators here”
She noticed how Cloche had started gasping, so Rikka stopped walking without realizing it.
“No, it's fine. This is far preferable to having to line up for who knows many hours, like the people we saw outside”
“That's true. Well, we have arrived. Please go inside”
After the stairs, there was a small private room.
It was actually an observation pavilion that allowed seeing from above the entirety of the stadium.
The stadium was built in one of the edges of Archia City, so unlike the rest of the city there wasn't anything that could mitigate the strong winds.
However, this observation pavilion was made for VIPs like Cloche and special guests, so it had a roof and was surrounded by walls made from tempered glass to protect its occupants from the wind and rain.
Additionally, the chairs in it weren't the hard chairs the normal spectators used: they were luxurious ones that even had a reclining function.
“...Wouldn't such things be unnecessary for watching the Grand Prix?”
While she still had that question roaming inside her mind, Cloche sat down on one of the chairs and looked down on the stadium that spread below her eyes.
It had a completely circular shape.
And in its center, there was a course built especially for allowing the V-Boards to fly through it.
At the very center of the stadium, there was a line marked that served as the Start and Goal marker.
The course then extended from it, over the spectators' chairs and out of the stadium itself.
It extended freely throughout the stadium, to next extend outside of its perimeters to finally go back and connect back to the Start line that was located in the stadium's heart.
“I have seen the course extends as far as outside the stadium, but would that not pose any problems? If anyone fell away from their board, would they not precipitate head-first to the surface?”
“Maybe you haven't seen them because they are transparent, but we have installed walls and ceilings so the racers won't fall off from the course. When Cocona participated in the Grand Prix from five years ago as Tatsumi, she broke one of the walls and got herself out from the course, so we ended replacing them with even stronger walls. So please don't worry too much about it”
In simpler terms, the racers would run through the transparent tubes that extended throughout the whole course.
Upon hearing this, Cloche agreed with Rikka.
If anyone looked down at the surface from Archia, it would be impossible to know what was down there with the naked eye.
Therefore, if anyone fell down to the surface, they would die for sure.
...But well, it's not like she didn't understand how liking such thrills must feel.
The same went for the observation pavilion.
There were no walls that could prevent a fall to the surface in this stadium.
So the course through which the V-Boards would run continued extending away from it, and the possibility the course made from the walls that went beyond the stadium's perimeter would become invisible to the racers was also taken in account.
Of course, the course was made in a specific way to avoid this, but just in case anything that happened; they also installed railings in replacement of the walls.
The railings were placed at the same average height an adult man would have and were installed in a way they covered the entirety of the course.
“But wouldn't there be people who end up riding on the railings upon getting overexcited?”
“Sometimes that happens, but we have placed defenses all over, so it'll be fine. Besides, no one among the racers would do something like that. They would fall to the surface if they slipped and went off the railings”
As far as they could see, the chairs that were installed in the large stadium were all occupied.
It was filled to the point several spectators had to be standing around, yet there were still people coming in.
And then, they heard someone walking up the stairs leading to the observation pavilion.
“Rikka, it's almost the time for the inauguration ceremony to start. The rest of the staff is waiting for you, so please hurry”
It was a man's voice.
Though she hadn’t heard it ever since she came to Archia, Cloche still remembered whose voice it was.
Without turning around, she spoke to the man who had just entered the pavilion.
“So you have come as well, huh?”
She heard the voice quivering and saying “Huh?” in surprise. Cloche stood up from her chair and turned around to face the man.
“Greetings, Doctor Hikari Gojo”
“L-Lady Cloche! I apologize for not noticing your presence...”
“No, don't mind me”
She swung her hand to stop him from lowering his head.
“More importantly, have you come to call Rikka?”
“Ah, that's right. Rikka, please hurry. We can't start the event as long as you're not present there”
“Okay, I know”
And having said this, Rikka clung to one of Hikari Gojo's arms and pulled him in.
“H-Hey! We shouldn't do this in front of Lady Cloche!”
But Rikka didn't pay any mind to him and instead was rubbing her cheeks on his arm.
“Huhuhu, I'll be doing some difficult work now, so I need a dose of my energy supplement!”
“Okay! Supplement taken! Well Lady Cloche, I'll get the ceremony done in a moment, so please relax in the meantime. It'd be terrible if I made you wait too!”
Rikka swiftly kissed one of Hikari Gojo's cheeks and left the observation pavilion.
But Rikka was already running down the stairs while he said that.
“Geez”, whispered Hikari Gojo as he turned in Cloche's direction.
While this was natural between him and Rikka, Cloche had just seen it happen from start to end.
He did as if he was adjusting his glasses to hide the blush that had appeared on his face and sat down in the now empty chair.
“...I'm not sure how to excuse myself... We have acted so unsightly in your presence...”
“Not at all. I think anyone would smile upon seeing such a happily married couple like you two are”
“No, well... *cough* *cough*”
Unable to find a reply, he began feigning to clear his throat.
Cloche put a hand next to her chin and made a little smile appear on her lips while she looked at how flustered Hikari Gojo was.
“Well, I will stop making fun of you. Both you and Mayor Rikka are my seniors after all”
And saying this, she went back to looking at the stadium.
At some point the lines that continued beyond the stadium's walls had disappeared, so all the spectators had already managed to secure themselves a seat.
She then saw Rikka walking with a microphone in her hand above the course in the stadium's center.
She glanced around 360 degrees to see all the spectators that could fit within her field of vision and softly drew the microphone next to her mouth.
“To all our spectators gathered in this stadium, sorry to have made you wait for so long. I now declare the V-Board Grand Prix, sponsored by the Archia Corporachy, open!”
As soon as Rikka's words echoed through the speakers, the entire stadium erupted in applause.
Having so many spectators cheering at the same time made such a clamor that it even caused even the glass windows placed in the observation pavilion to vibrate.
“This is incredible. They really are looking forward to the event beginning”
“There are few people that are as skilled as Cocona, but all the racers here are top-class ones”
Cloche got reminded of something upon hearing Cocona's name.
“Now you mention it, I heard that Cocona and Sasha got injured the first time they came to this land. If I'm not mistaken, you are the one who tended to their wounds, Doctor”
“Ah, that brings back so many memories... It's been seven years already of that”
“It might be quite belated, but I still wish to express my gratitude to you. They both are very precious friends to me, you see”
“Please, don't mention it. I just did what any physician would have done...”
“I heard these were life-threatening wounds as well. I'm thankful from the bottom of my heart to you for being the wonderful physician who treated them”
“Oh please, I'm not wonderful or anything... And if you say that, wouldn't you be the same, Lady Cloche?”
Cloche had a rough idea of what Hikari Gojo meant.
However, she feigned that she didn't know what his words meant.
“Oh my, I do not remember anyone having ever used such words to refer to me!”
“Don't you think that giving us an immediate reply to our request for accepting our people as refugees qualifies as wonderful? Besides, you also agreed to come all the way from Metafalica to our land”
Her interest on how much he had realized her act gushed forth.
Cloche turned in Hikari Gojo's direction, expectant to hear the rest.
“And when Sasha and the others were called here, and you learned about how the danger of our Tower disappearing would be resurfacing, you were worried about us, correct? We still haven't sent out a refugee acceptance request, neither does anyone actually want to evacuate. But despite that, didn't you come actually because you wanted to know what our current conditions were?”
“...So you thought it was that, Doctor?”
“Oh? Was I mistaken?”
Not even a trace of confusion could be felt from the reply Hikari Gojo gave her.
It was because he was sure he wasn't mistaken.
Cloche looked at him and sighed as if she was admitting defeat.
“No, it is just as you have said. I was worried because I heard several months ago that Tilia had advised everybody to leave the Tower, yet no one was willing to do so. Other people might think I'm meddling into the affairs of other regions, yet I was so worried I decided I had to go and personally check the situation”
Cloche added an “I was found out, didn't I?”, and Hikari Gojo showed her a brief smile in return.
“How did you react to the warning this time around, Doctor? Do you think the Tower will not disappear, just like everybody else?”
“Who knows? But honestly speaking, I haven't decided yet what I'll do. But since Tilia is the Tower herself and she's the one saying that it's going to disappear, I think we should do as she says... But as things stand right now, unfortunately we have no persuasiveness for convincing everyone else”
Cloche shook her head in response.
“No, I have come to understand your true feelings from your words. There is also a reason why evacuation is simply not possible for you at the moment, correct?”
Cloche returned her gaze to the stadium: the inauguration speech was concluding at the middle of the course and Rikka was now introducing each one of the racers.
She was now a pitiful mayor that had lost the entirety of the trust the people had in her due to the disastrous evacuation attempt from two years ago.
There wasn't even a single voice that rose from the stadium to cheer for her every time she spoke.
The large mass of spectators that had come to enjoy the Grand Prix was only raising its voice out of joy for the event's inauguration.
They surely weren't seeing Rikka as their mayor, but just as a mere facilitator.
And naturally, Rikka was fully aware of it for sure.
“That is because you do not wish to leave Mayor Rikka by herself, correct?”
“...Yes, that's it. I said it'd for the best we evacuated, but she didn't want to listen to me. She says we can't just escape and leave the Archia residents behind”
He added “It's troubling”, but Hikari Gojo had a very proud look on his face as he saw how Rikka was leaving the course.
...Cloche thought “She isn't the sort of leader that abandons her people and runs away”.
And upon having that thought, the face of the man that served as the Grand Bell's leader before her appeared on her mind.
While his abilities for politics were far superior, the consideration Rikka showed for her people made her far better than him according to Cloche.
“Does Mayor Rikka agree with the evacuation?”
Since she wasn't capable of escaping and leaving behind her people, it wouldn't be mistaken to think she wanted to escape regardless.
That was what Cloche thought, but Hikari Gojo's reply was:
“I don't know. I have never talked with her about it... But well, she should know this isn't a situation we can be optimistic about, so now she is...”
“Lacking completely the reliance from the people she needs to make them listen... It must be frustrating”
Cloche herself had also incurred in the animosity of many of her citizens during the process for crafting Metafalica.
That was why she was capable of understanding the complex mix of suffering, regret and anger Rikka was feeling at the moment as if she was feeling them herself.
They then heard steps going up the stairs located behind them.
Noticing it, Hikari Gojo slightly lowered his voice's tone:
“Rikka holds you in great esteem as a fellow leader. So please, become her strength now she needs it the most”
He quickly said.
“She should listen to anything you say. While I don't think she'll be willing to respond right away, she should surely listen to anything Lady Cloche tells her”
“...I came not intending to say anything, as I fear she would consider it as an intervention”
“But if you truly feared that, you wouldn't have come to Archia. Am I right?” Besides, there are more important matters to worry about than an intervention, so maybe you would be thinking that you wanted to tell her something and...”
But Hikari Gojo stopped talking before Cloche could have answered him.
A few seconds later Rikka had finished climbing the stairs and entered the observation pavilion.
“I'm back! Sorry to have made you wait for so long, darling!”
Rikka sat down next to Hikari Gojo and sweetly snuggled up to him.
“Restrain yourself a little, Rikka! We shouldn't do this in front of Lady Cloche!”
“It's normal for a couple to get along so well, right? Besides, I don't want to ever leave your side again!”
“B-But... *sigh* You really have no remedy, you know?”
Hikari Gojo softly caressed Rikka's face, which was snuggled so closely to him.
Upon seeing them be so lovey-dovey, Cloche felt as if her chest was tightening.
She thought “...She must have felt very scared
Of the people gathered in this stadium, and while it wasn't all of them, the great majority didn't have a good impression about Rikka.
Rising up against them and trying to discuss matters with them would be impossible with superficial feelings.
...Only two things still continue supporting her: these are her sense of duty as mayor, and Doctor Hikari Gojo's existence.
While they might seem to be overly sweet toward each other, Rikka must actually be getting peace and comfort from snuggling with Hikari Gojo.
She felt very anxious when she stood in front of all those people that held enmity toward her.
And while she knew it would be impossible to drown these feelings out, she was doing this to be able to mitigate them a little.
Rikka was frantically doing everything she could even within this difficult situation.”
That was why Cloche hadn't spoken with her about anything related to evacuating the people: so she wouldn't cause Rikka even more pain.
“...I’m not capable of doing anything that would wound her pride even more”
If Rikka had been an incompetent mayor due to laziness, Cloche would have had no hesitation in starting the talks on making the people evacuate.
But Rikka was actually doing the best she could.
So having seen this, Cloche couldn't just come from Metafalica and start barking out orders as if she owned the place.
Still, it was apparent that Rikka saw Cloche in a very high esteem, just like Hikari Gojo said.
If that was the case, she could be able to help Rikka for as long as she was in Sol Cluster.
While it wouldn't be to the same extent Hikari Gojo did, if she were able to support Rikka, no matter how slightly, she would watch over her as much as she could.
That might have been the best way Cloche had to show her respect for Rikka, who was trying to carry out her responsibilities as a mayor despite being so inexperienced at politics.
“Ah, Lady Cloche! It's starting!”
Rikka's voice brought Cloche back to reality.
When she looked at the course, she saw how the racers were standing-by above it, with a foot above their V-Boards as they floated over the start line.
The start signal had his lights lit up in red.
The racers rose their other foot from the course and into their boards.
The lamps changed color to yellow.
And finally, they turned blue.
Instantly, the row of racers ignited the DW-Engines on their V-Boards.
And at the same time they departed, the stadium exploded in cheers.
The windows in the observation pavilion vibrated even more intensely than the previous time, to the point that Cloche reflexively worried that they would break.
However, the racers that were sprinting through the course vanished from her sight in a moment.
The V-Boards had reached instantly their highest speeds due to the rocket start, yet the racers still were forming the same row they did at the starting line.
However, one of the racers crouched slightly, reducing his air resistance and allowing him to get a little ahead from the row.
This was done to throw in disarray the other competitors he had running behind, so several reduced their speed fearing they could crash into each other.
But there were also other racers that didn't fear this, which allowed them to gain advantage over the ones that had slowed down.
The DW-Engines roared louder, flying before them.
The racers in the back flied doing all sorts of things, increasing their speed to follow the ones on the lead.
At the least, that was how Cloche and the others saw them.
The V-Boards weren't actually flying or anything, they were just running above the transparent walls that were made to prevent falls.
By running over parts that were made with a tube-like shape and at the same time over the walls, they could use their smooth slopes to gain speed.
That was all there was to it, but since neither the spectators nor the racers could see these transparent walls, it looked as if they were flying through the sky.
The excitement in the stadium increased to the point even Cloche spontaneously grabbed tightly the armrests on her chair.
“...If we held such an event in Metafalica too, there is the possibility it could greatly cause excitation on the people.”
Before she noticed, she was leaning forward gazing at the race as if she was completely focused on it.
However, a crack suddenly appeared within her sight.
She thought it could have been something from her imagination and she rubbed her eyes, but the crack was still there when she opened them again.
Naturally, it was an actual crack that had formed in the glass windows in front of her.
“...Impossible... That clamor really caused the windows to crack?”
Cloche also had a very uncomfortable feeling that neither Rikka, Hikari Gojo or anyone else in the stadium had noticed.
It was shaking.
While it was very weakly, the entire pavilion was shaking.
A very bad feeling formed itself inside Cloche's mind.
Meanwhile, Tilia was having a very belated breakfast in a Clusternian restaurant, but she dropped the fork she had rolled up with meat spaghetti.
Aurica was eating with her, and she hurriedly stood up from her seat and went to pick up the fallen fork.
“Are you okay, Lady Tilia? I've got a spare fork here--”
“Call Akane and Aoto here at once”
Said Tilia interrupting Aurica.
“O-Okay... But why?”
She asked as she placed her hands a few centimeters below her chest,
“...I've... started disappearing...”
She muttered in a sad voice.
A violent shaking struck the entirety of Archia out of nowhere.
It wasn't an earthquake, as Archia was floating in the air and thus it was impossible for it to suffer earthquakes.
But still, Archia was shaking.
“W-What is this!?”
Said Hikari Gojo as he embraced Rikka at his side and both lay on the floor.
“Lady Cloche, please take cover!”
Screamed Rikka while Hikari Gojo covered her.
But Cloche stayed on her seat, immobile.
It wasn't because she couldn't move.
It was because it would be impossible for them grasp the situation and decide what to do if she took cover.
The shaking was nearly intense enough to make standing impossible, but it was still possible to remain seated.
And right as she thought that, screams began echoing through Archia City.
Then a sound similar to a gigantic flying dragon’s roar was heard, so Cloche looked at the sky but didn't see anything like that in there.
But as she did, it seemed she was going to fall down to the right.
She grabbed tightly to the armrest at her left, which allowed her to keep her balance.
“...Could the pavilion have slanted due to the shaking?”
And as she looked through the window while still withstanding the slanting, she soon understood how wrong she was.
The spectators gathered in the stadium were going through the same experience Cloche had.
Some were laying on the ground, while others were clinging either to their chairs' bottoms or the small protrusions on them.
However, there also was a large number of people who had nothing they could grab onto.
“...No... This cannot be happening...”
But as her eyes continued diving into that sight, her words were cut short.
Rikka and Hikari Gojo managed somehow to stand again before Cloche's shaken self, and they looked through the window while still clinging to their chairs.
Rikka couldn't believe her eyes when she saw what was happening outside.
“...What...? How... could this happen!?”
The people who couldn't hold onto anything were slipping off in direction to the railings that circled around the stadium.
They frantically extended their hands trying to grab onto something as they moved, to the point some would even try to sink their nails in the tilted ground to stop their slide.
However, most of the people that had started sliding off couldn't just stop their movement.
So there were two possible results: they either would get exhausted from grabbing and accidentally striking the railings with so much force, or they would slip away and get dumped into what was beyond the railings: the empty sky.
The ones who were dumped into the sky continued frantically extending their hands trying to find something to hold onto, but they could only fall down to the surface that extended below them while they struggled in mid-air.
They were sliding off to their deaths.
It was a sight that just couldn't be described.
And the same went for the racers that were running through the course.
The course got broken and the racers all got dumped into the sky outside it.
The ones that could react immediately reversed their V-Boards' engines to put them at full power, which allowed them to fly off and descend safely on the stadium.
But the same couldn't be said for those who couldn't react: their boards flew away from them as they started falling and they disappeared into the surface unable to do anything.
“Impossible...That something...like this...”
Hikari Gojo couldn't withstand seeing this any longer and he squatted, grabbing his head between his hands.
Rikka was feeling exactly the same.
A tragedy beyond her imagination was now happening before her eyes, and she had sunk into the floor to the point where she couldn't even get her legs to move.
But upon noticing how she was, Cloche went to Rikka's side and helped her stand.
“Pull yourself together, Rikka!”
Said Cloche in an admonishing voice.
They were close enough for their noses to touch each other, and Cloche gave Rikka enough impulse for her to stand.
Broken down as she was, Rikka's knees got firm again as she put strength into them as if she were defying the slanted floor, and standing up, she fearfully looked out to see what was happening in the stadium.
Her sight was thrust once again into the scene of the people who helplessly were being flung out from Archia.
What she heard now weren't the cheers that had filled the stadium before: they were now screams of terror.
And that wasn't all: she could also hear the roar-like sound they had heard previously.
However, she could now understand what was causing this sound, which at the same time allowed her to grasp Archia's current state.
“...The entirety of Archia is slanting...”
The roar was because the central part that supported Archia's structures was getting disconnected from the city due to the burden caused by the slant.
If the situation continued like this, the stadium wouldn't be able to continue shouldering the weight and it possibly could even end up falling down to the surface due to its position in one of Archia's edges.
However, even walking was an impossibility as things were now, let alone escaping.
No, even if it was possible to walk away, it would be extremely dangerous.
All because it was very possible they would meet the same end as the people that got thrust into the sky before they could escape.
Cloche suddenly screamed.
Wondering what could have caused that, Rikka turned in the same direction Cloche was facing.
There they saw a child slipping down as if he was tumbling around through the now slanted stadium, crying while he tried to hold onto something desperately.
And behind that child, they saw a woman sliding behind him.
Maybe it was his mother or older sister... But regardless, the woman screamed and extended her hands to the child while she followed him.
But before the woman could grab him, the child crashed into one of the railings and was thrown up from the impact.
Rikka screamed in vain, as the child's body had already been thrown out from the railings.
But before he started falling, the woman managed to reach the railings and extended a hand to him.
Rikka and Cloche's feelings could reach them.
The woman managed to grab one of the child's hands right in the last moment and began pulling him into the railings at once.
Upon seeing how they gladly embraced each other on top of the railings, safe and sound, Cloche and Rikka felt relieved too.
However, they weren't the only ones that were in danger
They looked out again to see the conditions in the stadium. It seemed no one else was falling now.
But in any case, the situation still hadn't changed: no one was capable of moving as things were at the moment.
“We must get everyone to a safe place somehow”
Upon hearing Cloche's words, Rikka began trying to think of a way to do so.
Even if they tried to move everyone to a safer place, they wouldn't be able to do anything from where they were.
First they needed to get out and then they would search for a way to help all the spectators that were trapped escape safely.
It seemed it was impossible to do that in such a desperate situation.
“...No, there has to be something. Absolutely there has to be something we can do..!”
And once again, Archia roared and began shaking even more intensely.
Was it slanting again?
Cloche and Rikka took cover by lying on the ground and waited briefly.
However, that roaring wasn't caused due to the slanting.
It was because Archia had started returning to its original angle.
And once it returned to its original position, the shaking finally stopped.
“...Looks like we will be fine now”
Upon seeing Cloche stand up as she said it, Rikka and Hikari Gojo raised their faces.
“To think... something as absurd as Archia slanting could happen...”
Said Hikari Gojo while he stood up, still unsteady on his feet. However, Rikka still didn't stand up. It seemed that the second shaking had left her too shocked.
Not minding her, Cloche looked out to see how things were in the stadium.
No one out there dared to move because they feared the place would start slanting again.
There were also many people exhausted and bleeding.
“...What should we do to minimize the damage as much as possible?”
Cloche asked herself.
Was there a way in which she could be able to save the largest number of people possible despite how limited the actions she could take were?
“...Doctor Hikari Gojo, please go to the stadium right away to treat the wounded. We shall go back to the city hall at once!”
And acknowledging his response, Cloche went to the collapsed Rikka and pulled her by the hand to help her stand up.
“Please, let us hurry!”
“Eh!? Ah, Lady Cloche!”
After Cloche took Rikka's hand, they both left the observation pavilion and ran the stairs down as fast as possible.
Once they reached the hallway to the backdoor, they saw there wasn't even a single person around.
“Looks like this our chance. Come, let's make haste!”
Cloche was about to start running again while pulling Rikka by the hand, but she shook Cloche's hand off.
“There are many injured people in the stadium now, right? Yet you're saying we should leave them behind and go back to the city hall?”
“Wasn't that why I requested the Doctor to go and treat them?”
“But I'm telling you there are still many wounded, right? And yet you say we should be the only ones to run away to the city hall... I sorely misjudged you... I thought you were a leader that always placed the people before anything else, Lady Cloche!”
And saying this, Rikka began running in the direction of the exit that led to the stadium.
“I misjudged you as well. To me it seems like you are trying to let a large part of the Archia population die”
Upon hearing those words coming from behind, Rikka immediately stopped running.
“What!? What reasons have I given you to say that, Lady Cloche...!?”
“This isn't the only place where there are wounded, as this disaster has also affected the entire city. Yet you say you are planning to abandon its residents?”
The stadium wasn't the only place affected by the slanting, so the city was in a similar condition.
Rikka's face changed to a shocked one once she remembered this.
“Rikka, we have no time, so please listen. Within a few minutes the people will have calmed down and they will begin rushing to the exits like a stampede. Do you know what that means?”
It wasn't necessary to think before finding the answer: obviously everyone would try to be the first the escape, even if they had to push away and step on others.
It would be a full-on panic.
But despite knowing it, Cloche and Rikka would be unable to stop it as they were now.
Furthermore, they wouldn't be able to accomplish anything by staying there.
“...But then... what should I...?”
“First we will go back to the city hall. On the way there we will be able to somewhat observe the state Archia City is in, and from there we will be able to estimate the extent of the damage this whole area has suffered. We will be able to think which measures we will take from that information. After we have reached the city hall, the first order you will issue will be to send to this place as many Reyvateils to treat the wounded and troops as possible. It is inevitable, but the sight of a battalion of fully armed troops should be able to calm down the people slightly... Even though this particular method is not one I'm fond of”
Rikka thought the same thing, but she wasn't able to refute Cloche's arguments.
There were still many wounded people out there and the number would only increase once the people started panicking in an attempt to escape the stadium, which was something they two wouldn't be able to deal with on their own.
“Besides, the people in the central areas of Archia, where the city hall is located, should be paralyzed because they wouldn't know what they should do in a situation like this. That is the reason why you, the mayor must be giving them orders and make them take action”
“You might be right, but I haven't grasped the situation yet and... Kyah!”
While Rikka was talking, Cloche pulled her by the hand and started running. She couldn't continue waiting.
“Well, can you think of any other cause for this aside of the Tower having some sort of malfunction?”
Truly, it wasn't possible to think there was another possibility aside of that.
Archia was a city that floated having the Tower of Origin as its focal point, so it should have been safe regardless of what abnormalities happened in Tilia's Tower.
That's what everyone thought.
At least until the previous tremor took place.
Now Rikka had gotten outside the stadium, she had before her eyes a city that had become a complete disaster zone.
The main street that led to the stadium was buried between a large amount of ruins that had rolled down from the city's center, as well as a large number of collapsed people.
The people that were trying to help the ones that weren't moving were few in number, as most of the population was still clinging to the roadside trees and lampposts while trembling in fear that a second slant would happen.
“...What could we do to deal with this situation?”
While Cloche told her to think what kind of orders she would start issuing until the moment they returned to the city hall, the only thing that was appearing within her mind was the recurring image of Archia made into a mess.
“...What should I do?
...What should I do about this?”
Rikka couldn't do anything but ask herself these questions over and over.
However, she noticed she still had a single hope.
And said hope was right in her hands.
It was the younger girl that had her taken by the hand and that was running before her.
“Lady Cloche, what do you intend to do afterwards?”
Cloche answered immediately, without even stopping to think,
“After I have informed of this situation to everyone in Clusternia, I shall go back to Metafalica, as I must go make preparations to receive the refugees. If there is anything else you need, please tell me right away. I will do everything in my power to prepare it as well”
If Cloche left in the middle of this situation, Rikka would have been unable to deal with this situation on her own.
While she naturally felt a strong responsibility about her duties as mayor, she didn't have any confidence she could carry them out.
“...Maybe I’m going to get scorned again”
Once she thought this, a decision solidified within herself. Rikka turned toward Cloche,
“...Please don't go, Lady Cloche! Please stay in Archia and help me!”
“I can't even guess how I should deal with this situation on my own. No matter what I do, I fear I might only commit tremendous mistakes! So please, stay at Archia as an advisor and give me your opinions. I'll accept any ideas you might have!”
It was as if she was loudly admitting she was useless as a leader to herself.
While these words wounded her own pride, she didn't mind it at all.
After all, her greatest priority at the moment was to save as many of the Archia residents as quickly as possible.
Cloche pondered it for a few seconds,
“...Very well. I shall accept it as a formal cooperation request from the Archia Mayor”
“However, please don't forget that in the end, I am no more than a mere advisor. I might propose ideas and state my opinions to you, yet the only one who can carry them out is you: the mayor. Are we clear on this!?”
“I-I'd never oppose anything you told me, Lady Cloche. Impossible...”
“That is also one of the duties a mayor upholds. But it will be fine, as I believe you will be capable of taking the correct choices. Have confidence in yourself”
The expression Cloche had as she turned to face Rikka was a smile.
“...She has acknowledged me.”
She felt something warm flooding her head, but she repressed it as much as she could.
“Thank you very much! I'll make sure to not betray your expectations!”
“And since you have requested for my help, I have to do my best too”
But while Cloche said this, there was an additional reason why she couldn't turn down Rikka's request.
It was the words that Hikari Gojo had told her back in the observation pavilion:
“Please, become her strength now she needs it the most”
...She was incapable of ignoring a request from the person who had saved Sasha and Cocona.
Chapter 4: The Three Origin Sisters
Several days went by since the incident in Archia.
Naturally, the news about this spread throughout the entirety of Sol Cluster, so even Clusternia had initiated its evacuation.
Or so it seemed, but since this had no effect yet on the city of Clusternia, its residents were quite slow to evacuate.
The same was true for the restaurant in Clusternia, as only the cuckoos were still chirping in it unlike it was days ago.
However, the large window-side chairs and table some certain tourists were occupying were the single exception.
It was a round table surrounded by ten chairs, all of which were occupied.
Tilia was sitting at the center with her back turned to the window, while to her right were Saki, Aurica, Radolf, Aoto, Cocona, Katena, Mute, Sasha and Finnel.
There were several desserts and light meals lined before them, with Tilia having an extra-large platter of chicken steak filled to the brim.
She cut a bite-sized portion and took it to her mouth,
“...The sauce's flavor is a little too weak”
She muttered in an unsatisfied voice.
Aoto and the others just sighed upon seeing Tilia say this.
Archia's slanting happened because a part of the Tower had disappeared.
It's true that Archia floated by having the Tower of Origin as its focal point, but the Tower was still indispensable to the maintenance of the city itself.
The Tower of Origin after all was designed to have enough Symphonic Power to only keep itself floating.
So in order to append Archia's weight to it and keep it level, they were siphoning Symphonic Power from Tilia's Tower.
But when that part of the Tower disappeared, the Symphonic Power flow that kept the city leveled was temporarily interrupted, and this caused Archia to slant.
And now the Tower had started disappearing, it became obvious that Tilia didn't have much time left.
But despite knowing that, Tilia acted as if it didn't have anything to do with her.
In fact, she was acting as if she didn't mind it in the slightest.
“...Tilia, how are you feeling?”
Saki asked with a worried voice next to Tilia while she eyed her.
Tilia gulped down the piece of steak she had in her mouth,
“I'm feeling okay. But a part of the Tower disappeared... maybe it's doing a diet or something?”
“I've never heard about a diet like that!”
Said Finnel in an attempt to play the straight man from where she was sitting, on the opposite side to Saki. Tilia didn't pay her any mind and just continued eating.
Saki and Finnel.
Two girls that also greatly contributed to the Planetary Regeneration alongside Aoto and the others.
Saki now was managing a preschool in the surface and lived surrounded by children.
While the life on the surface was very inconvenient, she chose to live there because the vast expanses of land allowed the children to play as much as they liked.
As for Finnel, she now lived in Clusternia and helped Akane everyday.
So far, she had participated in preparing the airships that would be used in the evacuation and on the sky pirate interception squads under Akane's orders.
Knowing that Tilia, who they had traveled with for so long was nearing her death, both had been called to Clusternia. But as far as Tilia was concerned, it was as if she were saying she didn't mind this at all.
“Y-You're... really going to disappear soon?”
Aoto couldn't just help himself asking it.
“You're eating as if you got the best health in the world... And it's true the Tower's vanishing, but wouldn't that mean you won't disappear for a long time?”
Everyone else in the table couldn't help but think the same thing.
But Tilia just replied,
“That's not how it works... Most likely, as I'm now... I've got about two weeks or so left, I think”
“T-Two weeks!? That's all the time ya got!?”
Mute shouted, shocked how the time Tilia still had was far shorter than they thought.
Mute was a girl, or better said, a woman that looked like a girl with a very particular speech pattern.
While she seemed to be going through her early teens, her actual age was already into the thirties.
“About if that's all... Yeah, that's kind of what I feel I have left. But since my Triangular Nuclear Loop got damaged, I don't think that's completely accurate either”
“So isn't there a chance you'll live for some more years like last time?”
“I don't think so. This time the Tower has already started disappearing, so that proves I really don't have much time left”
Upon hearing that, Aoto said,
“So in other words, Clusternia and Archia are going to get dumped into the sky in two weeks at most, huh? But can we actually evacuate everyone in just two weeks?”
Given that Finnel was the one preparing the airships for this, she replied:
“Don't worry about Clusternia. We've got enough airships ready to go! And if there were any troubles, we'll be okay, as we can always call back some of the airships we've got repelling the sky pirates and use them for the evacuation too. But still, Archia would be a problem...”
“Because they don't have enough airships, right?”
“But there were a lotsa airships because the place was filled to the brim with V-Board Grand Prix spectators! I know Archia has many inhabitants, but we've still got two weeks. If they continued flying day and night all this time, do you think we'd make it?”
Like Aurica said, if they could have so many airships working for this purpose, they could be able to complete the evacuation in these two days.
However, Finnel shook her head,
“It's true there were many ships in the Archia airport, but when the city slanted, all the airships got caught up into that disaster, so it looks like almost all of them were rendered useless”
The only remaining airships were the ones that couldn't get a place to land within the airport and the ones that were still capable of flight despite having sustained damage. Still, they were very few in number even combined.
“It's fine. After all, the one who's going to disappear in two weeks is me”
Said Tilia with a slightly unsatisfied face while she gulped down her last piece of steak,
“And even if I disappear, that doesn't mean the Tower will disappear immediately with me. According to the Law of Wave Inertia, the Tower would vanish completely in about... Umm, can someone calculate it for me?”
“Ah, yes. Umm... Including measurement errors, I think it'd take from about one week to a month for it to disappear”
Sasha said after mentally calculating the answer as if it was nothing, but such a complicated calculation was impossible for a normal person to do.
Even Katena, who was sitting two chairs away from her and was also called a genius, was astonished at the level of calculation ability Sasha had.
He then continued were Sasha left off.
“But still, calculating exactly when the Tower will disappear is very difficult. Realistically speaking, we've only got a few days to evacuate everyone. Besides, it was made apparent that Archia is in a very unstable condition from the disaster they had the other day. It won't take long for it to slant to a point where no one is going to be able to live in it”
Tilia sank into silence.
“Sasha, what's the method we'll use to get more time?”
Sasha replied to Cocona's question,
“I've come to think that maybe, there are no other methods we can use”
“T-There's one then?”
Upon hearing there was a way to save everyone; Aoto bent himself forward, overcome by enthusiasm.
“So, what's that method?”
It wasn't only Aoto: everyone else aside of Katena were also waiting for the answer.
And despite knowing she had had to answer them, Sasha was unable to put it into words.
“...They are so expectant, but everyone is going to be disappointed once they hear what that method is.”
But regardless, she couldn't just keep quiet about it forever.
Noticing how troubled Sasha was, Katena went and answered on her behalf.
“We'll extend Tilia's lifespan. In other words, by allowing her to live longer, we'll be able to delay the Tower's disappearance. There's no other way”
“Extend... my life?”
The one that was surprised the most by this was Tilia.
“Yes. If we can extend your life, we'll be able to buy everyone enough time to escape”
“...That's true. As long as I live, the Tower won't disappear completely... But how are you going to do that? Don't tell me you can repair my Triangular Nuclear Loop or something like that”
“No, unfortunately it isn't that. Currently we don't have the technology needed to do anything like that to an Origin's Triangular Nuclear Loop”
Upon hearing that, Tilia muttered “I guessed as much...”
“...But then, how are they planning to extend my life?”
Tilia started looking into all the knowledge she possessed in search of a way to extend her life.
“...Well, I don't think I know how to do that though”
If she knew how to do it, she would have done it already.
Katena seemed like he was about to continue talking, so Tilia stopped pondering and focused into what he was going to say.
“Well, we thought up a strategy for deceiving your Telomere”
Finnel was shocked when she heard this.
“D-Deceive the Telomere... Is that possible?”
Katena didn't confirm or deny it: only a troubled expression appeared on his face.
Radolf raised his hand upon seeing this.
“Excuse me. Could you give us an explanation on what the Telomere is?”
After taking a closer look, it was obvious that were many others aside of Radolf who didn't what the Telomere was.
“...Okay, I'll explain it”
Finnel gave them a simple explanation on what the Telomere was.
The Telomere is an organ designed to terminate the functions of the Triangular Nuclear Loop.
The Triangular Nuclear Loop serves as the heart of the Reyvateils, yet this doesn't mean all Reyvateils possess one.
The three girls called the Origins, as well as the Pureblooded β-Types that were created as clones of the Origins are the only Reyvateil types that have one.
And the Triangular Nuclear Loop is configured to have a specific time period during which it is guaranteed it will continue operating normally.
While this isn't case for Tilia, the normal operation time for the Loops in the Pureblooded β-Types is of 150 years.
So when any Pureblooded β-Type is born into the world, they are guaranteed to have a life that lasts as much as 150 years.
However, that doesn't mean everyone will get to live these 150 full years.
The reason for that is because the load on the Triangular Nuclear Loop will change depending on the actions the Reyvateil takes during her lifetime.
So if she takes actions that cause a tremendous burden on the Loop, naturally its normal operation time will be shortened.
For example, Tilia committed such an action with the firing of the XP Shell.
By nature she was supposed to have a much longer life, but since the burden this action brought upon her Triangular Nuclear Loop also damaged it, her lifespan was greatly shortened.
Once Finnel finished her explanation, Radolf nodded.
“Hmm, I see... So the Telomere is an organ that decides for how long Lady Tilia and the βs will live, correct? And it also seems that deceiving it isn't an everyday occurrence”
“But if we use that method and extend Tilia's life, we'll be able to get more time before the Tower disappears, right? I'll do anything to help with it, so just tell me what I can do!”
Aoto was already itching to do something, but Katena just shook his head.
“...This is a very technical and complex procedure, so laymen wouldn't be able to help”
“And that's not all: as things are now, even if we deceive her Telomere, we won't be able to stop the Tower's disappearance”
“W-What!? But we're gonna deceive the Telomere to buy us more time...”
“It's because Tilia's case isn't normal”
Sasha was the one who had interrupted Aoto.
“Tilia's Triangular Nuclear Loop was damaged when the XP Shell was shot. And thanks to that, she can't keep the Symphonic Power supply she needs for the maintenance of her body, the Tower, under normal conditions. So even if we extend her life, I think the Tower will suffer from multiple anomalies due to the Symphonic Power supply working unstably. Besides, the instant we squeezed out even more Symphonic Power from the Triangular Nuclear Loop now it has become defective due to the damage, most likely... No, it'd surely reach its limits and break down”
After listening Sasha's explanation, the expressions everyone had darkened instantly.
While they felt glad for a short while upon hearing that they had found a way to get more time for the evacuation, their happiness was crushed almost immediately after. Yet there was nothing that could be done about it.
The image of the people being dumped out from Archia like trash resurfaced on their minds.
The sight of both adults and children falling to their deaths without being able to do anything to avoid it.
However, Cocona was assaulted by a question.
Before they started this conversation, Sasha said there was no other way.
As far as she heard from this whole discussion, there was never a way to begin with and everything would be useless regardless of what they did.
Even if she could understand it coming from other people, Sasha was never the kind of person that said things that would bring a vain hope to others.
If there was no other way, she would have given everything to find some other solution, no matter how absurd or how close to zero the probabilities of carrying it out were.
“Well, what are we going to do with that extra time? What that's thing we don't have enough of that no one has mentioned all this time?”
There had to be some sort of solution.
Seeing how wishful Cocona's words were, Sasha hesitated for a few seconds before answering,
But while Sasha was speaking, the restaurant's door violently opened.
Even the doorbell that normally made a beautiful sound to announce a customer entering made a jarring noise.
The restaurant's employees as well as everyone in Cocona's group turned to look at the door.
“Aki? Why are you so flustered?”
The one who had just come into the store was Akane.
Upon noticing Finnel's voice and that everyone she was looking for was in the same place, she quickly breathed in,
“Everybody, please head to the Harvestasha Module immediately! Envoys from Sol Ciel and Metafalica have just arrived!”
Cocona and Radolf stood up as soon as they heard that envoys from the First and Second Tower were there.
“An envoy from Sol Ciel? But I can't think of who could have been sent here aside of us...”
“We didn't hear anything like that either. And that they'd come when there's so much trouble around here...”
“I-In any case, please make haste. It would be discourteous to keep them waiting”
Given how agitated the normally composed Akane was, they could imagine the visitors must be extremely important people.
Both Radolf and Cocona started imagining what VIPs from their respective Towers could have been chosen to head to the Third Tower.
“...Had President Ayano come to check how the airship construction labors were progressing?”
“...Maybe Targana... But maybe Akane wouldn't be so flustered in that case.
Or was it Luca?”
But unlike them two, who were immersed in their thoughts, Aoto went and asked Akane right away.
“You know who're those envoys?”
“T-The envoys from Sol Ciel are Lady Shurelia and Lady Jakuri! And the ones from Metafalica are Lady Frelia and Sir Shun!”
The Harvestasha Module was a large spherical room.
It was accessed through four walkways that had each a door, but no matter which was used, none of these ways were large enough to allow a row of more than three people to walk through them, despite the fact they gradually got wider the closer they were to the center.
The room got the widest at its center, which had a structure similar to a large altar.
Once they entered the Module, Aoto and the others noticed there were four girls and a large wolf in it.
Among them, everyone knew two of these girls.
The first one was Harvestasha.
Or more accurately, a holography projected in space of the Harvestasha that served as the Tower's master computer.
But despite that, no matter how closely one looked at her, no one would notice Harvestasha was a holography.
And while on that point she might seem similar to Tilia's holography, the difference is that Harvestasha's is no more than a projection.
In other words, while touching the Third Tower is actually possible, the same isn't true for Harvestasha: anyone who tried touching her would only phase through her body.
That's why Harvestasha's shape was in the end a mere projection.
And the other person they knew was the girl that had come from the First Tower called Jakuri.
She had come to Sol Cluster two years prior, a little before the first evacuation attempt.
Back then, she had Cocona show her around, so they spent that time sightseeing around Sol Cluster and meeting everyone there.
“Whoa! It's Lady Shurelia and Miu!”
Upon noticing how Aurica was waving her hand at them and running in their direction, Shurelia turned around.
Shurelia screamed in surprise from how suddenly Aurica had embraced her.
Aurica didn't mind it in the slightest though,
“Long time no see, Lady Shurelia! You haven't changed one bit!”
“Huh? Yes, but well...”
Seeing how Shurelia was lost for words right at her side, Jakuri took the chance to show her a malicious smile.
“Huhu, yes, that's right. She hasn't grown even one centimeter since centuries ago”
“Argh, Mir! That was unnecessary!”
“But you haven't changed at all either, Miu!”
“Naturally. I'm always making great efforts to preserve my beauty, unlike a certain other someone”
“And you know the thing you are best at is to continue saying unnecessary things? Good grief...”
Shurelia had already thought something to tell her, but in the end she decided to forget about it.
She had already known Jakuri for a long time, so she was aware saying anything else to her was pointless.
Even if she said something imprudent, Shurelia would just retort back again, and this would only become an endless and unsightly argument between them both.
She decided it was for the best to just keep quiet and keep all that irritation hidden in her chest, though a pained expression still showed up on her face.
“...Mr. Radolf, is that girl...?”
Radolf nodded in response to Aoto's question.
“Indeed. She is Lady Shurelia, the Administrator to our homeland of Sol Ciel”
Radolf said this in a very proud voice, but as Aoto and the others didn't really know what they should say in a situation like this, they kept silent.
The person Radolf was talking about, who Aurica had rushed to glomp, had lost an argument and had a regretful face was a girl like any other in the world.
And while they couldn't think anything else, Tilia was just like Shurelia: one of the Administrators.
And their appearances and personalities were those of normal girls.
But now they thought about it, they realized there was nothing that should surprise them at this point, even though they couldn't accept it from the bottom of their hearts.
The remaining girl that was standing next to Shurelia and Jakuri went closer to Aoto and the other as if she had realized something.
She had transparent wings on her back.
When her wings starter quivering after she took a step, Aoto and the others turned to look at her.
She stopped before them and put her hands behind her back once she noticed they were looking at her.
“Everyone aside of Cocona and Sasha, pleased to meet you!”
She bowed and lowered her head in a way that anyone who had proper manners would do, and Aoto and the others followed suit.
The girl raised her head and started looking at each one in the face,
“Let me introduce myself. I'm Frelia, and I came from Metafalica. Pleased to meet you!”
“Frelia... Ah, so you're the Administrator of the Tower in Metafalica?”
The blue wolf that was behind Frelia then stepped in front of her while he eyed Aoto after how he talked in a surprised voice about Frelia.
“My name is Shun, and I'm a being who protects Frelia... To call somebody that has just introduced before you in such a way is extremely disrespectful!”
Said the wolf.
He kept on eyeing Aoto and the others, who understood this even though they couldn't voice any words. Cocona then rushed in.
“S-Shun, don't be so angry. Aoto never met any others Origin aside of Tilia, so... Hey, Aoto!”
She then hit Aoto on the knee,
“S-Sorry. I'm Aoto. Pleased meet you, Frelia... Or I've gotta call you Lady Frelia, right?”
“No, I don't mind if you don't use the Lady, Aotie”
“H-Hey, don't call me like that! I don't mind if you use my name as-is either”
Aoto didn't think anyone would be calling him like a kid at the age he had now, so his face went completely red.
Finnel began laughing and had to make great efforts to muffle her laughter after she saw this.
But Aoto found her out almost immediately.
“Finnel, what're you laughing at!?”
“I-I'm not laughing! I'm really not!”
“Everyone in the room could hear your laughter. Maybe you need some punishment?”
While she flinched upon seeing how Aoto snapped his fingers, for some reason a happy smile surfaced on Finnel's face.
Given Finnel liked to be mistreated, she couldn't help but feel expectant upon hearing she was going to get punished.
“...M-Maybe he’s going to rattle my head hard?
Or maybe he’s going to pinch my cheeks, poke me on the forehead... Or he’s going to spank me?”
Her imagination filled so much with all sorts of punishment, that she was having a hard time discarding any of them.
However, her delusions crashed and broke into pieces when Saki said a single phrase.
“Don't bully Filly, Aoto”
“...Okay. Tch, you spoil Finnel too much, Saki”
Upon seeing how Aoto reluctantly gave up on the idea after Saki's admonishment, Finnel dropped her shoulders.
And while Frelia was enjoying the banter that developed between the three of them, she noticed how Tilia was a little behind them.
Their eyes met, and seeing how Tilia showed no reaction, Frelia walked to her.
“...You're Tili, right?”
It was Tilia's characteristic greeting.
While at first Frelia was very perplexed about her, she said in an amused voice:
“Yeah! Ciao, Tili!”
And then, she calmly replied,
“Pleased to meet you, Tili!”
“Pleased to meet you... Sis Frelia”
“Yeah! Let's go greet Sis Shurelia, okay?”
But when Frelia held her hand out as she said this
“We don't have to join hands. We're not kids”
And she left Frelia behind.
“Ah, wait Tilia!”
“Please wait, Tilia!”
Finnel and Saki rushed behind Tilia, trying to call her and make her stop walking, but Tilia didn't listen to them.
Frelia looked at the hand she had held out to Tilia, and smiled a worried smile.
“Ehehe... This is the first time I've met my little sister, so looks like I got carried away a little”
Neither Tilia, Frelia nor Shurelia had been born from another person. They all were lives created from zero by human hands.
But given they had been born in similar time periods and there were no other people like them three, they had come to consider each other as sisters.
The proof of that was how Tilia had called Frelia her sis.
But even if they considered each other that way, Tilia had only met Shurelia twice many centuries ago, and she had never seen Frelia since they were born.
So despite acknowledging that bond they shared, Tilia wasn't able to accept Frelia so easily.
“...Cheer up, Frelia”
Shun had extended one of his tentacle-like horns and used it to softly stroke Frelia's face.
“Thanks, Shuny. But I'm okay”
“So why did you come to Sol Cluster. Was it because you came to see how Tilia was doing?”
Frelia nodded in reply to Cocona's question.
“Of course. In any case, Sis Shurelia will tell you the details”
Tilia had already reached the room's center before anyone else and was in the process of exchanging greetings with Shurelia.
While Tilia looked like always, Shurelia seemed to be very glad to have reencountered Tilia after so many centuries, though her face was also filled with sadness.
Upon being called by Frelia, Shurelia noticed that Aoto and the others had arrived.
“Looks like everyone is here”
Shurelia bowed and said,
“Pleased to make your acquaintance. I am Shurelia, Administrator of the Tower in Sol Ciel. I apologize for our sudden arrival, as it caused you all to be summoned here”
“N-No, don't worry about it! You don't have to lower your head so much!”
Aoto was about to bow once again, but Shurelia stopped him.
“Whoa... incredible. To think it would be possible to see the three Origins all together in the same place!”
Katena murmured while his eyes sparkled from how exciting this was to him, but Mute said,
“Darlin', that's so amazin’?”
“Of course! Properly speaking, it was impossible for all the Origins to be gathered in the same place!”
“And that's why?”
“Yeah, that's why!”
While they were both whispering, Shurelia could hear them.
She continued Katena's explanation.
“Both we and the Pureblooded β-Type Reyvateils cannot leave the effective area of the Symphonic Power emitted by our Towers. If we did, at that point our bodies would melt into water. In fact, it was thanks to Professor Sasha and the Inter-Tower Network satellites she created that this meeting was made possible”
Sasha screamed in shock.
“I d-don't remember becoming a professor! I'm just a normal general store shopkeeper!”
Everyone just thought “In which way?”
But Shurelia just tilted her head puzzled, as she didn't know Sasha.
“Why are you that surprised? I was just talking about Professor Sasha”
“B-Because... The one who made the Inter-Tower Network was...”
She pointed to herself nervously as she said this.
“...Huh? You are... Professor Sasha!?”
“Being called a Professor it's too scary! I'm just simple shopkeeper!”
There was a certain person who was broadly grinning while they kept this discussion going.
Once Shurelia noticed who it was,
“Mir, she isn't anything like what you told me! Wasn't Professor Sasha a moody and misanthropic middle-aged woman?”
“What are you saying? Weren't you the one who called me a liar when I told you Sasha was a girl who worked as a general store's shopkeeper? So I just told a single lie you would swallow up”
Shurelia remembered they had that argument shortly after the Inter-Tower Network started functioning, and she stared fixedly at the girl she had before her.
“...Are you really Professor Sasha?”
“P-Please, don't call me Professor... I'm not important enough to be called that!”
After watching this exchange for a while, Radolf stepped in.
“Lady Shurelia, there is no mistake about it. Lady Sasha was the very person who created the Inter-Tower Network”
“I-I see... I apologize for doubting you due to appearances, Sasha... May I call you this way?
“Y-Yes... It's a relief...”
Sasha was actually more relieved from Shurelia not calling her Professor than having her believe she was the creator of the satellites for the network.
Deciding this conversation was finally done, the blue-haired girl standing on the altar's center cleared her throat to draw attention to herself.
“Now your conversations are finished, may we start discussing the problem itself? There is the risk another part of the Tower will disappear while we dawdle”
“Y-Yes, Harvestasha. Looks like our greetings went on for far too long”
An embarrassed Shurelia then glared at Jakuri, who had been the cause of this whole misunderstanding and was still broadly grinning.
Maybe it was because Shurelia was glaring at her, but Jakuri just ignored her and started talking.
“We came here because we heard Tilia's Tower started disappearing from a chat we had with Harvestasha via Binary Field”
“Binary Field chatting? What is that?”
Saki tilted her head from that expression she had never heard before, so Harvestasha explained it.
“In simple terms, it's like a Telemo conversation held through the Binary Field. We do so frequently to keep in touch”
“We have done so mainly to discuss the research I'm currently carrying out. I heard the Tower was going to disappear while we were doing that, and I told Shurelia about it”
Given that Jakuri had gone ahead with the conversation and Shurelia had already missed the timing to protest about using the Binary Field like that, she continued were Jakuri left off.
“Exactly. But I also heard that despite the Tower starting to disappear, the evacuation of the citizens has not been completed yet. That was why we joined with Frelia and Shun on the way here and came to check the situation... But it seems it is far more serious than we thought”
Shurelia turned in Tilia's direction.
“Tilia, does it hurt anywhere, or are you having any sort of difficulties with your body?”
“When that part of the Tower disappeared, I felt a tingling at first, but I don't think I've felt any pain or anything after that. So I'm fine”
“I see... I'm glad...”
She said as she shook her head.
“I'm glad, but doesn't that sound strange? After all, you don't have much time left before your life flickers out”
“...Are you worried about me?”
“Of course. While we haven't seen each other for centuries, we are still sisters. Isn't it natural for me to worry about you?”
Shurelia extend her hand and softly caressed Tilia's hair.
Maybe it was a way to comfort her sister that was so close to death, or a way of expressing how important Tilia was to her.
Or maybe it was an apology for not being able to do anything else.
The feelings she was holding in were so complex that Shurelia herself couldn't make sense of them.
And the same was true for Tilia: while she quietly allowed Shurelia to caress her many times, she shook her head to get her sister's hand away.
“...I'm not a child”
“...I see... I'm sorry”
She wasn't able to see Shurelia in the eye due to the sad and apologetic face she had, so Tilia turned away.
“...Did she start hating me?”
Even though she was her younger sister, Tilia had also been alive for several centuries.
Maybe it wouldn't feel good to her to be treated like a kid before Aoto and the others, given they were much younger than her.
She didn't know any way to know if Tilia was actually thinking that, but that's what Shurelia thought.
“...And I also heard it from Harvestasha previously. That you have found out a method to delay the Tower's disappearance, but...”
“Let me explain that”
Katena began explaining Shurelia and the others everything they had discussed in the restaurant.
“Deceiving the Telomere...? It certainly sounds like a surefire method”
Once she heard the explanation, Shurelia nodded in agreement.
“However, the problem is that we have no guarantee that Tilia's Triangular Nuclear Loop will able to withstand the process. Allow me to ask you and your group this, Lady Shurelia: do you think it'd be possible to maintain a Tower just with a damaged Triangular Nuclear Loop?”
They all shook their heads in response to Katena's question.
There was no need to wonder about it: it was clearly impossible.
“Well, how much Symphonic Power you think it'd be necessary for a Tower's maintenance?”
Katena sighed and said “Yes, that's right” upon hearing the words Jakuri said in an apparently astonished voice.
Currently, the greatest problem they had was a severe lack of Symphonic Power.
In order to do anything about this situation, they needed to get Symphonic Power from somewhere else in a constant and reliable way.
But where they would be able to find such a power source in the current Third Tower?
“Yes, what is it, Sasha?”
“Only a small quantity would be enough. Is there any surplus Symphonic Power we could use?”
“...I'm sorry. Currently we're suffering from a Symphonic Power deficiency, so there isn't even a small quantity of it that isn't being used”
Upon listening to the answer she already knew, Sasha added something else.
“In that case, if we could reduce the Symphonic Power output that's being used at the moment, could we divert that energy to the Tower's maintenance?”
“Do you mean applying energy conservation? But which systems could we cut the Symphonic Power supply from..?”
“...The Musical Corridor”
“W-What are you saying now, Sasha!?”
The one who screamed in surprise was Cocona.
The Musical Corridor was one of the essential devices for the maintenance of life on the Tower.
The higher the altitude one lives at, inevitably the lower the atmospheric pressure and temperature will be.
Under natural conditions, Archia, Clusternia and even the Great Fang would have environments that would be unable to sustain human life.
So the damage that would be caused if the Musical Corridor was shutdown would be unthinkable.
“Everyone in Archia would freeze to death before they could escape!”
Even though it was located at a lower altitude than Clusternia, it was a fact that Archia would get struck by a chill that even the midwinter cold could never hope to reach.
“I've considered that too. We won't actually shut down the Musical Corridor in full: we'll just halve its power output, which means it'll continue working with a more limited effect area. Harvestasha, do you have an overhead picture of Sol Cluster or anything like that?”
“Y-Yes. I will project it in a moment”
Harvestasha waved her hand, and this turn projected a holographic overhead picture of Sol Cluster right before Sasha.
Sasha placed a finger over the hologram and drew with it a circle that encompassed the entirety of the Tower and the Great Fang.
“This is the Musical Corridor's current effect area, or in other words, its conditions while it works with at full power. So if we reduce it...”
This time the circle only covered the area around the Tower.
“The effect area will be reduced to around this. And that's not all: if we reduce the power output down to only the bare necessary for this area, I think we'll have enough Symphonic Power to work with”
“W-Wait a sec! Won't that be bad?”
Aoto looked at the circle Sasha had drawn and pointed at the Great Fang: it was outside the effect area.
“The Great Fang's barely inside the Musical Corridor's effect area, and that's how we could live on it. The people there won't be able to live like that!”
“I've considered that too. There are many caves in the city of Eternus in the Great Fang, so if the people take shelter in them while we have the Musical Corridor working at half power, the problems with the temperature and air pressure go away”
“...But what would happen to the Blue Canyon Hamlet?”
The Blue Canyon Hamlet was the village Aoto was raised in.
It was a small village located at the very edge of the Musical Corridor, so it had a weather characterized by strong winds and chill even under normal conditions.
Sasha was aware of this too, so while it was a bit hard to say it, she said:
“...I'm predicting that the Blue Canyon Hamlet will suffer an extreme blizzard, just like the rest of the Great Fang. I think the houses in the hamlet were built to protect their occupants from the cold, but I don't believe they were built to prepare against a blizzard like this one. So they'll need to abandon them for now and seek shelter”
Aoto was thinking about which would be the most optimum place for the residents of the Blue Canyon Hamlet to go if they had to run away.
After leaving the village, there were several caves in the mountains that could keep the wind and rain out.
If they could also have access to food and basic amenities, they would be able to get by somehow.
And even if that wasn't the case, Eternus was just a few minutes away if they took the Airbus from the bus terminal in the hamlet.
So thankfully a place they could run off to wasn't a problem here, but the Blue Canyon Hamlet was still the place Aoto had grown in. Had he known that the cutting of the energy to the Musical Corridor was going to affect that place, naturally he'd thought he had to stop it at any cost.
He wished they could have thought up another method.
But knowing what the people of Archia were going through right now, he didn't say anything.
They didn't have many airships they could rely in, so it wasn't possible to evacuate more than a few people at a time.
“It will be okay, Sir Aoto”
Akane stood tall right at his side.
“I will get in contact with Sir Gengai immediately. Once he knows we will shut down the Musical Corridor, he should be making the citizens evacuate at once. Therefore, please tranquilize...”
But upon noticing what she was saying, Akane briefly stopped talking and corrected herself.
“No, I cannot tell you to tranquilize yourself. However, I shall still shoulder the duty of informing Sir Gengai about this”
“...Okay, please do it, Akane. By the way, how much time we'll get from stopping the Musical Corridor? About a month?”
Unless they could demonstrate they would be able to have a reliable Symphonic Power supply for about that amount of time, Aoto wouldn't really want to go through with it.
Harvestasha made the calculations, knowing they had to answer his question,
“The energy we will receive from restricting the Musical Corridor's functions should give us about an extra week of leeway”
“An appropriate amount of energy is required just to keep the Musical Corridor in operation, but even that quantity is extremely small compared to the quantity required for the Tower's maintenance”
Archia was lacking in airships for the evacuation. An additionally week wasn't enough for anything but letting a very small group of people of the ones that were still in the Tower to evacuate.
“Aren't there any other places we can receive Symphonic Power from?”
Utilizing the Symphonic Power that kept the Musical Corridor in operation was already the last resort to Sasha.
“I'm sorry, but we can't reduce the Symphonic Power consumption from anywhere else...”
She knew fully this was the answer, but even so, Sasha was very disappointed on herself after saying it.
“If it were any of the other Towers, it would have several facilities that have a surplus of Symphonic Power, but...”
“Huh!? Any of the others, you say?”
“Yes, like the Tower you administrate, Lady Shurelia”
Shurelia nodded in agreement after hearing Harvestasha's words.
“It is just like you say, Harvestasha. My Tower indeed keeps on creating Symphonic Power”
The First Tower of Ar tonelico continued semipermanently creating more Symphonic Power than it needed within itself.
It was true that if it was possible to make that energy flow to the Third Tower, they would be able to obtain the Symphonic Power they needed.
“In that case, I'll be brief. Shurelia, please let that Symphonic Power get here! Only for a little while, until we've got everyone in Archia to safety!”
Aoto lowered his head as she requested Shurelia to do this, but,
“I really wish I could do so, but it's not so simple. In the first place, we don't have a relay satellite that can transmit the Symphonic Power to the other Towers, which already makes it impossible”
“If it's about the satellites, we've got the ones from the Inter-Tower Network! If we use them as relays...”
“N-No, we can't! The satellites would explode if we did that!”
Sasha said hurriedly.
“These satellites were only made so all the Origins and βs could go wherever they liked. So while I considered a possible resistance margin while making them, they wouldn't be able to withstand a large Symphonic Power flow like that one”
“T-Then, can't we just send the energy directly to this place?”
“Considering how much distance there is between Sol Ciel and Sol Cluster, a direct transmission would be impossible”, said Katena.
“Katena, if we started remodeling the satellites for the Inter-Tower Network or making a specialized Symphonic Power transmission one, how long do you think it'd take us?”
Katena started thinking a little after Sasha asked him,
“Hmm, let me see... It would take us several months if we made it from zero, assuming we had no problems during the process. And I can't recommend remodeling the satellites either. That would bring a lot of problems in itself, and it would greatly compromise the remaining time we have”
If they remodeled the satellites from the Network, they would have to shut them all down at once.
If that happened, all the Origin and the Pureblooded β-Type Reyvateils that had come from the other regions would have to escape to their own Towers. However, they didn't know at the moment how many Pureblooded β-Types from the Third Tower had gone to the other regions at the moment, and they expected it would be difficult to make sure they all had escaped successfully.
Considering that and the time it would take them to remodel the satellites, it became obvious at once it would be faster to just make one from scratch.
“In either case, it would take far too long... Looks like we're cornered”
Sasha couldn't help but agree with Katena.
This was the method they had found as the result of many days and nights of intense discussions, but if it was no good, and they couldn't do anything else.
“...No, there is still one satellite we could use”
Harvestasha changed the image that was projected before Sasha.
After a few seconds of noise, they saw it was projecting a world map of Ar Ciel.
“I think no one here knows about this, but we deployed a satellite between Sol Ciel and Sol Cluster once, 400 years ago. It was made so we could send our own Reyvateils to Sol Ciel”
“400 years ago!? ...I don't remember ever hearing about anything like that. Harvestasha, if you had such a satellite you should have told us earlier...”
“It was supposed to be kept a secret from everyone in the First Tower. After all, it was constructed as a plan to attack Sol Ciel”
“A plan to attack us!?”
Shurelia screamed as soon as she learned they once had a plan to invade the region she administrated.
However, Harvestasha said without giving special importance to how panicked she was,
“Please, calm down. That plan was interrupted halfway through. Besides, it was drafted up during the time my personality program was configured as an evil girl”
“You know I can't calm down after hearing that, correct? I want to hear now why did you even think of such a plan!”
“But it wasn't a satellite that had any offensive capabilities. Besides, now our Tower is disappearing, you really don't have to worry about it”
“...To think such a plan was being concocted in a place I knew nothing about...”
“How stupid. An attack plan is supposed to be carried out without the enemies knowing anything about it, so it's just natural you didn't know anything”
Said Jakuri in a disgusted voice.
Why were they going to attack Sol Ciel?
It seemed Shurelia was going to ask that, but she swallowed her pride and closed her mouth shut.
“... Even if it irritates me, it was part of a plan that had fallen through a long time ago, so there is no point in talking about it now.
...It’s more important to focus now in the present instead of the past.”
“...Well then, where is that satellite located exactly?”
Now she had time to sort her feelings out, Shurelia decided to ask Harvestasha about the satellite itself.
Instantly, a red point appeared on the map that was in front of Sasha.
“The red point marks the satellite's position. To make it easier to understand, I'll also mark the positions of each Tower”
Three blue points appeared on the map.
The place where the satellite was floating at was in a straight line between the First and Third Towers, yet very separated from either of them.
“This satellite should be able to transfer enough Symphonic Power for the Tower's maintenance. However, it has been left untouched for a very long time, so I think it will need some repairs”
“Repairs, huh? Darlin', ya think it'll take ya guys long to fix it up?”
“If it's still floating, it shouldn't take too long. I think we should be okay only with adjusting the angle of its reflective plate to make the Symphonic Power flow to this Tower”
Still, Katena's voice got more disheartened as he continued.
“The problem is who'll go to repair it. Both Sasha and I have to do the work required to deceive the Telomere, so we can't leave this place”
It was the first time Sasha and the others would attempt doing a Telomere deceiving operation.
They had the confidence to make it a success, but they though it was very possible problems would spring up when they were actually doing it.
They would need to deal with these problems right away, so they both needed to remain at Sol Cluster no matter what.
“It's okay. I can give you the instructions via Telemo, so as long as we have someone with technical knowledge, we should still be able to carry out the repairs. But well, it would indeed be far preferable to have some experienced engineers in the team though”
As long as Harvestasha was giving them instructions, there wouldn't be problems.
As far as technically-specialized staff was concerned, they could also bring along several of the technicians from Clusternia and the Church staff that were currently cooperating with Tenba in the airship construction efforts.
“So that's how things are gonna be, huh? If all this stuff we're gonna do it's successful, we'll get more time, right?”
Harvestasha nodded in response to Aoto's question.
“Yes, we will be able to get enough time. However, we will still need to shut down the Musical Corridor. Even if can we wait for the operation to be successful, the Tower's disappearance won't wait for us”
So regardless, it wasn't possible to make the Great Fang escape unscathed, as they would still have to shut down the Musical Corridor.
However, now they knew their situation was improving while they had been cornered just a few moments ago, so they all felt relieved.
However, they still knew this was their final hope.
While they smiled, inside their hearts they started feeling a great pressure: it was because they knew that failure was not an option now.
And in the middle of that, after just standing by watching everyone else, Jakuri raised her hand.
“Sorry to say this while everyone's so happy, but isn't it bad for you to be deciding about these things on your own?”
While the tone of her voice hadn't changed at all, everyone noticed repulsion was mixed into it.
Everyone's gazes focused into Jakuri after she spoke like that, but no one could reply back to her.
They didn't understand what she said.
Jakuri clicked her tongue and said,
“I don't remember hearing you got permission from the Telomere's owner herself for this”
“The owner herself... You mean Tilia?”
“Of course. After all, a Telomere is akin to a person's life itself! If you were going to tamper with that, don't you think it'd be wrong to go ahead without getting consent from its owner? Or better said, would you just keep quiet and go along if anyone started doing a surgery in your heart without your permission?”
It was natural.
No one would ever allow that if they could help it.
Even if it was with a medical purpose, no one would be okay with having a surgery done on them that was decided by third parties and without their own input.
When they looked at Tilia, she was acting like always, standing around and doing nothing in particular as if the conversation had nothing to do with her.
“It's true, it might be just like Jakuri's saying. We've been so focused on the people of Archia that we even started neglecting Tilia herself”
Cocona honestly admitted they were doing something terrible, and thus she went and stood in front of Tilia as if she were representing everyone.
It was a prompt reply like always.
“Can we do the operation on your Telomere so we can delay the time for the Tower to disappear?”
This time Tilia didn't reply instantly.
Everyone thought she would answer immediately like she always did, but Tilia just intently stared at Cocona when she asked that question.
“...Extend my life? How long are we talking about?”
She replied back with a question instead of saying yes or no, but Cocona wasn't capable of answering that.
Neither were Sasha or Katena, as they didn't know either how long a Triangular Nuclear Loop that was breaking apart could continue working after it had gone beyond its functional time limit.
“...If the Symphonic Power transference gets done correctly, I think it could last from a few months to half a year. I don't think it'd reach a full year though”
The one who answered was Jakuri.
While it was a very rough answer, Tilia replied with a slightly depressed voice once she heard how she finished the sentence.
She muttered as she cast her gaze downward.
Wondering why did this have to happen; Tilia slowly raised her head and opened her eyes.
Cocona replied with a surprised voice to the single word that escaped from Tilia's lips.
“I-I'm sorry Tilia. Could you repeat what you just said?”
“...No. I don't want anyone to extend my life”
She replied in a way that left things clearer to everyone.
Chapter 5: Convincing Tilia
Aoto and the others didn't know how to respond to Tilia after she flatly refused to receive the life extension.
Extending her life was after all the first step they needed to carry out to get enough time to evacuate everyone who was still in Archia.
They had explained this countless time already, so it was impossible Tilia didn't know about it.
But the fact Tilia was saying she wasn't going extend her life was exactly the same thing as saying she would just let all the Archia citizens die without even lifting a finger.
“Tilia, have you lost your mind?”
Shurelia walked to Tilia.
“Are you actually saying you don't know what the refusal to extend your life means?”
“If I refuse to get the life extension, I'll die once my predetermined lifespan reaches its end. Isn't that right?”
“...Tilia, didn't you hear anything we talked about all this time? The lives of all the Archia citizens are at stake here!”
Tilia frowned upon listening to Shurelia's words.
“...Archia, Archia, Archia...! That's all everyone is worrying about, isn't it!?”
Unlike before, she said this with voice filled with dissatisfaction.
“So you know what deceiving a Telomere implies? Do you know what that's going to do to my body?”
Shurelia was at a loss for words.
After all, she actually did know about what sort of side-effects the deceiving of the Telomere would do to Tilia.
“We can extend her life by deceiving her Telomere, right? But what else is that going to do Tilia's body?”
Once Saki asked this, it became apparent she wasn't the only one who didn't know what would happen.
Aside of a few people, both the possessors of a Telomere as well as those who didn't have one were ignorant to this.
The only ones who could understand what Tilia was saying were Harvestasha because she was created by her, Katena, Sasha, and Jakuri.
Jakuri began explaining.
“Is the organ that forcefully shuts down the Triangular Nuclear Loop once it has reached the limit for the time under which it can operate normally... You all know that much, right?”
The explanation they had heard in the restaurant before they met up with her and the others was quite helpful.
Upon seeing everyone nod in response, she continued,
“So in other words, if you deceive the Telomere, you will force the Triangular Nuclear Loop to continue operating abnormally. So instead of stopping once the limit for its normal conditions has been finally reached, the Triangular Nuclear Loop will continue operating abnormally until it istops functioning entirely. It'll just continue working like that without stopping and regardless of what abnormalities manifest”
Upon hearing this, Radolf recalled what they were told in the middle of the explanation at the restaurant,
“The Triangular Nuclear Loop is the organ that serves as the heart for the Origins and βs, correct? So if such an important part started behaving abnormally, it makes sense it would bring negative effects to their bodies”
“It isn't something as simple as negative effects. Yeah, the simplest way to explain it would be... Let's suppose that the Triangular Nuclear Loop is a human body and that the damage it sustained is a disease. Would you understand if I told you that disease would gnaw at the entire body at the same time?”
While the individual answer would change depending on which disease they each imagined it was there was a common point to all of them.
“It would be terribly painful... Maybe they would feel as if they were agonizing all the time...”
Jakuri clapped her hands thrice to Saki's answer. She was right.
And since her answer was correct, that meant the Telomere had precisely the function of stopping the Triangular Nuclear Loop's functions before the body started suffering such a horrible state.
“H-Hold it a second! If that's what the Telomere does... It sounds like its function was just mercy-killing us!”
Finnel said with an uneasy expression while she put her hands over her chest.
After all, she was a Pureblooded β-Type, so she also had a Telomere.
So while she was aware about what the Telomere did, in the end that was what made their bodies turn into water right when the Triangular Nuclear Loop had reached its limit, so she couldn't think anything aside of it being an organ for causing them to die from what the humans called old age.
And that wasn't only for Finnel: it also applied to Akane and the many other βs that weren't there.
“No matter how many times I say it, that's what the Telomere does. But it'd be more accurate to say that it's a system designed to terminate the Triangular Nuclear Loop before it enters a dangerous state”
“...Even so, I cannot muster pleasant feelings about it. To think I have an organ whose sole function is to carry out euthanasia upon me”
Akane had placed her hand over her chest, just like Finnel did.
“And that's why I'm refusing to get my life extended, so no thank you. I'll pass on writhing on pain and agony until the instant of my death”
While he addressed her, Aoto couldn't say anything else.
If Tilia refused to get her life extended here, the great number of people that still remained in Archia would die.
So would it be impossible to have her accept the life extension?
In other words, everyone would feel compassion and sympathize with the people that needed help upon hearing about the situation.
Excepting for the one who had to undergo the treatment herself.
To Tilia, these words were as if everyone else was telling her “become a sacrifice and suffer in agony until your death”.
And now they were aware of this, they weren't really able to push Tilia further to have her accept the life extension treatment.
Rather, Tilia wouldn't actually have minded it if they had actually told her directly to become a sacrifice and suffer until she died.
If they had done that, she would have been able to stir up a distraction and escape from the room.
“...Tilia, do you really think that this is what you should do? You are the Administrator of this Tower, so don't you have the responsibility of saving the people who live here?”
A sullen expression appeared on Tilia's face after she heard Shurelia say these words.
“How unexpected. That sounds as if I hadn't done anything at all for anyone”
“Then tell me, what have you done to save everyone?”
“I've already warned them. That I was going to die from old age soon and the Tower would disappear once that happened. That they should evacuate if they didn't want to fall to the surface and die”
Shurelia turned in Harvestasha's direction to check if what Tilia said was true.
“It's just as Tilia is saying. She indeed issued that warning two years, and also before these disasters starting taking place”
Tilia puffed her chest with pride, as if telling Shurelia “You see?”
“Besides, I've continued warning everyone ever since they started returning from the evacuation from two years ago. That even if it was later than I had predicted, danger was still coming and they they'd be better off not coming back here”
This was the truth, yet the people ignored all these warnings.
“The one who was mistaken was them due to ignoring the warnings their Administrator gave them, so I won't bother taking care of them anymore. After all, I'm not here to clean up after other people's mess. They're going to get their just desserts for ignoring the warnings”
There was nothing wrong in what Tilia was saying.
That much was what everyone gathered there knew.
Shurelia also understood it, but she could never agree with what Tilia was saying.
She was the Administrator of the First Tower, and she always thought that if the people who lived in her Tower were ever in danger, she would save them even if she had to give her life up to do so.
She had actually put her Tower into suspension mode once to save the world, which also ended putting her into a state akin to death.
It was due to all these reasons that Shurelia wasn't going to forgive Tilia for this.
“That may be the case, but you are still an Administrator, right? In that case, protecting the people regardless of how painful that ends up being is your mission... No, our mission as Origins, the reason we were born for”
“...I don't care about that mission”
“That you don't care about--!?”
Once she started saying that, she was stopped because someone had struck her on the shoulder from behind.
It was Jakuri.
She looked at Shurelia straight in the eyes while shaking her head.
“Leave her be, Shurelia. Tilia hasn't said anything wrong”
“...Are you on Tilia's side?”
She glared at her even more fiercely than before, but Jakuri didn't move at all. Instead, she just returned a normal gaze at Shurelia.
“Tilia has already done her duty as an Administrator. Or are you going to say now that carrying away every single person who ignored her warnings in her arms until they're safe is also an Administrator's job?”
Shurelia initially thought she was joking, but she instantly noticed that wasn't the case.
That the people ignored the warnings and didn't evacuate was a thing, but forcing them to evacuate regardless was an entirely different matter.
If an Administrator was actually doing everything for the safety of their people, ignoring their intentions was completely out of question.
If that weren't the case and Administrators were allowed to do whatever they wanted, they would blast those people who said they wouldn't escape with powerful magic and use threats to force them to leave.
In the end they had to respect the people's intentions, and it was because of that it was their duty to protect their safety.
Sasha raised her hand while trembling from the tense atmosphere that was now filling the room.
“I think... We should respect Tilia's intentions too...”
As these words were unexpected from Sasha, since she was one of the people who had thought up the method of deceiving the Telomere in the first place, everyone was extremely surprised.
This was even more shocking to Cocona, as they both had been friends for a very long time.
“E-Even you're saying that, Sasha!?”
“It's true that letting so many of Archia's residents die would be terrible. But I think it's wrong too to ignore Tilia's intentions and force her into extending her life... Even if I was the one who thought up that method, I still think it's terribly wrong to do that...”
“Don't worry about it. Besides, you didn't know what would happen to me after you had deceived my Telomere, right Sasha?”
It was just like Tilia said.
While Sasha indeed had an idea of what would happen once the Triangular Nuclear Loop entered into an abnormal functioning state, she didn't think it would cause Tilia to suffer such a terrible pain.
“It's all because I had almost not data on the Triangular Nuclear Loops, and still continued on that path without considering anything else... I'm sorry, Tilia”
Tilia walked up to her after seeing how Sasha lowered her head.
Sasha shivered a little when Tilia stopped before her.
“...I'm sorry too. We called you so you could help us buy us time before the Tower disappeared, but after all the work you put into finding a method for that... I threw it all into the trash...”
“P-Please, don't apologize. You haven't done anything bad, Tilia! I'm the bad one, as I'm the one who thought up this method!”
Tilia softly caressed Sasha's face, as the latter was still looking at the ground.
“But you still wanted to respect my intentions, right? So don't worry, it's no problem at all”
Upon seeing how Tilia was trying to console her, Sasha understood. But still, her mood didn't improve at all.
No matter how much Tilia tried to console her, it was the truth that she was about to carry out a method that would ultimately have been just like sacrificing Tilia.
But still, she somehow managed to raise her head again.
She wasn't capable of even hiding the sad expression she had on her face, but she gave up on trying to do so.
Even Tilia didn't think Sasha would recover so quickly just from having told her it was no problem.
“Lady Cocona, should we depart for Archia at once?”
Cocona understood what Akane meant immediately.
Now Tilia had refused the life extension treatment, there were no other ways to save Archia.
Therefore, they had to go and rescue the VIP from Metafalica, Cloche as soon as it was possible.
Akane also shared the same opinion as Sasha, that they should respect Tilia's intentions.
Cocona nodded, but she was still uneasy.
“...Lady Cloche would probably say that we can't leave the Archia people to die”
As Cloche's doctrine was “the people always go first”, only a miracle would make her flee to a safe place before saving the people.
That was the very reason Cocona had so much trust in Cloche, yet it wasn't improbable Cloche would end up suffering the same fate as the Archians due to that same mindset.
“By the way, Sir Radolf, may I ask how the Tenba airship construction efforts are coming along?”
“They'll still take some more time. As for if we could mass-produce them, the airship models they're building are all extremely large... So honestly, I think we won't have them ready in time”
“So there's nothing we can do, huh?”
“That is unacceptable!”
Shurelia walked up to Tilia once again.
“Tilia, go and accept the life extension treatment at once!”
“No! I won't ever do that!”
“You are an Administrator, so you understand how selfish you are acting, right? Don't you think anything about how you are going to let so many of your Tower's residents fall to their deaths?”
“I told you before; they're getting their just desserts for ignoring their Administrator's warnings!”
“It wasn't their fault for ignoring the warnings; it was yours for letting yourself be ignored in the first place! Stop shifting the blame to them!”
“How awful... Why are you saying that?”
“You two, please stop fighting!”
Saki stood between them both and separated them while they were quarreling.
“Please move aside, Saki! This girl is shirking her responsibilities as Administrator!”
“That's not true! Tilia has really warned everyone countless time to save them!”
“Getting results like these are exactly the same thing as doing nothing. Besides, everyone is thinking now they should evacuate as soon as possible. Given the current situation, if Tilia extends her life she will be capable of actually saving all her citizens!”
“T-That may be true, but...”
If they did so, Tilia would become a sacrifice.
She knew she would end up living through hellish days until the instant her Triangular Nuclear Loop completely crumbled away, yet it didn't mean she wanted Tilia to undergo the life extension treatment if there actually was another way.
“Lady Shurelia, don't you think you want to save Tilia at all?”
Shurelia stopped talking upon hearing Saki's question.
It didn't mean she didn't want to save Tilia.
It didn't mean Shurelia actually wanted to tell Tilia these terrible and awful things.
After all, she finally managed to meet again with Tilia: one of her precious little sisters.
Yet still, Shurelia only said,
“...My personal feelings and intentions have nothing to do with the situation at hand. Tilia must undergo the life extension treatment to save her people”
Shurelia, Frelia and Tilia were all Administrators.
And they all had duties due to being born as Tower Administrators.
Therefore, shirking these duties was completely unacceptable.
She knew fully well that telling Tilia “undergo the life extension treatment!” was exactly the same thing as telling her “suffer and agonize until your death!”
And while she knew that, Shurelia still had to tell the little sister she had met again after so long these things. This was immensely troubling her.
But still, she had to say these things.
And having said them, she had to convince her.
The duties they had from being born as Administrators were more important than anything else.
Shurelia had lived up to this moment while thinking that same thing.
“...I don't care. Why?”
Tilia muttered hidden behind Saki.
“Why are you so obsessed with the humans?”
Shurelia didn't understand the meaning behind those words, which was why she repeated them herself.
“Aren't you like that? Thinking stuff like sacrificing yourself for simple humans and saying these terrible things are normal? Well, none of that's normal at all!”
It wasn't just for Shurelia: these words Tilia shouted were a shock to everyone who was gathered there.
And this especially impacted all the people who used to travel with her.
Aoto was one of the people who had traveled with her.
And he had also experienced Diving into her.
Since Tilia was an Origin, she didn't have a Cosmosphere.
Instead, he Dived into a virtual space created inside the inner zones of the Tower's information field: the Binary Field.
Since she didn't have a Soulspace that represented her mind, she had comparatively less opposition to Diving than any normal Reyvateil would. However, he entered a realm formed by her memories when he did so. The Dive they did was completely different from any one he had done previously, as the Dives into Tilia were done with the purpose of restoring her lost memories.
That world had been created based of Tilia's own memories, and it was Tilia's own history
And since he was allowed to bear witness to them, it meant Aoto was a human who Tilia had put her trust in.
At the least she believed Aoto and his friends were such a kind of people.
“You think we're simple humans too?”
However, a doubtful expression appeared on Tilia's face.
“What are you saying Aoto?”
“Don't come to me with that “what” crap now! So you were always thinking that I, Saki, Finnel, the Doctor and Cocona were only simple humans all this time!?”
“A-Aoto, calm down!”
Finnel feared Aoto would try to leap onto Tilia due to how angry he was, so she went and tightly grabbed him by the arm.
“Everyone who has gathered here today aren't just simple humans, they're very precious people. So I don't want any of you to day no matter what, and that’s why I want you all to escape before the Tower disappears”
“The preparations for evacuating have been complete since sometime ago”
Tilia turned to look at Akane, who still a bit perplexed. Yet Akane continued,
“We made our arrangements for evacuating as soon as we heard your warning, Lady Tilia. Even though we were searching for a method to postpone the Tower's disappearance until the very last possible moment, we still prepared several airships in the emergency evacuation airport”
Upon hearing that, Tilia nodded with a satisfied expression,
“I'm glad... I didn't know what I was going to do if even you all hadn't been able to get ready for escaping from here”
Aoto's hand relaxed a little from the grip Finnel had on him, so she knew it was okay now.
“So we aren't just simple humans, right? Then, who you were talking about a little ago...?”
“About the people i don't know. Aren't those people that aren't even friends or anything with you just simple humans?”
She said as if she was stating a natural fact.
The people Tilia had gotten involved with were very important to her, but all others were just beings she couldn't care about even the littlest bit.
Now the persuasion attempt had reached this point, it was obvious Tilia wouldn't be accepting the life extension treatment under any circumstances.
“...So you are okay with letting the Archia residents die?”
Tilia shook her head in response to Shurelia's question.
“I've never said I was okay with that”
It was just that Tilia couldn't notice the worth in the people that didn't have any relationships with her.
But even though she couldn't notice their worth, even these people had a right to live.
She acknowledged how precious a life was.
“If you think so, then you have no reason to refuse the life extension treatment, do you?”
“These simple humans have ignored my warnings and are doing whatever they want. There's no point in suffering needlessly just to save them”
Such was the honest sense of values Tilia had about the people that didn't have any relationships with her
But once Shurelia heard that, she raised her hand...
“No! Sis Shurelia, don't!”
Frelia's admonishment was too late to do anything.
A dry sound echoed across the entirety of the Harvestasha Module.
Tilia placed a hand over her right cheek, where she was slapped.
It didn't hurt.
At the least, it didn't hurt anymore.
But the surprise was too strong for her.
She just had honestly replied what she thought.
So why was she slapped like that?
She didn't understand what this meant.
She wasn't joking around, neither was she lying.
She felt her left cheek get warmer, as if it was swelling up.
Tilia was asking why she was slapped.
But Shurelia didn't answer back; she only kept on standing there.
It was irrational violence.
Tilia couldn't think it was anything else.
Or was Shurelia hurting her because she wanted her to undergo the life extension treatment but couldn't do anything about it?
Since she had acted so violently and Tilia couldn't understand the reason, several possible outcomes that could happen to her, all horrible, appeared on her mind.
But Shurelia stopped standing in front of Tilia and just seemed to withdraw all of a sudden while staggering.
“...Are you okay?”
It was Jakuri.
Shurelia didn't stagger as she went away: Jakuri had actually pulled her away from Tilia.
She softly pulled away the hand Tilia had over the cheek Shurelia had slapped her on.
Her cheek was red and swollen.
Shurelia had slapped her too strongly.
“...So she got so angry over what Tilia said?”
When Jakuri extended a hand to Tilia's face, she instantly noticed Tilia had put herself on guard.
But regardless, she still placed a hand on her cheek and started singing.
It was Song Magic.
No one around knew which effects it would have, but Tilia noticed right away it was a healing Song.
Jakuri's cold hand was placed against her hot and painful cheek.
And both the heat and pain that spread through her cheek seemed to be being absorbed by her hand.
The pain had receded after a few seconds, but after about a minute of making sure everything was fine, Jakuri pulled her hand away.
The swelling was gone and Tilia's cheek was back to its normal white color.
Jakuri wasn't facing her anymore by the time Tilia thanked her.
Her gaze was fixed on Shurelia.
Similarly to how she was when Saki stood between Shurelia and Tilia, Jakuri was now silently glaring at Shurelia.
And Shurelia was also doing the same at her.
Their glaring at each other was once again straining the atmosphere in the now silent Harvestasha Module.
Jakuri was the first one to speak.
“...Everyone here who wants Tilia to undergo the life extension treatment raise your hands, now!”
She said without taking her eyes away from Shurelia.
Aoto and the others didn't react in any way to Jakuri's words.
It was obvious no one wanted Tilia to undergo the life extension treatment.
“Do you get it now? The only one who thinks that Tilia should sacrifice herself to save the Archia people is you”
“But wouldn't that mean that everyone here would be okay with letting the Archians die without doing anything?”
“Well, it seems so... But it also means no one here wants to force the person who's got to do it to sacrifice herself despite saying she doesn't want to do it, even going as far as resorting to violence just for saving the Archians”
Jakuri said while snorting in a mocking manner through her nose.
Shurelia opened her mouth to try to reply back, but she couldn't find the words for doing so.
It was just that similarly how Shurelia had said these actions were natural for an Administrator, Tilia had said what was natural for her.
And while they were making their honest feelings clash with each other in a conversation, Tilia had stated the value system she had toward the humans. Shurelia found it unacceptable, and that was why she raised her hand.
That's what she was telling herself, she was justifying her violent behavior by not wanting to accept Tilia's honest feelings, but in the end it was no more than an excuse.
Everyone else in the place couldn't help but feel pity for Shurelia when they saw her unable to reply back and putting up with the irritation she was feeling.
After all, Shurelia wasn't wrong in what she was saying either.
However, no one else was saying that Tilia should sacrifice herself to sacrifice the Archians like Shurelia was.
They were saying they should respect Tilia's intentions first and foremost, but if that would lead to the deaths of many, it would also weigh heavily on their consciences. Maybe this all was happening because of their own inner weaknesses?
Upon thinking this and seeing how Shurelia had a strong heart that held an unwavering love toward the people and wouldn't even mind forfeiting her own life to carry out her duties as Administrator, it was more than enough for them to feel a pressure squeezing their chests.
“...You understand Tilia's feelings very well”
Harvestasha's voice broke the unpleasant atmosphere.
“After all, it has been barely five years ever since Tilia woke in this era. If you consider she hasn't interacted with more than a handful of people during that time, it might just be inevitable she came to consider the humans under such a way”
What Harvestasha was saying supported quite well why Tilia couldn't consider the humans in any other way, which is everyone else agreed with it.
But Harvestasha herself didn't really agree with it.
“But... As far as my opinion is concerned, I think we should do the life extension treatment if we can carry it out”
“...What are you saying, Harvestasha? Did you get influenced by Shurelia or something?”
Jakuri frowned upon seeing that a conversation that seemed to be finished was heading once again in an unpleasant direction.
But Harvestasha just answered “no” by shaking her head.
“I currently have the duties of managing both the entirety of the Tower and Clusternia. So managing what the humans do is out of my jurisdiction, and thus I basically cannot take part in anything everybody else has decided upon”
This was extremely normal to Harvestasha, given she was the Tower's master computer.
Having as her ultimate priority saving the people regardless of what sacrifices had to be made if there was a problem wasn't part of the duties that were coded into her personality program.
However, Harvestasha was right now asking Tilia to undergo the life extension treatment despite that.
“...Tell me why. If it has nothing to do with Administrator stuff or about having to care for the people's lives, I'll listen”
Tilia was already fed up from hearing these two excuses, so she didn't want to listen to more about the same anymore.
“The reason I want you to undergo the life extension treatment is for the other me... Harvestasha XP, who used to be the Tower's Mainframe”
That was the other Harvestasha that was within the XP Shell that was shot into the Planetary Core when the Planetary Regeneration Project was carried out.
She had a sisterly relationship with Harvestasha VISTA, and she was a friend... no, a very close friend Tilia had before she became the Tower.
Once she heard the name of her closest friend, Tilia actually started paying attention to what Harvestasha was saying.
“Yes. She went into Ar Ciel's heart with the XP Shell to finally make the planetary regeneration a reality”
XP was now in that place far deeper in than the surface, which no one would ever be able to reach anymore.
Once she thought the state her dear friend was in, Tilia started feeling an unbearable sadness, but...
“But what does the life extension treatment have to do with her?”
If there was a relationship between them both, she had never heard anything about it.
Tilia had said that she wouldn't receive the life extension treatment no matter the reason given for it, but this time her reaction was different: she had a hard time believing it.
“It has to do with her because the planetary regeneration was carried out for the sake of this world and everything that lives upon it. And because of that, she departed for Ar Ciel's heart alongside the XP Shell”
“...So that's what you meant”
“Yes. She sacrificed herself and left this world for the sake of creating a world where every single life would be capable of living in happiness from now on. And of course, the Archia people are also included among those lives she wished to save”
“I think we shouldn’t let her feelings go to waste given how she sacrificed herself. At least, that is my opinion on the matter”
Once she finished talking, Harvestasha took a step back.
It seemed there was nothing else she wanted to say.
“Well, you're the one who should decide about this. Your Telomere is the one that's going to get tampered with, so choose whatever you want”
While Jakuri said this, she wasn't expecting Tilia to have a change of heart.
When considering the feelings of her close friend Harvestasha XP, Tilia may have had a hard time deciding what to do.
Jakuri thought that no matter the reason, anyone would be sure to reject the life extension treatment whenever they considered the horrible suffering that awaited them for the rest of their lives.
And she wasn't the only one thinking this, as Shurelia also thought so.
Given the point to which Tilia disliked this idea, it was obvious she wouldn't be willing to accept the treatment so easily.
And if she rejected the treatment, it wouldn't be wrong to say she was going to let the Archia people die.
No matter how much this troubled them, there was nothing that could be done about it.
As long as Tilia didn't give them her consent, Shurelia couldn't do anything.
“...I've made up my mind”
Tilia raised her head, and talked with her usual voice tone.
“I'll accept the life extension treatment... I don't want to do it, but there's no other way”
Everyone was shocked upon hearing how Tilia suddenly changed her opinion.
“Weren't you all against it until a second ago?”
Finnel voiced the question everyone had on their minds.
“I still don't want to do it, as I know how much I'm going to suffer for it”
As she really hated the idea, Tilia dropped her shoulders and sighed.
“But I can't let Harve's feelings go to waste. She was my friend, and the only reason I'm going through with this”
“...Really? That's really your only reason?”
Wasn't that far too a little a reason?
Until a second ago, she had vehemently refused to receive the treatment, to the point Shurelia desperately tried to convince her otherwise and even slapped her over it.
That she accepted receiving it because of her friend’s feelings was just so...
“No way...! No matter how much you wanna do something for a friend, you wouldn't accept something like that so easily!”
“...It's not like that. And Finnel, if you had to suffer horribly to protect Akane's feelings, wouldn't you do it too?”
Finnel and Akane were childhood friends.
And that wasn't the entire extent of their relationship either.
When Finnel was a child, she was horribly bullied in Clusternia.
And the only friend Finnel ever had during that time was Akane.
She protected Finnel from the bullies, and regardless of if she scolded her or encouraged her, Akane was always at her side.
Harvestasha XP was the very first close friend Tilia had, and Akane was very similar... not she was even more of a precious friend to Finnel.
Given this, how far would she go to protect Akane's feelings if she had to do that?
Upon seeing how troubled Finnel was, Akane spoke to her.
“Even if such a situation came to pass, I don't think you would ever do something of this sort. And even if you had to face such circumstances, I would ask you to please disregard such things”
From the time they were children and until they grew to adulthood, Akane constantly saw the many painful situations Finnel went by.
She didn't want to see Finnel suffer anymore.
If she ever were the sole cause of Finnel's suffering, Akane would never be able to bear it.
Yet she always took care that Finnel never noticed these feelings.
“But Finnel would always choose what would make her suffer. You know that too, right?”
Finnel didn't affirm or deny what Tilia said.
But there was already proof she would whatever she had to if it was for Akane's sake.
And if she said she would do so here, she would have gotten Akane angry at her.
Tilia apparently wasn't even intending to hear Finnel's answer, so she just started walking to the room's door after saying that.
“Ah! Hey, Tilia, where are you going?”
Said Aoto to stop her, but Tilia just replied,
“I'll just go to play. I won't have much more time I can spend normally, so at least give me some freedom”
“T-Then I'll go too! I may be able to help you with something, Tilia”
Tilia seemed to have gotten very mentally unstable.
Saki was worried about her and walking to her, but Tilia stopped her with a hand.
“I'm glad you worry about me, but I'll be fine. Besides, there's lots of other stuff you've gotta do, right? Deceiving my Telomere, repairing the satellite... You should give the greatest priority to what you've got to do”
Saki seemed she wanted to say something else, but Tilia just turned her back on her and continued walking without waiting for the rest.
Tilia didn't turn around or reply to Saki as she called out to her, and left the Harvestasha Module on her own.
Now Tilia was absent from the meeting.
Katena, Sasha and Harvestasha then became the center of attention as they gave the final explanations.
“First, we'll need Tilia to deceive her Telomere. Sasha, Tilia and I will be heading to the Rinkernator to carry out the procedure”
Tilia would Dive into the Binary Field to do the internal part, while Katena and Sasha would carry out the rest of the procedure from the outside.
“Next would be the satellite's repairs... But Mr. Radolf, you said we can take some of the airship construction staff members with us, right? About how many?
“Yes, I did. We could dispatch about four or five people to help with the repairs. You'll be helping them too, right Aurica?”
“Yeah! Leave it to me!”
“...Sorry if I'm being rude, but do you have any sort of technical knowledge, Aurica?”
Aurica just puffed her chest and flashed a V-sign with her hand in response to Katena's doubtful gaze.
“I'm actually a first-class Grathmelder, you know? I've even got a store that has already three branches set up!”
“Grathmelding is the synthesis system unique to Sol Ciel. She is a very reliable ally, so please allow her to participate on the satellite's repairs”
“Yeah, I can do it!”
However, what would Katena have decided if he knew that Aurica's store was specialized only in making and selling orgels?
In any case, it didn't change the fact she really was a first-class Grathmelder.
“The next part would be regarding Sol Ciel supplying us with Symphonic Power... Lady Shurelia, would it be possible to transfer the energy as soon as the satellite's repairs are complete?”
“...I think it would be impossible to do right away. We would need to change the Symphonic Power routes before we could supply this Tower. And for that, we would have to break through the Tower's security”
“Can't you do that using your Administrator authority?”
“Unfortunately I don't have any authority over the security systems related to the transmission of Symphonic Power. So there is no other way but to Dive directly into the Binary Field and break through it, but to do so we would need an engineer, and a first-class one at that... Do we have anyone like that here?”
Just from asking that it was obvious that engineers well-acquainted with the Binary Field were very rare.
It was normal for people that weren't equal to the Origins in knowledge didn't know it was possible to enter Binary Field itself, let alone the methods used for doing so.
“Unfortunately, we don't have anyone with such skills. Many things are unknown about the Binary Field even to me”
“I see… This is problematic...”
What should they do if it was impossible to lift or destroy the security?
But Jakuri soon erased the anxiety they were feeling about it.
“It's okay, there's a method for getting rid of it. It's going to be a life-threatening work but... Well, everyone here is already very used to getting their life in danger, so I don't think you'd really mind it, right?”
“Now you say it, I'm actually surprised I can't deny that”
Cocona remembered how many dangerous and life-threatening situations she had been in during all her life and she couldn't help but be shocked about how their number was so abnormally high.
“...While it was bit thrilling, I actually wanted to just have a normal life”
But she had just noticed her life had been anything but normal.
“Anyway, we'll need the help of some people that are adept at melee combat. And it'd be even better if these were people that have gone into the Binary Field previously”
“Then we'll go. Me and Aoto, and Saki and Finnel can come support us--”
“Forget it, I won't let you guys go to a place as dangerous as that. Besides, I think the best we could do was keeping the security systems busy for a little while, no matter who goes there...”
And after saying that, Jakuri turned in Aoto's direction,
“Aoto, you'll go on your own”
“...Aren't you gonna stop me?”
Upon hearing Aoto ask that, a smile appeared on Jakuri's face.
“You've got a good build and you're pretty sturdy, so you're perfect for this”
“Sturdy...? They way you're saying that makes me think I'm gonna get beat up from head to toe”
Jakuri's reply to that was a malicious smile.
While she was only trying to scare Aoto to see how much he was up to the task, Cocona noticed what Jakuri was doing from how long they had known each other.
“...That's right. He has to be prepared enough for this and be careful to not end up dead” she thought.
Cocona's estimation was correct, but Jakuri never said it to anyone.
“So this rids us from the Symphonic Power supply problem. Is there anything else we have to do?”
Urged by Jakuri, Katena continued speaking.
“Um, I think there is. We'll need to make an antenna to receive the Symphonic Power flow once it has been sent here, but that shouldn't be hard to do. General Akane, could you ask some of Clusternia's technicians to make the antenna according to the blueprints I'll hand you later?”
“Please, leave this task to me. Have you decided where you will install it?”
“Hmm, the place for installing it? It'd be ideal to have it in a place located as high as possible, but...”
He considered installing it at a place called Ku, which was located at the very top of the Tower, but he immediately discarded the idea.
After all, it was possible that one of the Tower's sections leading to it disappeared while they were going there.
They wouldn't be able to go back from the installation area if that happened, and if the antenna got caught up in the collapse and fell down the entire effort would have been rendered pointless.
So maybe it would be for the best that they installed it in Clusternia, since they could get to its highest point right away?
“Umm, wouldn't the Great Fang be ideal for installing the antenna?”
The one who proposed this idea was Sasha.
“Ah, I see. We would have the appropriate height and there would be no obstruction from the surroundings over there. Actually, my greatest worries were having the area where we installed it disappearing”
“Understood. Then I shall issue orders to install the antenna on the Great Fang as soon as it is complete”
“Please do. And well, I think that about sums up everything we need to do, right?”
Katena asked Harvestasha to make sure nothing was missing.
“Yes, it does. Once these steps are complete, I will take care of routing the sent Symphonic Power into the Tower”
And with this, the roles everyone would play had been decided.
And so everyone would be able to start as soon as possible, Harvestasha began issuing instructions to everyone, but,
“Wait a second!”
Cocona asked everyone to wait, which made Harvestasha tilt her head confused.
“What should we do?”
It wasn't just Cocona: neither Saki nor Finnel did know what they should be doing.
And while Mute hadn't said anything, it was because she naturally had decided to help Katena.
“I want you to assist me, Finnel”
“I wish you to lead the evacuation of the Clusternia citizens. We are currently understaffed due to matters such as repelling the attacks of the sky pirates, which is why even our technicians have been diverted to such efforts. However, we must assemble our technically-gifted staff in order to construct the antenna”
“Ah, yeah... Okay, got it. I'll help you, Aki. Can Saki lend us a hand too?”
“Yes, of course!”
While Saki was sighing in relief from having gotten a task assigned to her at last, Aoto realized something.
“Saki, did you evacuate the preschool's kids?”
“Ah! N-Now you say it; it's possible something can fall on it, right?”
While they thought the preschool wouldn't be affected by the Tower's disappearance because it was built on the surface, it wasn't very far from the Tower, so there was still the danger that parts from either Clusternia or Archia fell on it once the Tower was gone.
“...I'm sorry. I forgot I had to evacuate the kids”
Upon seeing how Saki looked down after realizing she wouldn't be able to help, he placed a hand on her shoulder.
“That's a pretty important job. Don't worry and leave things here to us”
It was like Aoto said.
Saki's duty was protecting the preschool's kids, so it was natural she gave that task the highest priority.
Only Cocona remained, so Jakuri gave her instructions.
“Cocona, come with us and stay at Tilia's side”
“O-Okay... But there's anything I can help with?”
“While Tilia has accepted the life extension treatment, she doesn't know very well what effects this is going to bring to her, so it's pretty sure she's going to end up mentally unstable. I don't know if we'll be able to support her through that, but since at least you've had more contact with Tilia than any of us, I think that should calm her down a little”
It was like Jakuri said.
She had said she was going to accept the treatment, but it was still the truth she said she hated the idea until right before giving in.
It was possible her anxiety would explode as soon as they started the procedure.
The probabilities were low, yet they weren't zero.
“So Shurelia, what are you going to do? Going back to Sol Ciel with Aoto?”
“No. I will go with Cocona and stay at Tilia's side... She is my little sister, so there is no way I could ever leave her alone under a situation like this”
What she had just said were words coming from the bottom of her heart, but neither anyone in the room or Shurelia herself realized it.
She disliked Tilia to that point. She might have said that while having ulterior motives such as thinking it was very possible Tilia would change her mind right at the very last moment, and if that happened, Shurelia would be there to make her understand the importance of protecting the people as their Administrator.
It was because Shurelia still didn't understand why Tilia made light of the people.
“...And since that could cause another quarrel between them, it’s too dangerous to leave Shurelia alone.”
That was what Jakuri decided,
“...Okay, I'll stay here too”
Upon announcing she would stay, she looked in Frelia's direction.
“What are you and Shun going to do?”
“You're all going to the Rinkernator, right? In that case, I'll just stay here with Harvestasha”
“Having a housekeeper around could be useful in some way. Well, just call us if you ever need more help and we'll be there as quickly as possible”
And with Shun having said those words, everyone had their roles decided.
Given this, there was no need to continue staying there, as time was of the essence in their current situation.
“Well then, let's head for the satellite right away. Aurica, let's go”
“O-Okay! Let's do our best, everyone!”
Radolf and Aurica walked to the exit.
And before they had even finished leaving, Akane starting doing so too,
“I shall be summoning our technicians, so please make sure to hand them the blueprints. Finnel, please come with me”
“Yeah... Aoto, be careful out there, okay?”
Upon saying that, they both left the Harvestasha Module right after Radolf and Aurica.
“...They're gone. Saki, we can leave you in the preschool while we're on route to Sol Ciel”
“Okay, thank you!”
“Come on, don't mention it. Well, let's get going”
“Ah, wait please!”
Upon seeing how Aoto and Saki were preparing to leave, Shurelia hurriedly stopped them.
“Huh? What's wrong, Shurelia?”
“Aoto, please head first to the Grand Cathedral in Platina as soon as you have arrived at Sol Ciel. I will contact them at once, so you should be able to gain access just by saying my name”
Aoto remembered having heard the Platina name.
When the evacuation from two years ago was carried out, he spent a little time learning about what kind of places the other Towers were.
He learned then that Platina was a city in which the Apostles of Elemia, the people closest to the Goddess, resided.
“Whoa! Are you going to such an amazing place, Aoto?”
Given how Saki's eyes sparkled as she said that, Aoto couldn't avoid getting nervous.
“...It's okay for a regular guy like me to go to a place like that?”
“Once you have reached Platina, please ask Lyner to cooperate with you. He is a knight that also has experience with the Binary Field. He is essential in our current countermeasures to the security systems”
“Ah, Lyner? I know him, as we've already met before”
A few years ago, Lyner had accompanied with Radolf when the latter came to Sol Cluster to greet Tilia for the first time.
It was then that Aoto met him.
“...Having Lyner around without having to act all respectful's gonna be so great!”
While they had a considerable difference in ages, Lyner was so sociable that it was possible for them to have conversations as if were friends of the same age.
Aoto also heard about how he belonged to a knight corps called the Knights of Elemia.
“As long as I'm with Lyner, everything'll be fine. I'll also make sure to not end up holding him back”
While Aoto said everything would be okay, Shurelia only reacted by having an uneasy expression on her face.
“The Symphonic Power transmission controls are in a place protected by the strongest state-of-the-art security that can be found in the whole Tower. Honestly, I am thinking that destroying such strong protections is going to be impossible even if Lyner is helping us”
“...So breaking through them's gonna be impossible?”
“While destroying them isn't possible, if we employ certain special methods doing that shouldn't be strictly necessary. So at least you can relax on that point”
But since they didn't know what he had to do, the relieved sensation Aoto was feeling had already vanished away.
While he didn't think he could defeat Lyner due to him being a knight in active duty, Aoto too had enough strength to be able to defeat comparable knights and soldiers.
But if they weren't able to destroy the security in spite of that, they would actually be able to do anything at all?
The more he pondered he things, the more his anxiety built up until the point it showed up on his face.
Shurelia took notice of this too, regretting it because she thought she had said too much.
Jakuri also noticed Aoto's worry, and,
“Go to Metafalica before you head for Sol Ciel. There are some guys who could help you there”
“To Metafalica? What sort of people are there?”
The one who asked that was Shurelia.
Shurelia had never gone to Metafalica at this point, so she was unaware of who and what kind of people lived in it.
“There's a woman called Lakra in there. She's got a professional level knowledge on the Binary Field, so she should be very helpful”
She then added,
“And if you meet Lakra, you should meet a guy called Chester too. He's a professional technician, so make sure to tell him about the satellite repairs. I'll explain him everything, so don't worry about that”
“Lakra and Chester, huh...? Okay, I'll try asking for their help”
“Please do... Ah yes, I forgot to mention one more person. There's also one guy I really can trust in when it comes to physical prowess”
“...Metafalica really's a treasure trove of people, huh? So, what kinda guy is that?”
Jakuri gave Cocona a sidelong glance in response.
Once she noticed Jakuri's gaze, Cocona understood what she wanted to say.
It seemed the surprised face Cocona made was satisfying enough for her, so Jakuri returned to facing Aoto,
“It might not be exactly accurate to say it like this, but well... That guy is like Cocona's older brother”
And having said only that, Jakuri muttered “Now get going already” and started pushing Aoto and Saki in direction to the room's door.
Chapter 6: The Frozen Great Fang
A few days went by after the Musical Corridor's power output was halved.
As an effect of the limiting to its effect area, the Great Fang completely changed into a frozen land.
The Great Fang was already in the border of the Musical Corridor's effect to start with, so it was a land in which temperatures in it were always low and that constantly got swept by strong winds.
Now the conditions on it had become even harsher, it turned into a group of snowy mountains enshrouded by blizzards.
Given it was a place in which life was pretty difficult already, it had now become completely inhospitable to the people.
So they had no other place in they could head into to escape the blizzards and cold that weren't the caves.
Many refugees from Archia had also come to and gathered in the large city that was located in the Great Fang's caves: the Eternus Shaft.
“...There's so many of these guys now”
Gengai whispered without thinking once he entered the Eternus Shaft and saw the situation on it.
The Eternus Shaft was the largest city in the Great Fang to begin with, so there were always lots of people coming and going through it. No matter the time or hour, or if it was night or day, it was always bustling due to the large number of people in it.
But Eternus was now in a state where even walking around was difficult.
And it was bustling not because there where people coming and going through the city.
Instead, the city was overflowing with people that had spread sheets through the streets and set up tents all over.
This sort of scene unfolded on the largest commercial district of Eternus, the Mizumori Square, and even in the black market area of the city that was filled with shops that dealt with goods that weren't sold in public, the Reverse Lamp Market.
“Are all these guys the refugees from Archia...?”
Gengai was working very hard on making and implementing measures for the inhabitants of the Great Fang, so he still hadn't heard the full details on the disaster that took place in Archia.
Still, he did hear that the city had sustained great damage due to having gotten slanted and that a large of refugees that escaped from it where gathering at Eternus.
At first Gengai didn't think it was really important.
After all, Eternus was a large city.
He made light of the matter by thinking that no matter how many people ran away to Eternus, their number wouldn't be large enough to cause problems.
However, even the sole idea of comparing the Great Fang to Archia was foolish.
Since they weren't used to their way of life, they wouldn't be living in the Great Fang for too long.
However, Gengai's predictions were mistaken, as no matter how many days went by, the refugees didn't show any pretense of wanting to leave Eternus.
And as if running away to the surface wasn't an option, more and more new refugees were coming to the city.
The situation had become a real headache for those who had to think how to deal with it, so in other words, the damages brought by the restrictions on the Musical Corridor's output ended getting him stuck with a very unpleasant job.
It was now that Gengai had finally understood exactly how badly overcrowded Eternus had gotten.
“...It looks like a campsite.
But can't these guys go to the inns or something?”
But when he thought that, he immediately realized that there wouldn't be any inn capable of lodging so many guests if the streets were brimming with so many people.
Even Gengai was very confused from having this abnormal sight before him.
He went to check a few inns just in case, but all of them had a “no vacancy” sign hanging from their entrances.
So even if the streets were filled to the brim with refugees, there was no point in complaining about it.
“...But we can't just leave them like this”
Gengai continued pondering what he should do about this situation as he walked around Eternus.
And while he did so, there was a time he passed in front of a certain bistro.
A middle-aged woman inside the establishment saw him and ran to him.
“Wait a moment, Mr. Gengai!”
Gengai turned around when she called his name, and he noticed that the woman was an acquaintance of his.
She was the landlady of the Yokkora Bistro, a woman everyone affectionately called Mrs. Lu.
“Hey, it's gotten pretty troublesome around here, huh?”
“It's not that. Mr. Gengai, haven't you heard about it yet?”
He had a bad feeling, but he couldn't refuse to listen to the news.
Gengai waited for Mrs. Lu to continue talking.
“We got a call from the Blue Canyon Hamlet” They say they're going to have all their villagers evacuate to Eternus!”
“T-The guys from the Blue Canyon Hamlet're coming too!?”
The Blue Canyon Hamlet wasn't a very large settlement.
So under normal conditions, the Eternus Shaft could have accepted them in without problem.
But given the current situation, it was impossible to do so.
The Eternus streets were pretty much buried by the people to the point that even walking through them was hard, so if they got even more people into the city, Eternus wouldn't be able to function at all.
“But there's no place that can't actually take 'em in, right?”
“It should be obvious, no? And look over there!”
Gengai looked at the place Mrs. Lu was pointing him at.
There were tents set up in front of a store that had its shutters down.
“The stores can't work anymore because they set up their tents in front...”
“...Well, I can't really complain about this because I know why we've got this situation in our hands. But if this goes on for a long time, we won't be able to live here!”
The very lifestyle the Eternus citizens used to have was threatened by the ever-increasing number of refugees.
They were enduring it because they knew there was nothing that could be done about it at the moment, but this wasn't a situation that could go on forever.
If someone snapped anywhere, it would cause a chain reaction that would get one person after other riled until the point they would start rioting.
“...What are we gonna do? We're reachin' the limit already”
Gengai looked around and called the few soldiers that were patrolling the area.
“Hey, call the airport right now. Tell 'em we can't take in more refugees”
The guard wanted to say for a moment that refusing to accept more refugees was anti-humanitarian, but he still obeyed Gengai's orders.
From seeing the situation in Eternus Shaft, it was clear that Gengai was taking the right decision.
“But if the Great Fang can't accept any more refugees, where should we divert them instead?”
“Idiot, why ya think we regenerated the planet? Tell 'em to go down to the surface, and they shouldn't have any complaints because there're no blizzards or problems breathin' down there, unlike here. Besides, call all the Great Fang Militia personnel you can for a meetin' with me and contact the airport after that”
The guard said “Understood!” and ran into the crowd.
“Wait a moment, Mr. Gengai! Why are you calling the Great Fang Militia to a meeting?”
“It's nothin' big. We're just gonna guide everybody to the surface.”
“Guide them to the surface? Are you really planning to make the Blue Canyon Hamlet villagers go down there? I don't really like how you've taken in the people from Archia, but you're refusing to take in our own Great Fang companions”
Even if she knew there was nothing that could be done about it, Mrs. Lu couldn't help saying that.
But Gengai just said “no way” as he pointed to behind himself over his shoulder.
Naturally, behind him there were the many refugees from Archia that had escaped to Eternus.
“Mr. Gengai, don't tell me... You're planning to chase them out!?”
“You've been sayin' things in very scandalous ways from a while ago, but that's not what I'm plannin'. Still, Eternus isn't a campsite, so we'll just move 'em to a place where they don't cause trouble”
“Y-Yeah, it's true that'd be the best... But you think you can really do that?”
Mrs. Lu wasn't worrying over nothing.
It's true the surface has a more stable climate and wide lands that extended as far as the eye could see.
Besides, it also had day and night, so the Archians would be able to gain a lifestyle that gave them mental stability if they went there.
But they still had reasons for choosing the Great Fang over the surface.
The first one was that time had barely gone by since the surface was regenerated, so it suffered from frequent earthquakes.
While on the other hand, Archia always was floating due to its condition as a city that extended from its central point: the Tower of Origin.
So in other words, the Archians weren't used to the earthquakes.
There was no one that had been familiar with the kind of disasters that natural earthquakes are, but still a very significant percentage of people felt uneasy from the constant tremors of a ground they weren't used to.
The other reason was because there was nothing on the surface.
At the time, aside of the preschool Saki managed there was nothing but a few private houses and lodging homes for the soldiers that patrolled the surface, and some inns and gift shops aimed to the people who had come to the surface to do sightseeing.
If anything happened, there weren't any places to take cover from the wind or rain or any stores where they could get anything they needed for their lifestyles right away. It was nothing but a very inconvenient place.
So naturally, they decided it was better to go to Eternus than to the surface, as they were protected from the elements thanks to being inside a cave and they could buy anything they needed as long as they had the money for it.
So they wouldn't just accept being ordered to move to the surface.
“By the way, Mrs, Lu. How's your bistro doin'?”
Mrs. Lu made a puzzled face, wondering why he would ask that right now. She replied,
“Oh, I'm not sure if I should happy about it, but I've got it packed with the refugees every single day. They went through my whole stock this afternoon, so I had to close early”
“Ya made 'em pay?”
“It's not like it could be helped. I'd have to hang myself if I didn't”
“I see. Well, thanks. Make sure to continue making 'em pay”
She couldn't understand why Gengai was thanking her.
It's not like she was doing anything special: she was just taking as payment money in exchange for providing them food.
She thought it was as if he was thanking her in behalf of the Great Fang for buying food and distributing it among the refugees.
“Why are you thanking me now, Mr. Gengai? It's giving me a bad feeling how you're thanking me for no reason”
“Haha, who knows?”
And after saying that, Gengai looked around as if he were making sure no one was watching them, and starting talking among whispers.
“These guys are refugees, but it doesn't seem they've realized what bein' a refugee's like. That's why they're trying to stay at inns and eating at your place. But do ya think they've got enough money to keep livin' like that for who knows how many days?”
“I don't think they have. But well, I've worried about that being the case whenever a customer comes to the bistro”
“These guys are the same. They were relieved at first 'coz they could escape, but now many're worrying about for how long they're gonna have food. That's why we're gonna clear away their worries”
In short, this was what Gengai wanted to say.
It was obvious the refugees would refuse to go away even if they were ordered to do so.
And it was the truth they would have a riot in their hands if they forced them to leave.
But what would happen if they gave them free food and then made them descend to the surface?
There were many among the refugees that had evacuated since several days ago that worried about what they would eat in the future.
They could be fine the next day, but they knew they couldn't keep doing this forever.
So it was natural for them all to be feeling uneasy and so it would be easily to carry out a plan of making them voluntarily head for the surface if they accepted to receive the food.
While Mrs. Lu agreed with him after he finished his explanation, she still looked somewhat dissatisfied.
“...That kinda sounds like taking advantage of them, but I can't agree with the idea of letting they do whatever they want either”
“And it's not like we're gonna dump 'em into the blizzard, so don't complain. Besides, at this rate Eternus is gonna get completely paralyzed and we're all gonna go down together”
Besides, there was a more worrying possibility: that the refugees would start stealing and doing other sorts of crimes once they were cornered.
This was the first time the Archians had come to the Great Fang and they weren't used to being trapped inside a cave, so no one knew what they were capable of doing once they went completely broke.
The best time to move them was now they still had some maneuvering margin to do so.
The guard from before had returned with reinforcements.
They were in total ten people, and Gengai was very pleased that he managed to bring back so many in such a little time.
“These were all the men I could bring here, sir”
“Nah, that's good enough. I'm gonna explain ya guys what you'll be doing, so make sure to tell the other guards this”
Upon seeing them nodding, he explained them everything he had just told Mrs. Lu.
They were every bit as apprehensive as she was, as everything would get out of their hands if an incident or riot started.
“That's it. By the way, I don't think you're gonna be able to lead these guys to the Ciela Gate airport. So call someone over there and tell 'em to send us the airships. Make 'em fly the airships to Eternus and we'll start moving the refugees bit by bit to the surface”
“Understood. We will take care of the food distribution too”
“Fine. I trust ya on that”
After he said that, Gengai whispered in a way only the guards would be able to hear him,
“...Just a little food's fine. These are rations after all, so we don't need to give 'em enough to fill up their stomachs”
Gathering enough food to guarantee three full meals for these many refugees was impossible.
And furthermore, it was unknown for how long they would be able to distribute enough rations for them all to eat two times per day at least, given there were enough people to bury the Eternus Shaft completely.
Both sides had the same great problem, which was why there were no objections to the idea.
“And one more thing... Well, no one's doing this yet, but just in case anyone's stupid enough to even think something like climbing down the Great Fang, tell ‘em to forget it. Even if they could get down there, they wouldn't find the surface: they'd only find magma”
“Climb and walk down? No way, no one would be idiotic enough to think of that--”
“Remember how many people we've gotta evacuate through the airships. That's gonna take us a week at least, so wouldn't there be some people out there that'd try climbing down the mountains to get free food right away once they knew they had to wait for so long?”
This was common knowledge to the residents of the Great Fang, but it seemed the Archians were ignorant to it. Gengai thought it would be better that they gave these warnings to anyone who was thinking beyond what was necessary.
“Well, that's all. I've gotta go to Clusternia now, so the rest's in your hands”
As soon as Gengai finished speaking, the guards started running all at the same time.
It seemed they would be able to easily take in the residents from the Blue Canyon Hamlet this way.
“Okay, time to get goin'. If anythin' comes up, call me”
“Ah, okay. By the way, you said you were going to Clusternia, but what're you going to do there?”
“Isn't it obvious? I'm gonna complain at them”
He didn't have to think much to find out what was the reason behind the sudden blizzard that befell upon the Great Fang.
Either the weather control system, the Musical Corridor had some kind of anomaly and wasn't working, or its effect area had been reduced.
Gengai guessed it was the latter, that the effect area had been reduced.
After all, not even a single one of the refugees from Archia had brought any sort of way to protect themselves from the cold.
They didn't think they would need to bring protection against the cold until they boarded the airships that took them to the Great Fang.
“Having the Musical Corridor workin' as it should is a life-or-death matter to us. I dunno what's happenin' there, but I'm gonna tell 'em to get it workin' now!”
“Okay, please do. After all, we can't shelter the people from the Blue Canyon Hamlet here forever”
“Yeah, I know”
Having said that, Gengai didn't have any doubts about what was happening.
The people who could control the Musical Corridor were very few.
The one who actually controlled it, Harvestasha, and the one who could give her orders, Tilia.
Or maybe it was Akane, the Supreme Commander of Clusternia.
It had to be the idea of one of these three.
He didn't know what the point was of restricting the functions of the Musical Corridor, nor if they even had anything to do with it.
But when he thought that only the Great Fang was being left outside of the Corridor's effect area, he wasn't sure he could deny the worst possible scenario: that Harvestasha's personality skin was being manipulated like it happened such a long time ago.
“...Nothin's gonna come out from just thinkin' about it. I've gotta find out the reason behind this...”
“Well, the rest's in your hands!”
And after saying this, Gengai left Eternus.
Chapter 7: Work on the Telomere
All the members of the team that would work on deceiving the Telomere had gathered at the Rinkernator, which was located far above in the upper zones of the Tower.
Its center had a Symphonic Power plug that connected the upper and lower parts of the Tower, but at that point it was disconnected.
The disconnection of the plug was done so they could bring out the two Dive Pods that were enclosed inside of it.
These pods weren't like the ones installed in standard Dive Shops, as they were special ones equipped with the devices and systems necessary for the Administrator's change of guard.
And now, Katena, Sasha and Shurelia were in the middle of performing the final adjustments.
It had been several hours since they started working.
And during that time, Tilia had just kept on gazing at the scenery that could be viewed from there while she gnawed on the large amount of agepan they had bought before coming to this place.
But even so, she couldn't see anything but the clouds that stretched below them and a gloomy sky.
Besides, it's not like Tilia was looking around to enjoy the view.
She got greatly depressed whenever she thought about the hellish days that would be awaiting her from now on. She wanted just to become insentient so she could forget about these feelings even if it was only slightly.
Of course, it was impossible for her to forget about that great anxiety she was feeling.
If she could, she wanted to run away immediately. She was now very seriously considering hitching an airship or something and being on the run until the remainder of her lifespan was consumed.
Even the agepan she loved so much didn't feel tasty at all now.
Suddenly, Tilia shifted her gaze from the sky to the clouds below.
Even though these were normal clouds when seen from the surface and Clusternia, they seemed just like the Sea of Death when viewed from above.
Even if she couldn't run away, she could be at peace if only she took a single step more.
She was terrified whenever she thought how she would continue suffering for so long, so wouldn't this be far better than just going through with this whole thing and accepting the days of suffering that awaited her?
But even just watching Tilia from the side as she pondered these things was dangerous.
Cocona and Mute just continued looking at Tilia's small back while keeping somewhat of a distance from her.
“...Mute, what you think it'd be good to tell her in a time like this?”
“...I dunno. I was kinda expectin' ya to tell me that”
Even though they had come along to cheer Tilia up, they both couldn't find anything good to tell her.
It was natural.
If it was just a procedure to increase the time she would be alive, any kind of encouragement would have been good enough.
But she would be going through hell itself as long as the life extension lasted.
Moreover, it was a burden she didn't to shoulder in the first place.
She was doing this just to not let Harvestasha XP's feelings go to waste, so she wasn't doing this for people she couldn't care any less.
Even just saying “do your best” seemed like they were going to tell her “do your best to endure the suffering you'll be going through from today on until the instant you die”.
“Cheer up” was also out of question.
The only words that would have had the greatest effect on Tilia right now were “It's okay, you don't have to go through this”.
But actually saying that was an entirely different problem.
If they said these words, Tilia would have clung to them.
And that would mean the deaths of the people who still were in Archia. Given that they were supposed to be saved thanks to Tilia receiving the life extension treatment that would be as if she had killed them with her own hands.
Even Cocona and the others had a hard time saying that saving at least one or two people was well worth the price of the life extension.
Tilia wasn't a life that was born from another person.
But even so, she still had a heart and she wasn't just an Origin or Administrator to the people who knew her personally: she was a person, one of their precious friends.
While Shurelia was saying she should do it because it was her duty as Administrator, Cocona and the others could never bring themselves to say that.
That's why they said nothing.
That's why saying nothing was unbearable to them.
So after coming to a decision, both walked up to Tilia and sat down to her side.
“...Are you okay, Tilia?”
Upon seeing how Cocona was asking how she was, Tilia replied,
“I'm physically fine, but... I'm not feeling well”
“Can we do anythin' fer ya? We don't mind do anythin' you ask us; as we're gonna do everythin' we can!”
Mute then struck her own chest as if saying “leave it to us!”
It sounded unexpectedly loud though, so this made Tilia worry despite the fact they were supposed to not upset her any further, even though Mute herself was fine.
After thinking a little, Tilia put her hand into a bag, took two pieces of agepan and gave them to both girls.
“It's enough for me to have you two at my side”
They couldn't even think “Are you okay just with that?”, but since Tilia said it, it really was the best for her.
Cocona and Mute accepted the agepan and started eating them while they three sat as good friends.
The three spent a good while in silence.
Given that Cocona and Mute were unable to help with the work on the Telomere, the reason they had come to this place was to check on Tilia and make sure she wouldn't get mentally unstable. They knew very well this was their purpose here.
However, given Tilia knew what their personalities were like, she also knew they couldn't do anything like spouting empty words of encouragement to her given what the current situation was.
Given how excessively she was making them worry, she thought doing things this way would be far better than making them do things she really didn't need and disappointing them with her replies.
This way, they wouldn't be able to talk to each other because they had their mouths filled with the agepan, but at the same time they would be at Tilia's side.
While she knew what sort of things she would be going through from now on, Tilia let out a sarcastic laughter at herself from seeing how unexpectedly calmly she could think about others.
“W-What was that?”
“No, it's nothing. If you want a repeat, I've got lots of agepan here. So go on, help yourselves”
Tilia thought she would be okay saying that, but there weren't actually many agepan pieces left there. Once they ate them all, she would be unable to get more time without Cocona and Mute talking.
“...It'd be great if they finished setting up the pods before they finished eating”
While Tilia thought that, Jakuri walked to her, who so far had just been observing the situation in silence.
Tilia turned around upon hearing her name.
Jakuri was staring at her right in the eye.
From her expression it seemed like she was trying to read what Tilia had on her mind.
After she called her and seeing that Jakuri wasn't going to do anything in special or say anything, Tilia took out a piece of agepan and offered it to her.
“...I still haven't thanked you. Thanks for being on my side”
It was her way of thanking Jakuri for having protected her from Shurelia in the Harvestasha Module.
“I didn't do that to get your gratitude... And I've got something more important to tell you”
Tilia cocked her head while thinking “What could she want to say now we've reached this point?”
Mute was unaware of what Jakuri wanted to say, so she just waited for her to continue.
But unlike them both, Cocona started having a bad feeling.
“...No way... Jakuri is about to say something absurd...”
She felt that was the case because of how long they had known each other.
However, Jakuri didn't pay any mind to Cocona's worries and calmly said,
“If don't want to get the life extension procedure, just say so already. I'm on your side”
She really said something absurd.
But before Cocona could say “What did you say!?” Shurelia turned in their direction from where she was working on the pods.
“Mir! What are you saying now!?”
Upon seeing how angrily and quickly Shurelia was walking to them, Cocona was very troubled as she thought “It's started again...”
Tilia instantly tensed up. She had just remembered when Shurelia slapped her.
Jakuri stood in front of Tilia as if she were guarding her and turned to face Shurelia,
“Calm down. If Shurelia starts telling lies to scare you, I'll shut her up myself”
Shurelia instantly noticed this wasn't the typical provocation Jakuri used to mock her.
The glare Jakuri was giving her meant that she was serious, that she wouldn't doubt to mercilessly blast her with Song Magic if it was necessary.
Shurelia felt the danger, so she stopped walking to Jakuri and instead continued glaring at her from the distance.
“...Mir, what are you saying now? Tilia has already chosen by herself to undergo the treatment”
Jakuri just snorted as if everything Shurelia had said was idiotic.
“You know she can change her mind, right? No matter how much this might be to protect her precious friend's feelings, it wouldn't weird for her to do that whenever she thinks of what's coming for her”
“But if she does that, the people of Archia...”
Shurelia stopped talking as soon as she heard the sound of a tongue clicking. Of course, that was Jakuri's doing.
“Just as you would expect from our excellent Reyvateil Origin and Administrator Lady Shurelia! That you appeal so much to talking about your beloved humans is nothing short of embarrassing!”
“...What do you mean?”
“Just what I said. No matter what you say, you have even gone to the point of suspending your own functions just to protect the humans. I'm just praising the way our wonderful Administrator doesn't just say she loves the humans, she also shows it off with her actions!”
But her voice tone had something unpleasant in it to everyone who heard her, as if she was making a fool of or insulting the person she was talking about.
“But...” Jakuri continued.
“What awaits Tilia is not just a functions suspension that can be fixed through a reboot, it's actual death. Moreover, she should just die in peace and without any suffering like she's supposed to”
“I know that. That is just natural for everyone who possesses a Triangular Nuclear Loop”
“If you know that much, why are you forcing Tilia to undergo the life extension treatment!? If you just left her alone, she could just die without having to go through that horrible suffering! Don't you know that if someone refused to do such a thing and someone else tried to persuade them to do it, they would get angry at the latter?”
Jakuri hesitated briefly about continuing with what she was about to say, but she just bit her lips and went on.
It was about something she had purposely caused herself, something she would never be able to forget for the rest of her life.
“...I'll say it. That should make her understand”
She drew strength from the biting she did on her lips.
“Shurelia, what you're doing now... is absurdly cruel and heinous from my viewpoint. And I say that being the one who caused half the Wings of Horus to fall”
The Wings of Horus.
That was a floating continent in which most of the First Tower of Ar tonelico's population lived.
Jakuri destroyed half the Wings of Horus and sent them plummeting down into the Sea of Death, causing the loss of countless human lives.
The number of people that died back then was in an entirely different order of magnitude from the number of refugees that were still stuck in Archia now.
It was the gravest crime she had ever committed.
However, she didn't think what she did was wrong, nor she did regret it back then.
Her reason was that the humans suddenly started fearing the very Reyvateils they had created, and that ultimately served as a pretext to initiate a plan for creating an emotionless being they could manipulate as if it were a tool.
The humans considered their own peace as their greatest goal, and at the same time they wanted to make the Reyvateils themselves into tools.
This caused a war between humans and Reyvateils, and since Jakuri just did whatever she thought she should, she didn't regret it.
However, it was the truth that this wasn't a topic that could be brought up recklessly, nor it was something she liked to think about.
Even if she had no other methods available, it still didn't change the fact she had committed a grave crime.
So when she started going by the name Jakuri, she decided she would use it as a chance to start a second life.
There were still some people who called her Mir, but these were people she knew before she started going by the Jakuri name, so only those who met her after she changed names called her Jakuri.
Even the name Aurica called her, Miu, was a nickname she had since long ago.
Upon hearing “the one who caused half the Wings of Horus to fall”, Shurelia understood how serious Jakuri was.
She seriously was respecting Tilia's feelings, and if Tilia wished so, Jakuri would have no problems stopping them from carrying out the life extension plan. If they had to resort to brute force to solve this and Shurelia made as if she raised her hands to preempt her, she should be able to stop Jakuri even if she resorted to using Song Magic.
But while she thought that, Shurelia couldn't stay silent.
No matter her reasons, that didn't change the fact she had committed a grave crime, and furthermore, Jakuri also said she was even crueler than her.
“It's not like I can't understand why you are feeling like that. It's just natural that anyone would feel in such a way when it was said Tilia would have to be sacrificed”
“If you're going to act like that, this conversation won't go anywhere. Or is it that you don't think talking is worth your time?”
“I have never said that! But if she has finally accepted to undergo the treatment, there is no need to try stopping her now, is it?”
“Because you went so far to persuade her into doing it after Tilia had refused. That she accepted the treatment and is watching things silently now is only because she's scared. And you might think that ignoring Tilia's feelings to save the people is the right thing to do, but that's not more than a tremendous mistake!”
“It's not a mistake. It's not mistaken at all if that will allow us to save so many people!”
“Even if that needs sacrifices!?”
Shurelia took several seconds to answer Jakuri's question.
“...If it's for saving a countless number of lives, sometimes you have no other option but make your heart into that of a demon”
If there was a way to do this without sacrificing anyone, that would be the best method.
Even Shurelia herself wished to do so if she could.
But that was just lip service.
Shurelia was just running away by clinging to that phrase.
Jakuri knew it very well too.
That people went to the point of using lip service wasn't exactly bad.
That's why she thought Shurelia's way of thinking wasn't actually mistaken.
However, Jakuri couldn't bring herself to forgive Shurelia for thinking like that.
“I fully know about your feelings of wanting to save the humans, and that if it's for their sake, you're determined to even become a demon yourself... but...”
She filled the glare she was giving Shurelia with all her strength,
“If that's true, why didn't you kill me back then!? Why did you think you could persuade me when I was so intent in exterminating humanity!? If you really wanted to save the people so much, shouldn't you have killed me without even trying to persuade me!?”
After she dropped half the Wings of Horus, Jakuri spent many centuries sealed away.
When that seal was broken, the actions Shurelia took to stop Jakuri when she started trying to exterminate humanity again were trying to reason with her.
“B-Because back then... I remembered I felt sympathy with Lyner when he said he wanted to try persuading with you”
“But you didn't seriously think you could persuade me, did you?”
Shurelia wasn't able to answer Jakuri's question.
It was just as Jakuri said: she didn't think they would be truly able to persuade her.
It was after all trying to persuade Jakuri, who intended to annihilate all humans and had even spread monsters called Viruses all over Sol Ciel.
Shurelia wasn't stupid enough to think from the bottom of her heart that would be possible.
“If that's true, you should have come with the intent to kill me from the start. After all, every single human in Sol Ciel would have been dead if you had the tables turned on you. Given all that, why did you think that a method like persuading me would work!? If you really thought you wanted to protect this world and its people, you should have killed me regardless of what Lyner said!”
“It's true there was a risk of it failing. But I believed we had a reasonably high chance of success, and that was why I made that choice”
It was because Shurelia knew that Mir originally loved the humans from the bottom of her heart when Lyner proposed trying to persuade her. It was because he was touched by these feelings that Lyner said he wanted to talk with Mir so they both could understand each other and bring this to an end without having to kill Mir.
Shurelia and everyone else that was traveling with Lyner back at the time also noticed Mir's feelings, and this made them start thinking there could be a peaceful solution to this conflict.
“We knew the feelings you used to hold toward the humans, and that is why I took a gamble on that idea. After all, the best solution is the one where no casualties spring up”
“And what would have happened if I had refused to listen to you?”
“If it came to that... Lyner said something about wanting to stop you. So even if it had to come down to us stabbing each other, we wanted to stop you no matter what”
Even if no one would think that Shurelia was serious when she said “having to stab each other”, she had once suspended the Tower's functions to stop Jakuri's revival.
So if the situation actually required it, she was fully willing to do so.
“But you know, you're the only one who'd be willing to risk their life like that for the humans in a situation where discussing things is useless. Don't you think pushing others into doing that same thing is awful? And not only that, it even seems Tilia doesn't like humans....”
“I agree it may be awful. But if she is a Tower Administrator, it should be natural for her to accept it”
“Stop joking around! That answer won't do here!”
Not only ignoring Tilia's feelings, but also being completely unwilling to even accepting them was what made Jakuri indignant enough to scream at Shurelia.
“You know that being an Origin or a Tower Administrator are no more than mere positions!? These aren't reasons to force anyone to sacrifice themselves!”
“Of course they are! Why can't you understand it!? We were born in this word with the goal of protecting the people as the Tower Administrators in the first place...!”
“So that means you have no freedom? You three all have lives and hearts, don't you? You three should have freedom to do anything you like instead of an Administrator position that doesn't even allow you to do whatever you want with your own life or feelings! If you weren't given even that, you're no more than mere tools!”
That was the reason Jakuri herself was born.
As Jakuri was born as an obedient tool to the humans, one that wasn't even given emotions of her own, she knew how painful it was to be treated as an object.
As they wouldn't accept a being that was filled by love toward them, Jakuri continued feeling the sadness of being treated as a tool for a very long time, and that may have what caused her feelings to change.
That was why she was on Tilia's side.
And Shurelia could understand these feelings Jakuri had very well by now.
After all, she was very well aware of the reasons she was created for and the sort of treatment she was given.
However, the grudge Jakuri harbored was so large that the one who ended opposing her, fought as a full ally to the humans and sealed her away was no other than Shurelia herself.
Despite how much the Reyvateils had suffered, they had chosen a way for them to coexist with the humans without ever having to resent them.
Even though she could understand Jakuri's feelings, Shurelia was still incapable of accepting them.
Jakuri had understood that much without her having to actually say anything.
“Tilia has her own feelings. She isn't the sort of girl that would feel happy from being used like a convenient tool for the humans like you do”
Shurelia's eyebrows twitched and rose as soon as he heard that.
“...You called me... a tool...?”
At the same time Shurelia muttered this, everyone around started feeling something wasn't okay.
Instantly, the atmosphere in the Rinkernator filled with tension.
And while that happened, Jakuri just snorted with her nose.
“Oh, am I wrong!? Isn't someone who doesn't care about anything else but protecting the humans, no matter the situation, a convenient tool!?”
“Please take that back, now”
“Why? I don't get why it'd be necessary to take that back”
“I shall not allow you to insult the mission we were given as Administrators... So please, take that back this instant!”
“You think I'm going to obey the orders given by a tool? How stupid!”
Cocona and Mute saw how much strength there was in the glare Shurelia was giving Jakuri.
It contained a rage that surpassed by far even how she was when she slapped Tilia in the Harvestasha Module.
They understood quite clearly how all her fury was gushing out.
And in this critical situation under which they could easily start shooting Song Magic at each other in any second, Mute took a step to try and stop them.
“H-hey, knock it off!”
But before she could do anything else, Cocona grabbed her by the arm and pulled her away”
“C-Cocona, what're ya doin'? They're gonna start fightin' any second now!”
But Cocona just shook her head many times while she still grabbed Mute's arm.
“We don't have enough power to stop these two...!”
Jakuri was the ultimate Reyvateil, possessing powers that surpassed even those of the Origins.
And as if that wasn't enough, her opponent at this critical time was no other than the very Origin that had lots of experience fighting against her.
It was true Cocona and Mute wouldn't be able to stop someone on their level.
These two girls who had ridiculous amounts of power were already prepared to start fighting, so trying to stop them at this point was nothing but a suicidal action.
Upon seeing how Cocona's forehead was dripping with sweat, she guessed these two girls that were glaring at each other were being possessing powers far beyond her imagination.
They then heard the sound of a long and relaxed breathing in.
It was no mere breathing.
Any Reyvateil and any people who had previously heard multiple times the Reyvateils' Songs knew what this meant.
“...It’s Song Magic... Are these two going to seriously do that!?”
The invocation of Song Magic through the singing of a Song isn't done through emitting a Song in the form of words.
They are actually invoked by the Reyvateils creating within their hearts the feelings they need to sing their Songs.
So while they both hadn't started singing yet, their hearts had started doing so.
It could be either light, fire, water or maybe even something completely different from all these.
While it was impossible to see this with the physical eye, they just knew they were producing tremendous power through the Songs within their hearts and accumulating it at a terrifyingly high speed.
Mute and Cocona were right beside them but were unable to do anything beyond watching, and this sight ended sending shivers through their whole skins and left them unable to do even move.
The breathing then stopped.
Once they started singing, it would be impossible to stop them.
But right as they were about to start singing, Tilia moved away from where she was covered by Jakuri's back.
Surprised by how Tilia suddenly moved after having just been watching all this time, both Shurelia and Jakuri had to swallow down the Songs they were about to start mouthing out.
Tilia showed no interest in either of them, and after passing them by, she walked to Sasha, who was still busy adjusting the pods.
“...It's okay if I use this pod?”
“It's still not configured to access the Telomere, so you would only be able to enter the Binary Field in it”
Upon hearing Sasha's answer, Tilia opened the pod's lid.
“Tilia, are you going into the Binary Field? You don't have to hurry so much...”
“That'd be far better than sticking around here”
said Tilia as she looked at Shurelia and the others.
“These might be the last normal hours I'll have, so I'd like to at least spend them in peace”
And saying so, Tilia lied down into the pod.
She instantly closed the pod's lid, and at the same time it fully closed, Tilia closed her eyes.
Her mind had already been sent into the Binary Field. So no matter what kind of ruckus went outside, Tilia wouldn't hear any of it.
The great power that Jakuri and Shurelia were emitting from their bodies quickly dimmed down.
Shurelia sighed while Jakuri clicked her tongue, and both looked away from each other.
“I was doing what I thought best for her, but looks like it had the opposite effect. I've never been used to doing this sort of thing”
Even though she was giving so much importance to Tilia's feelings, she only did the opposite and ended giving her more unpleasant feelings.
Jakuri was so irritated she ended up violently scratching her head.
“...We were so reckless. What were we thinking, starting a fight right in front of Tilia like that?”
Shurelia also greatly regretted having started that fight before Tilia.
After Tilia herself had said she would accept the life extension treatment, she had never said she was having second thoughts about it.
But now Jakuri had asked Tilia how things would be if she refused the treatment, even though Tilia herself didn't say she was in agreement with the idea, Shurelia was worried about what she would do.
But the final result of her overreaction was this quarrel.
If they had been allowed to continue for a few more seconds, they would actually have shot Song Magic at each other.
Now she thought about how this went, it was obvious this made Tilia very anxious.
She should have just said a single gentle phrase to cheer her up from the beginning.
“...Because I'm her older sister...”
She turned around, but Tilia already had closed her eyes within the pod.
No matter what Shurelia said, her voice wouldn't reach her anymore.
Relieved that Jakuri and Shurelia settled this without actually getting into a fight, Cocona and Mute walked to the pod where Tilia was.
“...Hey, we're not doin' anythin' wrong, right?”
Upon seeing how Mute's self-confidence was slipping away as she looked at Tilia inside the pod, Katena stopped operating the console for a moment.
“That's not it, honey. What we're doing isn't something that can be classified as right or wrong”
“Then why I'm so filled with unpleasant feelings!?”
“That's because... I think you already know why, honey”
Mute couldn't reply back to Katena upon seeing how he was looking straight at her as he talked.
It was just like he said; she knew very well why she was feeling like that.
That Tilia had chosen to undergo a life extension that would cause her endless pain as a result of this situation wasn't something anyone could feel glad about from the bottom of their heart.
And due to that, she wasn't able to put that into words clearly.
That was the reason for it.
“And you're not the only one honey. If we just could do anything else...”
Katena patted her shoulder multiple times to cheer her up upon seeing how depressed she was, and then he returned to manipulating the console.
“...I'm feeling the same too...”
Sasha had continued working in silence, so she was surprised when Katena called her.
“Huh? Ah? S-Sorry... I just was thinking about something”
“Thinking about something? Is that related to Tilia?”
Sasha had a complicated expression on her face,
“I don't know. But it feels as if were being fooled by something. I just have the feeling that we're overlooking something extremely important...”
And saying this, Sasha went back to working in silence.
It seemed to be a habit of Sasha that she would always fall into a prolonged silence whenever she was thinking about something.
And generally, she would always come up with some discovery or answer that would surprise everyone else from doing that.
“...Because we're hoping for a miracle, Sasha”
Given how Cocona had seen this happen multiple times, she looked at Sasha while she worked, entrusting all her expectations to her.
Suddenly, Sasha stopped operating the console.
“Did you come up with something, Sasha?”
Hope had expanded inside Cocona's chest, but Sasha just shook her head.
“I've finished configuring the pods. Now Tilia should be able to access her Telomere from the Binary Field”
“The next part will be done after Tilia has accessed the Telomere. So we should rest for now”
Katena and Sasha were relieved they could finally take a rest, but they still hadn't calmed down.
After all, they would need to get to the console and start working again after Tilia had completed the preparations on her end.
Under normal conditions this kind of work wouldn't have been so taxing, but they had to do it right after spending several days searching for a way to delay the Tower's disappearance, so they had a lot of pent-up fatigue.
If they didn't rest while they had a chance to do so, there was no guarantee they would be able to continue with this work to the end.
“Darlin', shouldn't you take a li'l rest?”
“Hmm? Ah, yes... you're right. We have several free hours, so I'll take a little nap”
Given how worried Mute was, Katena decided to listen to her, so he lied on his side and closed his eyes.
They started hearing how he breathed in his sleep almost immediately.
“Whoa! He's asleep already?”
“Darlin' normally does nuthin' but research. He gets refreshed even by sleepin' very little, so that's why he falls asleep so fast”
Mute proudly explained upon seeing how amazed Cocona was at Katena's short time for falling asleep.
It was amazing, but it wasn't really a skill to be envious of.
“What about you Sasha? I'll wake you up if you want to take a nap”
“Ah, no, I'm okay. There's just something I want to think about”
And as Sasha said this, the pod that was next to the one Tilia was lying in opened its lid.
When she turned around from the surprise, she noticed it was Shurelia.
“L-Lady Shurelia, what are you doing?”
“I'm going to Dive into the Binary Field as well. I mustn't leave Tilia alone”
And as she said this, Shurelia entered the pod.
And while she said that, Sasha pressed her hand against the pod's lid as it tried to close itself up.
“Tilia had already accepted the life extension treatment and gone into the pod by herself. There's no need to worry, as Tilia should be accessing the Telomere right now. There's no need for you to go too, Lady Shurelia”
While Sasha kept a hand on the pod's lid, she used her free hand to operate the console for Shurelia's pod, locking it so the lid couldn't open or close itself.
Sasha let go the lid, and while Shurelia tried to make it close on her own, she was unable to do anything.
“Please remove the lock”
Tilia had gone into the Binary Field before time because the quarrel between Shurelia and Jakuri made her want to run away to a quieter place.
So would it be a good idea to let Shurelia, one of the causes of that problem, go after her?
There were only two Dive Pods in the Rinkernator, so if she started scolding Tilia again inside the Binary Field, no one would be able to Dive into the Binary Field afterwards and serve as a mediator.
So Sasha didn't think it was a good idea to leave Shurelia and Tilia alone in a place where no one would be able to enter and interfere.
“I know you are worried about something, Sasha. But I want to be with Tilia, so please, remove the lock”
Shurelia lowered her head after Sasha said that.
However, the complicated expression Shurelia had on her face was motive enough for Sasha to refuse to release the lock.
“Lady Shurelia, please leave Tilia to herself for now”
Cocona was now in front of Shurelia's pod.
“Isn't Tilia in the middle of doing really important work to deceive the Telomere? So please, don't chase her around or do anything that would harm her any further. You might not accept this, Lady Shurelia, but from our viewpoint, Tilia's done everything she should, so she's actually a reliable and great Administrator”
Cocona said this with such a serious voice that Sasha, being closer to her than Shurelia, was scared when she heard her.
As for Shurelia herself, she wasn't scared: she actually sad upon seeing she was being considered as something that would only bring pain to Tilia.
“...It can't be helped. I haven't been doing anything but that”
She didn't regret it, but she wasn't glad at the prospect of becoming a villain.
“I understand why you are so apprehensive. However, please believe me. I won't be scolding Tilia or causing her to have any further unpleasant emotions”
Even if she said it herself, Shurelia was very aware that she wouldn't be able to get them to believe her.
The result was just like she thought: Cocona just shook her head.
“I'm sorry; Lady Shurelia, but I can't really believe you. And besides, Tilia would feel badly enough with just seeing you enter the Binary Field. You should know that much already”
“...I have nothing to reply back”
“In that case, get out of the pod now. I won't just stay and do nothing if you're going to make Tilia suffer more”
While it was true that she would have lost against Shurelia if she had been singing like she was a while ago, even Cocona could stop her as she was now.
If Shurelia ignored Cocona and tried to force herself into the Binary Field, Cocona would stop her even if she had to resort to force.
Shurelia knew she wasn't a match for Cocona as she was now, but she still didn't leave the pod.
Upon seeing their argument, Jakuri walked to them with an annoyed pace.
“And what are you planning to do by going to see Tilia? Don't tell me you're going to monitor if she's actually accessing the Telomere”
“I'm not going to do that! I just...”
It didn't mean she wanted to apologize for having hurt her.
Shurelia didn't think at all that the things she did were mistaken after all.
But she still wanted to tell Tilia that she hadn't come to this place just to make her suffer.
But given everything she had done since she came to Sol Cluster was antagonize Tilia, Shurelia didn't have any confidence that she'd believe her.
“...Tilia is my little sister. I just want to be with her”
“Are you aware she hates you? You hurt her just by being at her side, yet you're still going to say selfish stuff like wanting to be with her?”
It may be just like Jakuri said.
Even if she went into the Binary Field, it wasn't impossible that it would just destroy Tilia's mood and make her refuse to access the Telomere.
“Can you confidently say Tilia doesn't hate you?”
“...I don't think... I can...
She had said after all that the humans were more important than her little sister.
The more she thought it over, she more keenly she realized that the probabilities of Tilia accepting her were zero.
It might just be better to not Dive at all.
But as Shurelia thought this and was about to get out from the pod, she heard the console being struck by something.
Then the lock on the lid was released as it emitted a soft sound, and it started moving again.
The one that was operating the console wasn't Sasha: it was Jakuri.
“The only one who can decide if she hates you is Tilia herself. I'll go over and check how things go between you and her from the outside, and if I notice that Tilia seems to start rejecting you, I'll force a suspension and eject you”
“...Well, shouldn't you try to put some effort into acting more like an older sister instead of doing everything for your self-satisfaction from now? I don't know if you'll be able to do it though”
The lid closed and upon hearing the sounds of pod starting up, Shurelia was suddenly invaded by drowsiness and fell into the world of the asleep.
Chapter 8: Sisters in the Binary Field
“...Why did she come all the way here?”
Shurelia suddenly showed up in front of Tilia, who was working in the Binary Field.
She realized right away she followed her by entering into the second pod, and an expression of annoyance appeared on her face as she thought “Is she here to annoy me again?”
Shurelia noticed that right away when they faced each other, and she recognized anew that Tilia really hated her.
“...I already figured this would be the case, but it's still painful to get a face expressing such a frank hatred directed at you...”
While Shurelia thought that, Tilia had no interest on her and thus looked away from her.
“I'm in the middle of doing my Administrator duties, so please just stay put”
She didn't really care about such things, but calling up the Administrator duties was a very convenient phrase for her to keep Shurelia quiet.
As she guessed, Shurelia swallowed down everything she was going to say after Tilia said that phrase.
“...It's pretty useful, huh?”
Tilia then resumed her work of accessing the Telomere.
Even so, the work they did on the Binary Field didn't require any sort of special tools, so anyone who had seen Tilia as she was now would only see her as standing immobile in place.
However, she was actually in the process of trying out accessing the Telomere through her consciousness.
This whole process took place within her head, so while it was a very easy work in a certain sense, it didn't mean it was devoid of problems.
“...This is pretty simple, huh?”
While she knew it was a pretty important job, Tilia just ended as if she was about to yawn while she was in the middle of it.
But upon realizing Shurelia was watching her, she ended swallowing that yawn up.
Tilia knew that if she had seen her doing that, she would have told her something.
“...I'm inside the Binary Field, but I still don't feel comfortable” she thought.
“...There is no point in you being here, is it? If possible, I'd like to be left alone”
She purposely said this with a sarcasm-filled voice.
While Shurelia was worried about being an annoyance to Tilia, she said,
“I can't leave you alone, Tilia. That's why I'll be with you until you have finished deceiving the Telomere”
“I'm fine in my own, don't worry about me”
“No, I'm worried... Because...”
“I won't run away or shirk my duties. I can't let Harvestasha's feelings go to waste after all. And since I've shown you I'll deceive the Telomere even if you don't care about me, there's no need for you to keep surveillance over me”
“That isn't it! I didn't come here to keep you under surveillance or anything like that!”
“Oh, yeah? What other reason could you have to come here then?”
It wasn't just that she was in a bad mood: Tilia really didn't know what Shurelia was doing there.
She started thinking what other reasons could have made Shurelia come all the way to the Binary Field if she wasn't worried about Tilia stopping her access to the Telomere.
“...So even Tilia was thinking like that, huh?”
But she then realized it was inevitable after everything she had done.
“I was worried about you, and that is why I came, Tilia. I'm sure the Telomere deceiving must be quite a painful labor for you. It was such a serious matter that I couldn't just leave you alone while you did it”
It wasn't unexpected to be shocked from what she said.
After all, Shurelia herself had been the cause of all her worries.
She didn't understand just how much suffering Tilia would go through after her Telomere had been deceived.
Tilia didn't want to do this, and thus she refused the treatment.
The one that had been downright antagonizing her and made her suffer to the point of slapping her was no other than Shurelia.
She after all considered the humans more precious than Tilia herself.
And now Tilia was in the middle of receiving the treatment, Shurelia was now spouting she was worried about her.
Tilia found her attitude extremely incomprehensible as she looked at her, to the point she couldn't consider her as no more than a ridiculous person.
“I never thought you were a hypocrite. If you're really worried about me, you wouldn't have tried to force me to undergo the life extension treatment to the point of even hitting me”
“I know it was inevitable for you to think that way. But I just didn't think you would refuse the treatment”
“You like to assume stuff about other people, huh? I don't ever think about what will happen to the people unrelated to me”
“I didn't know that. Why did you come to say such things? It's true that the people of Archia that didn't bother evacuating before may be getting what they deserve, yet why are you saying that it can't be helped if they die, or that you don't think about what will happen to them? I simply can't understand it”
“That goes both ways. I don't get why you are so persistent about the humans, and what's more, about the mere ones that aren't friends, lovers or anything to you”
“That is because...”
Because she was the Tower Administrator?
It's true that was part of the reason, like she told Tilia earlier, but there was another reason she was persistent about the humans aside of that.
Why did she love the humans so much?
Why did she think she would protect the humans even if that ended costing her very life?
Ever since Shurelia was born, she met many people and received great amounts of love.
But among all these people, the first one whose image appeared within Shurelia's head was a man called Eleno.
The reason Shurelia loved the humans was greatly related to him.
“Do you remember dad... I mean, Eleno? He was the man who took care of me while you still were in Sol Ciel”
Tilia started reminiscing about the past when Shurelia asked her.
These were memories from a very faraway past that took place centuries ago.
“...I've never talked with him, but I think I've seen him”
She remembered having seen Shurelia with a man in the prime of his life only a single time.
“Eleno was like a father to me. I was born as Eolia, but he gave me the name his daughter had: Shurelia, and raised me as if I was his own daughter”
“He gave you his daughter's name?”
“Yes. The name Shurelia used to belong to Eleno's deceased daughter”
“...So that means he raised you as a replacement for that girl?”
“It's pretty similar to that, but that isn't it. How should I put it...?”
Shurelia placed her hand on her chin for a little while. Her voice, which groaned with difficulty, echoed throughout the Binary Field. However, her face showed a joyful expression, possibly because she was remembering Eleno…
“Several years went by since I was given the name Shurelia. I wanted Eleno to stop overlapping his dead daughter's image over me and seeing me as her replacement. I once told him that”
Shurelia clearly remembered when that happened.
After she lived a few years with Eleno, she started feeling jealous toward the deceased Shurelia.
She had come to believe that Eleno loved her more than the deceased Shurelia.
That she was able to make Eleno smile.
That was why she wanted him to not see her as the deceased Shurelia: she wanted him to see her as Eolia.
And she just told him what she thought, but,
“But Eleno never really overlapped the deceased Shurelia's image over me. When I asked him, he told me he hadn’t done so because that Shurelia and me weren't alike in the slightest. He also told that like I could never be a replacement for the deceased Shurelia, she could have never replaced me either”
“Unbelievable... But if that's the case, he should have just called you Eolia instead of giving you his dead daughter's name”
“I thought the same the first time he called me Shurelia... But Eleno said that was necessary for him to raise me as a human, as his daughter”
Tilia tiled her head confused, unable to understand what she meant.
Shurelia continued talking in a relaxed voice while she remembered how Eleno was when he told her about this.
“Eleno really loved his daughter Shurelia. That was why he didn't believe he would be able to raise another child that wasn't the deceased Shurelia with that same amount of love”
“Did he ever think it wasn't necessary he loved you in that same way?”
“He did think there wasn't any need to love me as much. But Eleno had been a father once, so he thought that if he was going to raise me, he had to love me as much as he had loved his daughter”
In other words, he needed to love the child he was raising as much as he had loved his daughter, even if that child wasn't his'. It just may have been because Eleno used to be quite the doting father.
However, while it was quite easy to think it, actually being able to do it was an entirely different story.
That was why Eleno renamed Eolia as Shurelia.
Of course that while this didn't mean he would be able to come to love Eolia as much, he thought that by giving her the same name as his beloved daughter, it would allow him to create a chance to actually love her.
“I'm just a weak human. I just wanted to create a chance to love you by giving you the same name as my late daughter... That was what Eleno told me”
The name [Shurelia] had hidden with itself Eleno's feelings. When Eolia learned about it, she cursed her own shallow thoughts.
She didn't know about how much Eleno had actually worried about loving her.
Shurelia was quite embarrassed at the fact that she had egotistically sought love for herself due to not knowing that.
“...So, what happened then?”
Tilia's voice was filled with a tension that revealed she actually wanted to know what happened after that.
“...She is really listening to my story”
The tense atmosphere that surrounded them and Tilia's attitude that she wanted Shurelia to go away because she was being a bother both had disappeared at some point.
Shurelia cleared her throat once and continued.
“I said some absurd things while being ignorant to Eleno's feelings. Once I learned that, I endlessly apologized to him while I cried. I did it so many times, because I didn't want him to hate me... But he also apologized to make me stop crying. He asked me to forgive him for making me misunderstand things so much”
He thought that was a way for him to raise her while giving her a lot of love, but since he caused her to misunderstand she was just a replacement for his deceased daughter, he made her very anxious.
Eleno greatly regretted it, and thus apologized to Shurelia.
“...But he still didn't want to get rid of the name Shurelia, huh? It was because in the end, Eleno couldn't love you as much unless you had that name?”
Shurelia shook her head in response to Tilia's question.
“That isn't it. Eleno started calling me Eolia again. By that point, he had already started seeing me as if I was his own daughter. But I was the one who decided to remain as Shurelia”
Tilia tilted her head while a puzzled expression appeared on her face in response to Shurelia, who had a smile as she talked.
“...I don't get it. He had started calling you Eolia again after all that, but you still went and continued using his deceased daughter's name?”
“It's true that this name is the same one that Eleno's deceased daughter had... But it also contains the feelings Eleno had of raising me as if I were his own daughter. That is why no matter how much time goes by, I will always be reminded of the love I received from Eleno whenever I am called Shurelia... And telling you about all these things today has especially brought back so many memories to me”
A few days after Shurelia started living with Eleno, she started calling him “dad”.
While she initially didn't remember the exact day she started calling him that, while she continued talking and remembering, she found that memory.
It was immediately after Eleno started calling her “Shurelia” and she had accepted that name from the bottom of her heart.
The sight of the instant she fist called him “dad”, when Eleno showed her a surprised face that shortly later turned into a smile, was playing back right before her eyes.
That was the proof that Eleno had accepted to become the father of the girl that had the same name as his daughter, similar to how she had accepted the name “Shurelia”.
“So the reasons you can't help but love humans are both Eleno and the name “Shurelia”, right?”
While Shurelia's mind was fully soaked into these faraway memories, Tilia's words brought her back.
While instantly, Shurelia had gone into her own little world as she talked, so she had to focus back into the conversation with Tilia.
“The root reasons are Eleno and the name. However, I've also been treated very gently by other people aside of him. There was another person that was like a reliable older brother to me, and...”, she started, but Shurelia cut herself off and swallowed the next words she was going to say.
“...I better refrain from saying anything about this...”
She thought as she shook off her head to clear away the face of her first love, who she had just remembered. She thought it would be better to end her stories there, but...
“...In the mood to start telling love stories?”
Shurelia noticed that Tilia started glaring at her with reproachful eyes at some point.
She was in a panic wondering how Tilia had noticed it, but Tilia had just placed both hands on her cheeks.
“Your face is red. And if it wasn't because of an embarrassing story, I thought that you had something like a love story in your mind... And looks like I hit the nail on the head, huh?”
Now Tilia said it, Shurelia noticed that her cheeks actually felt hot. And now that had been pointed out to her, even she noticed that the blush had now spread up to her ears.
“I personally like these kinds of stories a lot”
“I-It's nothing like that! Anyway, everything I've explained is the reason why I love the humans so much”
And by saying “And that is everything”, Shurelia finished her story.
The story of her first love could never be realized and ended becoming quite bittersweet due to several reasons, so she really didn't want to get into it much.
Tilia looked a little disappointed, but since the goal was listening to why Shurelia loved the humans, she was satisfied overall.
“...Well, at least it looks like she didn't get any sort of brainwashing or reeducation”
As she had these doubts, Tilia relaxed when she learned she was mistaken.
“So you received yourself love from a lot of people... If you were surrounded by so many people and raised as if you were so precious, it's no wonder you ended up loving them so much”
Tilia said as she nodded to herself.
“I'm glad that you could understand it... But you cannot agree with my way of thinking, right?”
“Of course, but that's a different problem. Besides, I was raised in an entirely different environment and way from you”
“In that case, could you tell me more about it? You had a guardian when you were born as well, right? I think... Yes, I remember now. It was a man called Kurogane”
“You know him?”
“Naturally, as Eleno and him were colleagues for a time”
“No way! So you met him!?”
Given how suddenly Tilia got excited upon hearing that, Shurelia took a step back reflexively.
“N-No, I didn't mean that.... Still, I heard from Eleno he was an excellent researcher, but... But now you mention it, I don't think I ever saw Kurogane's face...”
Given that Shurelia was given a comparatively high level of freedom to do what she wanted at the time, of course Eleno had allowed her to get familiar with his colleague researchers.
However, she never saw that man called Kurogane among them.
She tried scrapping through her memories over and over, but no matter how much she tried to remember the faces and names of the researchers who were in the Tower back then, she couldn't remember Kurogane's face. She only had his name.
“Not like it could be helped. Kurogane never liked to be in public, and not even I could see him in person more than a handful of times”
“Is that so...?”
“In that case, I agree” thought Shurelia, but she then noticed something strange.
“Um, but wasn't Kurogane supposed to be your guardian? So why didn't you see more than a few times...?”
“That's just the kind of relationship he had with me.... While I lived in the Tower, I was locked up almost all the time while Kurogane kept me under surveillance through a monitor and gave me orders through speakers”
Unlike Shurelia, Tilia couldn't remember the faces of the colleagues Kurogane used to do research with while they lived in the Tower.
That was the proof of how little human contact she had aside of Kurogane himself.
The only face she remembered from back then that wasn't Kurogane's was that of Eleno. That was why Tilia was so envious of how harmonious Shurelia looked like when she was with Eleno.
While he was her guardian, Kurogane never actually appeared before her unless it was strictly necessary.
“Such a lifestyle doesn't look to me like anything but endless confinement.... Weren't you lonely?”
But Tilia just replied to it,
“I wasn't lonely. I got really bored, but that was normal to me”
“But that is... Well, didn't you at least talk to other people who weren't Kurogane...?”
“If it's conversations, I did have a few. But these weren't anything but shallow greetings and lip-service... By the time we moved to Sol Cluster, the only person I could talk a lot to aside of Kurogane was you”
There was a single time during which Shurelia and Tilia explored the Tower's inside.
Not even Eleno and Kurogane knew about it, and they both kept it as their own secret.
And more than that, they would have gotten angry if Shurelia and Tilia had been discovered, so they had no choice but to keep their little outing hidden.
While it was only for a few hours, that was the first experience Tilia had of talking over a long time to anyone who wasn't Kurogane.
And right after that, Tilia had to leave the First Tower and go to the Tower of Origin: the same place that later on would become the heart of Archia City.
“...So how were things when you came here? Did you make any friends?”
“Yeah. I got friends like Saki and Finnel”
“I didn't mean that. I was talking about when you first came here, while you still lived in the Tower of Origin. Were you still kept locked up during that time?”
“They time after I moved to the Tower of Origin may have been the time I had the most freedom. I lived alone in an apartment, and even could go to school... But I had no friends aside of Harvestasha”
“...No way. Did everyone else avoid you? Or were you bullied?”
“It's not that. There were a few kids who ate lunch with me, and also walked home with me”
Tilia looked a little happier as she reminisced about how her life was at that time.
The more she heard Tilia's story, the more unexpectedly well-adjusted she seemed, and this part in particular made Shurelia a little jealous because she had never gone to school.
“...Now I think about it, Frelia used to go to school a long time ago too”
As Shurelia wanted to be praised by Eleno wholeheartedly, she self-studied to gain her knowledge, and due to this she came to think she didn't need to go to school.
But while it might have been better for her to say she wanted to go to school despite that, she thought it was too late now to do anything.
“...Huh? But didn't you say you didn't have any friends aside of Harvestasha? As far as I've heard, it seems you had friends to play with after all”
It was a little difficult to say, but Tilia continued speaking.
“...While I was at school, I always had to hide who I was. While I was there, I wasn't Tilia: I went by the name Ria”
“Why...? There wasn't any need to keep yourself hidden, correct?”
“There were people who opposed my transformation into the Tower. I was always their target, so I couldn't have gone to school if I hadn't done that”
Maybe the classmates I used to play with back then ended up wondering why I suddenly disappeared from school like that.
After she became the Tower, there was a time Tilia started looking around for the data from those times.
However, the amount of data she had to sift through was from too long ago, and since her Ria identity was made to be a normal girl, she wasn't given any sort of importance and no data related to her could be found anywhere.
She thought it was erased with no traces left behind, or that it wasn't even created in the first place.
“So there wasn't anyone in school that knew you were Tilia?”
“Only one. He was a bodyguard I had called Masakado... He always worried about me, and was a very dependable guy. But in the end he never was anything but a bodyguard to me...”
“...So that was what happened”
From the day she was born, the contact Tilia had with other people was very limited, and the only time she got a chance to actually deepen her interactions with others she had to go under a false identity. So unless it was under the pretense of work, Tilia was never allowed to spend time with anyone.
“Given this, it's just natural that she couldn't understand everything I have told her” thought Shurelia.
However, there was a single thing that worried her,
“Did Kurogane never consider you as precious, Tilia?”
Had Kurogane raised Tilia as precious in the same way Shurelia had been raised by Eleno?
Even though Tilia said she had been locked up and that she almost never got to see Kurogane in person, it didn't feel like she had any complaints or dissatisfaction about it.
Tilia nodded in response to that question without wavering.
“Yeah. Kurogane considered me more precious than anything or anyone”
Shurelia instantly felt relieved upon hearing the confidence with which Tilia said it.
However, Tilia hadn't finished yet.
“I'm the fruit of Kurogane's research. I was his greatest masterpiece, and that's why he considered me extremely precious”
It wasn't self-deprecation: Tilia was truly glad that was the case.
That was because Tilia had come to the clear decision that was how it should be since she herself wasn't human, but an Origin: an artificially created lifeform. So for her it wasn't a problem if she was loved as an object, given she wasn't human.
And furthermore, Tilia herself had managed to get Kurogane's interest focused exclusively on her.
“But it wasn't as a human”, thought Shurelia. Given she had been loved by Eleno as if she were his only daughter, she didn't say anything else.
Shurelia was thinking that the life Tilia was given was nothing but an unimaginable hell to her.
Her expression told that even if she didn't express it on words, so Tilia could tell was she was thinking right away.
“Each person has different values and feels happiness in different ways. I've never felt unhappy about the life I had... So I think your reaction is pretty rude”
“You know, it's pretty obvious with the face you've got there”
While she had apologized, she couldn't just force a smile after having heard that, so Shurelia couldn't help but make a troubled expression.
In any case, Tilia understood she didn't mean anything bad by that, and that is why she didn't want to keep touching that subject.
Shurelia apologized again.
“You don't need to apologize twice”
“It's not that. This time I'm apologizing for having slapped you”
While she heard Tilia's story, Shurelia kept thinking.
“If I had been raised the same way Tilia was, would I be saying the same things she said?”
She would be able to sacrifice herself without sparing a thought only if she was told that the lives of Kurogane, the classmates that became friends with her at school back then and Masakado were at risk.
And that was what Tilia herself would have done too.
However, would she be able to put her life in the line for other people aside of them?
This was the point that especially differentiated her from Shurelia: Tilia had never been able to frankly tell someone else that wasn't Kurogane her honest feelings... no, it would be better said that her circumstances never allowed for it.
That was why she couldn't feel love or anything for the humans.
If she had felt love for them and it ended poorly, it's very probable she would carelessly have blown her Ria cover open and have gotten caught by the enemies.
And though she didn't need to do so anymore, given the circumstances she lived in from since she was born and until she became the Tower, it wasn't surprising she couldn't understand what Shurelia told her.
Shurelia lowered her head to Tilia.
“I didn't know how you were raised, and I only thought about you using the same standards I was raised with. I understand now why you can't feel love for any humans that aren't related to you somehow”
Tilia was shocked from how honestly she was apologizing.
The same Shurelia that had been forcing her so much to undergo the life extension treatment was lowering her head and saying she was wrong.
In all truth, Tilia thought Shurelia wouldn't actually heard anything she heard to the end, so her reaction was much unexpected.
“It's fine. Come, raise your head”
Shurelia took a little to raise her head after Tilia told her that.
“I should really have asked about your feelings. If I had done so, our disagreements wouldn't have turned this badly”
“There's nothing that can be done about it now. Anyway, if you really got to understand how I feel, that's great... Also, if you actually did, you won't continue saying anything, right?”
“You won't continue saying anything even if said I don't want to continue the procedure for the life extension?”
After knowing the reasons behind Tilia having such a weak emotional attachment to the humans, there was no way she could order her to extend her life for their sake if these were normal circumstances.
But Shurelia said,
“...I still want you to undergo that process”
Her answer hadn't changed.
However, she wasn't going to force her into it, unlike before.
“So your answer didn't change in the end”
Shurelia was unable to nod upon seeing Tilia's shocked face.
However, Tilia had guessed this was very likely to happen.
After all, Tilia couldn't help but think that Shurelia couldn't have changed her opinion so simply after knowing the reasons behind her mindset, given how much Shurelia had been trying to force her into extending her life.
Rather, Tilia started feeling a bit satisfied that Shurelia didn't warp her mindset of giving the highest priority to the humans regardless of what situation unfolded before her.
“It's fine, I won't refuse the treatment at this point. After all, I can't just let Harve's feelings go to waste”
And while Shurelia felt relieved to hear that, a surprised expression appeared on her face right after.
“B-But why were you asking if you could just refuse the treatment?”
“...Is she gonna get mad if I tell her something like I wanted to tease her?”
While she had already prepared that answer for a time like this, she felt saying it would only invite disaster.
But before she could come with a proper answer, Shurelia preempted her.
“...Were you teasing me?”
Seeing how Shurelia was glaring at her, Tilia averted her gaze. She had been found out.
“You! You are uncorrectable...”
Shurelia let out a large sigh after saying that.
That was where it ended.
“...Aren't you angry?”
Asked Tilia while wondering how strange this was. Shurelia replied,
“I can't get any angrier than this, no matter the circumstances... Or were you thinking that would enrage me?”
Upon seeing how Tilia greatly and confidently nodded right away after she asked that, Shurelia dropped her shoulders.
“...Now she thinks I'm the type to explode in rage over anything...?”
Of course, it was true Shurelia hadn't been doing anything but getting in quarrels with Tilia and Jakuri ever since she came to the Third Tower, so it was inevitable she came to think of her in that way.
But that still didn't change that Shurelia saw Tilia as her little sister.
Besides, she was the little sister she had finally met again after centuries of not seeing each other.
So when she learned that Tilia saw her as a short-tempered older sister, she couldn't help but feel depressed.
But now she went over it again with a cool head, she became conscious of all the things she had done, which were bad enough for Tilia to have all the rights to hate her. But since they all had been already put behind them, she thought she should be happy now.
“...But before I continue with the process, there's one little thing I want to hear from you”
“What is it? Didn't I already tell you enough about myself?”
She should have been able to understand very well why Shurelia came to love the humans so much.
However, Tilia still hadn't enough and so; she shook her head in response.
“I've only got to know the root of why you came to love the humans. You met all sorts of other people after Eleno died, right?”
“Y-Yeah... But didn't I tell you all about it already?”
“It's okay if you didn't tell me about them all, but there's one thing I want to ask you. What would you think if I told you I think you are a tremendous human-freak in my eyes?”
“Not only irritable... I'm a human-freak now too...”
Upon learning that Tilia thought of her in a more cruel way than she had imagined, Shurelia dropped her shoulders again.
“Okay. But what kind of stories would you like? I've gone through many things; I don't even know where to start”
“Well, my first friend was Harvestasha. I'd like to know about how you made your first friend”
The face of a girl appeared within Shurelia's mind.
She was a very dear friend who had lost her body but remained as a spiritual being for several centuries, until a few years ago. Shurelia didn't talk about her anymore ever since she disappeared, even though she remembered her so much.
“My first close friend was a girl called Tastiella. I met her...”
Shurelia started telling a story from her faraway past while Tilia seriously listened to every word she said.
“Hey, do you think everything's gonna go okay with Tilia and Lady Shurelia?”
said Cocona as she looked at the pods where both girls lied side-by-side.
“Don't worry. I'm monitoring their brainwaves now, and they have stabilized a lot more compared to how they were right after Tilia Dived in”
Katena said as he turned to face Cocona from the monitor he was checking, which was displaying a pattern that seemed to be Tilia's brainwaves. He showed Cocona the readings, but she didn't understand them at all.
But they saw how Sasha hadn't taken her eyes off from the monitor in a good while, and was instead completely focused on continuing the operation of the console.
She had continued working without stopping for a good while, as there was something she was worried about.
No matter how much the others tried to talk to her, she didn't respond.
She continued being deep in thought for a good while, to the point everyone was wondering what kind of answers Sasha would come up with from this.
“Do ya think that's gonna be ok? These two were fightin' so much...”
Given that Mute had seen them fighting so much until a moment ago; she thought Shurelia and Tilia couldn't ever get along.
And as they couldn't get along here, wouldn't they actually be doing something absurd in there?
Cocona also lodged these same worries.
Tilia had already accessed the Telomere, and thanks to that they started doing their part of the work to deceive it.
Everything was going according to plan and smoothly, but they started wondering... Did Tilia do this on her own?
Or Shurelia started threatening and forcing her to do it?
They were Origins, so they could have been able to control the pods and deceive the Telomere from inside the Binary FIeld.
The more she thought about it, the more anxious Cocona became.
Upon noticing that, Jakuri placed a hand on Cocona's head, who had still been looking at the pods where both girls were with a complicated expression.
“It's okay. Shurelia and Tilia are getting along well... I don't really think they've turned into good friends already though”
“I'm saying it's okay. I think that should be good enough for you to believe it”
Jakuri was one of the people Cocona wholeheartedly believed in.
If Jakuri was the one saying it, there truly was a large chance of that being the case.
But she couldn't agree with it fully, so Cocona reluctantly nodded.
“...If ya say they're gettin' all buddy-buddy, that means they started gettin' what the other thinks?”
“They had to have done so, as Tilia wouldn't have settled down so much any other way. Even Shurelia's brainwaves depict a great calm”
“So, there's a chance Shurelia told Tilia that it's okay for her to not get the life extension treatment”
“...I don't think so. Even if something happened, that's not negotiable as far as that girl is concerned. So even if she came to fully understand Tilia, she should still be telling her to get the treatment”
But given their brainwaves had been settled down so much, it meant that Tilia had already fully accepted the life extension treatment.
“Well, no matter what we tell her about the treatment now, I'm sure Tilia would insist on getting it. She already has a great reason for it: not being able to throw to waste Harvestasha's feelings”
“...So that was gonna happen anyway?”
“Are you unsatisfied with this or something?”
“Only one thing... How I shoulda put it?”
Mute emitted a groan, not knowing how to answer Jakuri's question.
She knew what she wanted to answer, but she wasn't sure what would be the right way to put it.
That was why she wasn't able to just spit it out instantly.
That was when Mute was tended a helping hand,
“...It's because Mute doesn't seem to like the idea of Tilia getting the life extension treatment”
It was Katena.
Mute was surprised to hear these words.
And it was because it was just like Katena said.
It was very hard for her to say, but Mute started putting her thoughts into words by herself.
“It's not I don't like it. I dunno why, but that makes me feel in the chest... a fuzzy bad feelin'!”
“Well, what would you have felt like if Tilia had rejected the treatment?”
Mute tried to imagine how she would have felt if that happened, just like she was instructed.
“..It's the same thing. I'd have gotten that same fuzzy bad feelin' anyway”
A lot of the people who lived in the Tower would have died if Tilia had refused.
It was impossible to feel good about it.
“So in the end, anythin' we do's gonna need sacrifices...”
Muttered Mute as if she was giving up.
She knew there was nothing that could be done about it. There wasn't a method to save them both at the same time, so the only way they had was to sacrifice one of them.
But the choice they had to make was just sacrificing Tilia, or sacrificing the many citizens who still remained in Archia.
If possible, they wanted to save them both, but they knew they could only save one.
No life is less or more important than another. They thought this was just how things should be, but now a situation had arose in which they could only save one of them, Mute and the others snorted and wanted to laugh at how foolishly idealistic and impossible it sounded.
“...Jakuri, isn't there a way to at least keep Tilia from suffering from this?”
“I know how you feel, but there have never been any precedents for this. So not even I know what can we do about it”
“W-Well, how about sending even more Symphonic Power from Sol Ciel?”
“We can get as much power as you want from Sol Ciel, but that still doesn't change that this Tower itself is Tilia's body. So just having to keep the Tower existing places a certain burden on her Triangular Nuclear Loop that can't be avoided”
The more they heard, the more they lost hopes.
Due to that, Cocona wasn't able to say anything else, despite having several other questions she wanted to ask Jakuri.
“If Tilia's body wasn't a Tower, but a human-shaped one like the ones Lady Shurelia and Frelia have, that could have been possible”
When they heard that addition from Katena, their hopes crumbled away even further.
“If only Tilia's body wasn't a Tower, we could have done something...”
And right after Cocona regretfully said this, a deadly, painful silence fell over the Rinkernator.
The sounds of everything they had asked so far had vanished.
Only Sasha kept on concentrated on operating the console, but she suddenly stopped.
From where Cocona and the others were standing, Sasha had been working with her back at them.
“...If Tilia's body wasn't a Tower...”
She was repeating Cocona's words.
Right away, Sasha slowly stood up and turned to see Cocona and the others.
“...How could I have overlooked this…. We had such a simple solution all this time and I never noticed it!?”
“W-What is it, Sasha? What did you overlook?”
Sasha replied to Cocona's question.
“While Tilia's body is now this Tower, she originally had a human-like body she used to live normally. Tilia transformed her own body into the Tower using Song Magic”
Everyone was familiar with this story.
Cocona and the others kept waiting for her to continue, wondering what that had to do with anything.
“Why do you think Tilia still has the shape of a Tower?”
“Why...? It's because she can't go back to her human form... Right?”
Cocona noticed where Sasha had been driving them now.
If there was a Song Magic for transforming her into the Tower, it wouldn't be weird for a Song Magic that returned her to normal to exist too. No, if there was a method for transforming her into a Tower that consumed such great amounts of Symphonic Power, on the other hand there ought to be a method for returning her to a human-like state that didn't spend so much power too.
“So if there was a Hymmnos for transforming her into a Tower, there should be an opposite one to it too, right?
“Yes, there should be one!”
“W-Wait a sec! If there was a Hymmnos like that, why didn't ya guys use it two years ago?”
“You're right. But if we had done so, naturally the Tower would have disappeared”
Tilia's body had become the Tower, so if she went back to having a humanoid body, the Third Tower itself would have disappeared, naturally.
However, that wouldn't have meant a problem if they had done so after the people had been evacuated two years ago.
Katena placed a hand on his chin, pondering why that situation happened the way it did.
“...For argument's sake, let's suppose that Tilia had turned back into a humanoid two years ago. If she had done so, we would have been able to save quite a bit of Symphonic Power. And if she hadn't spent all that energy into maintaining her Tower body for the last two years, she would have been able to live from a few decades to a century in human form. And naturally, she would have been able to do so in a natural state without needing to deceive the Telomere and thus go through all the suffering and pain that implies”
“So shouldn't we have done that? If we did that after everyone scampered away, no one'd complain about it. No, we shoulda've done that, as there was a chance the people would come back, yeah?”
It was just as Mute said.
Now Cocona and the others had realized this, there was no way Tilia herself wouldn't have noticed it.
So given all that, why didn't Tilia go back to having a humanoid body?
“...Maybe that was because there isn't a Hymmnos to make her go back to having a humanoid body?”
Sasha nodded in response to Jakuri's question.
“They would have normally left things there once she had become the Tower in the first place. After all, everyone who had lived on the Tower would have fallen to the surface once she went back to having a humanoid body. Besides, they couldn't even bring her back as a holography that was like a true physical body in the way we did if there wasn't a third party that could do so”
“T-Then what? You're saying that they didn't make any other Hymmnos aside of the one for transforming her into the Tower from the beginning?”
“Yes, that's what I mean. But Tilia should still have the Hymmnos for transforming into the Tower within herself, so we have the possibility of making a Hymmnos opposite to it if we analyze that Song...”
“We have? But if you're gonna analyze that, it better be after the Telomere's deceived, huh?
“Unfortunately, enormous calculation facilities and analysis tools are necessary for analyzing the Hymmnos. But as far as I know, none of these remain anymore...”
“There's the possibility of making one from scratch, but given the large scale this implies, it'd take me at least a few years before it was complete”
So even if they were successful in extending Tilia's life by deceiving the Telomere that would only give her from a few months to a year of life.
That was simply not enough time to carry out this plan.
“But aren't Darlin' and the Think Tank good enough? The Archia Think Tank's enormous and they've got all sorta equipment in there”
“Unfortunately, what they are researching there is completely different from this. Of course it wouldn't be bad to have their help, but that still wouldn't change the time needed for completing the Song” said Katena.
“...I'm so stupid... I should have realized that when I first met Tilia... No, I should have realized that at latest when the people from Sol Cluster were being evacuated two years ago. I'm an idiot...”
Sasha was very proud of her knowledge.
However, she didn't consider herself a genius.
But she still was very confident that her knowledge could be of help to those people she held dear.
And now she had realized she had let the chance to save Tilia slip before her own eyes.
“...Had I realized that sooner, we could have been able to save Tilia...”
Even if a good idea comes up, it's useless when it's already too late to apply it.
Filled with regret and anger toward herself, Sasha looked downward while she started biting her lips.
“Don't be so hard on yourself! You didn't do anything bad, Sasha!”
Even though she nodded to Cocona to make it look like she had calmed down, Sasha's heart was still stormy.
“...I would have been glad if I had noticed that two years ago instead of just coming with a life extension method that will only cause her to suffer and suffer...”
“...What kind of facilities would you need to analyze the Hymmnos?”
Sasha raised her head in response to Jakuri's voice.
“I might just know of a facility that we could use for that”
“R-Really? But where is it?”
“In Sol Ciel. Look, you know about Tenba, the company that's building airships on the surface right now, right? There is a laboratory under their headquarters that we could use. Would it be enough if it had equipment that allowed for the removal and insertion of the D-Cellophane?”
The D-Cellophane is a crystal that all Origins and βs possess from the time of their birth, and it serves as the medium where the information related to the owner's growth trend is recorded.
It was thanks to that laboratory located in Sol Ciel that they were successful in removing the D-Cellophane from a Pureblooded β-Type girl called Misha.
However, it wasn't strange for Sasha and Katena to not have any knowledge about this facility.
It was located right below the Tenba Headquarters and all research on it had been interrupted since several years ago, so it had now fallen into a state of abandonment. And given Katena and Sasha had never gone to Sol Ciel, there was no possibility they knew anything about it either.
“A-Amazing! I think we'll need a few more hands, but if that's true, we should be able to analyze the structure of the Hymmnos Tilia has Installed within herself!”
Now she had a hope of saving Tilia before her, Sasha's smile returned.
“But can we use these facilities? Tenba is a large corporation, right? I think they'd want to go through several processes before they let us use something so important...”
Cocona said it with a very worried voice, but Jakuri just snorted in a mocking manner as if all that were trivial worries.
“It's okay. No one has used it in years, and besides, I'm sure no one will complain once they hear Sasha's name. After all, it's common knowledge she's an important person for having made the Inter-Tower Network, so the Tenba engineers would be more than happy to lend her a hand”
“...I've got... so famous...?”
While she had realized it to some point when she met Shurelia, Sasha felt several mixed and complicated emotions upon learning that the people of a place she had never been to like Sol Ciel already knew of her.
“...If I could, I'd have liked the Nya Nya Store to have gotten famous instead though”
Given that Sasha wasn't a researcher at heart, she regretted this slightly.
“If you're going, I'll go too. So what are you going to do?”
“A-Ah, okay! We'll hurry up and finish the Telomere work as quickly as we can, so wait up a little!”
“No, you all go ahead and depart for Sol Ciel right away, please”
Katena said as he stopped Sasha right while she was going back to work.
“There isn't much work left to do, so please leave it to me. Sasha, go first to Sol Ciel and start doing the preparations for using the facilities”
“It's fine. Because you were working so fast until a moment ago, I can already see the end for this”
And upon checking if what Katena was saying true, Sasha noticed she had almost finished all the work she was allotted.
Maybe it was that she went into a daze whenever she was deep in thought, but not even she herself had noticed just how much progress she had made.
She also gave rough check-up to everything she had done up to that point to make sure there wasn't anything strange in it.
“...Yeah, there's nothing wrong in it”
In that case, it was fine.
While she did it unconsciously, she was very relieved everything was okay with what she did,
“Okay. Katena, I'm sorry for leaving like this. Please take care of the rest”
She said as she lowered her head in Katena's direction.
“As soon as we're done here, we'll go to Sol Ciel too”
“Until then, work your hardest, Sasha!”
“Then it's settled. So Cocona, are you coming too? You said you were asked to be Sasha's bodyguard”
“Yeah, but... What should I do?”
While it wasn't wrong she had come as a bodyguard, if Cocona went to Sol Ciel with everyone else as things were now, Cloche would be left behind.
“Hmm... You should remain here and wait until Lady Cloche comes back. We shouldn't let her go back to Metafalica alone when she returns to Clusternia”
“Can I ask you to be Sasha's bodyguard on the meantime, Jakuri?”
“I don't mind it. Okay then, we'll leave the rest of the Telomere work to you guys”
“Please do your best, Katena!”
Sasha lowered her head to Katena once more and started descending the Tower with Jakuri.
“...Well then, we should hurry too”
Once they couldn't see them anymore, Katena immediately went back to working.
He thought that the work he was doing had gotten somehow more efficient now.
Maybe it was because they had found a way to extend Tilia's life without needing to make her suffer?
“Darlin', how about tellin' Tilia and the others this?”
“I want to do it too, but I don't think we can for now”
“Ah yeah... I was kinda wantin' to let 'em hear it, so they could feel relieved”
Hearing how regretful Mute's voice sounded, Cocona added she agreed with her, but,
“No... Maybe we're better off like this”
She said as she saw how them both still slept within the pods.
She noticed that somehow, their expressions seemed much more relaxed than right after they started Diving.
“I think that most likely; they've been talking all this time inside the Binary Field. So let's not bother them and let them talk in peace”
They didn't know what kind of situation was unfolding in the Binary Field right now between the two of them.
However, it was sure to be far better than how things were before the Dive.
And if that was actually the case, there was a high probability of just interrupting them if they delivered these news clumsily.
“...And even if we told them, we can't move anywhere until our work is finished, so maybe it'd be a better plan that we refrained from doing anything poorly?”
“Let's surprise them once they wake up. Yeah, let's do that” thought Cocona.
By the time Katena had resumed working, Shurelia had finished telling Tilia her stories in the Binary Field.
While there had been several people she couldn't remember anymore among the ones she had met during these many years, she picked and talked about how she met the ones whose stories seemed that would make Tilia happy.
There were several she wasn't happy to have met and thus she didn't want to remember them. But given how seriously Tilia was listening to her and her expressions changed according to what happened in the stories, which was so rare, this made for quite an unexpectedly interesting experience for Shurelia to see her reactions.
Even so, she continued digging to the bottom all the memories that vividly remained of even when she talked to those people.
“...I've told you a quite bit now. Should we stop here?”
Tilia calmly noddeed in response.
“You always had someone with you, huh?”
“Yes, and thanks to that, I spent many lively and fun days... No, I should said that even now I'm spending many such days”
Shurelia replied as a smile formed on her face. Given she had been talking about the past; all these fun memories had been brought back to her.
But when Tilia saw that,
“It looks so fun... I never could have a life like that before I turned into the Tower”
“But don't you have many friends now? It's been several years since the Planetary Regeneration took place”
“I had no friends aside of the ones that carried out the Planetary Regeneration with me”
She always felt she wanted to have more friends.
Tilia always had the dream of having many friends from the time she was kept locked up and the time she had to fake her identity before her Tower transformation.
While she hadn't been allowed to do that until now, she had now gained the freedom to make that dream a reality.
And while she gladly thought that for a moment, she bumped into a large wall right after.
“...Besides, I don't really know how to make friends”
Tilia had always been passive when it came to interacting with other people.
She really wanted friends.
However, during all the time she had lived, she felt she wanted to proactively befriend and deepen her relationships with others only for a handful of people.
Because of that, even if she thought she wanted to make friends when she woke up in this era, she didn't know how to go about doing it, so ultimately her social circle hadn't expanded at all beyond her interactions with Aoto and the others.
“I was never taught in school how to make more friends. Neither Kurogane nor Masakado, nor anybody else showed me how”
“That isn't something that gets normally taught anywhere... So I can't really teach you any methods for how to make friends either”
Not even Shurelia herself knew a surefire way to make friends with anyone.
Tilia expected that she would teach her any way to do so, but her wishful expression became sad upon hearing Shurelia's words.
“...Can't I do anything about it?”
thought Shurelia trying to find a way to cheer Tilia up after seeing how depressed she was getting.
She felt it would be very sad for Tilia if things continued like this.
Upon seeing that, Shurelia started brainstorming.
“...But well, it's not too late yet. I'll still get a little more time from the life extension treatment”
The words Tilia gave her back were not only completely unexpected: she also said them in a cheerful voice.
“You said... it's not too late yet?”
“Yeah. I'll be getting a little more time to live once we're done with the treatment, right? In that case, I was wondering if I shouldn't put more efforts into expanding my social circle from now on”
Shurelia couldn't understand right away what Tilia was saying.
She wouldn't be allowed to do anything like that because the suffering caused by the life extension treatment forcing her Triangular Nuclear Loop to operate under anomalous conditions would be unbearable to her.
That was what Tilia should have known better than anyone.
Shurelia couldn't really comprehend what Tilia was thinking.
“Tilia, you know it right? The life extension treatment is going to...”
“There hasn't been a precedent for it”
Tilia intercepted Shurelia's words.
It was as if she didn't want Shurelia to say the rest.
“There hasn't been a precedent, so it doesn't necessarily have to end up being like that. So it's not like that part has been set in stone yet”
“I mean... Some sort of miracle or something may end happening and I could end up living as normal until my Triangular Nuclear Loop completely broke down. Don't you think?”
More than trying to think positive out of nowhere, Tilia was seeking Shurelia's agreement.
But upon looking at her, Shurelia noticed that Tilia had gotten scared.
“...Did you... finish working...?”
Upon hearing Shurelia's words, Tilia's body shook a little and she held herself while averting her eyes.
Once both Katena and she had finished their parts, the only thing that remained was for Tilia to halt the Telomere's functions.
“...It's fine. I'll do this to the end”
She said in a whispering voice, but since there was no one else in the Binary Field aside of them, listening closely wasn’t necessary to hear these words.
Even though she said everything was fine, Tilia wouldn't look like that to anyone who saw her now.
It was to be expected.
Right now she was being made to attempt an unprecedented suicidal act.
Even if deceiving the Telomere extended her lifespan, her Triangular Nuclear Loop was supposed to continue working normally until anomalies started to appear on it.
However, that was no more than mere conjecture.
It was very hard to say that it would be impossible for excruciating pain to assault her whole self the instant the Telomere's systems had been changed.
Tilia had been thinking of that, but instead of saying it aloud, she instead said what could be a more positive possibility for her.
“The probabilities of this ending in absolute terror aren't zero, but they aren't a 100% either. So when that time comes...”
Shurelia took a step in Tilia's direction.
Tilia shook a little, and she made gestures as if she were trying to get away from Shurelia as she approached her.
But before Tilia could run away, Shurelia surrounded her with her hands and embraced her.
“Are you confident in your ability to make friends?”
Shurelia asked this to Tilia, who still hadn't grasped the situation and couldn't move.
Upon feeling Shurelia's whispering voice in her ears, Tilia started feeling a little ticklish and twisted her body around a little.
“...Does she hate me?”
There was no need to force her into the hug, so Shurelia loosened her grip on Tilia.
She even moved her hands from around her to Tilia's shoulders, so she would understand she wasn't trying to be forceful.
If she twisted her body around, she should be able to break away from Shurelia's hold right away.
However, Tilia didn't twist around to the point she would escape from Shurelia's grip.
She twisted around because she felt a little uncomfortable while being held like that.
And a little later...
She replied to the question Shurelia asked her.
“Are you sure you'll be okay? Somehow I've started worrying just from hearing that”
Shurelia said as she unintentionally let a little laughter out, while Tilia just groaned a little.
“I'll just get an adrenaline burst and do it in a way or another. I don't have much time left, so I'm sure I'll get by somehow”
“Hehe, but if you put so much effort into it, you're just going to scare everyone else”
“...But I can't think of anything else”
That method sounded like a joke, but it was actually a way that Tilia had come up while desperately trying to think of how to make friends since she didn't know how.
Given that Shurelia laughed at it, Tilia started pouting and grunting inside her arms.
“Looks like I made her angry”, though Shurelia, but she still didn't let Tilia get away.
She just moved her hands again to surround Tilia's sulking figure again.
“So, what if... What if once you get to live longer without suffering, you come with me and Frelia, and we go to many places? What you think?”
When she raised her face, Tilia saw right away Shurelia's smile.
It was the first time she had seen it from when she met Shurelia again: a gentle smile that tranquilized everyone who saw it.
She got fixed into Shurelia's smile without noticing it, but when she finally realized what happened, Tilia quickly opened her eyes while gasping.
“Go to many places? What you mean by that?”
“That we would go to Sol Ciel and Metafalica. And when we do, I'll introduce you to my Sol Ciel friends”
“So you're going to introduce me to your friends?”
“Yes. I'm sure that would be very interesting to you, as there are many people there that possess a great individuality and are very fun”
Given how full of confidence Shurelia was as she said this, Tilia started wondering what kind of people she would introduce to her. However, there were also many people filled with individuality among the few friends Tilia had, so she was very confident she wouldn't be surprised by normal humans.
“Having great individuality? Like who?
“Hmm, right” said Shurelia as she started pondering for a little while,
“We have people like Lyra from the Teru, who can teleport from a place to another instantly; Misha, who can freely change between an adult form and a child form... Ah right, and Spica, who works tirelessly day and night to become the Queen of the Underworld”
“W-Wow, amazing! Is the world filled with so many incredible people?”
Tilia had started looking at Shurelia with respect, given how the people she knew were far more unique than she had expected.
“And these are only the people I know in Sol Ciel. I'm sure there should be just as many people with a great individuality over at Metafalica. So are you interested?”
“Yeah, it looks fun! I want to meet them too!”
“Hehe, I thought you would say that. However, in the end I can only introduce them to you. That they become your friends depends entirely on yourself. Do you understand?”
While she groaned a little and a little anxiety showed up on her face, Tilia nodded.
Leaving out if she would be able to befriend them, she thought she wanted to personally meet every single one of these people that were so unique that they had surpassed her expectations.
Upon seeing Tilia's response, Shurelia nodded as well.
“Then it's decided! Once we leave this place, we'll meet up with Frelia and go on a trip together!”
“Argh, why are you replying with such a half-hearted voice? Is anything about this plan causing you dissatisfaction?”
“...It's just I'm not really confident... I've never befriended anyone on my own...”
“But didn't you just say you were going to do it by yourself? Why are you so timid?”
“Yeah, I'm like that... But...”
Tilia's voice tone gradually dropped more and more.
She really couldn't hide her anxiety when it came the time to get things done.
“You don't need to worry so much, everything will be okay. I'm sure you can make friends with them, Tilia”
“You really think so?”
“Of course! After all... You're my little sister”
Shurelia caressed Tilia's hair as she said this.
“...Ah yes... She dislikes this, right?”
Thought Shurelia as she remembered how Tilia told her and Frelia to not treat her like a child, but she didn't seem to dislike it this time.
She just stayed quiet while Shurelia continued caressing her.
“....You still see me as your little sister? Even after I said I wouldn't accept the life extension and that I gave more importance to myself than to the humans?”
“Of course. No matter what you say, nothing will ever change that you're our cute little sister to both Frelia and myself”
After saying this, Shurelia separated a bit from Tilia and looked at her straight in the eyes.
“You're free to think of Frelia and me however you like though. Even if we say we're sisters, the only thing we have in common is that we were born in the same era, as we don't even share the same blood. But both Frelia and me... we both have come to think of you as our little sister. And no matter what happens in the future, that will never change. Please always keep that in mind”
“...But I don't think I can ever get used to being called in an embarrassing way like that...”
Tilia averted her eyes because her cheeks had started blushing, while Shurelia just looked at her while smiling.
“Oh, is that so? But I don't think it's embarrassing at all, so I have no problems calling you like that”
Shurelia seemed to be greatly enjoying how red Tilia's cheeks had gotten after hearing that.
While it was embarrassing, it didn't feel bad to get called like that.
Rather, she even felt happy about it.
Even though they hadn't seen each other for so long, she always had an older sister.
She never managed to make any close friends before becoming the Tower, and the only relative she had only loved her as his masterpiece, but there always was someone in a very faraway place that kept her on her thoughts.
Tilia jumped into Shurelia's chest out of her own will.
Shurelia was surprised at how suddenly she hugged her, but...
“...I have to.... stop the Telomere...”
Upon hearing Tilia say that in a whisper, she gently hugged her again.
“Are you okay, Tilia?”
Tilia replied to the question by nodding.
“No problem, everything is okay... Let's finish this quickly. I want to go with both of my sisters to all sorts of places!”
“...Yes, you're right. We'll go both to Sol Ciel and Metafalica. We've really been for too long in this place”
“Yeah... I don't really know how much I'll suffer... But I'm not afraid”
These words were in vain, as Shurelia noticed Tilia was shaking.
Regardless of what she said, she was already resigned deep within her heart that she would be feeling a tremendous pain later on.
Both Shurelia and Tilia had thought they would be able to at least finish this up without Tilia having to feel any pain.
Even so, Tilia was still doing everything she could to look brave, since both she and Shurelia wanted to go together to Sol Ciel and all other sorts of places.
“...It's okay. I know you're a strong girl, Tilia, and I'll always be with you”
“And sis Frelia too?”
“Of course... Until your very last moments, we'll always be with you”
She had decided she would stay with Tilia for the remainder of the little time the Telomere modifications allowed her to live, regardless of what happened.
And so, Shurelia strengthened her grip on Tilia again.
Tilia too seemed like she was extending her hands to Shurelia, but she hesitated for a moment and ended up looking up to Shurelia's face instead.
Now their eyes met, Shurelia gently smiled at Tilia.
“You're my little sister, so don't hold yourself back”
And instead of replying back, Tilia surrounded Shurelia with both her hands.
They kept on hugging each other like that... And after a while...
“...I'll stop it, Sis Shurelia”
“...Do your best, Tilia. Stay strong”
And taking Shurelia's encouragement into the depths of her chest, Tilia deeply breathed in and out many times and then... she terminated the Telomere's functions.
Chapter 9: Clusternia
Clusternia's airport was filled to the brim with citizens that would be evacuating using the airships.
Even so, no one was trying to trample over the others or get themselves into first place to escape like what had happened in Archia.
And it was because the evacuation was being guided by the Clusternian Army that Akane commanded, which made sure that everyone took their proper turns to board the airships.
After Gengai disembarked the airship that had brought him here, he gave a sidelong glance to the Reyvateils who orderly awaited their turn to board an airship before leaving the airport.
Given that most of the people had already been evacuated and the ones whose turn to evacuate hadn't come up yet were told to stay at home, the city of Clusternia was deserted.
“This is bad. I can't ask where Akane has gone off like this”
He had already come to Clusternia several times in the past, but the times he could walk through the city like this were so few they could be counted with the fingers.
Due to that, he still hadn't grasped where everything was located.
So he had no other option but to go back into the airport and try asking the girls that looked like soldiers.
“General Akane? Who knows...? I've been working here since early in the morning, so I don't know where she is. But she comes by every now and then in her patrols, so I think you may get a lead on her if you wait here”
It's true that could be a lead to her, but as things were now, Gengai didn’t have the time to wait until Akane came by.
So having no other options, Gengai left the airport and walked through the main street.
There were no other people walking around and all the stores he came across had their doors closed. While there were some houses that seemed to be still inhabited, the city pretty much was now like a ghost town.
Not even the beautiful atmosphere it had from a being a city inhabited in over a 90% by girls remained.
“...Archia and Clusternia're both fine, so what the hell they're doin'?”
While he caught word about the slanting incident in Archia, there didn't seem to be any abnormalities in Clusternia. But there were still airships coming and going at the airport, taking the people away. So did that mean that something was going to happen here someday?
Gengai didn't have much information at the moment, so he didn't know at all.
He caught sight of a crowd before him.
It was a squad of armed Reyvateils, so there was no mistaking they were part of the Clusternian Army. Given that Akane could have been among them, Gengai quickly approached them.
“Hey, can I ya ask somethin”?
The girls turned all at once, surprised from hearing his deep voice from behind, and they were even more astonished upon seeing Gengai's gigantic figure before their eyes.
“...It's kinda hurtful to see 'em so shocked...”
“W-Wait, where did you come from?”
One of the girls stood before Gengai while the others all surrounded him at once.
Upon closer inspection, there were a few that were grabbing the hilts of the swords they had at their hips.
“H-Hey, what's happenin' here? Explain me”
“We are asking where you came from. Clusternia has currently imposed a country entry restriction upon foreigners, so we must ask you to leave the city without causing any problems”
“Country entry restriction? But no one told me anythin' 'bout that when I disembarked from my airship:
“Huh? You came here via airship?”
“Yeah... But no one among you girls knows me?”
Upon saying this, the girls looked at each other briefly, and only looked at Gengai confused.
He was supposed to be a very well-known face due to being the Great Fang's leader, but it didn't seem everyone actually knew him.
After all, the humans were originally oppressed by the Reyvateils.
Currently that situation had changed, as the Reyvateils and the humans had found a way to coexist with each other. However, the Reyvateils who expressly remembered the faces of those humans who weren't related to them may have been few in number.
“Why are you all so flustered?”
When Gengai thought he had heard a woman's dignified voice, the girls that were surrounding him turned to face the voice's owner and straightened themselves up.
Gengai was lured by it and also turned in that direction, just to find himself looking at a girl who looked like the daughter of a distinguished family.
However, it seemed she also was a member of the Army, as she also carried a sword like the girls around Gengai.
“Huh? You are...”
The girl walked to Gengai with resolute pace and stared right into his face.
While Gengai had never seen her before, it seemed the girl somehow knew him.
The girl clapped her hands together and nodded as she said “Ah!”
“Aren't you Sir Gengai from the Great Fang? But what brings you to this place today?”
Gengai felt relieved from finally having met someone who knew who he was.
The girls that were surrounding him also dropped their guard and separated from him upon learning he was the Great Fang's leader.
“Yeah, I've some business with Akane. Do ya know where she is, or coulda ya take me there?”
“Before we do that, might I ask what kind of matter compels you to meet with General Akane? You may be the Great Fang's leader, Sir Gengai, yet that doesn't change the fact you are still a [human] outsider. I cannot just lead you to General Akane so lightly”
Gengai noticed it when he heard that girl talking.
When she pronounced the word [human], he felt as if she had said with very unpleasant feelings.
However, Gengai didn't pay any real mind to it and continued talking, as they were right now in an emergency situation.
“I came to ask her 'bout the Musical Corridor. As far as I see, the Musical Corridor didn't seem to get stopped 'round here. So why...?”
The girl raised a hand to his face to make him stop talking.
“You have told me enough about what you intend to do. I shall lead you to General Akane, so please ask her your doubts directly”
“Gotcha, so are you gonna take me to her? I'm really thankful 'bout it, umm...”
“It seems I have yet to introduce myself, don't I?”
The girl took a step away from Gengai and cleared her throat slightly.
“My apologies. I am Shukure, and I have been assigned the duty of aide to General Akane. Pleased to make your acquaintance”
said Shukure as she grabbed the hem of her skirt and elegantly greeted him while slightly bending her knees.
Upon seeing how gentle-mannered she was, Gengai decided that the unpleasant feeling he had felt a moment ago must have been a misunderstanding on his part.
However, that decision was the actual misunderstanding.
Shukure loved the former Clusternia even now, so she was a girl that was completely unable to feel friendly toward the humans.
The current Clusternia was now in the process of building friendly relationship with the humans. And given that Shukure was now working as Akane's aide, if she fully exposed the unpleasant feelings she held toward the humans, she would have caused problems without end to her superior.
That was why she acted like she was friendly to the humans so that wouldn't happen.
“Shukure, huh? ...But it's okay for an aide to not be with Akane?”
“Yes, as currently I have been given orders to lead the patrolling efforts throughout the city”
“There was somethin' like a country entry restriction, yeah? Can you explain me about that?”
“If you look in that direction, you should understand. Do you see the checkpoint over there?”
Upon looking in the direction Shukure was pointing him at, he saw a building that looked like a checkpoint. There were many more Reyvateils wielding weapons gathered before it than there were in the city.
However, what worried him the most wasn't the checkpoint itself, but what was in the areas outside Clusternia: he saw a large crowd of people there. And it wasn't just a hundred or two hundred people: it was actually beyond a thousand people.
They had set up tents and spread sheets in front of Clusternia's entrance, which made it very similar to the situation with the refugees in Eternus.
“Who are these guys?”
“People who escaped from Archia. As they were unable to board the airships in Archia, these people were attempting to escape from Clusternia”
“...How many airships has Clusternia got now?”
“While you may have guessed how many we have from what you saw at the airport, we do not possess enough of them to evacuate all our citizens at once”
Upon hearing that, Gengai understood why they had restricted the entry to the country.
If any of these refugees were allowed to enter Clusternia, they would insist in going themselves first and make a beeline for the airport.
They already had gone through a terrible experience in Archia, and there was a large likelihood they would force their way into the airships even if that meant pushing the residents of this place: the Reyvateils, away from them.
Naturally, it was obvious that fights would start between the residents and the refugees if that was allowed to happen.
Besides, almost all the residents of Clusternia were Reyvateils.
If the fights got serious enough to even cause casualties, they would have no choice but to resort to Song Magic to fight to the end.
If that came to happen, they would kill each other.
So Clusternia restricted traffic to their country to avoid such a situation.
“But it's pretty quiet 'round here. It wouldn't be weird for some guys to try and force their way in outta desperation, right?”
“That is precisely why we are keeping watch in several checkpoints. If so many Reyvateils used Song Magic at once, do you think that refugees with no combat experience whatsoever would escape unscathed?”
The Reyvateils that were part of the Clusternian Army possessed quite powerful Song Magic in the first place.
And that wasn't all, as they also had mastery in fencing... They really had no weak spots.
“They're not gonna get completely annihilated, but there'd be lotsa wounded... And depending on the situation, there may be even some dead”
Shukure giggled satisfied with his response.
“Precisely. There is no one who thinks they would be willing to die with an airship close at hand after having walked all the way here”
“...I don't care for the way you're doin' it though”
“Huh? May I take that to mean that you would place first the people from Archia and Clusternia in detriment of the inhabitants of the Great Fang, Sir Gengai?”
Gengai knitted his eyebrows. He had given the orders to make the refugees from Archia descend to the surface in order to receive the people who had been evacuated from the Blue Canyon Hamlet, so he didn't have the right to criticize how Clusternia was doing things.
“...Forget what I said...”
“I will act as if I never heard anything... However, not even we are demons. Once we have finished evacuating all our citizens and the members of the Clusternian Army, we pledge that we will allow them to use our airships to evacuate”
“That's good to hear... But I'm not here for that. Please take me to Akane quickly”
“Indeed. Well then, please follow me”
Shukure led Gengai into the Governorate until they reached a place he knew very well.
“...If we turn here and go straight, we'll get to the Harvestasha Module, huh?”
If he could, Gengai would have liked just to have gotten into the Harvestasha Module, but entering that place without talking first with Akane, who was the de-facto leader of Clusternia wasn't allowed even to Gengai himself.
So he had to bear with it for now and continue walking in silence behind Shukure.
After a while walking, Shukure stopped in front of a large door.
“No outsiders are allowed to set foot inside this door. I shall call General Akane, so please wait here for a moment”
“Okay, but hurry”
After responding with a small nod, Shukure entered the door.
While he could see what was inside only for a few seconds, it seemed they were in the middle of building some sort of large device or structure.
Not even a half a minute had gone by when the door opened again and Akane and Shukure came out from it.
“Sir Gengai, had you informed me beforehand, I would have come to personally receive you at the airport...”
“Ya know why I'm here, right?”
Given how Gengai had interrupted Akane, Shukure frowned behind her.
Maybe she noticed it, but Akane raised a hand to calm down Shukure and continued talking.
“From your expression and disposition, I would guess you didn't meet with the liaison we sent to the Fallen Heaven Peak”
“I got lotsa stuff to do at the Great Fang, so I haven't gone back to the Fallen Heaven Peak in days. We were full with refugees from Archia, all because a certain someone somewhere did something absurd”
“Are you talking about the Musical Corridor, perhaps?”
While Gengai was glaring at her while he talked, Akane replied to him very calmly.
“What else I'd be talking about? And it doesn't even look like the Corridor's stopped, but that its range got reduced to leave the Great Fang outta it. Isn't that right?”
“It is just as you said. To reduce the amount of Symphonic Power the Musical Corridor consumes, it is now operating with a more limited effect area”
“Symphonic Power consumption reduction!? Don't bullshit me! Thanks to that, we can't live in the Great Fang anymore! Are ya planning to kill us!?”
While Gengai drew closer to Akane with a threatening face, she didn't take even one step back.
The same was true for Shukure as she stood behind her, but she also had softly placed her hand on the sword she had at her hip.
If Gengai tried to start a fight, she planned to draw her sword, no questions asked.
“Sir Gengai, I do understand how you feel. However, it was extremely important that we carried out this action now. Are you aware that Archia slanted?”
“Yeah, I got that from the refugees we got. But what's that got to do with the Musical Corridor!?”
“Sir Gengai, did you see the refugees from Archia we have right at our borders before you came here?”
“Yeah, and you're not letting 'em in because you're in a country entry restriction or somethin'. What about 'em?”
“How do you think they came here?”
Archia and Clusternia weren't separated by a great distance. However, walking through the Tower to Clusternia would take anyone several days, and that was the main reason why people generally didn't walk to move throughout it. Instead, they rode a railroad called the Granvart Gauge that allowed coming and going between both cities in a few hours.
“Riding the Granvart Gauge, of course! There's no reason to come here walkin'!”
Gengai said this as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, but,
“...The Granvart Gauge doesn't exist anymore”
“...It doesn't exist...?”
“Sorry, but I don't get what you're sayin'. What ya mean by saying it doesn't exist anymore? Are ya sayin' it disappeared!?”
“It did not disappear. It got caught up in the disappearance of the Tower, so part of the rail lines and the trains that were in service have all fallen to the surface”
“The Tower's disappearance...! No... What about Tilia...!?”
Akane shook her head.
“She is still alive.... However, she does not have much time left”
While Gengai was relieved to hear that, he still couldn't understand more than half the story, just like a moment ago.
He had heard that story last time he came to Clusternia, but there was no basis behind it at the time. But now, Archia had slanted, the Granvart Gauge had fallen off and part of the Tower was disappearing. There was already more than enough evidence to support the claim that Tilia's lifespan was coming to its end.
“How's Tilia now?”
“She is doing her best to save the people who remained in Archia... No, rather, she is doing so to not let the feelings Harvestasha left her be in vain... Sir Gengai, I am afraid I will need to explain to you in detail about everything that has happened to Tilia”
Akane then began explaining to Gengai every single thing that had happened to Tilia and themselves since the Tower's disappearance started and until the present time.
Gengai listened to everything Akane told him.
To save the Archia people, Tilia had to extend her lifespan. However, Tilia was completely against the idea and thus rejected it. This caused several disputes with her older sister Shurelia, who had come from Sol Ciel, but given Tilia ultimately accepted the treatment thanks to Harvestasha's words, everyone else started carrying out the preparations for it.
After he heard everything, Gengai couldn't continue being angry about the reduction of the Musical Corridor's effect area.
It was the price for their mistakes after all.
Despite Tilia warning them many times they had to evacuate because her end was nigh, they ignored her and continued living in the Tower and the Great Fang.
But this incident had made them realize another truth: that was that the Musical Corridor also ran on the Tower's own Symphonic Power.
In other words, once the Tower disappeared, the Musical Corridor would disappear too naturally, which would make the entirety of the Great Fang inhospitable to the people
Gengai believed at first that the Tower's disappearance would have nothing to do with them, the residents of the Great Fang. But now he had realized that they could actually live on the Great Fang only because of the blessings they received from the Tower.
It was like Tilia said, they were getting their just desserts.
And furthermore, Tilia had decided to live while enduring excruciating pain just for their sake.
“...And we thought Tilia was no more than a Goddess of pestilence...”
Maybe it was too late to do anything, but he couldn't help but regret it.
“Isn't there anythin' we can do? Maybe it's too late, but I wanna help to. Tell me what I can do!”
“In which way can you help...? Ah, I see”
Even if he put it that way, Akane was a loss for what to say.
It was now too late for him to either go to Sol Ciel or help with the satellite's repairs, and even if the Telomere work hadn't been completed yet, the only ones who could do anything on it were Sasha, Katena and Tilia, so it would have been meaningless to suggest it.
“...And the relay antenna is about to be completed as well... What should he do?”
She couldn't tell him there wasn't anything he could do to help.
Gengai also realized he was asking for something impossible.
But he still couldn't just stay put and do nothing, so that was why he was asking Akane about this.
Upon seeing how Akane wasn't giving him a reply, his expression darkened.
Akane also noticed it and became more frantic in trying to find out how he could help, to the point her impatience even showed up on her face.
“...There is a job that is just perfect for you”
The one who spoke was Shukure.
She took a step forward and stood right aside Akane.
“In fact, you still have quite some work to do as a resident of the Great Fang, Sir Gengai”
While Shukure nodded a “yes”, Akane tilted her head puzzled
“Shukure, what are you intending Sir Gengai to do?”
“Sir Gengai has resided in the Great Fang his whole life, correct? In other words, he knows the terrain and conditions of the area in much more detail than any of us”
Upon hearing that, Gengai brightened up,
“Yeah, if it's anything about the Great Fang, leave it to me! I know more 'bout these mountains than anyone else who's lived in them!”
He said as he struck his chest.
Shukure giggled at the sight of this.
“You are quite reliable. Well then, do you know what the highest place in the Great Fang is?”
A puzzled expression they hadn't seen yet formed on Gengai's face, and he replied “Of course! The Great Fang's highest place is the Blue Heaven Peak cliff, and that's in the Blue Canyon Hamlet”
Upon hearing Gengai's reliable response and seeing how Shukure nodded satisfied, Akane noticed she was about to say something
“Shukure, that is what we Clusternian Army soldiers ought to do. Please refrain from taking independent action”
“As you say, General Akane. I was just about to say that Sir Gengai possesses a far more detailed knowledge of the Great Fang's topography than any of us. Given this, wouldn't he and his people have a higher chance of success if we entrusted the installation of the antenna to them?”
“That might be the case. However...”
“Hey, I wanna know too what this is all about, as I don't get what you want us to do. Can you explain me?”
Shukure looked at Akane's face as Gengai made that question.
As an aide, Akane would get angry at her if she spoke out of line and ignored her intentions, so after she frowned a bit...
“...We will use a relay antenna to allow a flow of Symphonic Power Sol Ciel is about to send us reach Sol Cluster. However, we do not have the antenna that will receive that energy, and while we were considering which would be the best options for the place where we would install it, it was decided it needed to be a place as high as possible”
“What? That's all? But that's a perfect job for us Great Fang guys!”
In contrast to Akane, who alternated between talking and sighing, Gengai was talking with a voice as lively as always.
“So where you've got that antenna? Give it to me so we can get installed quickly!”
Gengai had already decided he would take care of the antenna's installation himself.
After all, it was true there was no one else who knew the Great Fang as well as Gengai did. However, Akane wasn't going to accept it so easily.
“I appreciate your feelings, but the Great Fang has not become an extremely cold area enshrouded in a blizzard? Working in such a place would be extremely dangerous, so please leave this to us Clusternian Army members”
“And that isn't why you shoulda lemme do it? The Great Fang's gotten so cold now that even the guys from the Blue Canyon Hamlet had to leave their village and ran away to Eternus. Ya think you girls who're not used to the cold could work like that?”
After all, just installing the antenna wouldn't get done just with finding a good place for it: they also needed to do the more delicate tasks of activating the antenna, receiving the Symphonic Power stream and adjust its position so the stream flowed to the Tower.
No matter the training they had undergone, it would still be a truly grueling work for Akane and her soldiers since they had lived their whole lives in the Tower and thus were not used to extreme climactic conditions.
“Besides, shouldn't we get that installed in the highest place we can? The place I know isn't large enough for even an airship to land, so we hafta march through the blizzard to reach it. The winds are stronger than usual and the snow's so thick your feet would get buried in it. If you plunge head-on into territory you're unfamiliar with, things're gonna end badly”
They needed to march through a rocky mountain covered in a blizzard while carrying an enormous antenna. Once their reached their destination, the delicate task of setting up the antenna awaited them.
If there was a reliable method to make this a success, what would that method be? They really could have higher chances of succeeding if they left both tasks up to the people of the Great Fang, who were used to the cold and climbing, instead of doing it themselves, as they weren't familiar with either of these.
“Akane, I got you're worried about us, but isn't it more important to do this successfully? Don't ya think it's a good idea to leave this to us?”
“I agree with Sir Gengai. Additionally, we still have the work of evacuating our remaining citizens and the refugees from Archia that are staying outside our city pending. And rather than reducing the number of personnel we have allotted to preventing the sky pirate attacks to reassign them to the installation of the antenna, I do think it would be a better idea to allow Sir Gengai and his people to take care of it”
Shukure agreed with Gengai's opinion.
Akane couldn't say she agreed from the bottom of her heart with this, but after considering the current situation, she came to the conclusion that it would be the best course of action to let Gengai and his people take care of the antenna.
Besides, she needed to think it was more important to make this a success than to worry about both things at once.
“...I have said this several times, but it is going to be a dangerous work. Furthermore, failure would mean the death of the people in Archia”
Akane was emphasizing her concerns about this, but,
“I know that. Besides, it wouldn't be just the Archia guys: we're dead meat if we fail too. So we're not gonna fail, no matter what!”
Gengai had already finished choosing the most reliable climbers he knew from the Great Fang's people.
“...Very well. Given the great determination you have demonstrated, Sir Gengai, I shall leave the installation of the antenna in your hands”
Akane had lost before Gengai's stout resolution, and thus she assigned to him the installation of the antenna.
And while she didn't want to think about it, failure would mean that the time before the Tower's collapse came would be considerable reduced. As the leader of Clusternia, Akane had the responsibility of evacuating the residents of the country as fast as she could.
“However, it will be a bit more time before the antenna is completed, so you should go to another room and rest on the meantime, Sir Gengai”
“Yeah, I'll do that. I'm gonna contact my guys in the Great Fang, as they hafta start gettin' ready to set out”
The object he saw they were constructing in the door behind both girls a moment ago was no other than antenna.
While he couldn't see more than a glimpse of it, it was enough to know it was very large. It would have been impossible for them to carry it in its assembled form, yet he could still imagine that each one of its parts were pretty large by themselves after it was disassembled.
“...Well, I couldn't just twiddle my thumbs and keep doin' nothing like I've been doing all this time. Karma's billing us for that now”
Gengai then started thinking of adding some more people to the ones he had already chosen previously.
Chapter 10: Sol Ciel
There was an enormous Cathedral in the city of Platina.
Located in the city's center, it was the building where the governmental body that ruled Platina had its seat.
However, its exterior had a beauty that captivated anyone who looked at it.
And the same could be said about its inside.
This was particularly true for the room that was reserved solely for foreign VIPs that awaited an audience, as those who first entered it were overwhelmed by its beauty.
Beyond an atrium, there was a hallway that had a carpet extended throughout its whole length.
And beyond it, there was an altar where an elderly man was standing.
This man was the commander-in-chief of Platina: Leard Barsett.
As he was the man who ruled over the entirety of Platina, he exuded an intimidating air that overwhelmed even that of the Grand Cathedral itself.
He was currently in the middle of an audience with the people that had arrived from outside Sol Ciel.
Before Leard there were two men and a woman standing.
One of the men was Aoto, who had come from Sol Cluster.
There weren't any buildings like the Grand Cathedral in the region of Sol Cluster he was born in. Maybe it was because of that or because of how overwhelming the place's solemn atmosphere was, but he had his gaze wandering all over the Cathedral's inside.
“Aoto, was it?”
Surprised by how suddenly Leard called him, Aoto straightened himself up.
A smile formed in Leard's lips upon seeing this.
“There is no need for you to be so tense. You are one of your guests, so please relax yourself a little”
“T-Thanks... Ah, no, it's just there're no places with that feel like this anywhere in Sol Cluster, so I got all nervous and...”
Instead of thinking to answer in a calmer way, nervousness got the best of him and left him unable to talk properly.
Deciding it would be better to allow him to calm down a little, Leard moved his gaze to the other two people that were next to him.
“Croix and Lakra, correct?”
“Yes, Commander Leard”
“...This is the first time we meet”
Unlike Aoto, Croix and Lakra replied with firm voices.
“I heard you two provided inestimable contributions to the creation of the Metafalica continent and that Aoto also played an irreplaceable role in Ar Ciel's regeneration... It is an honor that heroes of your caliber have assembled today in our city of Platina. It's unfortunate we have not prepared anything for such a magnificent occasion though...”
Croix shook his head in response.
“No, please don't mind us. And aside of Lady Cloche and the people of a similar status, we are not deserving of such a treatment in the first place”
Aoto also nodded in agreement with what Croix was saying.
“I see... It seems you are indeed a proper knight, Croix”
Croix replied to Leard's admiration with a “Thank you very much, sir”
But immediately later, Leard let a large sigh out.
“And in comparison, that son of mine is...”
At that time, an energetic voice echoed throughout the Cathedral.
“Hey, old man!”
Leard placed a hand on his forehead in response to the voice, while Aoto and the others turned around in the direction it was coming from.
The ones that had just come in were Lyner and a woman that seemed to be a Reyvateil.
Lyner instantly noticed Aoto and the others,
“Ah, Aoto, Croix! Long time no see, you guys! Have you been okay!?”
Upon saying that, he ran in, leaving behind the woman that was walking at his side.
Upon seeing Lyner like that, she smiled in the same way anyone would upon seeing a mischievous child.
“Lyner! How many times I have to tell you to call me Commander while we're in public before you get it!?”
Lyner just said in response to Leard's reprimand,
“Yeah, yeah, old man. I've got everything ready for the Dive like you told me. I've also called Misha...”
“Don't you understand I'm ordering you to call me Commander? Good grief, what age are you now...?”
Lyner just shrugged his shoulders in response to what seemed the beginning of a long lecture. It was as if he was saying “What I'm gonna do with this father I've got?” and seeing if Aoto and the others agreed with him.
Aoto and the others gave him back a bitter smile, but on the inside they couldn't help but pity Leard for the troubles Lyner was causing him.
“Okay okay, that's enough”
The woman that had come with Lyner started clapping her hands.
“We don't have time for this now, right? We should just end this sermon and get on with the rest of the conversation already”
While Leard frowned in response to her words, he knew she was right,
“...Indeed. This is an emergency situation, so we'll leave that conversation for another moment”
Upon seeing Leard clear his throat after saying that, Lyner sighed a little.
“You saved me, Misha! It'd be awful to get lectured in front of Aoto and everyone else!”
“But on the other hand, you're going to have a scary experience later. Anyway, shouldn't we introduce each other before we begin with the explanation?”
While Misha wasn't acquainted with anyone, Lyner had already met Aoto and Croix previously.
He met Aoto when he went to visit Tilia in Sol Cluster, and both became friends due to being like kindred spirits.
As for Croix, they met a bit earlier.
Their first encounter took place right after Ar Ciel's regeneration, and at that time, Cloche came to Platina thinking they should strengthen the relationship between the Towers. The only knight that came as her escort was no other than Croix himself. Naturally, this was the first time he had seen Lakra. In the first place, she almost never went out, so there were very few people who knew her.
After Lyner, Misha, and Lakra had introduced themselves in a way as simple as possible, they finally started talking about the problem itself.
Aside of Lakra, everyone else had heard only they had to destroy the security inside the Binary Field. However, they didn't know how they would go about doing it.
It was then that Lakra started explaining everyone which was the course of action they should be taking now. For that purpose, she stood next to Leard above the altar and turned around to face Aoto and the others.
“Well then, allow me to explain what we will be doing in the Binary Field. If there is anything you don't understand, please feel free to ask me any questions you have”
Upon seeing how everyone nodded in understanding, Lakra cleared her throat.
“The Binary Field we will be Diving into this time won't be a virtual world like the ones you always visited. We will be Diving straight into the place where the systems that control the Tower's functions are assembled”
“So we’re diving so fast into the core of the matter…”
Croix raised his hand.
“How is that place containing the Tower's systems different from the virtual worlds we created so far? Aren't they the same Binary Field?”
“It's true they both are still the same Binary Field at their core. However, the place we'll be going into this time wasn't made for outsiders to Dive into”
Lyner was the next one to speak after hearing that,
“Well, I Dived once with Lady Shurelia into a part of the Binary Field that wasn't a virtual world. If I gotta say what it felt like... it was like I felt that I didn't exist? All my senses seemed to be going crazy while I was there”
“I heard your story from Jakuri, Lyner. You Dived into the deepest areas of the Tower that time, but the [systems control area] we'll be Diving into this time is also different from that place. Of course, it's still the same as it on the point that if we Dived into it as if we performing a normal Dive, your minds would collapse and you would suffer cerebral death in the real world”
“...So it's still a very dangerous place. Well, doesn't that mean we'd need a shell to protect us when we Dive?”
Lyner remembered when he was brought by Shurelia to fight against Mir's Echo. That time, Shurelia had enclosed them both into a room filled with her memories, which allowed them to proceed into the Binary Field.
However, Lakra rejected his statement.
“No, there won't be a need to do that. After all, our goal is changing the Symphonic Power flows emitted by the Tower to redirect them to Sol Cluster. Therefore, we will need to destroy, deceive, or do something else to the security protecting the Symphonic Power control systems. Do you understand?”
Everyone nodded at the same time after hearing that.
However, Misha noticed something upon hearing that.
“Wait a second. That security is also part of the Tower's systems, right? Does that mean we'd actually be able to touch or see these things?”
“No, we can't see nor touch them. As they are part of the Tower's systems, they can only take shape depending on the signals they receive”
Aoto remembered how Jakuri said they would need physically strong guys for this, but after all Lakra had explained so far, it seemed they wouldn't be able to do anything.
Lyner and Croix looked at each other, as if it was to ask how they would go about defeating such opponents, but from their expressions it was obvious they didn't know the answer either.
“We can't see or touch 'em... How are we supposed to do anything like that?”
Aoto said this with a voice that revealed that he had half-given up from not knowing how they would be able to do this, but,
“There is a way. After we Dive into the Binary Field, we will deploy the data used for the creation of a virtual space into it. If we do that, we will be able to create a virtual world that will cover the whole Binary Field and serve as a shell for its more dangerous areas, allowing us to take action in it”
That was a program that Lakra and Team Metafalica had developed for performing maintenance on Infel Phira.
“We can do that...?”
Lakra just replied “It's possible” in an uninterested voice to the shocked Lyner.
“The Binary Field could be actually called the [Tower's feelings], so we could also say it's the [Tower's Cosmosphere]. By using this technique of applying the Dive program used in the Cosmosphere to the Binary Field, we can allow things that wouldn't have a shape in a normal Dive, like for example the security and such other systems, to take a form that fits with the environment of the virtual space we will be creating”
“Even the security's gonna take form? In that case, we should be able fight these things. It's great, we can fight as always!”
Upon hearing they would be able to physically attack them, Aoto showed an expression of great relief on his face.
The same was true for Lyner,
“Great! I was getting all irritated because I thought I wouldn't be able to attack them with my sword. But if we do that, we won't have anything to fear! Let's go and smash that security!”
“Yeah, let's do it, Lyner!
Both of them were very relieved upon knowing they would be able to attack the security physically, and they firmly linked their arms with each other as they smiled. It was as if it was already decided that their victory was a sure thing.
Lakra looked at them both with a complicated expression.
“...No, I'm not sure it's going to be so simple”
“You heard what Lakra said, right? They are going to take on a shape befitting that space's environment. And wouldn't the security protecting the Tower's Symphonic Power systems be extremely strong?”
“Strong doesn't even begin to describe it. That security is top-class even among the countless kinds of security systems existing in the Tower”
“And since they're security systems, it's a sure thing they will attack us too. So, don't you know about how powerful they would be after they have taken shape?”
Lakra started thinking what would be the best way to answer Croix's question.
“That's a good question... Well everyone, please try to remember which one was the strongest opponent from all the ones you've fought so far”
While they didn't understand the reason why she asked this out of nowhere, Aoto and the others started remembering the many humans and monsters, guardian robots and Antibodies they had fought. While there were many weak opponents among them, they also remembered the figures of several enemies they somehow managed to defeat after close brush-ups with death.
So which one was the strongest among them all?
For Misha and Lyner, the figure of Mir, or rather Jakuri appeared on their minds.
As for what figures came back to Croix, it was the ones belonging to two girls called Infel and Nenesha.
And about Aoto, the figure he remembered was that of the Antibody he and his friend fought when they had almost reached Ar Ciel's core.
Lakra looked at them and decided that from their faces, they already had a general idea of their respective strongest opponents.
“I think it will be easier to understand if I tell you that the opponent you're going to fight now will make all of these opponents you just thought of look as if they were monsters of the weakest class possible”
Their expressions stiffened at once. Even Leard was just listening to their conversation in silence.
“...Y-You're joking, right?”
Lakra just shook her head at Lyner, who asked that question fearfully.
“I'm not joking. It's a possibility that what I said about comparing your previous opponents to extremely weak monsters isn't an exaggeration at all. However, what you're going to fight now are opponents stronger than anything you've fought so far...”
“Got it. That's enough to know that if we make a single mistake, we're as good as dead”
Croix decided that it would be better to not hear any further, and that was why he interrupted Lakra.
While they still hadn't Dived yet, he thought that they were only marching to their deaths if things stayed like this.
After all, Diving meant they were going to send their minds into the Binary Field. And if they allowed despair to overwhelm them and Dived under a weakened mental state, that only reduced their probabilities of carrying this mission out successfully.
But it was already too late: even Aoto and Lyner, whose personalities were extremely far off from easily falling in despair, had already started making depressed faces.
Only Misha was like him, trying frantically to think of something while she saw how down Aoto and Lyner had gotten.
After a while, Misha came up with something and raised her head.
“H-Hey, why are you getting so gloomy now? We still haven't Dived!”
She then struck both Lyner and Aoto's backs.
A strong sound was heard while both men groaned in response to that.
“Lyner, no matter how strong of an opponent these may be, you can still touch and see them. In other words, you can cut them down, right? That means the possibility of beating them isn't zero!”
“The same goes for you Aoto! Weren't you one of greatest contributors to Ar Ciel's regeneration? Why someone who regenerated a whole planet would be scared from having the mere Tower's security as their opponent!”
“I-I'm not scared! It's just that, umm... I don't know how I'm gonna fight against something like that...”
“...What are you saying, you two? The security isn't the big deal you're making it seem”
He had a calm expression and had his arms crossed, looking as if he were completely relaxed.
“Right now, we have here the knight who saved Sol Ciel and one of his Reyvateil partners, one of the knights who greatly contributed to Metafalica's creation and the hero who greatly contributed to Ar Ciel's regeneration together, right? So why would we be scared?”
“Y-You may be right 'bout that but... Unlike you all, I'm just a normal guy...”
While Aoto had taken part in countless battle already, he didn't have any confidence he could pull it off this time.
After he heard how they would have to fight enemies possessing a power far greater than even the strongest foes veteran knights like Lyner and Croix had fought, he thought he wasn't going to be able to do anything there.
“Do you really think we four alone can beat something as strong as that, Croix?”
Croix shook his head in response to Lyner's question.
“I don't think we can. But you heard what Lakra said, right? There are other methods aside of destroying the security”
They both remembered how aside of destroying it, Lakra also said that deceiving it was an option.
“Lakra, what did you exactly mean by that? You said we could trick it, but is that actually possible?”
“It's not impossible after we have forced it to take a shape. While we don't know what kind of shape the security will assume, the systems for changing the Symphonic Power routes should assume a form too”
“In short, the security exists to protect these route change systems, so after the security and the Symphonic Power systems have taken form, the security should be protecting them”
Said Misha, to which Lakra replied “That's right”
“And I don't think two different entities will assume the form of a single one either. So we'll lure the security's embodiment away and on the meantime, we'll figure out a way to redirect the Symphonic Power routes to Sol Cluster”
“But even if we changed the Symphonic Power routes, wouldn't they get reverted back to normal right away?”
“Don't worry about that. The security shouldn't be equipped with any functions beyond the ones they need to protect the systems after all. Therefore, they shouldn't have any functions that undo any modifications we may make”
“So in short, we should just act as decoys and lure the security away, right?”
“...That's right. On the meantime, I'll take care of modifying the Symphonic Power routes. As soon as we're finished, we'll go back to reality and that will be the end of this operation”
“Ah, got it... In that case, we should be able to pull it off somehow! And we're bringing Misha with us too, so we can expect her to support us with her healing magic”
“Yeah, Lyner. No matter how wounded you get, I'll instantly patch you up. Ah, but don't even think about getting wounded on purpose, okay?”
“So we're fine just with luring the security away, yeah? If that's all we've gotta do, it won't be a problem”
Yes, they just needed to act as decoys and draw the security's attention away.
And if it were necessary, Misha would be backing them up with her healing magic.
Lyner's mood finally started improving.
However, Lakra still had a worry she couldn't dispel no matter how much she tried.
“...We still don't know what kind of form the security will assume, so we don't know yet if even drawing its attention using lures will be possible. But... maybe it's better that I don't say anything for the time being”
It wasn't a good idea to make them all anxious by telling them that possibility here and now.
After all, raising the morale of all the Divers that would take part in this operation was the highest priority at the moment. And even if that weren't the case, they had no way of knowing what would happen after the Dive started.
“In any case, that is everything I have to explain. We won't be able to decide our proper course of action until we have actually seen what kind of form the security will assume in the Binary Field”
“But at least we've decided what we have to do, so it'd be better if we went into the Binary Field as soon as possible. After all, we're working under a time limit here”
Given how seriously Croix said this, everyone started changing the way they thought about this job.
Aside of themselves, their friends were each working out the roles they were given in each region of Ar Ciel. So none among them could let this operation fail.
They had to make it a success no matter what.
“Well, we should head to the Binary Field right away. Lyner, could you take us to the nearest Dive Shop?”
“Ah, I think it'd be better that we went to the Observatory instead of a Dive Shop. Lady Shurelia has already contacted them, so they should be getting ready now. Besides, we'll be getting support from a maintenance droid girl called Meimei, so that could be more convenient for us”
“A maintenance droid? You have them in this Tower too...?”
Croix was remembering a maintenance droid called Reki that worked in a place in his own Tower called the Hot Spot.
“...Now he said it, I remember Jakuri once told me about a maintenance droid who spends almost all her time sleeping. Was she talking about Meimei?”
“Maintenance droid? What's that?”
As Tilia's Tower didn't have maintenance droids, Aoto didn't know what they were.
“They don't have them in your Tower? Maintenance droids are kinda like robots that help us”
“Heh, so there's robots like those too?”
“Even if we call them robots, they're not lumps of metal like the guardians: they actually look just like human girls”
“...Robots that look just like human girls?”
After hearing that from Croix, Aoto tried imagining what a maintenance droid would look like.
“...So they can throw rocket punches, combine and mutter only a few words when they speak?”
Aoto's imagination ran wild when he heard they were robots, and that also increased his interest on seeing one.
“Well, you can look forward to seeing her yourself once we get there. The Observatory is pretty close to the Rinkernator at the top of the Tower, so let's hurry”
Using Misha's voice as a signal, Lakra stepped down from the altar and returned to where the others were. They then turned to face Leard.
“Okay old man, we'll get going!”
He got softly elbowed by Croix, who was standing right at his side after he said that.
“Agh, we'll get going, Commander”
“...Just make sure to not become a burden to everyone else, Lyner”
“Kgh... At least trust me a little more...”
Lyner replied with a bitter smile, and he was the first to get away from Leard.
Croix and the others lagged a bit behind him, bowing before Leard to then follow after Lyner.
“So your dad's a very important person here in Platina, huh Lyner? So aren't you going to follow his footsteps and become the next commander-in-chief?”
Asked Aoto after they left the Grand Cathedral,
“Even you Aoto? Please stop that. I don't have any ability for politics whatsoever, and I don't plan to ever be commander-in-chief. I'll continue being a knight for as long as I can still move and my dream for after that is a life I can spend in peace, taking naps and eating Funbuns”
Replied Lyner as he smiled,
“I don't really think so though. If you really didn't have any skill, he wouldn't be saying all the time he wants you to be his successor”
Lyner thought Croix might have had a point when he said that.
That Leard was a first-class politician was obvious even to Lyner, who didn't have any interest in politics.
Given how his father was, he shouldn't be the kind of person that chose incompetent people as their successor based on trivial reasons like “it's because he is my son”.
So it might be that Leard continued telling him to become his successor after all this time only because he saw Lyner possessed the skills for the position.
“Commander Lyner, huh...? I don't know, I'm not sure that fits me”
“...Excuse me for my rudeness, but I think that rather than skill, you are missing something far more vital that would make it impossible for you to become a politician, Lyner”
“Huh!? Seriously? That could be useful next time my old man tries to force me to be his successor, so could you tell me?”
“What you are missing is the disposition to be a politician... The will to do it”
Everyone else said “Ah, yeah” in agreement with what Lakra had said.
Even Lyner, who had been the cause of this conversation, was in admiration of what she said, yet he still thought there was something strange about it.
“Maybe it's just like Lakra said. Besides, you don't have a personality that melds well with a desk job”
And upon saying this, the image of a person similar to him appeared on Misha's mind.
It was Ayano, the president of Tenba.
As the president of a large corporation, she really possessed abilities as a manager. However, she frequently slipped outside the company because she hated desk jobs, which caused endless headaches to her employees.
So if Lyner ended up becoming commander--in-chief, wouldn't he end up being similar to Ayano?
“...Well, it's true that at least he wouldn't be able to be a man devoted to politics like Leard”
And while Misha was thinking about what the future commander-in-chief Lyner would look like, Lyner was thinking about something different next to her.
“The will to do it, huh? ...Well, next time my old man gives me a sermon about it, I'll just tell him I don't wanna do it because I don't have the will for it. Maybe he'll leave me alone if I do that!”
“...I think he'll only get angry if you tell him that so bluntly”
And everyone aside of Lyner nodded to the words Misha said in a surprised voice.
Chapter 11: Work on the Satellite
Sol Ciel and Sol Cluster could be connected by a straight line.
And a little outside of that line, there was an ancient and large satellite floating above.
Untouched by the hands of people for long ago, that satellite had been floating over that place without ever moving, and there wasn't any rust on it despite being exposed to the wind and rain for several centuries.
However, its interior was completely different from its exterior, and almost all its functions had stopped.
It was filled with shorted out wiring, burned circuitry boards, and even several places where anyone would think that small explosions caused havoc. It even seemed the number of damaged parts in it were countless.
Yet it still managed to keep floating until the current days.
That was what Aurica and the others first thought when their airship docked right next to it and they entered the satellite.
When Harvestasha heard about the satellite's condition via Telemo, she told them that it would be impossible to get it back to full functionality in such a short time.
That much was obvious from the number of people that were sent there to repair the satellite.
These were Aurica and Radolf, and six engineers that had been dispatched from Tenba and the Church. And when Aoto and the others went to pick Croix and Lakra, Chester also heard about the satellite and came to this place to help them. In total, they were only nine people.
And in any case, calling for reinforcements wasn't a good idea. While the satellite was indeed enormous, there wasn't enough space in its interior to allow even a few tens of people to work comfortably. Therefore, it was decided that their current repair work would only focus on two points: get the minimal functions needed for the satellite to work back up, and get its reflection plate working to allow the transmission of Symphonic Power.
Aurica was sleeping while covered in a blanket inside a narrow corridor, but she was woken up by the intense noise of metal pieces banging against each other.
While these noises themselves were jarring enough on the ears as they were, the echo inside the satellite's narrow interior amplified its noisiness by several times.
When Aurica woke up, she saw Chester trying to peel off the satellite's inner walls. He was using the part of the nail-removing part of the hammer he had on his hand to strike the walls over and over.
“*yawn*... Looks like everything's gotten pretty amazing, yeah?”
When Chester noticed her voice, he stopped waving the hammer around and turned to look at Aurica.
“Excuse me for being so noisy... Though it looks like it couldn't be avoided”
Upon seeing how Chester was apologizing, Aurica replied,
“No, I'm fine. And also, what're you planning to do by breaking the walls?”
“Ah yes. I wanted to check out the wiring that ran behind the walls... Come and see it by yourself, please”
He pointed at the place he had been striking at with the hammer. It had several dents from the many blows he had dealt to the wall, but there were also some fine ditches everywhere that extended to the sides.
“This should slide down for whenever there are repairs or maintenance to be done, in order to give engineers access to the devices hidden behind. However, I tried several things to get these walls to open, but none worked so far”
“Got it. So that's why you're trying to open it like this, right?”
“Yes... But as you might expect, it's not going to be a simple task”
He said. Aurica covered her ears when she saw Chester raising the hammer again.
While that held back the noise to a certain degree, the vibrations ended up causing her to grit her teeth in exchange.
“Ah! I did it! I finally got it in!”
She followed the happy gaze Chester had, and noticed how he managed to get the nail removal part of the hammer into the ditch.
Chester put some strength into it and pulled the hammer downwards.
Unlike the sounds from when he was striking the wall with the hammer, this raised a jarring high-pitched noise while the wall slid off.
While Aurica plugged her ears even more tightly, she couldn't hold off the sounds' vibrations that seemed to be piercing even the inside of her eyes.
Once the unpleasant sounds finally stopped, Aurica took her hands off her ears.
“...This is terrible”
Chester muttered as he looked at was hidden inside the wall.
He then called Aurica to also take a look at it, and the first thing she saw was a bunch of wiring burnt to a crisp.
Almost all the cables that ran within the wall were burnt black, and there were even some points where they had been broken or melted away.
And buried further inside these wires, they saw what seemed to be a control panel for something.
Chester put on insulated gloves, and slowly he extended a hand beyond the wiring and into the control panel.
“Is that for operating something, Chester?”
Chester tried investigating the areas around the panel after Aurica asked him.
“...I don't know. The control panel's surface is also burnt black and several of the switches on it also melted away. Maybe it was because the wiring short-circuited?”
And while they were talking, they noticed that some footsteps were approaching them from the narrow corridors.
“How noisy. What could have happened now...?”
Radolf peered out from the corridor.
However, he was at a loss for words like Aurica and Chester when he saw what was inside the wall.
“...It's truly a miracle this device could keep floating all this time”
“Indeed. Honestly, I was frightened once I saw how badly this satellite's condition was. Maybe it could end up falling down at any moment now”
“[Please calm down, there is no need to worry about that]”
Chester, Radolf and Aurica all heard that voice at the same time.
They first looked at each other, and Aurica then took out the Telemo she was carrying.
The Telemo's screen showed the name of the person it was connected at the moment.
[Calling Now: Harvey from Clusternia Talk Time: 58:22:13]
Right after they arrived at the satellite, the people who were working on the satellite made a call to Harvestasha and kept it open for all this time. In other words, the Telemo had been working from the time they had reached this place: about two days and half.
“Did you say we have no need to worry?”
“Yes. Once I checked the status of the systems that keep the satellite afloat, I saw there wouldn't be any problems with them for the next 200 years”
But despite hearing that, no one was able to believe Harvestasha's words.
Unlike her, they had already seen first-hand the disastrous state the satellite was in, so there was no way they could believe it could keep floating for other 200 years.
“[I can guess from the way you all are breathing that you can't believe me. Is that so?]”
“Harvestasha, I'll send you a picture now. If you actually saw the state it's in, you would know that would be impossible”
“[Not all the mechanisms are in visible places. So even if it looks like a complete disaster, there shouldn't be any problems as long as it keeps functioning]”
It's true that what Harvestasha was saying was correct. However, it didn't seem like they would be able to accept it right away.
“[So even if you still can't believe me, truly, everything will be fine. Besides, thanks to the repair work you have done thus far, we truly have started to recover the satellite's functions little by little”
“Well, we've kept on taking turns and repairing it during whole days and nights. I'd be worried if we couldn't fix it”
“It's just like Aurica says. By the way Bishop Radolf, are the repairs on your side proceeding smoothly?”
“Yes, the position control system has been repaired in about an 80%. We should be finished with it by this night. And how is it going for you, Aurica and Sir Chester?”
A bitter smile appeared in Chester's face while he pointed to the mess that was inside the wall.
“[If you repair the control panel by removing several of those wires and replacing them with new cables, you should be able to get this done before tomorrow's noon comes]”
Said Harvestasha through the Telemo as if it were obvious.
“So in other words, you're telling us to pull an all-nighter... But I don't believe this will allow us to get any results”
“[But if you don't fix that, you won't be able to complete the repairs and this operation would then have no meaning. After all, the system that controls the angle for the reflection plate is connected to those wires]”
It seemed that the place that was in wildly varied conditions in front of Chester was actually vital to getting the reflection plate working.
So even if they repaired the satellite's other parts, it wouldn't be of any use to them unless they also repaired this one.
“Won't the reflection plate work like this?”
Harvestasha briefly replied “Let me try it out” from the Telemo after Aurica asked.
Aurica and the others waited for the results, but the satellite didn't seem to change in any way. They thought that the reflection plate was attached to the outside and thus maybe they didn't notice it because of that, but a few moments later,
“It's no good. I didn't get any response at all”
“...So we'll really have to do fix this somehow'
Sighing and knowing they had no other choice, Chester started working on the wiring.
“I'll go back to my work too. Did you get enough rest, Aurica? Maybe you should sleep a little more”
“No, I've slept enough and I'm okay. I'll do everything I can to help Chester get the reflection plate working again!”
“Okay. I'll come to check up on you later”
“[Well then, I will be giving you the instructions for the work you will be carrying out now, Radolf]”
Harvestasha's voice began giving him instructions from his Telemo, but at the same time...
“[Well then Chester, first remove the wiring that cannot be used anymore and replace it with new cables, please]”
They heard Harvestasha's voice coming out from Chester's Telemo.
Apparently, holding conversations with multiple people simultaneously wasn't a problem for her, or so she said. It was a sensation that humans like Aurica and the others could never understand even if they took their whole lives to ponder about it.
“Aurica, could you bring here the new cables we have in the airship? I'll get started on removing the old ones on the meantime”
“Okay, I'll bring 'em back right away!”
Aurica simply folded the blanket she was wrapped up in and started walking through the satellite's narrow inner corridors. She pressed a switch that was next to a heavy hatch at the end of a dead end, and it softly opened to the outside.
The mechanism that opened and closed this hatch was dead when they first arrived too, so they had to open it manually.
Beyond the hatch there was the storage space where airships could be anchored. No more than three airships could fit here, so it was already filled with the airships in which Aurica's group and Chester had come.
While she was preparing to go back to the airship that had brought them there and pick up the materials they needed, she suddenly looked at the dazzling light that was coming from above her.
She looked up while covering herself from it with her hand, and she then noticed that beyond it there was a tempered glass ceiling. And even further beyond, there was a gigantic shining mirror that seemed to be completely polished.
It was the reflection plate.
As it wasn't receiving Symphonic Power at the moment, it was just reflecting the sunlight.
When Aurica first came here, she remembered that she had noticed the plate only because of the strong sunlight it reflected, just like now. The plate's direction hadn't changed at all since the time they first arrived. It seemed that it really didn't move when Harvestasha tried changing its angle.
“...We might be able to get it moving by tomorrow at noon, right?”
She remembered what Harvestasha told them.
At that moment, Aurica felt a faint anxiety in her heart.
The reflection plate was of course attached to the satellite's exterior, so if anything strange happened to the mechanisms that moved it, they would have also to repair the satellite's exterior it clung to.
The place where the satellite was located was in the middle of the sky at an altitude far higher than Archia. There was no ceiling, and when she tried to look through the tempered glass panes that were placed in the wall, she saw completely white clouds that could be confused with a snowy landscape spreading as far as she could see.
And as if that wasn't enough, the effects of the Musical Corridor didn't reach this place, so the temperature was very low and strong winds constantly blew throughout it.
“...If we had to also go out to the satellite's exterior and repair it in a place like this...”
Aurica felt a shiver go down her spine, so she held off on thinking any further and ran into the airship.
Chapter 12: Initiating Dive
“Whoa, a-amazing! What's up with this gigantic telescope!?”
The first thing Aoto saw when they entered the Observatory was the enormous telescope that went beyond the ceiling.
Aoto had seen astronomical telescopes many times previously, but all those were smaller models owned by individuals.
However, the one Aoto had in front of him was several hundred times larger than those.
“I thought a place called the Observatory would naturally have a telescope, but I never imagined it'd be one so large!”
Croix said with an astonished voice.
“If you like, we could ask Meimei about it later. I'm sure she'll let you use it”
“Meimei? Ah yeah, she was here, right?”
said Croix as he started looking around the Observatory.
Aside of the telescope, what caught their eye the most was a table that had a tea set placed over it.
They didn't see more than a chair next to the table, so Croix wondered if it was for the maintenance droid's own use.
Further in, they saw a long table placed next to the wall. There was a monitor and a console on it which seemed to be used for controlling something. However, what Croix was most interested in was the large pile of books that was scattered all over.
He got closer to the books that were scattered at his feet and started checking them out.
“These are... a book on economics, a manga tome... And this one is a primer on handicrafts? There's no consistency to them”
“Looks like she likes any sort of book no matter what contents it has or what genre it's from. She was very happy too when I gave her a Funbun Complete Works book as a present”
Funbuns were a kind of sweets that were sold in Platina.
Obviously it wasn't the sort of book that anyone would like to give someone else for a present, but since it was pretty well known that Lyner was a Funbun lover, no one said anything.
One of the books on the floor also caught Lakra's attention and she checked it.
“...[Decisive Battle at the Summit! The White Horse Prince VS The Black Horse Prince -A Battle Where They Are STEALING☆FROM☆EACH☆OTHER Where I'm At Stake!]? Is this about some sort of war?”
While she couldn't understand what the book was about from the title, Misha instantly recognized the cover.
“Ah, looks like one of those romantic light novels for girls”
“...I didn't expect it to have that sort of content. I'm really interested in reading it now”
But when she was about to open it, Croix took the book away from Lakra's hands.
“I understand how you feel Lakra, but I don't think you should read it. Besides, you're not used to this sort of book, so maybe it'd be better if you asked Chester to explain you about it first”
“...That is true, it's just as you say, Croix. Understood”
Croix felt relieved as he saw Lakra leaving the book on the table.
“...I'd be worried if she started asking me stuff she doesn't understand while she was reading here”
Croix started looking around again, and he noticed there was something behind the pile of books.
“There's something moving behind those books”
“Huh? Ah, you're right!”
Aoto approached the place Croix told them to look at, and he peeked behind it.
There was a girl sitting there. Or better said, she was sleeping and snoring right where she was sitting.
“What's a girl doing here...? No way... Is this girl...!?”
While he was still in the middle of asking that question, Lyner and the others went to where he was.
“I knew it, she's sleeping again... Did she even finish the preparations for the Dive like I asked her?”
“It's okay. Meimei is a very reliable girl and she'd have done that, remember? Anyway, let's wake her up”
And upon saying this, Misha softly shook Meimei on the shoulder.
“Meimei, wake up. It's your turn now”
After being shaken several times, Meimei groggily rubbed her eyes and slowly opened her eyes.
Her appearance and actions were exactly the same as those of normal humans. She seemed completely like normal girl.
“...This girl's a robot?”
Aoto asked out of nowhere.
“I had that same reaction when I first met her too, Aoto. But Meimei really's a true robot”
Even though Lyner was the one answering him, Aoto couldn't just believe what he said.
Once Meimei opened her eyes and noticed Misha's face right in front of hers, she was very surprised,
“Whoaaa, I didn't notice I had guests here!”
She said as she hurriedly got up and clumsily lowered her head.
“...Are you sure she's a robot? She doesn't look like anything but a human as far as I see”
Her attitude couldn't seem any more human, so Aoto doubted already if she wasn't actually one.
Even Croix and Lakra, who actually had met maintenance droids in their own Tower, were surprised by Meimei's attitude. Meimei's attitude and actions were simply far more human in comparison to Raki and Reki, the maintenance droids they knew.
And that wasn't limited just to their actions, but also their appearances. Raki and Reki both had human-like faces and hair of course, but from the neck down they were covered in hard armor. On the other hand, they couldn't think Meimei was anything but completely human from her appearance and attitude.
“I was given the duty of serving as a maid robot, so my design ended being the most similar to that of a human from all the maintenance droids. If you wish so, I could take some of my parts off and show you my mechanical components. Would you like me to do that?”
Meimei then grabbed her own neck, as if she was going to do something.
“Whoa, no it's okay! I don't really need to see that!”
Upon seeing how hurriedly Aoto was trying to stop her, Meimei moved her hands away from her neck.
“I see... And also, it seems you have brought new friends here today, Lyner and Misha”
“It took you long enough to notice them... Well, let's introduce each other”
“These two are Croix and Lakra, and they came from Metafalica”
“I'm Lakra... Given I do work on the Binary Field, I have come here to support everyone else in our upcoming Dive”
“I heard about you from Mir. I was very anxious about having to do this on my own, so having you here will be very reassuring. Pleased to work with you... And you are Croix?”
“Ah yeah, pleased to meet you... But I still can't believe you're so much more humanlike than the maintenance droids Raki and Reki that are over at Metafalica”
“Raki and Reki? I have never actually met them, but I think of them as distant younger sisters of mine. After all, the maintenance droids that were deployed in Metafalss are my successor models. I'd like to have a Binary Field chat with them if we ever have the chance”
Meimei then turned to Aoto, who was still looking at her with doubtful eyes.
“This guy is Aoto. He came from Sol Cluster”
After she heard Lyner introduce him, Meimei softly grabbed Aoto's hand. Apparently she was trying to give him a handshake.
“Ah, p-pleased to meet ya”
Aoto noticed that Meimei having grabbed his hand was making him uncomfortable after he said this.
“...It feels so stiff, or better said, kinda blocky?”
“I was programmed with the manners a proper lady should have, so I can't show you how my hands look behind my gloves. However, I think this should be enough for you to understand, correct?”
Given how she seemed she was going to do something when she grabbed her neck a little ago, Aoto doubted she actually had these manners. However, given how Meimei's hands felt to him behind her gloves, it was obvious that she really wasn't human.
“...Looks like what you said was true”
Meimei smiled upon hearing that.
“So it's a bit too late to be saying this, but I'm glad to meet you”
“And that concludes the introductions! So Meimei, how are the preparations I asked you for the Dive?”
“Ah, I have set up several pods for this purpose, just as you asked me, Lyner. I have also chosen the most convenient setting from among all the stories Mir has made for the data we will use in the creation of the virtual world. Everyone, please come with me.”
After saying this, Meimei started running further inside the wall.
Everyone thought it was a simple wall, but it silently opened upwards when Meimei approached it. Inside there was a very spacious room that had an enormous Dive Machine installed on its center.
There were ten Dive pods installed side-by-side in it, and while nine of ten were open, the last one was closed.
“Why's that pod closed?”
Aoto's curiosity got the best of him and he approached the closed pod to see who the person that was lying inside was.
He wanted to see what kind of person was in it, but before he could check it, an alarm rang from the pod. It was to announce the pod's lid was about to open itself.
And as the sound echoed through the air, the pod's lid slid open.
“...T-This guy is...!”
When Aoto saw the face of the young man that was lying inside the pod, he reflexively put himself on guard, all because the young man was almost identical to a man that had been one of his enemies.
The young man opened his eyes and sat up before Aoto's gaze.
“Hmph... This has gotten to be so troublesome”
He then place a hand in his forehead as if he was trying to brush part of his hair from his face, yet he had a very worried expression. What could be troubling him so much?
When Lyner saw the young man's face, he said,
“Ayatane!? Why are you here?”
He then approached the pod.
The young man in the pod, Ayatane now noticed how Lyner and the others were in front of him.
“Ah, Lyner. And Croix and everyone else too, long time no see”
Ayatane walked out from the pod and exchanged friendly greetings with Croix and the others.
“...He's called Ayatane, but... No, maybe he looks like that guy but is a different person?”
Aoto knew another young man that also went by the Ayatane name.
He was a young man that used the fake name Rufan and feigned to be an ally to him and his friends, but he secretly was scheming the annihilation of the human race. After he unveiled who he actually was, he started going by the Ayatane name.
The Ayatane in front of him walked in his direction after he finished greeting Croix and the others.
“You are Aoto, right? I've heard a lot about you from Lyner”
“Huh? Ah, yeah... You're Ayatane, right?”
“Yeah... But what is it? Why do you look so shocked?”
“...Sorry if this sounds weird, but you got any brothers or something?”
“No, I'm an only child... But I don't think that's the right away to put it. I don't think I could put it well because I was born in a rather peculiar way, but I don't think there are any beings I could call my brothers”
“Got it. No, it's just that I knew a guy that looked just like you, so I thought it was that. Sorry for asking weird questions”
Now he thought it over, even if they were actually brothers, they wouldn't necessarily have the same face and name. Aoto thought that maybe it was just a coincidence.
However, Aoto didn't even think about the possibility that the Ayatane he knew was actually the descendant of the person that served as the basis for the Ayatane that was before him now.
“Don’t mind it. But to think there was someone who looked just like me... that's kind of shocking. So well, is everyone ready for the Dive?”
“Yeah, we're ready!”
“But I didn't think you'd be here too. Are you going to help us like that time, Ayatane?”
Ayatane looked at Lyner with an apologetic face.
“I'm sorry. I'd really like to help you again, but looks like I won't be able this time. I tried Diving just now, but it seems that the trespassing I can do in the Binary Field got restricted”
“You remember what happened during the Mir's Echo Incident, right? That was when it was found out that I could act as normal inside the Binary Field sections that led to the Tower's central areas, and it looks like the defense systems there can now completely block any of my trespassing attempts”
The Mir's Echo Incident.
When Lyner entered the Binary Field compelled to solve that situation, he fell in a desperate situation between the strong energies that covered the whole place and a creature called Mir's Echo. And the one who had saved him back then was no other than Ayatane.
Since he wasn't human, but a virus lifeform created by Jakuri, he could act with no problems whatsoever even if the Binary Field was under an anomalous situation.
While human minds couldn't last beyond a few seconds in the Binary Field, Ayatane could still act normally in the Tower's core areas and that was what allowed them to solve that incident. But after that, the Tower's defense systems kept him under vigilance.
The defense systems determined that Ayatane was a harmful virus to the Tower, and thus they terminated his Diving attempts and access attempts to all areas related to the Tower systems.
“It didn't seem unlikely for me to destroy the security systems, but I didn't try that because I didn't know what kind of response that would trigger from the rest of the Tower's security. I didn't want to force things”
“But that's too bad. I'd have been relieved if you had come with us too, Ayatane”
Misha knew very well that having Ayatane around would have been advantageous while they were inside the Binary Field. That's why she couldn't help but be truly disappointed when she learned Ayatane wouldn't be able to go with them this time.
“I'll just devote myself to supporting you from the outside with Meimei and the others. So please Misha, support Lyner and everyone else with your Song Magic in my place”
“Okay everyone, please enter the pods”
It was already time to Dive into the Binary Field.
Knowing that they were about to go to the place where enemies strong beyond their imagination awaited them, they couldn't help but get nervous.
Even the lined up pods started looking like a series of coffins for each one of them.
“...No, I can't think like that! I've gotta put some spirit into it!”
He slapped himself on the cheeks as hard as he could with both hands and entered the first pod in the row.
Once he entered, he heard the sounds indicating that everyone else had also entered their own pods.
“Call out my name loudly whenever you want to come back to reality, please. Once we hear that signal, we will forcefully terminate the Dive and pull you all back here. And if anyone happens to be unable to say it, as long as they are being touched by someone else who calls my name, we will be able to pull you both at once. Well then, Lakra, please send over the compressed version of the virtual world data so I may deploy it”
And right after Lakra said those words, all the pods closed at once.
Aoto suddenly opened his eyes and found himself floating in the middle of the pitch-black darkness.
But even though it was pitch-black, it wasn't like the normal darkness. He didn't really knew the reason why this was happening, but when he placed his hands in front of his face, he noticed he could see them as if he was under the sunlight despite being in the middle of this blackness.
“What's going on? Hey, there's anybody there!?”
Aoto's voice echoed through the darkness, as if he was stuck at the bottom of a hole.
However, no one replied back.
“...No way... I'm the only who got stuck in some weird place?”
While he initially tried to start walking to search for everyone else, he quickly gave up on the idea.
This was a mysterious dark world where he couldn't see anything aside of himself.
There was no way to say he wouldn't end up falling to Hell if he took even a single step.
“...Maybe I should call Meimei and go back to reality for now...”
And when he started thinking that,
He turned around in the direction of the voice that had said his name, and he found Croix standing there. Even though they were in the middle of the darkness, Aoto could see Croix as easily as he could see himself.
“Croix! Aren't you with everybody else?”
“No. I just appeared here too, so I don't know where--”
But as they were talking, Lyner, Misha and Lakra appeared between them.
“Whoa! So we really came out into a pitch-black place... That brings back some nasty memories”
Lyner said in a dejected voice as he looked around.
“Pitch-black, huh...? At the least it looks like we can see each other, but we won't be able to do anything like this”
Similarly to Aoto, Misha felt uneasy at the prospect of trying to walk forward, so she clung to Lyner's arm.
And while she did that, Lakra calmly surveyed the area around them, and as she did, she hit her head against something soft.
Lakra softly touched it, checking out what was only through her sense of tact. She understood it was something of the same size as her fingertip. And it seemed like it was a thread that extended upwards.
“Croix, Aoto, come here. Everyone, please gather in a single place”
Croix did as he was told and advanced without any fear until he was next to Lakra and the others. As for Aoto, he couldn't walk as naturally as Croix did, but at least he stepped in slowly on the places he saw Croix walk over until he reached Lakra's side. The distance was just a mere seven steps away. He wouldn't have been so scared had he been under the sunlight, but in the middle of this darkness even a single step looked like an absurd distance.
“Everyone has gathered around me, right? Well then, I will deploy the virtual world data now”
Lakra then grabbed whatever she bumped her forehead into and pulled it lightly.
Instantly, a fluorescent light started shining from above them as a clicking sound was heard.
While Misha instantly groaned before the dazzling light, her voice gradually dimmed down when she saw the place she had before her eyes.
It was a small and narrow room containing a desk that had a dessin doll and some mysterious ornaments placed over it, a single bed, and shelves where books, small items and stuffed dolls had been placed haphazardly all over.
“N-No way... Didn't I just walk a lot?”
Aoto was sure that the seven steps he had taken were far longer than the room's width.
On the other hand, when he turned back to the place he had walked from, he only saw a wall with a hanger installed on it.
“Don't be so surprised. This fluorescent light was the switch for deploying the virtual world data. We could say that this place changed completely when the lights were turned on, yet it's still the same place it was when the lights were still off”
Lakra intended to explain the situation in a way anyone could understand it, but Aoto was the only one listening to her that didn't really understand it. Even so, it didn't seem no one was going to ask for more details.
“Hey, Lakra... This room brings back many memories for me...”
Lakra nodded upon hearing Croix's words.
“Naturally. You should have walked in this room quite a bit, Croix”
“If you've got memories with this place, does that mean you've come here before?”
Croix turned to the closed curtains hanging from the window in response to Lyner's question.
“Yeah, I have. But I don't really know if there's going to be a school or a city on the other side of these curtains”
“Well, in any case the virtual world data has been deployed successfully into the Binary Field. We should act quickly”
Lakra looked at Croix and pointed to the room's door, as if it was to signal at everyone.
Croix sighed, and after putting himself at the group's lead, he turned the doorknob.
He softly opened the door and peered outside.
“...Of all the possible places, it had to be this one?”
He sighed again with a troubled look on his face.
After Croix left the room and checked their surroundings, Lyner and the others followed him.
“W-What's up with this city!?”
Lyner screamed in surprise when he saw the scenery that unfolded beyond the door.
They were standing on the roof of an enormous building, and the door they had come out from was the entrance to a prefab hut that was installed over it.
However, what greatly surprised them was that the building they were standing over was surrounded by countless other ones.
And there were signs placed all over their walls.
“...There's too many signs with girls drawn on them...”
Said Aoto as he grabbed on the handrail that was placed around the building's roof and looked around.
While he didn't put it in words, Croix thought “Yeah, that's true”
This city was called Wackyhabara.
This was a virtual city that became the setting for a relaxation game that Croix played when he Dived in Frelia.
After Aoto and the others left the building, they walked through the back alleys in direction to the main avenue.
There were several stores lined up in the downtown area, but they didn't see any people either in the stores or in the city itself.
Wackyhabara was completely deserted.
“...How ominous. It looks just like a lively city that had all its people suddenly disappear”
Said Misha while she peered into the umpteenth stored they passed by.
Even if they shouted on the storefront, naturally no one would come out.
“Hey Croix, you've come to this city before, right? Was it like this back then?”
Croix replied while he walked at the group's lead,
“No, it was very lively and filled with people... But why in the world Lakra decided to use the Wackyhabara data? I'd have liked that she had used anything else”
“No, there is a very specific reason why I chose this city”
Replied Lakra as she looked around, as if she were searching for something. After a little while, they turned a narrow corned and she pointed to something she had discovered.
It was a map of Wackyhabara.
“As you can see, this city is a very complicated place. And since it has such a large concentration of skyscrapers, running away and hiding will be very easy”
“Ah, I see”
Said Lyner upon guessing what Lakra wanted to tell them. Croix and Misha also understood it, but Aoto just tilted his head in confusion.
“So in other words, we can take advantage of the terrain to regroup if things get dangerous. Just taking shelter in these complicated streets should be very effective, and the probabilities of getting found if we hide inside the buildings are pretty low too”
Aoto could finally agree after hearing Croix's explanation.
When they thought about the kind of opponents they were going to be facing now, it was obvious than withdrawing and regrouping would be essential in the battle.
Keeping that in mind, this terrain could really be beneficial to them.
And besides, there was no better place to hide than a large deserted city
Even so, Croix just kept on walking, as if he knew where they had to go.
“Hey, where are you going? You know we shouldn't be walking recklessly, right?”
“Let's go to the city's center. If this place is really made from the data of the Wackyhabara I know, the most important thing in this world, or in other words the system for changing the Symphonic Power routes has to be there”
He said this with a confidence-filled voice.
What could be at the city's center? Lyner and the others remembered the sight from the top of the building they had seen after they left the prefab hut.
While they were surrounded by buildings, they remembered seeing what seemed to be a shopping district a little farther away. However, that was in the opposite direction from where they were going now.
And they remembered seeing something that seemed to be an enormous dome beyond their current course.
“Are you planning to go to the dome we saw far in the distance?”
Croix was somewhat worried about how he should answer Lyner's question, but he ended replying:
“No, that dome is... the secret base of an evil organization called the Syndicate...”
“...The secret base of the Syndicate? But isn't that thing in plain sight of everyone in the city? And it stands out a lot too!”
“That's this world's setting, so I wasn't really sure how to tell you. Look, we can fully see it from the main street”
A wide street appeared before their eyes, and beyond it there also was an enormous dome.
It was semicircular in shape, with a design that was patterned after a stuffed bear's head. It had small round ears, round and cute eyes and it also had a cute closed mouth.
“Look, the stuffed bear's mouth is the entrance to that place... If you want to keep playing the straight man about this whole thing, you better go and do that with Jakuri next time you see her”
Everyone agreed, but they didn't really want to tell Jakuri anything about this. After all, they didn't know what they were going to do if that ended getting her in a bad mood.
“...Huh? Hey, isn't someone there?”
Aoto noticed that a humanlike shape was right in front of the dome's mouth-shaped entrance.
It was a girl with long hair dressed in a priestess kimono. While they couldn't be sure about it due to being so far away from her, she was sitting in front of the entrance and seemed to be completely asleep.
She had appeared out of nowhere in the middle of a deserted city.
“What does this mean? Don't tell me someone Dived into this place by pure chance!”
Said Aoto while he looked at the girl, but Lakra replied,
“No, that's not the case. And of course, I don't think either that character data for a NPC of this world ended up slipping in by accident. So the only remaining possibility is...”
“No way... That's the shape the security has taken on?”
She nodded in response.
“Yes. There is a high likelihood... No, it's 100% sure that is the case”
“Yeah, I thought so too”
“The same goes for me. I know she's pretty dangerous just from her appearance”
Everyone else aside of Aoto had already gotten their guard up from having seen the priestess girl.
However, that was only possible for them due to having previously fought against the maintenance droids.
As Aoto had never fought one, he instead began getting an extreme overconfidence.
He feared some kind of dreadful opponent would come out, but what they ended getting was a cute girl. It wasn't really unlikely for that to happen.
Aoto silently approached the sleeping girl.
“W-Wait, Aoto! What are you doing!?”
Misha called him from behind as he continued walking to the girl. She had talked in as low a voice as she could so the girl wouldn't notice their presence, but Aoto turned around when he noticed it.
“She's asleep, so this is our chance to attack. Besides, it'd feel awkward if we all attacked a lone girl, right? I'll finish this now”
“D-Don't be stupid and get back here! That girl is dangerous, Aoto!”
Even though Croix was so flustered when he called out to him, Aoto had already distanced so much from them by that point that he didn't listen to Croix's warnings.
While he was nervous, Aoto walked slowly to the girl.
Even though the distance between them gradually shortened, the girl didn't seem to open her eyes. Even when Aoto was standing right in front of her, the girl continued silent and with her eyes closed.
“...Heh, she seems kinda mature”
As he couldn't see anything beyond the fact she was wearing the same clothes as Meimei, he thought she had a childish face too. But once he could look at her more closely, he noticed her features seemed to be quite more mature than Meimei's.
It seemed pretty definitive she wasn't human, as the priestess girl wasn't even breathing while she sat with her eyes closed. He now was completely sure that we looking at the embodiment of the Tower's security.
“...But she still looks like a girl, so I don't really like doing this”
And so he wouldn't get second thoughts about this, he softly took out his sword and raised it over his head.
He placed all the strength he had into both of his arms and swung down the sword, trying to strike the girl on the head.
Aoto had resigned himself to the fact he would have to see something really unpleasant, but before the sword's point struck the girl's head, something strange happened with her.
An arm rose before Aoto could finish swinging his sword down.
The girl had grabbed Aoto's sword between her index and middle fingers, using them to completely stop its movement.
Not realizing what was happening, Aoto tried to push and pull it.
However, the sword didn't even budge from where it was caught.
The girl silently opened her eyes and looked at Aoto as he frantically tried to get his sword away from her.
He didn't notice that the girl had opened her eyes.
When he heard Lyner's and Croix's voices as they ran to him, Aoto finally comprehended what was happening.
And as soon as he thought that, he received a tremendous blow.
Because the girl pulled the sword toward herself, Aoto fell forward.
It was so sudden that he couldn't even plant his feet to avoid getting dragged to her.
The girl then approached him, and Aoto received a strong blow on the right side of his face.
He heard a “bam!” Before he could even think “she punched me”, he heard the sound of bones conspicuously breaking inside him, so he already knew what had happened. But even so, the girl continued punching Aoto's face in.
While that happened instantly, Aoto felt as if he was living through that in slow-motion.
However, all that suddenly ended due to the great pain he was feeling on his face: he had blacked out.
Lyner and Croix hurried to Aoto's side, and saw how badly the girl had beaten him up.
She was dreadfully fast, and after giving Aoto a powerful punch in the right cheek with her left hand, he was sent flying.
His body went flying on their direction and passed between them until he finally crashed into the floor.
But it didn't end there: the strike was so strong that he bounced several times on the asphalt, and rolled and tumbled multiple times until he finally stopped near the place where Misha and Lakra had been hiding. He ended face-down and completely motionless.
Lyner and Croix stopped running and turned around to see the fallen Aoto.
Misha and Lakra called out to him and tried shaking him awake, but he gave no response.
A few moments later, Misha raised him up to try to wake him up, but...
Misha screamed when she saw the state Aoto's face was left in after he received the blows from the girl.
Lakra was at her side and reflexively covered her mouth with her hands when she saw him. He had been left in a really terrible shape.
However, Lyner and Croix weren't looking at Aoto anymore: they were looking at the priestess girl.
And she was also looking at them.
She was now aware that Lyner, Croix, and even the hidden Misha and Lakra were there because of the scream Misha let out a moment ago.
The girl's body slowly rose, and from behind her, something seemed to be moving under her priestess garments.
That part of her garments was ripped open and several metal wings came out from it. To be more precise, wing-like boosters like those the maintenance droids had on their backs when they entered their battle modes had sprouted from the girl's back.
And they were eight in total.
The instant Croix saw this, he screamed.
“Lyner, let's withdraw for now!”
“Yeah, I agree with you!”
And at the same time they started running, the girl's boosters roared. Her body started lightly floating above the ground.
Misha and Lakra were behind Lyner and Croix, so they could only see the light particles that the girl's boosters emitted.
“Misha, Lakra, run away!”
Misha and Lakra picked up Aoto as Lyner told them that while they ran on their direction.
But despite having to run away, they didn't know where they should go. However, they did know that for now, they needed to get away from that girl as much as possible.
They all frantically ran into the complicated building-filled city.
<To Be Continued on the Second Volume>