On This Side of the Silver Screen
Two lizards, or rather two lizard people, stood facing each other with romantic looks in their eyes. One of them had a muscular physique and wore an army uniform with a stand up collar. Based on all that, this one was probably the male. And the other, who wore an elegant dress, was most likely the female.
They simply looked at each other, exchanging no words.
A historic looking stone town filled the background. The pair stood on top of a large arched aqueduct which brought water to the city.
The sun had set long ago; only the unsteady light of a single gas lamp cut them out of the surrounding darkness. Inside of their world no other humans could be found — well that’s obvious. Rather, no other living beings could be spotted. It was as if the world had gotten up and disappeared off somewhere while leaving only those two behind.
The male lizard did something with his tongue inside his mouth, creating a weird sound.
The female lizard opened her eyes wide and continued staring.
From those wordless actions alone, some kind of mutual understanding must have passed between them. They gently drew their bodies close together and confirmed each other’s warmth — so cold blooded animals have this custom too, huh.
And then, as if trying to protect the lovers’ secret meeting, the gas lamp flickered once before going out completely. The darkness of night reached out, softly enveloping the couple, and the story came to a quiet end.
With a snap, the light of crystal lamps filled the movie theater as the day’s showing finished.
“Hm.” Panival nodded with a know-it-all look on her face.
“Ooo….” Collon had a look of admiration.
“Ahh….” Tiat’s eyes seemed to be sparkling.
“….” Lakish stared with her mouth wide open.
A rare spectacle, the four little ones, who can usually be found energetically running about the fairy warehouse, all sat quietly, fixated on the now blank screen with deeply moved expressions. Off to the side, Willem sat alone, hand pressed against his forehead, fighting a light headache.
… I don’t get it…
Well, for starters, he could understand that the film was supposed to be some kind of love story. Anything beyond that, though, he had no idea.
In the first place, any sort of romance is supposed to make you empathize with one of the characters, or at least have some pretty actors and actresses to admire. But if all the characters in a movie are Reptrace, it’s a little too hard to accomplish either.
The race wall really is thick after all.
Recording crystals, as their name implies, are a special type of quartz able to capture and store the surrounding scenery. The accuracy and capacity of each stone changes based on the preciseness and type of the cut, and also the size and quality of the original gem. By shining light with uniform direction and wavelength upon the stone, recorded scenes can be projected outside, and slightly adjusting the angle of the light makes it possible to choose which images to project. Through this process, a series of scenes can be played in sequence, creating moving images which almost look like real life. The necessary equipment not being too expensive, medium sized crystals or smaller can often be found in image crystal theaters throughout any city.
Well, enough of the technical talk. The important point is just that such technology exists in Regul Aire, and that a whole subculture revolving around these recorded films is quickly developing.
Even without going all the way to a big city theater, you can see whatever performance you want in any old place furnished with these recording crystals. The theaters might not have sound, and the image quality may not be the best, but it’s a large step up from nothing at all. These sort of places have played a large role in spreading fiction across Regul Aire, but…
With the four little ones trailing behind, Willem exited the theater.
“It was lovely!” Tiat screamed, the sparkling in her eyes beginning to spread out into the air around her.
“Adult!!” Collon continued the screaming with some nonsense.
“Hmmph!” Panival proudly raised her shoulders and struck an intimidating pose.
“One day, I too….” A spellbound Lakish gazed off into the distance.
“… uh….” Willem sagged his shoulders with a sigh.
Not much time has passed since these four were ‘born’. Physically and emotionally, they were children no more than ten years of age. So when entering a theater, they need to be accompanied by a guardian, which is how Willem ended up in this situation.
The girls’ appearances, lacking any horns, fangs, scales, or animal ears, fall into the category of markless, closely resembling the Emnetwyte who once flourished on the land below. The only difference is the vivid color often present in their hair and eyes.
Having said all that, how in the world could they be so moved by watching a lizard love story? Could it be the gender difference? Age? Or the time in which they were born? Maybe everyone else in Regul Aire would also enjoy the story, and he was the only oddball?
There’s no hope for this generation…
“Um, is something wrong?” He heard a worried voice from below. Panival was looking up at his face, probably thinking he looked a little funny.
“Willem, cheer up!”
He thought he felt something jump onto his back, and, next thing he knew, Collon had her arms and legs locked around his right shoulder and elbow joints. She really was quite agile with those tiny limbs of hers.
“Yeah! Put some spirit into it, spirit!”
“Hm, now if you just get his carotid artery too, it’ll be perfect.”
“N-N-No!! Collon, hurry up and get off! Panival stop encouraging her!!”
Ahh, Lakish is a good kid. Collon and Panival are bad kids. Well, for kids, being energetic is the most important, so in that respect they’re all good kids. By the way, this really hurts… how do I get out of this? Such thoughts vaguely ran through Willem’s head, which had still not fully recovered. Just then, he felt a pair of little eyes staring at him and turned around to face the last of the four girls.
“What’s wrong, Tiat?”
“Thinking about something?”
Being unexpectedly called out, Tiat had a confused face for a moment. “Oh… it’s just… you haven’t been very happy lately, so I was thinking maybe it’s because of our seniors… or something…”
“Seniors? Ah, Kutori and the others?”
I see. Seniors, huh? He felt it was a little bit of an unnatural way to refer to people that were basically family, but, in the end, these fairies were soldiers in the army — or rather, army equipment. Using a respectful expression like that to refer to their elders wasn’t that strange.
“Yeah, I suppose.” He responded honestly, seeing no point in hiding anything.
“Eh….” For some reason, Tiat sounded surprised.
“To tell the truth, I can’t keep my mind off it. I even had a weird dream this morning because of them still not coming back.”
Tiat’s, and even Lakish’s too for some reason, expression lit up. Those were the same faces he had seen staring in wonder at the lizard love story not too long ago.
“… wait a second. What are you guys imagining right now?”
“Waiting and waiting for the return of a loved one, trying to conceal the pain. Right?”
“Wow… an adult romance…”
He had no idea what those two were saying.
“Ohh, a lively adult!”
“A naked confession in the middle of a highway? A brave manager, indeed.”
He had even less of an idea what these other two were saying. Also, his locked right arm was starting to really hurt.
“It’s only natural to be concerned for family… it doesn’t have to be some big love affair. Aren’t you guys even the least bit worried about them?”
“Why would we be?”
“Why? I mean…”
“They’ll make it home safely without us worrying about them. And if something happens so that they can’t make it home, then us worrying won’t do anything to help,” Tiat explained casually.
Ah — that’s right. These guys are fairies. They exist only to be used up in battle. Because of that, their attachment to life tends to be thin, and apparently that indifferent attitude applies not only to their own life, but to others of their kin as well.
Kutori must have been a pretty rare exception. She said herself that she didn’t want to die. And, despite never speaking the words directly, her attitude showed that she didn’t want to expose her cute juniors to danger.
Willem saw that fear of hers as a good thing. Compared to Willem, who failed to see any worth in his continuing to exist, Kutori had a much more ‘humanlike’ way of living. He didn’t realize it back then, but that may have been one of the reasons he supported her so much.
“That’s not the point of worrying.” Still unable to move his right arm, Willem twisted his body and managed to put his left hand on top of Tiat’s head. “Sooner or later you guys will understand too.”
“H-Hey! Don’t treat us like we’re little kids!”
“Kutori worried about you guys, you know?”
“… Kutori? Why?”
“Because she’s an adult? Or at least, more of an adult than you guys.”
Tiat puffed her cheeks and, in an irritated voice, declared to the blue sky, “Fine! I’ll worry about the seniors then!”
“Ohh!” Collon, obviously not really understanding what was going on, gave a little cheer.
“Good luck,” Panival responded casually, not seeming to care.
“Adult… Kutori’s an adult even in Willem’s eyes too, huh…” Lakish mumbled something with a dazed look on her face. He pretended to not hear.
“Anyways, Collon — pretty soon my ligaments are going to break or something so get off.”
“I still haven’t heard a surrender!”
“Ahh I give up I give up.”
“Oh!” With that, Collon hopped off.
A chilly wind blew through town, causing Willem to shiver.
The sky high above harbored only a few clouds.
Slow, but surely, the seasons had begun to change.
The facility sat deep inside the forests of the 68th Floating Island. Just from its looks, you might guess it was some sort of dormitory, able to house around fifty people. A two floored building, the wooden structure gave off a somewhat antiquated feel. Right beside it were a vegetable garden and flower bed, both well tended to, and a little farther away, a small clearing served as a multipurpose grounds.
According to official documents, the facility served as a warehouse for the storage of the army’s secret weapons. Besides a minimal number of people needed to manage the equipment, supposedly no one lived inside.
Of course, this last point isn’t true at all. Over thirty fairies currently call this facility their home. The young girls, merely ‘objects’ according to the documents, live out their days with an enthusiasm and energy uncharacteristic of inanimate weapons.
On the roof of that ‘warehouse’, numerous hung up washed clothes flapped about in the wind.
“Aw, the weather looks like it’s about to get bad.” Holding a bundle of sheets to take inside by her chest, a woman gazed up at the sky. “Hey, delicious looking person over there. If you’re free, give me a hand, will you?”
“I’ll help, so don’t call me that again.”
“Ehh? In my culture, it’s the highest compliment, you know?”
“Well, then your whole race needs to go relearn the common language from scratch right now.” While exchanging some light banter, Willem picked up a nearby wicker basket and began stuffing it with partially dried clothes.
The wind blowing by carried just a hint of moisture. Rain did indeed seem imminent.
“Hmm, I feel like you’ve been a bit cold towards Trolls recently, Willem,” the woman said, puffing out her cheeks like a pouting young child.
Willem grimaced slightly at her gesture, noticing that it looked strangely attractive. Naigrat is included in the above mentioned ‘minimal number of people needed to manage the equipment’. She looked to be about twenty years old and was fairly tall for that age, her eyes resting at basically the same height as Willem’s. Still retaining some of the tastes of a little girl, she liked to wear cute aprons or frilly dresses. And, of course, she was not a fairy, but rather a Troll, a sub-race of Ogres that lived beside people, exchanged smiles with people, and ate people.
“Don’t be stupid. I’ve been cold to you ever since we first met.”
“So mean… I think a guy who can say that kind of stuff seriously to girls will get into some trouble…”
In the sky above, faint gray clouds began to spread out. It looked like they better hurry. On top of the mountain of sheets and clothes already about to overflow out of the basket, he began piling on even more.
“You don’t need to worry. The only person in the world I can take this attitude towards is just you now.”
“Hmph. A rather strange pickup line, don’t you think? Maybe my heart did flutter a little.”
“Like I said, your whole race needs to go relearn the common language.”
“You were so nice to Kutori and the others, but this is what I–”
With a plop, a drop of rain fell by Willem’s feet, creating a gray stain on the ground.
“Move your hands, not your mouth. Come on.”
“I know, I know!”
The two hurriedly continued their work taking down clothes.
A violent downpour started, as if someone up there suddenly decided to flip over a giant bucket of water. In a matter of seconds, clouds so deeply gray they looked black covered the entire sky. Despite it still being early in the day, the view outside the window was dark as night.
“Barely made it, huh? If we took just a little longer, we would have needed to wash everything all over again.” Having cleaned up all the laundry, the pair had relocated to Naigrat’s room to have some tea and relax. “Well? What do you need?” Naigrat asked suddenly as she ignited a flame in the fireplace.
“You came up to the roof because you had some business with me, didn’t you?”
“Ah….” Now that Naigrat mentioned it, Willem remembered. “Well… how to put it… I was just thinking that it should be about time for some kind of contact, at least whether they’re safe or not.”
“Ah. Kutori and them?”
Of course. Silently, Willem nodded.
“I think I told you before, but this battle is going to take especially long.”
“Well yeah I heard that, but it’s already been half a month, you know? Haven’t you heard anything about whether or not they’re still safe, or how much longer it looks like it’ll continue?”
“Instant rejection! Why?”
“Why? That’s just how it is… do you want to know the details?”
Without responding, Willem sat down in the chair Naigrat offered him. As if magically pulled out from somewhere, a tea set laid itself out on top of the small table.
“You know about their enemy, the Teimerre, right?”
“I learned a little from documents. It’s tough, its size and strength are directly proportional, but most other properties are unknown.”
“That’s right. The main cause of that toughness is its ability to quickly grow and split. Even if you keep killing and killing, the surviving parts will use the dead ones as shields while creating more of themselves. Not only that, but they get stronger every time. Against the average smaller ones, if you patiently kill each part around ten times they’ll reach their limit and stop splitting. This one, though, might have even more than two hundred layers, so it’s going to take a while.
Of course, the girls aren’t fighting 24/7. They knew it was going to be a long battle, so preparations are in place. A formidable Reptrace artillery squad accompanied them in order to buy some rest time for the girls. I want to tell them to just fight with those muscular lizards, but only the fairies wielding the ancient Kaliyons can inflict any meaningful damage to the Teimerre. And, of course, that’s the whole reason for the girls’ existence, so I guess it can’t be helped.
Since they decided to not make Kutori open the gate to the fairy homeland, this battle is simply a matter of continuing to kill until that last shell falls off. However, there’s no way to tell exactly how many layers the monster has, or how many they’ve destroyed so far, so naturally they can’t predict how much longer the battle will last.
Well, even so, it’ll end eventually. They have the advantage in fundamental military strength, so there’s a pretty good chance of winning.” Naigrat ended her explanation on a lighter note.
“But still, you’d think they could at least tell us if the girls are still alright or not.”
“They have a sort of restrictive barrier spread out around the battlefield, so communication crystals won’t get through. On top of that, the air currents around the island are acting strangely, so they’re not going to ask someone with wings to try and fly out. Looking in at a distance, about all you can tell is that the battle is still going on,” Naigrat went on while twirling her red hair around with her fingers. “Well there’s other factors too, but that’s the basic gist of why there hasn’t been any news about the girls. I asked the same thing when I first came here, and the answer I received was basically exactly what I just told you. Anything else you want to know?”
“No….” Disappointed, Willem dropped his shoulders. “You seem pretty calm right now. Used to it?”
Naigrat let out a big sigh. “Nope. Even now I’m sick with worry. I haven’t had any appetite at all recently.” Willem silently rejoiced at hearing this last point. “At any rate, the little ones around here continue going about their daily business. As the older one, I can’t go around causing a panic, right?”
“Well, I guess you’re right.” Steam began to billow out from the kettle in the fireplace. Watching Naigrat scurrying about preparing the tea in the corner of his eye, Willem went on. “I had no idea it was this painful… not being able to do anything but wait,” he grumbled in a sulky voice.
Hearing his complaint, Naigrat painted a smile on top of her anxious expression and replied, “You know, I heard from Grick that you said a pretty cool line at first. That you believe in them, so you’re ready to accept whatever outcome they bring about, or something.”
“Not just at first. I’m still determined to do exactly that. It’s just… I didn’t expect it to go on for so long. It’s not really anxiety or that I can’t calm myself down or anything, I’m just starting to wonder about it.”
“Just wondering about it?”
“Just wondering about it. Something bad about that?”
“Not good or bad, but the calm and cool character you’re trying to play is starting to break down.” She thought for a moment. “Ah, I see. You’re the type that can’t act tough outside of your comfort zone, aren’t you?”
“So when you’re in an unfamiliar situation you don’t know what to do and sort of just wander around confused. Typical of a guy with low self confidence.”
She could have phrased it in a nicer way, but sadly Willem couldn’t object. Naigrat crossed her arms on the table and rested her chin on top, staring at him playfully.
“Running around flustered and lost, sometimes giving in and being overwhelmed… just watching you recently has been interesting.”
Again, her words seemed to gouge his heart. “You really are an ogre…”
“Of course. You said something mean to me a little while ago, so I’m just getting you back.” She stuck her Troll tongue out teasingly. “Even though you treat me like a demon, I’ll still give you some advice. In these kind of times, if you have nothing to do it only gets worse. Try changing your environment or find a way to force yourself to be busy.”
“Ah, I see what you’re getting at. Now you’re gonna ask me to do some kind of job, aren’t you?”
“Correct,” the demon said with a smile.
Willem thought about it. Their conversation was about 60% joking around, but what the demon lady said did make some sense. Continuing to worry about Kutori and the others by itself wasn’t a bad thing. But, he had wanted to keep on living his everyday life as much as possible while waiting for their return, just like how his family had once waited for his return at the now gone orphanage.
In that case, there was some merit in going along with Naigrat’s suggestion. In order to be able to steadily wait for those girls and welcome them home as his usual self, he needed to take this step.
“Alright. What are you going to make me do?”
Hearing his answer, Naigrat’s face lit up. “It’s a little far away, but there’s somewhere I want you to go.”