How are you? I'm quite good here.
How's life at the new school? Have you made friends? I'm experiencing new things everyday. As long as there are new people around me, the levels of experiences are different and very surprising.
I hold a curious and refreshing view of my new life. Everything's so new and different that sometimes I think back to the past. Recently, I remembered what it was like when I first started my training.
Perhaps it's too early to call that the past, but I can't change the things that have already happened. Maybe it's better to call them the past.
I've begun a new life here. Things didn't go well at first, but I think they'll become better.
I've made new friends here. A senior senpai really looks after me.
How're you over there? I shouldn't have to worry because it's you. You must have made more friends than me, since you're better at interacting with people.
Oh yes, I'm now working while studying. I am a janitor in the Central Mechanism Chamber. It's tiring, but it's surprisingly interesting. This was my first time seeing the real form of the city. I never thought it was like that. Perhaps Grendan's real form is like that too? Maybe Grendan's......It's quite fun to imagine what it's like.
Reading up to here, you must be throwing a tantrum. But I'm not telling. Are you angry? If you want to know, wait till we meet again.
May we meet somewhere other than Grendan.
To my dear Leerin Marfes.
Layfon chose a sword from the assorted weapons hanging on the wall. It was a sword with a long, wide blade.
"I can't change the setting as it's a practice sword. Is that ok?" the boy in the working suit said.
"But I feel that a sword doesn't suit your body build."
To the dissatisfaction uttered by the other boy, Layfon felt the grip of the sword and didn't pay much attention to what was said.
"Harley, that guy said it's ok. You're such a nag."
Sharnid stopped Harley with a flippant tone. Even so, Layfon could still hear Harley mumbling.
Layfon swung the sword with one hand, his body moving slightly, pulled by the point of the sword. He moved back and forth in the platoon's training room.
"Have you had enough warm up?" Nina asked as Layfon stopped his movements.
Layfon nodded wordlessly.
"Restoration," Nina whispered. The two rods in her hands transformed, becoming bigger and reflecting the light of the ceiling as if their black surface was absorbing the light of the room. The handles changed to fit Nina's hands. A number of ring-like things had expanded along the part of the weapon used for attack. Nina's wrists lowered naturally.
It looked totally different from what it was before.
It was a weapon called Iron Whips.
The changes to the weapon came from the combination of the voice and the memories of the Dite. The alloy used in alchemy could restore even the original weight of the item.
"I won't hold back."
Nina flicked the iron whip in her right hand and the sound of air being torn apart rang out in the room. She pointed the whip at Layfon's forehead.
Feeling the non-existent pain on his forehead, Layfon nodded wordlessly.
He readied his fighting stance.
And what happened next was fast as lightning.
Nina rushed over, giving Layfon no time to calculate the distance between them.
She attacked with her right iron whip. Layfon turned aside to avoid the attack aimed at his chest, but Nina's left iron whip was already pounding down towards his exposed back. He raised his sword-arm and turned his wrist, placing the blade against his back to counter Nina's whip. His wrist could have dislocated in between receiving the pressure of the attack and recovering, after having spent all the strength on countering the whip. Not with Layfon. He guided the heavy pressure down the wavering blade, relaxing his grip on the handle and letting the flat side of the blade hit his own back. At the same time, he used that momentum to turn around and escape through the opening between the two whips.
Layfon opened up the distance between him and Nina, and resumed his fighting stance.
He heard a short whistle.
"Haha! This is my first time seeing someone stop Nina's first move," Sharnid said.
To Layfon, Nina didn't care about Sharnid's comment. Her sharp gaze, so like that of a beast pinning its prey, never moved away from Layfon's body.
This time, Nina cautiously weighed their distance. Layfon's stance changed in response to Nina's, who was slowly changing her position.
The hard build of the iron whip made it clear that it was an offensive weapon. For the sake of convenience, its length wasn't too long. One didn't have to worry about an iron whip being damaged in battle, unlike a sword. An iron whip could be swung at will and would not break. It could also receive a direct attack. Grendan's police force used the iron whip as a standard weapon because of its convenience. However, normal police were only equipped with light iron whips. Layfon's sword-arm was slightly numb. After receiving the attack, he could tell that this pair of iron whips was as heavy as it looked.
She could use the iron whips however she liked. Her strength and her familiarity with her weapons made Layfon speechless.
The two of them circled each other.
Tension built up in the room. The air felt thick, and on Layfon's forehead were beads of sweat.
Again, Nina was the one to close the gap. She rushed over as Layfon's foot left the floor, moving in reaction to her. Layfon tried to avoid the sudden and straightforward attack by pulling back and opening more distance between them, but she kept closing in. He had no choice but to use his sword. He dipped the sword point low to bring it up in an attack, but it was knocked aside by Nina's whip. In seconds, he flicked his wrist to adjust the track of his sword.
Layfon's attack changed from low to high, chopping down towards Nina. She blocked it with her right iron whip and counterattacked from the left with her other iron whip. Layfon quickly stepped to her right and once again, pulled open the distance between them.
He wanted to keep fighting with more distance, but Nina seemed unsatisfied.
"Can you use external-type burst Kei?"
Her unexpected question made Layfon lose the rhythm of the plan he already had in mind.
"Can you use external-type burst Kei?" she repeated. He nodded.
Nina smiled. "Good."
She crossed the iron whips before her chest.
A huge noise and vibration that could have toppled a giant ran through the floor.
When he had collected himself, Nina's happy and cruel smile was right before him.
In the next moment, Layfon had fainted.
Layfon lifted his sword. He slashed out with the blade without any sense of confusion, and his heart was calm and unruffled. He slashed out without any sense of confusion, but what about the thing that had been slashed?
There was no questioning it.
Of course it was a problem.
So long as one lived, one would encounter all sorts of problems. How to solve a problem? In the end, "living" was in itself the cause of all problems.
When one problem was solved, the next would surface.
The end was never in sight. One continued to remove one's problems, only to have more closing in.
The light filtering down from the ceiling bounded off the blade of the white alloy Dite.
"Do you desire the Heaven's Blade? You can have it."
Layfon mumbled the words in the arena that was so quiet that even a fallen needle could be heard. The blade fell from his hand. The irritating metallic sound of it hitting the ground echoed in the arena and the lonely blade lay on the floor.
The problem that's been cut away now lay beside the blade.
Layfon uttered an "Ah" at the scene. It wasn't a sound of surprise and joy, but just a simple response at reality.
Numerous hands appeared to point at Layfon. The people surrounding him were faceless and formless. They were only there to repudiate him.
This is unprecedented! Traitor! What a shameful guy!
All kinds of denouncements were turned into those fingers pointing at Layfon.
Layfon didn't care. He looked at them coldly.
Could they solve the problem like that?
Did they want to write the wrong answer in the space reserved for the answer to the question?
He was only striding forward on the path to the right answer. Who'd know that the Heaven's Blade would fall onto the ground because of that.
His gaze put fear into the people pointing at him. Subconsciously, he looked at the solution which had rolled close to his feet.
Beside the fallen blade was a body.
A body that looked like Nina.
No, it was Nina. The tracks of Layfon's sword were clearly carved into her body. She lay on the floor, shocked and speechless.
"Is this the answer?" somebody asked.
"It's a dream."
One single phrase solved it all.
The first feeling he had after waking up was extreme self-hatred.
"Wuaah, that's impossible!"
His body curled up, Layfon held his head.
The metal frame of the bed squeaked. A cabinet filled with medicine leaned against the modest, white wall. He smelled faint disinfectant and realized he was in the clinic. He wasn't surprised about it. In the second when he was about to faint, he knew Nina's attack would make him lose consciousness.
Compared to this, that dream was even more serious.
"I actually dreamed of revenge. That's not possible. I'm so disgusting...So disgusting!"
He rolled back and forth on the bed and finally fell off it. He moaned as his side hit the floor.
He lay on the cold floor and moaned, all the while murmuring "so disgusting" and allowing the temperature of the floor to cool down the heat in his face.
"What're you doing?"
"......I'm just shocked for being so useless."
Layfon stopped moaning at the sound above him, but he didn't get up.
Wait a bit more......He couldn't stand up before his reddened face had completely cooled down.
"If it's all right, I want you to stand up."
The voice was from the girl who came to the coffee shop and took him to the platoon.
"If it's all right, give me more time."
"Please say yes."
The girl seemed to understand more from his repeated request. Layfon didn't know what she had understood, but she didn't persist in questioning him, and she didn't force him to stand up. He could feel the tip of her toes beside his head, staying there, immobile.
The two of them fell silent.
Losing to the silence in the room, Layfon said, "I still don't know your name. Can you tell me your name?"
"Oh, yes. I haven't introduced myself yet. I'm Felli Loss, second year in Military Arts."
Nasty memories surfaced in his mind.
"Hello. Uh, I'm sorry if I got that wrong......"
"You're not wrong. Karian Loss is my older brother," Felli cut him off to confirm his unease. Layfon felt weak.
"Is that so......"
"Yes. Do you hate my brother?"
She got ahead of him again.
"Isn't it about time to get up?"
Layfon picked himself up slowly from the floor. As expected from a clinic. The environment was clean and tidy, even rolling on the floor didn't dirty his uniform.
Layfon observed the girl's appearance and found her eyes a bit like Karian's. They had a beautiful look about them. They must be related.
A light sigh from Felli, then her rigid expression relaxed.
"It really is better to see the face of the person I'm talking to."
"Not really. I didn't come at a good time."
It wasn't easy to forget that she'd seen him rolling and moaning on the floor. His face reddened again.
"Do you hate my brother for forcing you to transfer into Military Arts?"
Felli returned back to the previous topic, indifferent to Layfon's current expression.
"...... I think it's a bit too extreme to describe it as 'hate'."
He couldn't find any other word to say.
"I hate my brother," Felli said while Layfon was hesitating.
He couldn't understand what she meant by that.
(She hates......her own brother?)
From Felli's pale lips came the words, "I didn't want to study Military Arts, but he forced me into it."
"For victory," Felli concluded without hesitating.
"He'd do all he could to reach his goal, no matter the means. Our wills mean nothing to him."
Felli watched Layfon while judging her own brother. No sadness and anger could be detected from her neutral expression. Even the smile she had before was gone.
So Layfon couldn't sense any sort of reflections from her in her previous words.
He was confounded.
"He'd perform any foul acts in order to win. It's ridiculous that we have to work for such a person."
"Then what do you want me to do?" Layfon asked in confusion.
For a delicate senpai with a short stature, her doll-like perfect face contained no traces of perplexity. Once again, she concluded, "You only need to remain as you are."
"Remain as you are with that attitude you had when you fought Nina."
"What do you mean......"
Felli had already turned her back and opened her schoolbag on the long bench.
She took out something from it and left it on the chair.
"Uh, excuse me......"
"This is your badge and the permit to be armed. Please pin the badge on your uniform. Tomorrow, go with Harley to the Weapon Fitting Department and take the permit with you. Harley'll help with your weapon settings."
Having quickly told him that, Felli nodded lightly and left the clinic.
He had lost his conversation partner. Layfon's words rolled in his mouth. His outstretched hand had lost its purpose, and could only wave weakly in the air.
What came through first was a sense of debilitation, then a long sigh.
Felli complained heavily about Karian, but she left immediately after leaving Layfon with the instructions she was told to deliver, whereas Karian had dismissed him from the room. Felli's manner was exactly the same as her brother's.
"Just what now?"
Layfon bent down on the long bench. He couldn't think of any good strategies. Beside him were the silver badge and a piece of paper.
It seemed that the reality of his entering the platoon won't be changed.
"Ah—gee......Why did it turn out like this!?" Layfon sighed.
The next day after school.
Just when Layfon was about to escape, not knowing where Harley's classroom lay, Harley himself appeared in the same oil-stained working suit that he wore yesterday.
"After watching the fight yesterday, I don't feel that the sword fits you. Nina holds heavy weapons that don't suit her either, but she knows how to handle the weight and has been fighting through in her own way," he said to Layfon, who was following behind him with a fed-up expression in his eyes.
Harley never once noticed it.
He continued with enthusiasm. "But your situation is different. Your body movements with the sword just weren't smooth. Your fighting style is more focused on speed, right? That's how you were trained, isn't it?"
"No. I only learned a little at the Dojo. I don't know the details that well. The weapon I used was about the same as yesterday's practice sword."
"Really?" Harley said, looking confused.
"You don't look like an amateur from the fight with Nina yesterday. I thought you've gone through professional training."
"Not really. In Grendan......I was born in Grendan. Dojos of that level are everywhere. I went to train a bit because there was a dojo near my home."
"Military Arts is really popular in Grendan. Well, I see. So that means in Grendan, there're lots of highly skilled fighters like you?"
"Well, how should I put it? I haven't fought much with others, so I'm not sure."
"Whatever it is, you must still have some confidence in your real strength?"
"Not at all."
A smile appeared on the kind and friendly senpai. They came to a building with a sign "Weapon Fitting Department" on the wall, and entered it.
Harley handed the document through the window, took a wooden box from the window and carried it back to the waiting Layfon.
"Come to my research lab."
Harley thrust the box to him and led the way out of the department.
"Uh, to put it correctly, it's my class's lab."
Students of Alchemy were assigned to groups and each group had its own research lab. In there, they could perform personal experiments.
"You can get your own research lab if you regularly take the top place or you publish some pretty good thesis. In here, I can't really do what I want to do."
"What is senpai specializing in?"
"Weapon adjustment. Sure, I need to invent, but I prefer to adjust weapons so they best fit their owners."
Layfon now understood why Harley was so stubborn and determined about his weapon being unsuitable.
"That's a bit different from trainers. How should I put it?"
"In Grendan, we call them the Dite engineers."
"Ah, I see. That's a good title."
The research lab was messy.
No, the lab itself was the manifestation of messiness.
After opening the door, Layfon saw something in the color of charcoal sticking tightly to the floor. Near the wall beside the door was a pile of magazines and papers with difficult names. A thin layer of dust covered it. There was also a mug with a dirtied edge and a piece of half eaten bread thrown aside.
The life of a single male......and its worst stereotype had become reality here. The provoking smell in the air made Layfon dizzy.
Harley looked to be practical, but that seemed to be only limited to what he was interested in.
Three tables sat in the spacious room. On each desk was the exact same situation, so Layfon couldn't tell the difference between them. Harley pushed aside the things on one of the tables and got him to place the wooden box there.
In the box were several rod-like things. In a relaxed manner, Harley took out one of the rods that was dark as charcoal. He took out a long electrical terminal from the gear box on the table and inserted it into the rod. The terminal slid in easily.
"Let's first adjust the handle of the sword. You're one-handed, right? Do you want to set it for two hands?"
Layfon said so, knowing that Harley wouldn't have listened if he said he could adjust whatever settings he wanted.
"Roger. Hold this."
Harley handed something over that he took out from the small mountain on the desk. It was a half-transparent item with a bluish tinge to it. At one end was a wire linking it to a machine.
"Hold it just like how you hold a sword."
Layfon thought of the feeling he had when holding a sword, then he tightened his grip on the icy cold rod-like thing. The thing had its own resistance and didn't get squashed. Compared with its soft appearance, it was surprisingly hard.
"Wow, your grip is quite strong. Even if you fight with your bare fists, it's gonna hurt."
Harley nodded while looking at the number appearing on the display. He pulled out the keyboard to enter the number.
Sudden changes appeared at the end of the rod where the terminal was inserted. The rod extended and expanded, its appearance adjusting continuously, eventually becoming what was shown on the display.
Layfon did so.
"How does it feel?"
Nothing felt out of place. Layfon's every finger held the handle closely.
"I'll do more adjustments once the entire weight's been decided. Well, then the handle's ok now. Next is the material. How do you want it? What Nina uses is black Dite. It's got good density but with decreasing conductive rate. If we're talking about speed, it's better to use white or green Dite. I'd recommend the white. If you don't get it, I've got a sample here. Wanna give it a go?"
Without waiting for a reply, Harley had entered the experimental lab and brought back a pile of rods.
Layfon's worked up a cold sweat just by looking at the pile of rods on the floor.
"Well, let's begin testing."
Smiling, Harley handed a rod to Layfon.
It seemed he'd spend a lot of time here.
When Harley let him go, the sun had already sunk down in the west.
Layfon returned to the dormitory in a flurry and jumped onto the bed. He slept for a few hours and was awakened by the alarm clock. He fixed his messy hair, dressed himself in his work clothes and rushed out of the dormitory.
This was Layfon's first work day.
Holding the map in one hand, Layfon arrived at an underground entrance outside the residential district. He handed his work permit to the police student for check up and entered the interior. Right before him was a lift. Layfon sat inside the simple lift that was encircled with a metal fence, and headed down into the depths of the city.
Just when the indescribable smell of oil and liquid became stronger and stronger, the lift stopped, sending a great jolt up Layfon's body.
The dim light lit up a scene before him. Numerous tubes and wires crossed each other. A gear wheel was moving up and down in its own rhythm. Selenium flowed like blood in one direction inside the glass-like tubes, whereas liquid in the color of murky sediment flowed in the opposite direction.
This place was underneath the city – the Central Mechanism Chamber. The scene of a Regios' heart lay open before Layfon.
A young man who looked to be also a half-studying and half-working student walked past and greeted Layfon as he stared speechlessly at the sight before him. Layfon followed the young man to the person in charge, and then started his job of cleaning.
As he was a beginner, he was sent to clean the corridors.
Grouped with the other newbie, Layfon went to work in the maze-like corridors. About one hour later, both of them started to get the hang of how to remove the mixed liquid from the wall, so they divided the work between them. It was easier this way to finish their target.
When Layfon went to discharge the dirty water in his bucket and get some more clean water, his partner was resting on the floor, totally exhausted.
"Are you resting?"
"Yeah," came the powerless reply.
"How to put it...it's tough. I picked this job coz I needed money, but I never thought it was such hard work to just clean the floor!"
"That's because you used too much unnecessary strength. What if you don't use the muscles of your wrist but the weight of your entire body? That'd save some strength," Layfon advised, but his partner was so exhausted that he only made some noise as a response.
Never mind, Layfon thought. He continued cleaning with the clean water and the cleaning liquid.
He didn't resent the repetitiveness of the work, since he could leave his mind blank and not think of anything. He only needed to concentrate on moving his body, his consciousness swallowed in the flow inside him. That was the blood running in his veins, which was the flow needed to open up the flow of Kei. If he focused more, blood and Kei would flow to the antibodies inside him.
Layfon kept on brushing while enjoying that feeling.
When the water in the bucket turned dark, he was brought back to reality.
"I have to change the water," he murmured, and unexpectedly got a reply.
"Then please change mine too."
Startled, Layfon lifted his gaze to the source of the voice.
And got another shock.
"In exchange, let me treat you to supper...Uh, what's wrong?"
"Senpai, why are you here?"
It was Nina. She wore the same work clothes as Layfon. A bucket filled with dirty water sat beside her feet, and she was holding a brush missing a handle. Oil stained her nose, cheeks and even her hair.
"I'm half studying and half working too. Is that so strange? With that, I'm leaving the water to you. I'll buy some food. Meet up here later."
Nina left Layfon at a loss.
When Layfon came back with clean water after a few minutes, Nina also managed to make it back in time.
It didn't seem like he was dreaming. Nina was looking at the wide-mouthed Layfon disapprovingly. Both of his hands were occupied with the buckets.
"How do you plan to eat? Put down the buckets. You should rest when it's time to rest."
He placed the buckets on the floor and hurried away to join her. They sat down on a tube.
Nina handed over a sandwich.
He took a large bite. The delicious taste of chicken, vegetables and spicy sauce seeped into his tired body.
"This is the most popular bento. It's always sold out. If you don't time it right, you'll never get to have it."
Nina's lips relaxed slowly. She handed Layfon a paper cup filled with red tea.
It was red tea with ice. The sugar level wasn't too high. The drink tasted nice.
"Did you buy this too?"
"No, I made it," she shook her head and put the lid on her water bottle.
"I wasn't planning to share. Didn't know you were here, so I went to get some water just then."
"Ah, I'm sorry."
"No worries, and just a warning. Prepare your own drink from now on, the water here tastes horrible."
Layfon left his mouth open, then looked at the side of Nina's face. A Nina happily eating her sandwich while her beautiful golden locks were oil-stained just didn't match each other.
"What is it? I can't eat with you staring."
"Sorry. I'm just surprised."
"Very surprised. Like how I can't imagine senpai's working here, and also......"
She looked very cute, taking huge bites of her sandwich, but knowing he'd get quite a beating if he let those words out, Layfon quickly swallowed them.
"Well, in terms of health, this is the worst environment you can imagine."
Luckily she didn't notice him struggling with his words.
"But it's true that the pay is good. For someone as poor as me, I'm grateful to get such high pay."
"Are you that surprised?"
"Ah, no, not really......"
It was true that he was surprised about it.
When he first met Nina, he felt an elegant higher-class bearing from her on top of the disciplined demeanor that passionate Military Arts people preferred.
"Frankly, my family isn't poor."
Nina washed down her last bite of sandwich with red tea. Looking at the Nina now, it was hard to imagine she was of the upper class.
"Didn't I say my family? My parents were against me studying here, so I ran away from home. They don't send me any allowance."
"And for what?"
"Why did you come here?"
"The only scholarship qualification that I passed was this academy city's, so I'm here."
Disappointment appeared on Nina. No, what she tried to cover underneath was the anger in her eyes.
"And I'm an orphan, so I haven't got any money."
After quickly adding that line, he could see the apology in her eyes.
"...... Is that so. I'm sorry."
"No, that's ok."
Layfon found her funny. Although she always appeared stubborn and calm, when he talked with her at such a close distance, her expressions were like the images of a kaleidoscope. In particular, it was funny of her trying to cover her own expression and still act cool.
"I've always wanted to go outside," Nina said softly and took another sandwich. "For us born in a Regios, the majority of people spend their entire lifetime in the same city. Because of the filth monsters outside, we're trapped like birds in a cage...... but, there are also people who travel on roaming buses in between cities. They can look at many different worlds, as opposed to many who only see one world. I'm envious of them."
Receiving Nina's glare again for staring at her, Layfon hastily took a bite of his sandwich.
"I couldn't become a traveler, but I still wanted to see the outside world, so I was determined to come to the Academy City. I found that a reasonable choice, but my parents were very against it."
Nina's eyes narrowed in enjoyment. Perhaps she was recalling the scene of her defying her parents.
"That was my first time arguing with my dad to such an extreme end. I didn't know what he was thinking, but I was happy."
"Is that why you don't get any allowance?"
"Yeah. They found out that I took the exam behind their backs. They locked me in the room when I was about to leave. I only managed to escape and board the bus in the last minute. I sent home a letter after arriving here. I wrote what I thought was right. The return letter was extremely short. It included a return bus ticket and a piece of paper saying "Besides this, we won't give you any help.""
"So I'm like this now," she concluded and fell silent, eating her sandwich. Layfon also focused on eating.
Nina finished the last sandwich and poured some red tea into the paper cup.
"I'm only good at Military Arts, so that's why I'm in this case. But you seem different."
According to the Student President, Layfon was forced to transfer.
"Not at all," he shook his head, lowered his head to gaze at the red tea in his cup. The coldness of the iced red tea seeped through the paper and into his palm.
"I still haven't decided what to do, but, I want to do something."
"Um, what about Military Arts? Frankly, I think you're strong in it."
"Not Military Arts. I failed it already."
"Failed? What happened?"
Nina was the type to say what was hard to talk about. Layfon shook his head bitterly.
Just when he was searching for words to confuse the topic......
Gla, Gla, Gla. Footsteps of someone running in the corridor sounded, then that someone appeared, coming close to the place where Layfon and Nina were resting.
It was an older man wearing the same clothes as them. A beard adorned his chin. Machine oil filled his fingernails. Layfon guessed he must be a senpai in the Mechanical Engineering course.
"Hey, did you see it here?"
"See what?" Layfon said but Nina got ahead of him.
"Again. Sorry! I'm counting on you!" the man ran away.
"This is troublesome."
Nina drained her red tea and stood up.
"Come and help. We don't have to clean today."
Nina smiled. "The consciousness of the city has escaped."
Even so, he didn't understand it. He could only say "what?"
This time, Nina laughed. "Never mind that, just come."
Amongst the regular noises of gears turning were erratic footsteps stamping on metallic floors, but Nina was strolling in the busy atmosphere.
"Is this urgent?"
"For the Mechanical Engineering students that look after this place, it's serious enough for them to have their marks taken off."
The city's consciousness?
She said that the city's consciousness had escaped, but what was the city's consciousness? Layfon didn't get it.
Since it was a self-governing city, the city would move according to its own will. No one knew where a city would go, and the people living in it couldn't control it. People lived in cities that floated, lost on the barren surface of the earth. Rumor had it that in the time when humans didn't have to rely on Regios, they had maps mapping the entire world. But these maps had lost their value. No one ever read them anymore.
For humans living in this age, what happened outside a city was a mystery. At the same time, the city that they couldn't control was also in itself a mystery.
He wouldn't have not known what it meant by the city's consciousness.
But what it was like to have the city's consciousness escaping was hard to fathom.
Nina didn't hesitate when coming across any forked corridors. Layfon watched her back, confused.
"Aren't we looking for it?"
"There's no need."
Layfon was more confused. He caught up with Nina to look at her face, and only saw excitement on her gentle countenance. She didn't look around. She was just walking straight in the direction she knew.
"The city's consciousness has a strong sense of curiosity," Nina said suddenly. "So it likes to run around. That serves to avoid the filth monsters, but what's more important is its bottomless curiosity to explore the world. It runs here and there...... that's how Harley puts it."
Nina halted her steps, blocked by the railing. From here, they could look into the depth of the city's heart, layered by machineries, the air vibrating with the sound of machines at work.
And above that was something.
Something that pulsated with golden light.
"And because of that, it's also curious about new things inside itself. It's curious like you, a new student."
"Zuellni!" Nina called. The ball of light flew through the air in circles.
"The workers are agitated," she said.
The ball of light flew straight at Nina. Without giving Layfon the chance to shout "watch out", the ball of light was in Nina's arms.
"Haha, aren't you full of spirit?" Nina smiled, carrying the ball of light.
Layfon took a closer look at it and was speechless.
The ball of light was a small child.
"But you gotta work properly. If you get lazy, the workers have to run around and adjust a great deal of things."
It was about the size of an infant, but the ratio of its limbs looked normal. Her hair was long enough to touch her toes. She gazed at Nina cheerfully with big and animated eyes.
(This......is the city's consciousness?)
Layfon stared at the light-emitting girl without a word.
The girl looked past Nina's shoulder and caught his eyes.
"Ah, he's new. Let me introduce. He's Layfon, Layfon Alseif. He's very strong. Layfon, she's Zuellni."
Layfon's gaze flickered between Nina and the girl.
"That is......uh, the same as the city's name......"
"Isn't that a given? The city is this child's real form."
Perhaps this was a given, but it was hard to associate this little girl with the huge city he was in.
"Oh, I'm Layfon Alseif. Nice to meet you," Layfon extended his hand to shake hers.
Zuellni had already jumped from Nina's arm to her shoulder, then onto Layfon's chest.
Layfon held her in haste. She was weightless, but he could feel her body heat through his thick working suit.
Zuellni held tightly to his clothes, hugging him. She was gazing up at him with pure and polished eyes, making him feel a bit embarrassed.
"Oh, she seems to like you," Nina said, trying to suppress her laughter.
"Zuellni won't let anyone she hates touch her. If I explain it in Harley's words, Zuellni is the Electronic Fairy, the consolidated form of the city's particles. Once the form loosens, the electronic particles will shoot through the other's body, just like a lightning strike."
Hearing that explanation, Layfon wasn't sure what to say. He couldn't believe such a cute little girl would harm humans.
"The workers are all so worked up about Zuellni being missing because of that too, on top of the gears not moving properly; but I don't think this gentle girl can harm others."
Nina patted Zuellni's head. Zuellni squinted.
But even Layfon himself didn't know how he'd have reacted when he first learned of this. Nina's easy and relaxed manner enabled him to hug Zuellni so naturally.
"Senpai is incredible."
"Why so sudden?"
"That's what I think."
Nina took Zuellni from him.
While she turned her back to Layfon, he saw her cheeks reddening. Was she too sensitive?
Nina talked to Zuellni as she walked back to the corridor.
"Ok, have you seen enough? Then return to your place. Even you dislike the workers adjusting things when nothing's out of place."
Layfon ran to catch up with her.
"We have to train tomorrow for the platoon match. Don't bring your exhaustion with you," Nina said to him.
Layfon halted his footsteps, his jaunty mood disappearing.