“Well this is a rather strange turn of events,” a voice mumbled, seemingly unconcerned.
To Nephren, the owner of that voice was the real strange thing. Looking up a little, she spotted some being which looked like a floating fish covered in scarlet and silver scales swimming through the air leisurely. Upon closer inspection, Nephren could tell that the fish’s body was half transparent, meaning it had to be some kind of illusion or ghost. The only problem was why this illusion or ghost or whatever was in this place and chatting casually.
“You know, I can’t really afford to take it easy. I need to hurry up and talk to Ebon Candle then go look for a lost kid,” the fish said.
Nephren too could not afford to take it easy. She didn’t know about that Ebon or whatever, but she had a lost kid, or rather lost adult, of her own to search for: that troublesome Emnetwyte, always acting strong despite being lonely on the inside, so fragile he could break at any moment, Willem Kumesh.
“– This might sound cruel, but there’s no hope of that, probably,” the flying fish said as it glided around the ceiling.
Despite knowing that only she could see or hear it, Nephren still looked up and asked the fish, “What do you mean?”
“By Willem you mean that black haired and sort of handsome guy, right? He’s not around anymore. I saw him quit being a human and return to a Beast with my own eyes,” she responded, moving her fishy eyes around. “He might still be alive, but he’s completely different from the Willem that you knew. It’d be best to throw away any weird expectations.”
“I don’t mind.” Nephren shook her head. “No matter what Willem changes into, my job remains the same. I need to be by his side.”
Fortunately, the current Nephren didn’t seem to be treated as an enemy by Beasts, so even if Willem had transformed into one, Nephren could be by his side. Probably. No, definitely.
“No matter how deep your love is, it won’t cause a miracle happen, you know?”
Nephren didn’t understand. Why did the fish use the word ‘love’? That was for children like Kutori. Nephren didn’t want to be by his side because of some bold motive like that.
“… hm? Did you say something, young lady?” the young Borgle man sitting next to Nephren on the sofa asked.
“Just talking to myself.”
Of course, that wasn’t exactly the truth. No one except Nephren could see Carmine Lake or hear her voice, so their conversation naturally sounded like a monologue from Nephren. She already explained the existence of the mystery illusion fish thing, but she didn’t feel like explaining the content of their random conversations too.
“Don’t worry about it,” Nephren said.
“I see… well, I can understand why you’d be restless,” the Borgle, Grick, not trying to hide his irritation, said as he scratched his bald head.
They sat in the reception room of a large airship owned by the Winged Guard. A grand flower design covered the walls, a chandelier hung down from the high ceiling, the thick curtains seemed to be made from expensive fabric, the furniture contained copious amounts of gold decoration… in other words, it was a pretty fancy room, which made it a rather uncomfortable room as well. Like Grick said, it would be difficult for anyone to remain calm in it.
“How much longer do we gotta be stuck in this stinkin’ rich room?” Grick complained.
“Sorry for the wait.” A heavy looking door slowly opened, and a soldier entered the room. A white furred Haresantrobos, he bore the insignia of a first officer on his shoulder. “The Winged Guard has been in a rather delicate position lately. We had to deal with a bothersome guest.”
“I don’t care about your business,” Grick, clearly in an unpleasant mood, spat out.
“The Winged Guard does not belong to a specific floating island. But this means that in order to survive we must provide support to all the islands. Or at least, that’s what we say officially. Occasionally we get islands who try to use that to get their requests through,” the officer explained.
“I said I don’t care about that. You have something more important to say, don’t you?”
“Hm.” The Haresantrobos gave a small nod. “Very well. It’s a little late for names, but I am Baroni Makish. As you can see, I am a first officer of the military police division of the Winged Guard–”
“I don’t care who or what you are,” Grick interrupted. “There’s only one thing I want to know. Where are we being taken?”
“I don’t recall ever asking you to stay. The only one we need is Dug Weapon user Nephren Ruq Insania.”
Upon mention of her name, Nephren budged slightly. Not only did she not have Insania anymore, a bunch of weird stuff had mixed into her. She didn’t have confidence that she was Nephren Ruq Insania anymore. To hear someone still call her by that name made her a little happy.
“I’m telling you to shut that mouth of yours and release that one person!” Grick’s fist violently slammed against an expensive looking table. “All he wanted was to get this girl home safely! He gave his life for that! She has family waiting for her! Why can’t you understand that!?”
Grick seemed to be getting heated up. He’s a good person, Nephren thought. Despite being a demon. She could tell that Grick was truly concerned for her as a real child, even though she was no more than a disposable (and already used) weapon.
However, his concern was a bit unnecessary. Sure, the fairies in the warehouse were like family to Nephren, but someone not coming home was an ordinary, almost everyday occurrence. She wouldn’t go so far as to say that no one was waiting for her, but certainly there wasn’t much meaning in hurrying home. Of course, she didn’t say any of that out loud. With those thoughts running through her mind, Nephren maintained her usual emotionless expression.
“Grick Graycrack.” Baroni Makish shook his head in disapproval. “According to my findings, you were once in the Winged Guard. You quit after half a year, but you used your connections and resources to start work as a salvager. I hear you were quite capable. Quite unfortunate that you quit.”
“That was a long time ago. I’ve forgotten already,” Grick said disapprovingly.
“Nevertheless, it is a fact that you once wore an army uniform, so stop pretending to not understand. Doing so will only make this take more time than necessary.”
“This is exactly why I quit.” His dissatisfaction clearly showing on his face, Grick threw his back against the sofa.
“… wait. I also want to ask something.” Nephren raised her hand. “Where is Willem? I heard an estimate has been made as to his whereabouts.”
“Ah, yes yes! Elq too! Ask about her whereabouts too, please!” Carmine Lake’s voice, inaudible to everyone except Nephren, rang loudly in her ear. “We’re in the world that Ebon Candle made, right? Her presence is too dispersed, I can’t pick it up.”
“… also, I heard that a small child should have been with him,” Nephren added on.
“Ah, Second Enchanted Weapons Technician Willem Kumesh. I don’t know about that small child… is that what the illusion you mentioned earlier is saying?”
“We do not know his location accurately. However, we do have a guess. We had doubts about them before, but you guys brought home concrete proof,” the first officer responded in a slightly irritated tone, his gaze turned towards Grick.
“Huh? Us?” The Borgle blinked in confusion.
“You’ve heard of the Elpis Mercantile Federation, yes?”
Grick scratched his head. “It’s that place on the western half of the 13th Island, isn’t it? Where they worship some giant stone or something as a god. The entry tax is too high, so I’ve never been there myself.”
“Yes, that’s the one. Many different races make up its population, but, by only having a single religion, the country has united its people and obtained a high level of public order. Perhaps because of that, its residence have a high level of patriotism, and the government’s policies are rather aggressive.”
“Okay. Well, what about them?”
“The traces of the campsite and cans of army rations you found on the ground belong to Elpis’ National Defense Air Force.”
“Okay, but what did those guys do? That’s what I’m asking.”
“Considering all the evidence, we have strong suspicions that the Elpis National Defense Air Force has transported a number of Beasts into Regul Aire on a disguised airship.”
Nephren and Grick simultaneously let out voices of disbelief.
“Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. What did you say?” Grick asked.
“I said, Elpis has brought Beasts into Regul Aire.”
— Silence again.
“Why would they do that?” Nephren, first to recover from the shock, asked. “Bringing in a Beast completely violates Regul Aire’s charter. They also surely understand the danger that the Beasts present. In the first place, how does one simply bring home something that’s dangerous to even approach?”
“Simple. For a while now, they have desired the title of ‘protector of Regul Aire’ to use in political negotiations with their neighboring islands. In order to obtain that, they’ve constantly been trying to stick their heads into the battles with the Teimerre which the Winged Guard has kept a monopoly on,” Baroni Makish explained.
“Huh??” Grick’s face only looked more and more confused.
“It’s not that rare of an occurrence. The Winged Guard, with its duty to protect Regul Aire as a whole, occupies a privileged position amongst the armies of Regul Aire. In addition, it has a total monopoly on battles with the Beasts, the information concerning them, and the weapons used in them. There are many who do not think too fondly of that. Those at the Elpis National Defense Air Force are no more than members of that group with particularly short tempers.”
“… why would they choose to get involved with those terrifying things?” Grick asked.
“Simple.” Baroni Makish held up two fingers and lowered them one by one as he explained. “First, that ‘terrifying’ nature is precisely what will lead to profit for them. Second, because the Winged Guard has a monopoly on almost all information regarding the Beasts, there are very few outside the organization who know that terror first hand.”
“For real…” Not knowing is scary, Grick thought as he stared up at the ceiling in despair.
“A spy we snuck in reports that they have recently developed a few anti-Beast weapons. Among them are new barrier techniques meant to capture and restrain. In other words, they have the means to bring a Beast home.” One of Baroni Makish’s ears folded down. “Of course, if word gets out, they will no doubt get criticized for violating the charter of Regul Aire. As for the reason why they would go so far despite knowing the consequences, we cannot say at this point.”
“Wait. That’s still not an explanation. I asked for Willem’s whereabouts.”
“I’m sure you can infer based on what I just told you. There is only one conclusion.”
For whatever reason, the Elpis National Defense Air Force brought a Beast they found on the ground up into the sky. Willem has now transformed into a Beast. So what does that mean? Ah, I see. It all fits together. There really is only one conclusion. Nephren stood up from the sofa.
“What’s wrong, young lady?” Grick asked.
“I’m going to the 13th Island.”
“Before that, there is somewhere else you must go,” Baroni Makish said.
“Move. I won’t ask you to take me. I’ll go by myself.” Nephren ignited Venom and spread her wings.
“Wait wait I don’t think there’s any need for that,” Grick said in a panic.
“Elpis is vast.” Baroni Makish’s voice remained calm. “How do you plan on finding a hidden army facility in a group of cities large enough to be called a country?”
… burn them all?
“In the first place, it is not even clear what they plan to do with the Beast they brought back. If we rush and act rashly, it will only delay the resolution.”
“That’s… true.” Nephren retracted her wings and sat back down on the sofa.
“If the whereabouts of the Second Technician are discovered, I will report to you as well, so just wait patiently for now.”
“Us at the Winged Guard cannot leave Elpis alone either. We will conduct an investigation to the best of our abilities. During that, we will most likely find information concerning the Second Technician. At the very least, it should be more efficient than you running around by yourself.”
“Ok… I understand. Thank you.”
“There is no need to thank me.” Baroni Makish turned around and spoke to them behind his back. “You are in a very peculiar condition right now. Taking future developments into account, I judged that it would be worth it to deliberately try to please you, that’s all. Well then, I will take my leave.” With the sound of shoes pressing off the floor, the Haresantrobos disappeared beyond the door, just as he said.
“… was he trying to please me?”
“How am I supposed to know? Ask your mood,” the flying fish retorted.
“Hmm.” Nephren tilted her head.
Nephren closed her eyes, calmed her mind, and asked herself, Please answer either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Do you want to destroy Regul Aire?
After brief thought, she produced the answer ‘no’.
It’s okay. I’m okay. I haven’t changed into something that would answer ‘yes’.
It’s true that she did feel a certain empty and directionless sense of irritation thrashing around in her chest, but it wasn’t violent enough to swallow up Nephren. Most likely, it was the result of her being a Leprechaun trying to replicate an Emnetwyte, and not an actual Emnetwyte. The impulse inside of her which could turn an Emnetwyte into a Beast, or perhaps return an Emnetwyte into a Beast, could sit and fester but not actually transform her.
However, in Willem’s case, things were not so gentle. He was a genuine, purebred Emnetwyte, and moreover had the same amount of the same impulse poured inside of him. Without a doubt, he wouldn’t be able to endure it like Nephren.
I saw him quit being a human and return to a Beast with my own eyes.
Nephren didn’t exactly trust Carmine Lake’s words, but she couldn’t firmly doubt them either.
No matter what he turned into, all I need to do is be by his side. That was half Nephren’s honest feelings, and half her trying to act strong.
She wanted him to stay just a little longer. After all, he was so kind and hardworking.
He wasn’t a lonely existence destined to meet a meaningless end from birth like the fairies.
So, that’s why Nephren couldn’t help but wish for at least a sliver of salvation for that eternally busy Quasi Brave.