The Starry Sky Beneath the Starry Sky
“Apparently she’s aboard a scouting ship of the Winged Guard, near the 66th Island.”
“… how the heck did she end up there?”
“I don’t know, but she says she’s coming home. She’ll ride on the ship for a while, then fly the rest by herself.”
With a click, Naigrat shut off the transmission from the communication crystal.
“A rather interesting way to run away from home, huh? I wonder if she has any idea how worried we were…”
“I know, right? Kids with wings have so many ways to express their feelings, I’m jealous. The only way I can relieve stress is by binge eating.” She sighed with an expression of despair on her face. “They really like you. Not just her, but the other kids too. As their caretaker, I admit I’m a little envious.”
“Hmm… I don’t know about that.”
“You haven’t realized it?” Naigrat clasped her hands to her mouth in surprise. “Are you that dense? Or maybe you’re a concealer type?”
“What is that supposed to mean…”
“Hm, well roughly speaking, it’s a broad classification for those ‘good for nothing guys that pretend to not have any interest in romance but secretly want to be approached by girls’.”
… that didn’t make things much clearer.
“If you’re a dense type, it means you genuinely just don’t realize that you’re being liked, and you’ll probably never figure it out on your own. The girl will get frustrated as she tries more and more approaches, all to no effect. A variation is the mistake type, who mistakes the girl’s romantic interest for other emotions.
The concealing type actually realizes that he’s being liked, but pretends not to know. The effect is similar to the dense type, but there might be a sense of guilt from continued deceit, or maybe the girl will eventually notice that you’re pretending… various other developments can be expected. Well anyways, which type are you?”
“… there are so many things messed up with your explanation that I don’t even know where to start.” Willem sighed deeply. “If you want to talk about romance and fiction, do it elsewhere. I mean, I won’t deny that I appear to be liked by some of them.”
“Hmm?” Naigrat opened her eyes wide. “That’s a little unexpected. I thought you were the type of character oblivious to that kind of stuff.”
“Don’t say character… I’m not performing an act or anything.” He scratched his head. “I want to have a serious talk. Love is something that just wells up on its own when you get to that age, regardless of whether or not you actually have a partner. Most of them quickly find someone to pit those feelings against. Someone nearby of the opposite gender, a distant idolized figure, that ideal someone they hope to meet someday. Some keep throwing their feelings at these futile dreams until the very end.
… the girls here never got a chance to do any of those things. Then I came along. Their possible targets increased from zero to one. So, by some weird logic of their own, they convinced themselves that they were in love. Anyways, something like that — what’s with those eyes?”
He realized that Naigrat was staring him down with the utmost intensity.
“Eyes of disbelief at finding a man much worse than expected.”
“What… I don’t believe I said anything strange. Anyway, I think most of them just yearn for a father figure. Of course I’m glad that they like me, but it’s nothing more than that.”
“A boring answer, huh?”
“Boring means peaceful. Nothing better than that, right?”
“I guess… I won’t deny that, but….” Naigrat pointed straight at Willem’s chest. “As a girl, let me say this. While I respect your whole philosophical take on this, in the end you’re still ignoring their feelings. Even though they may be kids, they’re still girls with real emotions. I don’t like guys that can’t be considerate.”
Willem wondered if Naigrat could still say ‘as a girl’ at her age, but decided to not touch upon the matter. He was at least that considerate.
“And even though they’re young, for some of them it might be the last chance to have these kinds of feelings. So I want you to properly confront them. I’m not joking around; this is a true request from the bottom of my heart.”
“Can’t do that.” An immediate response. “If romance or love or whatever is that important, then even more reason to not force and rush it in this narrow place. Regul Aire is vast. There are thousands of other fine men out there. Having your daughter someday taken by one of those guys is the duty of a father.”
Willem took a minute to think about what he just said. Of course, he hadn’t been looking around him with those eyes, so when he thought of men in Regul Aire, about all that popped into his head were guys with green skin or pig faces or scales growing everywhere. But wait… maybe discriminating by looks and race was now a thing of the past? If you just looked at personality, there might be some decent guys…. He imagined a scenario. What if, one day, Kutori came home and introduced her Borgle boyfriend, saying ‘we are in a serious relationship’? Could he give them his blessing with a smile?
“Ah!? What’s with that face?”
“Oh, sorry. I was just thinking that Grick might not be such a bad guy after all, when you look at him that way…”
“That literally has absolutely nothing to do with our conversation!”
Willem glanced outside the window. Not a single cloud drifted through the sky. A peaceful night.
“I’m gonna head out. If you still want to talk, we’ll continue later.”
“Wait, where are you going?”
“Star gazing or something. Anyways, I’ll borrow this key.”
He waved his hand briefly, then exited the room.
“Huh? Hey! Wait… that key!”
He pretended not to hear Naigrat’s screams behind him.
Willem stood on top of a small hill located near the edge of the 68th Island, holding Seniolis, which he had taken from the warehouse. A gentle breeze floated by, the air felt clear and refreshing, and the stars twinkled softly in the distance. Anyway, it was a perfect night.
He unwrapped the cloth covering Seniolis, exposing it to the wind. Willem then ignited a small amount of Venom. A patch of pain gnawed at his forehead, but he could tolerate it for the time being.
“Start maintenance,” he murmured and touched one of the shining metal fragments on the blade body. With a soft plunk, the lone shard separated from the blade, drifting through the air until it stopped about five paces away from him. As it settled into position, it emitted the clear ringing sound of a metallophone being struck.
He touched a different metal fragment. That one also glided through the air before stopping a small distance away. It produced a clear sound slightly different than the previous one. He repeated the process with another. And another.
The legendary ancient sword Seniolis consisted of a total of forty one metal shards bound together by spell lines. By manipulating the spell lines, Willem was able to unravel the blade into its individual pieces. Before long, only a small crystal, previously hidden inside the blade, remained in his palm. Surrounding him, the forty one fragments floated about, emitting faint gleams of light as if creating their own little starry sky.
First he looked at the general state of the weapon. Some resistances, such as poison or curse, seemed to be operating at a higher level than normal, while others, such as paralyze, hardly worked at all. This must have been the result of a long period of combat without any maintenance. The habits of its users and the types of battles it fought probably affected it over the years as well.
Next, he checked the more specific parameters. Simply put, it was a disaster. Because it had been wielded for so long by brute forcing magic into it, problems had sprung up all over. A large Venom blockade had formed at the root of the backbone circuit which ran throughout the sword, with protrusions of various sizes surrounding it. Three spell lines had been destroyed completely, and most of the others were beaten up badly, operating at about thirty percent lower efficiency on average.
“How did you guys manage to keep fighting with this…” he murmured with a laugh.
Willem lightly flicked the crystal with his fingertip, sending in a small amount of Venom. It lit up a previously invisible spell line, which then got sucked up by one of the floating metal fragments. Another clear metal sound rang through the air. He sent in another spurt of Venom, which caused a different spell line to shine and a different metal fragment to ring.
He repeated the process again. And again. A flurry of light and sound danced in the air around him. One by one, the dormant spell lines awoke, and the exhausted metal shards regained their vigor.
— he sensed a presence behind his back.
“Welcome home, Miss Runaway.” Willem spoke to the newcomer without turning around.
“… what are you doing?” the presence behind his back asked suspiciously, neglecting to return his greeting.
“Just what it looks like. Doing some maintenance on your partner.”
“Hold on a second. You didn’t even get permission from its user first?”
“I’m the manager around here, aren’t I? The only permission I need is my own.” He let out a cackle.
“That laugh doesn’t fit you.”
“Hmm, is that so?”
“I like your usual softer laugh.”
Just a little while ago, he had been telling Naigrat how he was aware of the girls’ feelings. He had tried to play it cool by saying he logically decided to reject those feelings. Yet, just now, his heart skipped a beat.
“Well, go on. Continue your little concert.”
“Those pretty sounds. They didn’t fit very well together though.”
“Not trying to perform a symphony or anything.”
“Then make it a street performance. I won’t give you any donations, but…”
“… a strange guest has come to listen, huh?”
Willem turned his attention back to the crystal lying in his palm. Kutori sat down beside him, back to back. Once again, the clear metal sounds filled the night sky around the hill.
“These lights… what are they?”
“The Kaliyon is made of a bunch of different Talismans bound together by spell lines into the shape of a sword. Do you know what Talismans are?”
“I’ve heard of them before.”
Now that all methods involved in manufacturing or repairing the swords had been lost, naturally that included the small details and secret techniques as well. All she had heard was that powerful spells or Talents could be inscribed into paper, ceramic, or metal shards. Those who could wield those fragments received the benefits of the contained spells… or something like that.
Occasionally, such items were still brought up from the land by salvagers. Apparently, it wasn’t too rare for them to be circulating amongst the wealthy upper class.
“The light floating in front of your eyes now… that’s a Talisman to protect your tongue from burns when you drink something hot.”
“Next to that is one that lets you tell which way is north even in places you haven’t been to before. Above that is one that prevents nightmares while you’re stuck in bed with a cold. Then, we have one that lets you imitate cat sounds perfectly, one that protects your fingernails from scratches, one that gets you a six to ten heads ratio on coin tosses…”
“Wait a second. This is Seniolis, right? The legendary weapon? Not the top one hundred convenient little charms?”
“Think about food. Some items, if you eat them separately, they’ll taste good and go down just fine. But if you eat them all together, or in just the right combination, they’ll destroy your stomach. It’s the same idea.
If you tie together a bunch of different Talismans with spell lines, it can produce wildly varied effects due to some complex interference mechanisms. I’m not a specialist so I don’t know the details, but the engineers over in the central workshops said something like that.
Anyways, about Seniolis in particular, it’s one of the oldest Kaliyons. I heard it was born practically by a miraculous accident out on the battlefield. That’s why it has so many random and oddball Talismans.”
“Hmm….” Kutori, tilting her neck in bewilderment, looked around at the forty one floating Talismans. “I didn’t know that. Since it’s the legendary holy sword and all, I thought it was handed down directly from god or something.”
“Well, unfortunately that wasn’t the case.”
The Emnetwyte at the time were, needless to say, desperate to survive. To accomplish that goal, they utilized anything and everything. Fighting was not a pretty business. Yet, still, they yearned for beauty and perfection. So they named their long sought after symbols of strength Kaliyons, or holy swords.
“I see.” Kutori grew silent for a moment. Metallic noises and lights danced around the pair. “Not too long ago, I spoke with the First Officer.” Slowly, she began to speak again. “He said that if I don’t want to when the time comes, I don’t have to open the gate to the fairy homeland. In order to grow my strength and resolve, he would bet the sinking of the 15th Floating Island.”
“… is that so?”
“Can I really become stronger?”
“Even if you don’t want to, I’ll make sure that you do. I am your manager, after all.”
“I thought you’d say that.” Willem could feel her back move as she laughed. “Well, I guess I’ll go ahead and say it. I don’t want to become stronger.”
“Wait, wait. Isn’t this the part where you realize how much love and support people give you and open up your honest feelings while tearing up?”
“I am being honest here. How about you notice that?”
Willem pretended to not hear that last remark. So he had become one of those concealing type guys that Naigrat mentioned earlier, huh? The guilt was a bit worse than he had expected.
“Well, how about this. If you go fight and return home, I’ll listen to one request. Anything you want.”
“Eh?” Kutori was caught off guard for a second. “I-It’s not like I really have anything I want you to do for me. Besides, even if you say ‘anything’, you probably won’t actually do anything big. Like if I said ‘marry me!’ or something…”
“… of course I know that. But, I’m curious. Why?”
“Well, it’s just not in the range of things I can do. Just like if you requested me to ‘bring a dead guy back to life’ or ‘eliminate all the Beasts’, it would obviously be impossible.”
“Marrying me is as impossible as those things?”
A child around that age feeling some sort of attraction to a nearby reliable older figure of the opposite gender was only natural. It might have been one valid form of love, but it was also a temporary passion brought about by the sheer lack of options. So taking a step back while that fever cooled down was the responsible thing to do as an adult.
“At least wait until you’ve grown up a little more.”
“If I had the time then I wou–!”
“You have time,” Willem said, cutting Kutori off mid sentence. “You’re about to go fight and buy that time, aren’t you?”
“… but I don’t know how it’ll turn out.”
“Then find a clear reason why you need to return home. Did you know? Soldiers that had a fiancee waiting back home or something had an overall higher survival rate. They were so determined to live no matter what the battle threw at them.”
“Well, that option of having a fiance waiting back home just got crushed a second ago…” Kutori interjected, staring coldly at Willem.
“Ah — well, you know. You can’t go desperately chasing an unrealistic future. Have a more down to earth dream.”
“Isn’t that wrong though? If you’re trying to go all out with this emotional drive thing, then why limit yourself with reality?”
“… you’re a smart one, huh?”
All he could manage was a laugh. To hold a reason why you need to return home — of course, these were not originally Willem’s words. He just borrowed them from someone else. On top of that, he might have been a little hypocritical since, when that someone told him those words, he ended up going berserk and couldn’t return home as promised. While Kutori certainly didn’t know all that, it seems like she had caught on to the superficiality of his advice.
“Well if I’m so smart, then I wish you’d stop treating me like a kid.”
“I’m afraid I can’t.”
“Why are you so persistent on that point only?” Kutori said with a strangely adult-like sigh. “… sweets.”
“You know, that dessert you made in the cafeteria a while back. Do you have any other recipes?”
“A few, I guess.”
“Then, what about butter cake?”
“That, of all things?”
“Never mind.” It wasn’t completely unexpected. He had a feeling the conversation would eventually flow in that direction. “I know how to make it. It was practically beaten into me by my master. But, someone much much better than me was always around, so I never really made it myself.”
“Well, if you know how, then that’s enough. One of my seniors always looked so happy eating butter cake after coming home from a battle. By the time I could wield a sword, though, it had disappeared from the dessert menu, so I could never be like her. That’s why I’m asking you.”
Willem took a deep breath in, and slowly let it all out. “Alright,” he responded, then resumed his work.
After a little longer, he completed Seniolis’ maintenance, resetting the various resistance levels while leaving only the spell resistance at a higher setting. The surplus spell lines that resulting from cutting off various obsolete functions went towards strengthening the foundations.
With his fingertip, Willem pushed the crystal. The floating metal shards surrounding them glided through the air, one by one gathering around it. As each fragment returned to its original place, it emitted a faint ringing sound. The symphony went on for a short while, then, after the finale, a large sword had been restored in Willem’s hands.
“Okay, okay. I’ll make you eat so much cake you get heartburn. Got it? You better survive and come home.”
He handed Seniolis back to its rightful fake owner.
“Leave it to me,” the girl said with a smile.