The 49th Floating Island
Now, how does one go about descending from the sky all the way down to the land?
The simplest method… well, even a baby knows that. Go to the very edge of your floating island, and take one more step. After literally flying over one thousand malumel, you’ll at least be able to give mother earth a great big kiss. Moreover, the fee is only one life. How cheap!
If for some reason such a method is not to your liking, well then you’re kind of out of luck. Upon searching for the second simplest method, one encounters a rather sharp spike in difficulty. And if you insist on adding the condition that you want to actually return home after descending, the difficulty only increases more.
It is said that an enormous barrier surrounds the entirety of Regul Aire. If a regular airship tries to cross this barrier, it loses all control and becomes unable to fly properly. There are special procedures which can be done on a ship to prevent this, but of course they cost a significant amount of money and time, making them essentially inaccessible to most people.
The Plantaginesta, an elite class transport airship scheduled to pick up the survivors and recovered goods of the land expedition, required about six days to get prepared, even with work proceeding as fast as possible.
Willem had all that explained to him in a Winged Guard base on the 49th Floating Island.
“And why do we need such a large ship?”
“Choose your words carefully, Second Technician. I’m a First Technician, you know? I’m an important person,” a Gremian in an army uniform said with a sour face.
The little Gremian barely rose higher than Willem’s waist, making it very easy to look down on his shoulders. Sewn onto one of them was, just as promised, the insignia of a First Technician. It was at this moment that Willem remembered something that probably should have been very obvious: the army puts heavy emphasis on the rank hierarchy. In the past, he fought with the armies of the empire and the old kingdom a few times, but he never belonged to them.
“My apologies, First Technician. I come from a humble town in the borderlands, please have mercy on me.”
“Uh… yeah. That’s good.” The Gremian seemed to be thrown off by Willem’s sudden change in attitude, but his mood improved. “Now, what was it? Why we need such a large ship? Very well, since I am such a kind First Technician, I shall enlighten you. After all, I am a kind hearted First Technician.”
God damn, this guy’s annoying, Willem thought in the back of his mind as he bowed with a smile and said, “Thank you, kind hearted First Technician.”
“Very well.” The Gremian, now in the merriest of moods, started talking. “To put it simply, we have a lot to carry. This expedition was sent out due to the discovery of a relatively well preserved Emnetwyte village. It was expected to yield many artifacts, which was why it was such a long expedition, and according to reports, relics which we cannot afford to leave on the ground have been discovered.”
“… everyday this rescue mission is delayed, the survivors’ situation only gets more and more dangerous.”
The Gremian made a face that said ‘what the heck is this guy talking about?’. “They were sent down there to obtain the lost wisdom of ancient times. I’m sure everyone in the expedition acknowledged the risks beforehand. Besides, you know right? Two of our anti-Beast weapons were sent with them. I’m sure they will be of use.”
The air in the room seemed to freeze.
Outside the window, a bird fell from the sky.
A cat napping beneath a tree shrieked and dashed away.
The soldiers inside the building carrying out their various duties were suddenly assaulted by unexplainable, severe chills. Some fell from their chairs. Some screamed. Some looked around cautiously.
“Your face muscles seem to be twitching, is something wrong?” The Gremian asked with a blank face, completely oblivious to the changes occurring around him.
“Oh, nothing. I was just thinking how right you were, wise First Technician.”
“I see. The facial expressions of the markless are always hard to read. Oh, by the way, I have just the right document. Even though you’re a lowly Second Technician, I’m sure you’ll be able to understand the importance of this expedition after seeing this.”
A file was thrust in front of Willem’s face. It was a bundle of a few pieces of paper bound together by string, probably a report. In sloppy handwriting, the title read ‘Report of the Second Expedition to Ground Level Ruins K96-MAL’. While he was listening to the little man talk, Willem had been thinking that he didn’t really give a crap what was found down there, but the file drew his attention. A fair amount of resources and personnel were poured into the expedition. What were the army and Orlandri after?
“May I have the privilege of reading them?”
“You can’t take them anywhere.”
Willem grabbed hold of the bundle and opened it. The first few pages only contained coordinates, route data, and other technical information completely incomprehensible to Willem, so he skipped over them. Next came a map of the ruins along with some basic facts based on their findings. Apparently, five hundred years ago, in place of the ruins there stood a village home to about three thousand Emnetwyte. Cheaply built housing complexes lined the wide stone paved streets. A large building thought to be the town hall sat towards the northeast. A forest probably surrounded the village at the time. A total of four rivers flowed through the area, two of which were artificially redirected to be used as waterways or something similar.
Wow, a lot of this stuff is pretty accurate, Willem thought. The population of the town really was around three thousand, the streets were covered with cheap looking stone, and there was a big forest surrounding it. They were two short on the number of rivers, but the layout of the town shown on the map matched exactly that of the village once known as Gomag — Willem’s hometown.
He searched for a particular building on the outskirts of the town. Five hundred years ago, it was already worn down and just about falling apart. He couldn’t find it. Maybe the expedition didn’t go that far out, or maybe any traces of it had simply disappeared over the years.
“There’s nothing interesting there. Next page, next page.” The Gremian urged him on.
The next page contained a simple list of uncovered artifacts: Talismans, pottery, paintings, books. Willem felt as if his head had become filled with lead. His eyes passed over the words written in the list, but their meanings failed to register in his mind.
“This report was made based off of the most recent report which arrived by messenger ship just the other day. In other words, the artifacts listed there are still down on the ground, waiting for us to pick them up.”
Who cares? Willem thought. If they wanted Emnetwyte drawings so bad, he could make some right now if they just gave him some paper and a pen. If they wanted a vase, he could make one. If they wanted books, he could write them a grand masterpiece which transcended the ages.
And then, Willem’s eyes spotted a word that he couldn’t graze over. “Dug Weapon… Lapidem Sybilis!?”
“Yes, apparently that name was carved into the hilt. They are saying it looks like a pretty high quality sword too, so with that, the protection of Regul Aire will grow all the more stronger.”
The cheerful First Technician went on about something, but his words went in one of Willem’s ears and straight out the other. Lapidem Sybilis. The Unwavering Defender of Life. The Kaliyon that Willem’s old comrade Navrutri once used. But why was it found there in Gomag? Navrutri went with them to fight the Visitors. Almost the entire continent stood between Gomag and Tifana, the site of the battlefield.
“Lapidem! That’s the answer!” The world in front of Willem’s eyes seemed to suddenly grow brighter and sparkle.
Willem grabbed the Gremian’s arm and shook it up and down rapidly. “This is a marvelous finding, gallant First Technician! The expedition has truly accomplished a momentous task! We must retrieve those brave men and their artifacts right away!”
“Y-Yes, I’m glad to see you understand now.” The Gremian nodded repeatedly, somewhat overwhelmed by Willem’s strange behavior. “Well speaking of that, I was thinking that we will need a guard on board the Plantaginesta with us, so I want to bring one Dug Weapon along with its user.”
Willem thought for a bit. His request was, of course, not very surprising. At the present, there are no predictions of a Teimerre attack on a floating island. The predictions are always accurate, and moreover can even determine the scale of an attack. In other words, no large battles will occur in Regul Aire in the near future, which meant that taking a fairy soldier away would incur only a very small risk. It made sense for the Company to request an escort, it was logical of the Winged Guard to accept that, and so naturally it wouldn’t make much sense for a superficial Second Technician to try to refuse on emotional terms.
He thought some more. “… I have one request, generous First Technician.”
“Would it be possible to prepare one more seat on this airship?”
Willem left his room, exited the Winged Guard base, and quickly walked down the countryside road towards the Second City of the 49th Floating Island.
The closer a floating island’s number is to one, the closer to the center of the group it floats. And generally, the lower the number, the more developed and populated the island is. All the big cities can pretty much be found on islands below 40, and islands above 70 pretty much consist of untouched nature. The 49th Island fits in somewhere right smack dab in the middle. Accordingly, the city that Willem was headed towards can neither be called big nor small. It is truly average.
“Ah, you’re here!” A bored looking Kutori, sitting at a cafe underneath a dark green parasol with an empty fruit juice glass and half eaten cake beside her, noticed Willem walking towards her across the plaza and waved. “Late! Do you know how long I’ve been waiting?”
“My bad my bad, had some stuff to deal with. Ready to go?”
“One second. I need to finish this.” It seems she meant that quite literally, for the cake upon the plate in front of her disappeared in the blink of an eye. The feat was so impressive that even Willem, an experienced warrior, gawked in amazement.
“Mmmm.” Kutori’s face loosened into a broad, sloppy smile. Now Willem understood why she didn’t like to eat sweets in front of the other girls in the warehouse. “Okay. Let’s go shopping,” she said as she stood up and put on her hat which had been occupying the neighboring seat.
Prejudice against the markless definitely wasn’t very prevalent in the area, so there was no need to always keep their heads covered. Willem explained that to Kutori before they left the warehouse, but she simply said ‘it doesn’t matter’ and took it anyway.
“What order should we go in? The bookstore should probably come last, since everyone decided to order a ton. It might be a bit heavy to walk around with all of them,” Kutori said.
“You look like you’re having fun.”
“Is that so? I’m sure it’s just your imagination.” She started walking. “I rarely get a chance to walk outside alone with you, so maybe that’s it. No, not rarely, this is the first time, isn’t it?”
“What are you talking about?” Willem sighed. “When we first met we went around all over the place. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten.”
“Ah… that’s right. Ahaha.” Kutori tried to laugh it off. “Well now, let’s not get caught up in the small details. If we don’t hurry, we won’t make it home before the sun sinks.”
Willem’s question was met with a frightening glare.
It was truly an average city. The economy wasn’t too prosperous. Hardly any tourists came to sightsee. The population was neither large nor small. There was neither extreme safety nor rampant crime. The city had almost no distinctive features, making it hard to come up with any adjective to describe it with other than ‘average’. The city was simply made for the comfort of its residents. A group of Borgle children waving sticks in the air energetically ran about the quaint little brick alleys and small staircases which filled the gaps between the larger buildings.
They ended up with much more luggage than Willem expected. To rest their arms for a bit, they decided to stop at a pleasant looking park.
“Hey,” Willem said as they sat down next to each other on a bench.
“Are you really okay with this? You’re finally able to move freely outside the island, you know? Is following me around while I’m shopping really all you want to–”
“Stop right there. You don’t need to ask questions you already know the answer to.” Kutori pointed at Willem accusingly. “Outside or inside the island, doesn’t matter. I just wanted to be with you, that’s all.”
Willem thought she’d say something like that.
“Well, there are places I want to go and things I want to see, but being with you takes priority, so there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Willem sighed. The tragedy unfolding before him was the result of an innocent girl, who grew up knowing nothing of men, having a coincidental dramatic meeting one day. The feelings that resulted from such a fairy tale like encounter were strong, pure, yet cruel.
“What about me do you even like so much?”
“Not telling.” Kutori laughed.
A brief comfortable silence descended between them. The feeling that he wouldn’t mind if they stayed in this moment for eternity ever so slightly welled up inside of Willem.
“I was ordered to send one fairy soldier aboard the airship headed towards the land.” He broke the silence in a soft, gentle voice.
“It’s too soon for Tiat, so she’s not an option. It was a hard choice between the remaining two, but I’ve decided to send Nephren.”
“And also, after talking directly with my supervisor, I got myself a seat too.”
“… mm?” Kutori turned to face Willem. “What?”
“Unlike the time on the 15th Island, there’s not some barrier or whatever preventing my entry. If I want to follow them I can. One reason is that I don’t want to wait for her to come home again.” Willem started counting on his fingers. “The second is that the name of a certain sword was on the list of treasures uncovered by the expedition. If it’s the real thing, I want to get it as soon as possible.”
Ignoring her question, Willem gazed up at the sky. “You’ve been pushing yourself too hard recently, haven’t you?”
“… what are you talking about?”
“Don’t play dumb. I can imagine what’s going based on your attitude lately. You’ve lost some memories, haven’t you? Or maybe they’re still disappearing as we speak?”
A waffle cart parked on the road just outside the park and opened for business. A sweet scent filled the area. Children everywhere began pestering their parents for money. Even parents that strictly refused at first changed their attitudes as the fragrance reached their noses. ‘It’s right before dinner.’ ‘You don’t want to get in the habit of impulse buying food.’ ‘Fine, just this once.’ ‘Excuse me, one hazel paste and one berry collection.’
“How could you tell?” Kutori asked.
“Like I said, just by watching you I could get a good idea.”
For a while now, Willem had sensed something off about Kutori’s attitude. And as he observed her, he noticed something for the first time, something that he never would have picked up on if he hadn’t been watching so closely.
“I see… you were looking out for me.”
“Did you ever think I wasn’t?”
“Of course not, but…” Her expression looked happy yet distressed at the same time.
“– I’ll warn you now to not get your hopes up at what I’m about to say. It’s no more than a slight possibility.” Willem took a breath, then began his explanation. “The sword I was talking about earlier had a Talent which preserved the condition of the user’s mind and body. I saw it render memory destruction and emotion control attacks useless with my own eyes. If we had that sword, it might be able to solve that problem of yours.”
Kutori blinked once. “You… say some pretty ridiculous things with a straight face.”
“Well, the first step to making those ridiculous things into a reality is to put them into words.”
“I don’t think that’s something to be saying proudly.” Kutori laughed.
The owner of the waffle cart’s energetic voice reached their ears. ‘Thank you, thank you very much.’
“Okay, I won’t get my hopes up. But I can trust that you’ll never give up, right?”
“Of course,” Willem answered.
“So, about how long will you be gone?”
“No idea. Maybe like ten days? Or maybe a bit longer.”
“… I’m going too,” Kutori mumbled.
“I said, I’m going too. You’re not the only one who doesn’t want to wait at home.”
“It’s okay. I still remember Noft and Lan, although I was never really close with them.”
“No no no, that’ll never get approved. It’s not like we have tons of free space on the ship. We can’t afford to bring someone with no skills along just so they can have a look around…”
Kutori’s face gradually turned into that of a demon. Willem, realizing his fault, shrunk back a bit.
“Do you really think I want to go just to ‘have a look around’?”
“… no, that’s not what I meant. You know, the land is a dangerous place and not somewhere you should go so casually… ah.” His tongue seemed to be having a bad day.
“Hmm? Does this look casual to you?”
“Ah, no… let’s talk after we calm down a bit.”
“I am going with you!”
“I’m telling you it’s not possible!”
A short while later, Willem found out that it was in fact possible after all. He went back on the road he came from towards the Winged Guard base and brought the situation up with the First Technician, who readily gave his approval. He simply scribbled Kutori’s name onto the end of the crew roster and handed Willem an identification card.
“– Are you mad?” Kutori asked cautiously as they walked towards the harbor. “Your face looks kind of strange.”
Willem let out a big sigh. “Do you know why you got permission so easily?”
“Hmm… because the Second Technician introduced me?”
“That’s not a good enough reason to take a regular civilian along on an important mission without doing any kind of investigation into their background or skills.”
The governments on most islands don’t keep any sort of registry of their citizens. Because of the immense diversity of races and values all mixed together, neatly managing every resident with documents would be a difficult task indeed. Under the law on the majority of islands, citizenship is something that can simply be bought by paying taxes to the government. It gives certain convenient privileges, but is by no means necessary for life. For example, on the 28th Island, there were many neighborhoods, such as the one where Willem lived, where almost no one had official citizenship. Well, that led to a significant decrease in public order. Anyways, Kutori, having just lost her status as fairy soldier, was now no more than a civilian.
“Usually, to go along on an army mission, you would definitely need proof that you have the skills necessary to not drag everyone down and also the trust of the officers. There’s no such thing as being too careful when considering a civilian to take along.”
“But I got permission.”
“Basically, in the past there have been other officers who took along a civilian as their secretary. And all of those secretaries were probably of the opposite sex.”
“Umm…?” Kutori didn’t seem to be following.
The First Technician’s irritating smile when Willem returned to the base with Kutori popped into his head. “They were taking along their lovers, calling them secretaries.”
“… lovers.” Kutori repeated the word slowly, as if it were new vocabulary from a foreign language.
“So he thought I was doing the same thing.”
“… ah… I see.” She thought for a bit, then said, “What’s wrong with that?”
“Well, then maybe say that I’m your wife or something?”
“That’s not the problem…”
Somewhere far off in the distance, the bells of a carillon began their melodic ringing. Willem stopped walking for a moment and listened to that nostalgic performance until the end. The sun began to dip below the horizon. Twilight had descended.
“Well, I guess it didn’t turn out too bad. There’s not really any use in trying to correct the misunderstanding, and it’s not like I want to be separated from you either.”
“I’m glad to hear that, but that’s still not a proposal is it?”
“Of course not,” Willem answered with an astonished face. “Come on, let’s go.” He averted his eyes from her and starting walking in large strides.
A few seconds later, Kutori came running after him. “Wait up wait up! You’re going too fast!”
“I completely forgot, but we’re about to miss the airship to the 53rd Island.”
The 68th Island is situated near the outer edge of Regul Aire. No public airships go there directly, and in order to ask a ferryman they would first need to get on a closer island. So naturally, Willem had a perfectly logical reason for walking so fast. He definitely wasn’t trying to conceal his embarrassment or anything of the sort.
“At this rate we won’t make it home today. Come on, hurry hurry.”
“Slow down a little this stuff is heavy!”
As a deep scarlet red gradually filled the sky above them, the two walked hurriedly but cheerfully through the streets of town towards the harbor.
What am I, the girl thought to herself.
Her memories were slowly disappearing. Her personality was crumbling. Could she still call her half broken self ‘Kutori’?
Already, she had forgotten almost half of the names of her companions in the fairy warehouse. Even if she tried hard to study and relearn their names, her memories of them refused to return.
While in her room.
While in the cafeteria surrounded by the little ones.
While helping Naigrat with chores.
A mysterious feeling of discomfort constantly nagged at her, even though she had finally returned to the everyday life that shaped her into who she was over the years. The thought that she didn’t belong here would suddenly well up from somewhere deep inside her without rhyme or reason.
Kutori thought of her own current condition as agonizing. Painful. Miserable. Lonely. But she also wanted to treasure each and every one of those emotions. Because once those feelings left her, Kutori Nota Seniolis would probably be no more once and for all.
Kutori told everyone in the warehouse about the journey to the land that she, Willem, and Nephren were about to embark on.
“Are you going to disappear again?” a green haired girl asked with a lonely looking expression.
A pink haired girl hung her head and gazed blankly at the ground. It seems like she still hasn’t recovered from her cold.
“Nothing to think too hard about. It’s not like it’s goodbye for forever,” a purple haired girl said nonchalantly.
“Um… please be careful. Please please be really careful,” an orange haired girl said with a worrisome face on the verge of tears.
“We’ll have a welcome home party when you get back, okay?” Naigrat said with a slightly forced smile.
“Personally, I’m against this, but…” Aiseia had the face of a mother reluctantly putting up with her child’s selfishness.
“Sorry, but I can’t sit here and wait.”
“Well I guess there’s nothing I can do. After all, you are a love monster with only feelings of romance instead of a brain. If you were separated from your lover you would probably wither away and shrivel.”
Kutori wanted to say something in return, but she knew Aiseia was right, so she gave up. Avoiding needless argument was the choice of a wise adult. Probably.
“I want to tag along too, but I guess that won’t be possible. Won’t be able to do much anyways,” said Aiseia.
“There’s no need to worry so much. I’ll bring you a souvenir from the land,” Kutori said and gave a thumbs up.
Aiseia never responded.
Kutori decided to leave Seniolis behind. Even if she brought it, it’s not like she would be able to wield it anyways. On top of that, as someone now acting to find happiness for herself, she was no longer qualified to touch that tragedy enthusiast of a sword.
“Goodbye, partner,” she said, then stuck her tongue out in a mocking gesture.
She decided those would serve nicely as her final words of parting.