Gate – Jietai Kare No Chi Nite, Kaku Tatakeri - Volume 3 - Chapter 7
The JSDF's activities in the Imperial capital had begun. In order to give Sugawara the support of the common folk, the JSDF's Special Region Expeditionary force had set up several bases of operation throughout the capital. They were places like the warehouses of the ALC's Imperial capital branch, or the second floor of a tavern, but the thing they had in common was that they were places where people could move in and out without being noticed. The most obvious of these was a rented mansion near the capital's southeastern gate.
It was technically within the capital's city limits, but there were all kinds of different races and species here. Ordinary citizens would never go near this place.
Every few steps, a pickpocket would try their luck, and behind there would be people following. It could be compared to Hong Kong's Kowloon district.
Almost none of the rows of shops belonged to proper businesses.
They sold all sorts of lewd tools, various drugs, and slaves captured from all over the continent.
Of course, people had to live here, so there were also shops which sold food and clothing. However, everything on sale here was strange. The clothes on sale might be stained with blood or rent from a cut, and the shops even sold grass from the roadside. As for the butchers, one always had to be suspicious of their purchases, lest one accidentally end up buying human meat.
Because this place was called Akusho, a lot of the men here were either humans with blades bared, Werewolf Beastmen who were every bit as ferocious and bloodthirsty as the weapons they carried, or Four-Arms. One could also see the odd Goblin or Ogre in the distance. Many of the remnants of the Coalition Army came here to be thieves, enforcers, mercenaries, or to do some form of violent work. In any event, they were all villains.
As for the women, there were girls who looked lewdly around their surroundings, or those who stared blankly into the distance like vegetables as fragrant smoke wreathed them. None of them had a proper job, and most of them were prostitutes.
The species present included: Humans, Warrior Bunnies, Catpeople, Dogpeople, Lamias, several horned species, and winged species like Harpies or Winged Men. The men in the streets ogled them lasciviously, while the women responded with bewitching smiles, and a coy offer of, ’’Want to play?’’
In this place, the strong fed on the weak. Therefore, the people here paid no heed to corpses on the street. Did it appear yesterday? Today? Well, even if it happened tomorrow, nobody would care, because this was a way of life for the people here. This was not Arnus. It absorbed the very worst elements of the Imperial Capital and continued festering in the darkness.
The JSDF chose this place for a simple reason: in this melting pot of people, nobody would notice an extra strange fellow or two. There were other gates where many people came and went, but the people there were ordinary cityfolk, and anyone who stood out would attract a lot of attention. This place, on the other hand, was where people who did dirty work lived. It was important that these people were here.
The thing was, whatever happened in Akusho would not make it out of the district. In that sense, it was perfect for secrecy. However, the flip side of that was that there were several notable individuals in Akusho.
The JSDF were much better-mannered than the people on the streets, and they paid well.
When they hired people for requests, they always paid twice as much as the crime bosses here. They had ruled these streets from the beginning, and to these crime bosses Gonzori, Medusa, Paramounte and Bessara the JSDF were eyesores.
These JSDF people came from elsewhere, bought a house, and then acted all secretive. They did not even know how to properly greet the bosses. They even dared to ignore the rules of the street and the power of the bosses. And because they always paid so much, the people who traditionally feared the old bosses were now getting rebellious. They were truly a bunch of annoying people.
All these small aggravations piled up, and the bosses of the district became angry.
One of them Bessara started thinking, ’’Since they've got all that money to throw around, they must have a big stash. Why don't we nip over and help ourselves to some of it?’’ So he gathered his men and punks from the street to attack the JSDF's Akusho base of operations.
And then, what greeted them was a baptism of hot lead.
The looted H&K MP7s and FN P90s provided by Itami and friends found a use here. Naturally, the servicemen were very well equipped. In this sort of unconventional warfare, the rules were very simple: kill your enemy when you saw him. Nothing else mattered.
And so, the brave men of 5th Recon who were manning the base welcomed their attackers with a hail of bullets. Bessara's men were slaughtered in seconds and their corpses piled up.
It was over after the first round of fire.
Not only had Bessara lost all his men, but his own home had been blown up. Without men or a dwelling place, Bessara had also lost the fighting power to protect himself and give him authority. And then, in the next moment he paid for his life of lawlessness.
The residents of Akusho, many of whom had lost their wives, children and other relatives to his vile activities, surrounded him and stabbed him with knives and swords until he looked like a pincushion, and then dumped him in an alley.
After seeing his gruesome remains, the people on the streets muttered to each other, ’’The JSDF is untouchable.’’
The Gonzori, Medusa and Paramounte families did not join the Bessaras in their attack, and so they were spared. When they realised that the JSDF did not intend to claim the Bessaras' share of profits, which was to say, the income from his brothels and his protection money, they breathed a sigh of relief and reached a common understanding that nobody was to make a move against the JSDF.
Although they were an unpleasant bunch of people, they were good businessmen, and they knew trouble was bad for business. So they changed their minds, and approached the JSDF for work.
The JSDF wanted information, and pawns that could collect that information. Under request from the JSDF, the crime bosses gathered their pickpockets and thieves and had them spy on the patricians' actions. Sometimes, they would enter their houses and steal books, and protected themselves by showing their worth and usefulness.
Simply put, the JSDF were treated like conquerors. It was only natural that the strong could do whatever they wanted in Akusho. People might praise those who defied the strong on the surface, but in their hearts they would curse the defiant for fools, and these defiant people would not live long.
In addition, when people approached the JSDF with evil intentions, they would maintain their composure and politely ask them to stop.
When they saw illegal activity, they had frustrated looks on their faces, as well as feeling sympathy for the plight of others.
As a result, the men of Akusho were, regardless of species, both fearful and respectful of the JSDF.
In contrast, the women had mixed feelings about them.
Simply put, they could not like them.
No matter what temptations they used, the men of the JSDF were unmoved. Since they had so much money, what was wrong with spending a little on them? But no matter how they fluttered their eyelashes, or what seductive words they spoke, the JSDF men did not respond.
It was true that the men on the streets were richer thanks to them, and in turn the women had bigger earnings. However, the women still wanted the JSDF to spend money on them, because that was how a woman's heart worked.
But even when they shouted, ’’Are you really men? You impotent bastards!’’ all the JSDF did was shrug and steadfastly refuse to take the bait.
This was why they seemed sweet on them on the surface, but inwardly resented them.
However, what changed everything was the clinic run by a female nurse who changed every few days. It offered checkups, pregnancy tests as well as information and counselling related to contraception and other related issues. It changed the way their lives went.
The contraceptives and other such devices sold here were an irreplaceable aid for their jobs.
’’Oh, is Kurokawa on duty tonight?’’
The woman called Mizari, who was surrounded in a cloud of marijuana-infused smoke, entered the treatment room. Unlike the way she was on the streets, she had lowered her guard.
After all, this was the only place on the street which was safe, besides her nest. No, she could not even relax in her own nest. This might be the only place she could let her guard down. After all, when a certain crime family made a move against the JSDF, they had been massacred for their audacity.
Everyone knew what would happen when the JSDF raised their hand to strike.
Kurokawa was dressed in comfortable jeans and a tube top. She took a couple of copper coins from the woman with a pair of wings protruding from her back (a Winged Woman), and handed Mizari a box of the rubber contraceptives. They took payment because ’’This was not a charity’’. The people who lived in Akusho did so with pride, so the JSDF had to respect that pride and their ability to earn money by accepting their coins.
A self-righteous person might think this was enabling behavior, but in truth this sort of thing had a powerful social impact.
When one was poor, one did not have the time to worry about pretty ideals. Instead, a person had to eat, and selling one's body was a perfectly acceptable way to earn one's next meal. It was not as though they were inconveniencing others by doing it. It was all well and good to try and assail their way of life with logic, but one had to consider the situation they were in first. The thing which troubled them most in their trade was accidental pregnancies. Given the medical technology of the Special Region, an abortion might well result in death, so the risk to their health was very high.
In addition, it was unclear if there were se*ually-transmitted diseases in the Special Region.
The reason why Kurokawa and her fellow servicewomen were doing this was because the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare wanted to find out if they existed.
They were concerned that the JSDF personnel might bring back a disease with them from the Special Region, much like how Columbus brought syphilis back to Europe and caused an epidemic. The male servicemen had also been strictly warned about this.
’’Kurokawa, you won't tell me to stop smoking, will you?’’
The other WACs (women's army corps) kept on nagging Mizari to stop. That was because the Special Region's tobacco was infused with strange herbs which were bad for the skin and internal organs. Regardless of whether it was good or bad, they nagged her anyway.
However, Kurokawa simply shrugged. ’’I could, but you need it, right?’’
’’Huh, you understand? Do you have experience with this sort of thing?’’
Mizari was referring to prostitution.
’’No, I was just thinking, I couldn't do your job if I couldn't smoke.’’
The Winged Woman's pretty mouth turned downward into a frown.
’’Cheh. I hate high-and-mighty women like you.’’
’’That's fine, I'm not here to win a popularity contest.’’
Mizari frowned at Kurokawa. Kurokawa, not to be outdone, made a funny face at her with her fingers. After a while, the tension between them evaporated, and Mizari laughed.
’’You're so childish. Just like me.’’
’’That's true. I don't feel much different from yesterday, so I doubt the me from twenty years ago would be much different from myself today.’’
This made Mizari snort in laughter, and then she rose. ’’All right, I'd best get back to making money.’’ Then she puffed a cloud of smoke into Kurokawa's face.
Kurokawa waved her hand to disperse the smoke. It was plainly deliberate. The two of them lived in different worlds, so it would be best if they kept their distance.
Then, she suddenly thought of something else, and asked a question.
’’What if... what if I told you there was a way for you to not have to smoke this, or work like this?’’
However, Mizari simply looked at Kurokawa like she was an idiot.
’’How could someone like me work such a wonderful job like that? All I know how to do is spread my legs for men and show them my ass. That's what I do. That's all I do.’’
’’Have you heard of a place called Arnus?’’
’’Ah, that place. I heard it's like Heaven. But don't you need a recommendation to get in? Besides, I don't have any special skills. If I went there, I'd just be doing what I do now.’’
And what if I told you I could give you such a recommendation? What about that? These words started in Kurokawa's throat. But just as she was about to open her mouth, she remembered Itami scolding her, ’’What can you do?’’ Her resentment toward Itami from that time remained in her heart, and when Mizari said ’’I don't have any special skills’’, she felt that there was a lot the Winged Woman wasn't saying.
If she could find a proper job in Arnus, Mizari wouldn't need to stand in the dark at night, Kurokawa thought.
Mizari smiled to the speechless Kurokawa before turning away. She took a puff, and returned to her working girl's full-hipped sashay as she hit the streets once again.
When Mizari visited Kurokawa again, it was well past midnight.
Most of the time, the prostitute would have gotten one or two, perhaps even three johns by now. The only ones moving around at this time of night were women. There were no men in sight.
While those soiled doves who had not gotten any business yet would be throwing themselves at men, those fallen women who had hit their quota for the night would retire to their homes to rest. In other words, one could tell which of the whores knew their trade well.
It was at this time that Mizari brought her fellow prostitutes to the JSDF base of operations, which momentarily panicked Kurokawa. After all, the Bessara attack had been fairly recent.
She grabbed her handgun from a drawer and stuffed it into her pants. As a servicewoman, she was very familiar with its use.
’’Kurokawa, we've got something to tell you.’’
When she opened the door, she saw a very nervous-looking Mizari. She seemed to be looking around, as though she were afraid of something.
The streetwalkers with her also seemed very worried. Kurokawa had the feeling that something abnormal was going on.
Kurokawa opened the door to let them in.
And so, the ladies of the evening poured into the basement, whose pitch-dark interior was brilliantly lit by the fluorescent lamps that were powered by the portable generator within.
The girls could not help but be frightened of the fluorescent lights, having only ever been exposed to candlelight or lamplight. Some of them looked directly at the light and squinted. However, light had a way of wiping away unease. Mizari smiled and said, ’’Well, that's a big help for my bird eyes.’’ The other girls managed to relax enough to share their thoughts on the situation before flopping down onto the chairs and the bed used for treatment, while those who couldn't find a space either sat on the floor or leaned against the walls.
After everyone found their place, Kurokawa spoke.
’’All right, what happened? Why did all of you come here?’’
Mizari answered on their behalf.
’’All of us can sense what's going to happen on the streets, no, in the Capital. But the trick is that we don't tell, don't ask, and pretend nothing happened. That's how we survive in these streets.’’
The girls nodded as one.
’’So with that in mind, this child's name is Tuwal. Please listen to her, and help us.’’
As Mizari said that, she brought out Tuwal, who had wings like she did, but was from a different species. Tuwal was a Harpy. Winged Men had wings on their backs, but Harpies had wings in place of their arms.
’’Please, help us.’’
Kurokawa was unable to answer. After all, they had not explained anything at all.
She asked them to continue talking about what was going on. After all, she could not help them if she did not know where to start.
However, Mizari simply asked Kurokawa for help again. All she said was that she hoped Kurokawa could help them.
’’Ahhhh, what a pain! If you help us, we'll do anything you want in future!’’
In the end, Kurokawa gave up. She realised she could not handle this by herself, so she went upstairs to wake up Sergeant-Major Kuwabara.
That night, the Imperial Capital was shaken by an earthquake.
After hearing a distant rumbling from the distance, the earth suddenly began to shake violently.
The problem was that the city had never experienced an earthquake before, and so the buildings were not protected against the violent shaking. They were made of stones stacked on top of each other, and so the more fragile buildings collapsed.
That being the case, the foundations of the Capital's streets were not completely destroyed. But the true damage was to the hearts of the cityfolk.
Because there was no seismograph on hand, no exact figures could be taken, but from the spread of the destruction, it seemed to be around a magnitude 4 to 5 earthquake.
The earthquake occurred in the middle of the night, so it took the Capital completely by surprise.
They were thrown out of bed while soundly asleep, and they were too drowsy from sleep to properly panic at first. Various objects began falling to the floor like rain, including things like shelves and objects hanging from the ceiling.
When the cabinets collapsed, the sharp fragments from shattering vases and ceramic cookware was enough to cause cuts. The fragments littered the floor, so there was no place to stand.
The people of the Capital believed that the earth would not move. That was what it meant to be ’’as solid as a rock’’.
Water flowed, wind blew, fire burned, wood grew. But the earth did not move. That was a fundamental principle of the world. When that preconception was shattered, everyone thought the world was going to end. This terror was deeply engraved on the people's souls, leaving grievous spiritual wounds.
Predicting this disaster would have been difficult even for the scientifically advanced Japan. It was not impossible, but only a god or a being with far better sensory abilities than a human could have done it.
However, in the Special Region, there were people who approached these two categories. There were some people who saw the disaster coming.
The Harpy Tuwal felt a sudden chill throughout her body as she saw off her second john.
At first, she thought it was a cold, because her body was sweating profusely.
Because the second man had a lot of stamina, she did not even have the time to collect her money and clean up. She wanted to stand up a few times, but she could not because there was no strength in her body and her skin was gradually getting colder. However, the shaking in her body was slightly different from a cold. It was like someone was pulling her hair from behind. And then, she lost strength in her waist and legs, like she was afraid.
Then, she remembered. Towal had experienced something like this before.
In the past, she and her kind lived in the South, where the volcanoes were. She had felt like this just before the volcanoes erupted. Yes, this was a premonition of an ’’earthquake’’.
But even if she felt that way, there were no volcanoes near the Imperial Capital.
She had not been here long, but she had never heard of an earthquake here before. Therefore, she wondered if she had gotten things wrong. However, the mounting frustration and fear in her heart would not die down. Therefore, Tuwal sought out Mizari, her mentor, to discuss things.
The fact was that Mizari and the other prostitutes also felt the same nameless dread. It was a feeling which told them they could not stay here, that they had to run as quickly as possible.
However, she had never experienced or heard of an earthquake before, so she did not understand why she was feeling uneasy and afraid. Fortunately, she understood because of Tuwal. Thus, they immediately went to look for the men who usually protected them. Usually, they would take off their shirts and say, ’’I'll protect you.’’ That attitude would have been useful now.
However, the men just felt that the women were being annoying and refused to acknowledge their fears. Their reactions were along the lines of, ’’Earthquake? You'd best go back and make more money.’’ Of course, they felt the same fear too, but they could not bring themselves to openly acknowledge it.
The unease grew stronger and stronger in the meantime. In the end, they decided to abandon the useless men and went to Kurokawa for help.
The commander of the JGSDF Akusho Operations Base (as it was commonly known), Major Nyutabara, received Kurokawa and Kuwabara's reports, and promptly had a headache. He had no experience when it came to handling earthquake reports, and he doubted the provenance of the reports in any case.
However, Tuwal's ancestors were avian species. Nyutabara had been stationed at Himeji Garrison and Shibata Garrison in Niigata, and he had personally experienced earthquakes twice. For some reason, the memory of how the wild birds near the bases had vanished just before the earthquakes stood out brilliantly in his mind. If they could have spoken to the birds, perhaps they could have predicted those earthquakes.
The girls' senses might be keener than humans. If it turned out they were wrong, then they could laugh it off as a joke. Therefore, it made sense to treat their words as the truth, and adopt the requisite countermeasures. He thought about this, and made his decision.
The preparations were not a big deal, for the servicemen who had grown up in earthquake-prone regions. They had learned how to deal with these problems from a young age. They used the wireless to communicate with their people scattered throughout the Capital and ordered them to extinguish their fires. Then, they grabbed their equipment, weapons, food and medical supplies and headed for a wide, open area, being wary of things which might fall on their heads, as well as taking care to stay away from large buildings, cliffs and the water's edge.
These were very simple things, but for people who had never experienced earthquakes before, they would have had a hard time thinking of these.
Piña grumbled as Sugawara woke her up for a walk in the forest outside the palace. Hamilton followed her in a half-asleep state. After all, her job as a scribe was very tiring.
Itami, Kuribayashi and Tomita were assigned as Sugawara's guards, so after they received Nyutabara's wireless transmission, they brought Piña and the others to a safe place despite doubting the reports. In addition, Itami was in his uniform, while Kuribayashi and Tomita were in their combat fatigues and fully armed, with an extra pistol each.
The maids and Piña's torch-bearing guards could not hide their worry. They were only following because they knew they had to follow Piña no matter what.
Even if they explained that the earth would shake and what would happen after that, the maids would not be able to imagine it. It would be like trying to understand what it would be like to fall from the sky.
Therefore, when the earthquake came, they received a massive shock.
First, there was the gentle trembling that marked the early stages of an earthquake.
’’Oh, it's coming, it's coming...’’
The length of this period made Itami say, ’’Looks like it's going to be a big one.’’
There was a correlation between the length of the initial trembling and the distance to the epicenter of the earthquake. This meant that when one calculated the distance to the epicenter, the stronger the early vibrations, the bigger the earthquake would be.
After this, the real shaking started.
The earth heaved as though it had been struck mightily.
It was roughly 30 to 40 seconds before the quake tapered off. However, for those people in the Imperial Capital who had encountered an earthquake for the first time, it seemed like an eternity.
Piña wailed. She thought that the world was collapsing. Beside her, Sugawara and Itami said, ’’Ohh, it really came.’’
As she saw Itami, Kuribayashi and Tomita standing around calmly, Piña's eyes filled with fearlessness and a determination not to lose out to this earthquake. She imagined that they would probably maintain their cool even if the ground vanished from under their feet.
Itami was a man who would look for excuses to slack off when he was tired of annoying things. Either that, or he would immediately flee them. He did not seem to have any of the qualities of a warrior. Yet, at this moment, he seemed perfectly calm and composed.
The maids and soldiers fell prone in terror.
The sounds of the rooted trees swaying and the sound of the leaves grinding against the wind sounded like the movements of a huge monster. The maids cried and screamed, while the soldiers shouted in response. However, they, like Piña, saw the same thing;Itami, Tomita and Kuribayashi, looking around their surroundings like nothing was happening.
The steadfast forms reminded them of the gods.
The maids grabbed at Tomita's and Kuribayashi's legs one after the other, while the soldiers looked at them with admiration, as though they were invincible heroes.
’’Well, if it's only this much, it shouldn't be a problem. The weaker parts of the walls might collapse, but the rest should be fine. Can't say the same if we were closer to the epicenter, though.’’
The shaking stopped after a while.
Piña heard Itami's calm analysis as she was left adrift in detached silence, but her thought processes were on hold, so she could only nod and answer ’’Mm’’.
As the guards heard Tomita and Kuribayashi asking, ’’Are you all right? Is anyone hurt?’’ they immediately straightened up upon hearing the words of their heroes. They were currently in a state of abject submission. As mentioned before, this was the psychological impact of an earthquake on people who had never experienced it before.
It was roughly the same in Akusho.
The quake struck as they were leading the women out of the southeast gate. Fearful cries and shouts came from all over the streets.
Because the paths in Akusho were very narrow, all sorts of things fell off the roofs.
Nyutabara shouted, ordering everyone to gather in the center of the street, then Kuwabara and Kurokawa echoed the shout down the line.
The women obediently gathered in the middle of the street, grabbing their hair and wailing as they did. After that, they knelt down one by one.
Kuwabara and the others began bantering, ’’Ohh, it's starting.’’ ’’Really? Seems like a big one.’’ ’’Tuwal-san, you need to get a job at the Japanese Meteorological Agency’’. Naturally, anyone would think they were reliable, and so the women hugged their legs.
The men laughed as the girls plastered themselves onto them.
In particular, Kurata was trembling in delight, thinking my body is happy, my legs are happy too as a group of Beastwomen hugged him.
Kurokawa was not particularly interested in this sort of thing, but she did not mind being clung to, and she gently patted Mizari to calm her down as she sobbed on Kurokawa's chest.
Because Itami and the others protected and helped to evacuate them, Piña's spirit returned quickly. When she heard that there might be aftershocks after a big earthquake, she said, ’’I need to get to his Majesty.’’ She was worried for her father, but also concerned about the state of the court.
Since Piña said so, Itami and co. had no objections. ’’Is that so. Then, take care when you go.’’ Piña looked like she had seen the apocalypse as she heard those words, or maybe it was a girl being jilted by her lover. Either way, she pressed her pale face against Itami.
’’Won't, won't you go with me?’’
’’It's not that, I'm just saying, the Emperor... going to his side like this might not be good.’’
From Piña's point of view, Itami and the others were soldiers of an enemy nation. Bringing them to the Emperor's side would be like checkmating herself. If this were a RTS game, it would be like enemy paratroopers landing in one's home base.
However, the fact was that Itami and company were Sugawara's guards, so something like pointing a gun at the Emperor was absolutely forbidden. However, the JSDF's words were just words. Piña had to be ready for anything.
Still, Piña was insisting that they go with her. Itami and Sugawara looked at each other, wondering what was to be done.
’’Itami-dono. Please, stay by my side.’’
In other words, what she meant was, ’’It's scary, so please go with me.’’
Behind them, Hamilton nodded with a pale face. They were scared silly, and then there was supposed to be an aftershock on top of that. It could not be helped that none of them wanted to leave Itami and the other JSDF troopers. The maids were nodding behind them, and the guards formed a human wall behind Itami, suggesting that they did not want him to leave.
And so, Piña brought her guards, the maids, Itami, and the others into the Imperial Palace.
The palace which Piña led them into was plunged into chaos.
One could see various items and furniture tumbled to the floor.
Not only had the bureaucrats not rectified this matter, but they were sobbing in the corner, while the Praetorian guards were standing aside in a stupor. Others were prostrate on the ground, praying to the gods to save them.
Naturally, neither Piña nor Sugawara were questioned. Neither did anyone try to impede them as they proudly strolled through the passageway.
As she saw the sad state the palace had been reduced to, Piña grabbed her head and ordered her guards to find the officials in charge of the court in order to gather them up for a briefing.
In any event, they needed to restore order to this chaos. For that, they needed to gather the people in charge.
’’Hmm. The quality of the troops has dropped,’’ Piña sighed as she saw the soldiers frozen in just about every corner she cared to look.
She had experienced it firsthand, so she could understand their terror at a natural disaster they had never seen before. However, she was still disappointed by how disorganized the Praetorians were.
They had taken away a lot of officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) from the Praetorians in order to reconstitute the legions. The soldiers who replaced them were poorly trained and inexperienced. The negative results of that approach were on display now.
And so, Piña and the others finally reached the Emperor's bedchamber.
As they looked around, they found that shockingly enough, the Praetorians assigned to protect the bedchamber were gone. They must have fled or otherwise disappeared at some point. Piña suddenly felt the strength leave her body, and she took a deep breath to regain her spirits.
’’Sugawara-dono. I will introduce all of you to the Emperor. Until then, could you keep quiet?’’
Since this was a necessary part of courtly etiquette, Sugawara would obviously obey. After that, Piña let the maids open the door to the bedchamber.
’’Oh? I believed the first one here would be Diabo or Zorzal. To think it would be you, Piña.’’
The Emperor sat up on his bed, his face covered in cold sweat as he welcomed Piña.
It looked like he wanted to see which of his children would come first in this time of emergency.
Although he was slightly disappointed that reality did not match his predictions, now was not the time to be so relaxed.
’’Your Majesty. Please prepare yourself.’’
Piña ordered a maid to get the Emperor dressed. After that, she had her guards surround them for protection as she accompanied her father to the audience chamber.
The Emperor rose, although he still needed to hold onto Piña's shoulder to move.
After entering the audience chamber, they saw that the civil and military officials gathered there all had panicky looks on their faces. Then they closed in on Piña and the Emperor to beg their aid.
Piña helped the Emperor onto his throne.
’’Don't panic. You lot, bring the ministers and the other officials in here.’’
’’Military officers, go get control of the troops and prepare for battle. Defend the Palace. Also, have the troops find the generals throughout the Capital and have them report to the Palace.’’
As they heard Piña's voice, the various officials remembered their jobs and went into action. After emerging from a vortex of chaos, they all regained their discipline and began moving in the same direction.
Piña breathed a sigh of relief as the court finally resumed its normal functioning.
However, as she looked around carefully, she saw that the candle stands and other articles in the audience chamber lay scattered on the ground, and the shattered remains of the picture frames littered the ground.
She suppressed a gasp at the sight of the audience chamber's dismal state, and ordered the maids to tidy this place up.
Organizing the audience chamber should have been the job of the Emperor's most trusted advisors. Normally speaking, Piña and the maids would be forbidden from this room. What they did was in defiance of the court's rules. However, in this time of emergency, only she and the others could act normally, so it could not be helped.
At these occasions... no, it was precisely because of occasions like these that maintaining one's dignity was even more important. The panicking people could calm down after seeing the stern discipline of the audience chamber. In contrast, if the audience chamber remained a mess, it would only intensify the confusion in their hearts.
The first time she saw the chamber's luxurious decorations, she grumbled that they were useless frippery, but now she saw the purpose of the grand display here. That was to say, without those decorations, the audience chamber itself would be useless frippery.
Until recently, Piña and her knight band respected practicality and looked down on the extravagance of the palace's furnishings. But after taking on the task of being the intermediary for the Empire's diplomatic relations with Japan, she finally understood their purpose.
’’Piña, you seem to have shed a layer of skin.’’
However, Piña did not understand the hidden meaning in the Emperor's words, and replied, ’’My skin is in place, and it is undamaged.’’
And then, the Emperor's serious facade crumbled.
’’Piña, for a while now, there's been a group of unfamiliar people by your side. Since there is some time before the generals gather, why don't you introduce them?’’
Piña nodded, and then slightly lowered a voice. Then she opened her hand and indicated Sugawara like she was slashing at him.
’’Allow me to introduce the ambassador from the land of Japan, Sugawara-dono.’’
Sugawara took a step toward the Emperor with his chest held high, then lowered his head in respect. Behind him, Itami and the others saluted in time with Sugawara. The way they did things was slightly different from the usual courtly etiquette.
’’The land of Japan? I see, so you have accepted the role of a mediator between our Empire and their country. But why have you brought them here at this time? They have come all this way, but we have not yet welcomed them properly.
’’Forgive me, Father. But I heard they were knowledgeable about this earthquake, and they said there would be another quake. Therefore I kept them by my side to benefit from their advice.’’
Those words made Piña's father blanch.
’’You, you said there will be another shaking of the earth?’’
’’Indeed, which was why I asked them to come with us.’’
The Emperor wiped off the sweat that suddenly beaded on his nose with his pajama sleeve.
’’Very well. Ambassador-dono, I bid you welcome.’’
Sugawara, who had been introduced at last, spoke the words he had been rehearsing in his mind.
’’Thank you very much. I pray your Majesty will be in good spirits.’’
’’How could I be in good spirits after this cataclysm? However, it would seem it has also let me see how my daughter has grown. I must thank you for that.’’
’’No, your Majesty. All this was the result of her Highness' training and refinement.’’
’’I always thought she was just playing war games.’’
’’Her Highness has long graduated from games! If her Highness were to go to war now, I am certain she would be an excellent commander!’’
The sudden interruption came from Hamilton.
Right after that, Hamilton realized that she had rudely interrupted a conversation between the Emperor and a foreign ambassador, so she blushed and tried to make herself as small as possible. However, Sugawara and the Emperor ignored her. If they did not, they would have to censure her for her rudeness.
’’Ambassador-dono. Regretfully, we are busy at the moment. At any other time we would have prepared a great feast for you. Forgive our poor hospitality tonight.’’
’’Yes, your Majesty. There will be many other opportunities to discuss the future of our nations.’’
Sugawara bowed once more and then retreated behind Piña. He had said what he wanted to say. However, the Emperor spoke once more to Sugawara.
’’Speaking of which, does your country of Japan have a king?’’
This question was asked to ascertain what exactly Sugawara knew about the Empire. Much like how Japan was gathering information on the Empire, so too was the Empire gathering information on Japan.
But how had he done it? Suddenly, the questions welled up in his mind.
’’No. Our country is not ruled by a king, but by an Emperor, although it is largely a symbolic position.’’
’’A figurehead position, you say? It is hard to imagine a country where the ministers stealing power from their ruler can be a strong one. The world beyond the Gate is indeed alien. Then again, there should be a person who rules you in that world, am I correct? Until this day, I have not met an equal to myself, so I am unsure of how to proceed. I pray you will forgive me for any accidental rudeness in communication.’’
Just as he was speaking, a great sound came from the hallway behind them.
’’Father, Father, are you alright?!’’
Zorzal charged into the audience chamber like a wild horse.
His lackeys had their breastplates on backwards and their sandals on the wrong foot, and some of them had their scabbards but no swords. They were clearly in a panic.
Zorzal had a chain in hand, and the other side was linked to a whole mess of collars, which were locked around the neck of Tyuule and some other women. The white Warrior Bunny Tyuule had been dragged naked all the way here from her bed, and there was a bitter expression on her face. Beside her were other girls, with black, blonde and red hair, and their bodies were covered in abrasions from how they were dragged here in the nude. Their condition seemed quite serious.
As Itami, Tomita and Kuribayashi saw this, they were shocked speechless.
Sugawara the diplomat remained impassive, but one could hear him clicking his tongue softly.
’’Father, are you hurt? Good, let's flee together!’’
’’Where will we run to?’’
’’In any case, we need to get out of here.’’
Piña turned to her elder brother, who was harassing the Emperor, and said, ’’Ani-ue, just now, I ordered the generals to report to the Palace. If we leave now and the officials return to find nobody here, the palace will be thrown into chaos.’’
However, Zorzal replied, ’’We don't have time for that! Noriko already said there might be a second or third shock, so we must leave here immediately!’’
If this went on, it might be seen as the Emperor abandoning his throne.
Piña thought, no matter what, I need to calm Ani-ue down. So she started to think of a topic that might get his attention, and then she spoke to him again, with a tone to sooth him.
’’Ani-ue, I was not aware that you knew about the aftershocks. Even I only just learned of them from these people.’’
’’I told you didn't I? Noriko said so.’’
’’And who is this Noriko?’’
As Piña asked her question, Zorzal yanked the chain leading to one of the collars
’’Ah!’’ Tyuule and the other women cried out.
’’It's this black-haired girl, I caught her from the other side of the Gate.’’
Zorzal indicated her with his chin. But at this moment
’’You son of a bitch! I'll f*king kill you!’’
Itami threw a lightning-fast punch that connected with Zorzal's chin.
’’You son of a bitch! I'll f*king kill you!’’
Itami threw a lightning-fast punch that connected with Zorzal's chin.
It rocked him back on his heels, and the tall man fell flat on his ass, cupping his chin as he cursed loudly. ’’You hit me, you bastard! You dare strike me, the first prince of the Empire?!’’ he snarled as he glared at Itami.
Itami was being Itami and rubbed his right fist. ’’Ow ow! Why's his face so hard? I'm not cut out for this at all,’’ he whimpered as a tear leaked out from the corner of his eye.
’’You fools! To think you actually raised your hand against his Highness! Your families will be exterminated for this!’’
Zorzal's flunkies drew their swords.
Normally, simply drawing a weapon in front of the Emperor in court was a grave offense, to say nothing of actually offering violence to a member of the Imperial family. However, the court was currently paralyzed in the wake of the earthquake. The Praetorians who should have defended the Emperor and his household were missing. Since there was nobody to maintain order, the area before the throne was a sea of chaos.
Tomita, watching from the side, flicked his Type 64's fire selector to レ(automatic fire), while Kuribayashi inspected Tyuule and the black-haired girl on the ground.
’’Are you alright?’’
As she heard someone speak in her native Japanese, the black-haired girl raised her head in surprise.
’’We're from the JSDF. Are you Japanese?’’
When the girl heard those words, her tears fell like a waterfall, and then she clutched Kuribayashi's hands. She must have suffered a lot, Kuribayashi thought, and that thought filled her with strength. She took out her survival knife and cut the girl's collar off her before throwing the severed leather away.
’’Did you come to rescue me?’’
’’Yeah. We'll bring you home.’’
In truth, the JSDF did not know girls like this had been captured by the enemy, so technically speaking, Kuribayashi was lying. However, once they knew there were Japanese citizens suffering here, they could not possibly abandon them. They would definitely rescue them. Itami and his team were of one mind, and they prepared for battle. If anyone tried to stop them, they would be blown away. They each prepared themselves for what might be a gruelling fight.
On another side, Sugawara sighed as he realized his efforts up till now might be about to go up in smoke. But when he saw that a Japanese girl had been kidnapped and subjected to such brutality, he could not suppress his anger either. He smiled bitterly to the Emperor, and then asked him a question in a tone that sounded polite, but was filled with mockery.
’’I believed the prince-dono mentioned that he captured her from the other side of the Gate. What is this, your Majesty? And Piña-dono, did you know about this from the start?’’
Piña did not understand why Itami and Sugawara were doing this. That said, she had a rough idea of what was going on. It must be the way they treated their captives, because she knew the Japanese placed great value on human life.
Even so, she did not think it was enough to jeopardize the status of the talks between Japan and the Empire. They should have been able to separate their personal feelings from the benefit of the nation.
However, Itami now had his sidearm trained on Zorzal, a member of the Imperial family. This was something she could not cover up. No, right now, even Piña might be in danger because of his actions.
She knew well the power of guns, and she thought that if anything happened, she would have to protect the Emperor with her own body and fall before the throne. She decided to try talking him down before a bloodbath began.
’’Itami-dono! Please stop at once! Everyone, please stay your blades. For my sake, stand down!’’
However, Zorzal's flunkies still had their weapons ready, and they were spreading out to encircle the group. There were 15 of them in total, and to them, they had the advantage in numbers. As such, they did not think too much about the situation. After all, all they had to do was kill all the enemy in order to win.
Zorzal laughed from where he was on the ground, as he imagined the man who struck him being cut to pieces.
’’You barbarian scum, you've just sealed the fate of your homeland! We will exterminate everyone in your country! Everyone from your king to his people will die! Your lands will be nothing but ash! This is all your fault! Reflect on your sins as you die in agony!’’
Itami's reply was ’’Kuribayashi, Tomita. Ignore him. Fire at will.’’
Kuribayashi drew her bayonet from her waist and fixed it onto her rifle. Then she flicked her own fire selector to AUTO before stepping forward.
’’Don't break your gun again.’’
Kuribayashi simply grinned in response to Tomita.
The dancer: Kuribayashi. Her partners: Itami and Tomita. The Danse Macabre was about to begin.
Bayonet fighting (not to be confused with jukendo) was a combat art that was still in use in the present day.
Much like how aircraft cannon were still useful in the age of guided missiles, bayonet fighting was a core part of the infantry combat curriculum. It was essential in melee combat, and could not be allowed to waste away.
In the Falklands War in South America, and the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, bayonet charges were crucial to finishing off their foe.
In addition, unlike kendo, which was more of a sport, bayonet fighting was practiced for actual combat. It was a skill which was designed for war.
Even in the world of martial arts, where possessing a weapon would put one many levels above unarmed opposition, bayonet fighting was exceptionally useful against other martial arts like karate and judo, regardless of how skilled the practitioners of the latter two were. This was because if a bayonet fighter's opponent was skilled in close combat, the bayonet fighter could just back off and fire their rifle. This was not being unfair it was war, and it was different from judged contests.
The Type 64 rifle weighed 4.3 kilograms unloaded. Kuribayashi used it as a bludgeoning weapon even as she slashed and stabbed with the razor sharp bayonet, before deflecting a sword swing with the body of her weapon.
They could not keep up with her nimble body and graceful movements. Not to mention, the soldiers of this world were used to advancing in a shield wall, so they were hard-pressed to engage Kuribayashi, who was leaping all over the place.
Their main battle tactic was to charge into contact with the enemy, bash with their shields, and slash with their swords.
However, Kuribayashi did not charge them.
She shot the enemies with shields, swiftly evaded their incoming swords, and then thrust her bayonet into her opponent's armpits and into their hearts. If they got too close, she bashed them with the butt of her rifle and slashed their carotid arteries while they were stunned.
It did not matter how strong a warrior was or how fine his blade if he could not hit his enemy. Zorzal's flunkies prided themselves on their brute strength and trained themselves intensively for that purpose, but Kuribayashi mocked them as they flailed uselessly at her. The only way they could fight her was by overwhelming her with the weight of their numbers.
However, Kuribayashi was covered by Tomita.
As an enemy began to circle behind her, Tomita coldly pulled the trigger. A 7.62mm round was powerful enough to penetrate 10 mm of steel plate. When it hit a man, it pierced the thin metal of his breastplate and began mushrooming by the time it entered the body. Then, it tumbled end over end as it moved, ripping up his internal organs before exiting through his back.
As they saw their comrade fall after a single shot, Zorzal's cronies gave up their plan of flanking Kuribayashi.
And then, in front of them was an unfettered beast.
Kuribayashi licked her lips after making her eighth corpse and sneered, ’’Who's next?’’ as she eyed Zorzal's lackeys. However, none of them dared take a step forward.
’’Well, if you're giving up, throw down your arms!’’
Zorzal's lackeys threw down their weapons as one.
Kuribayashi seemed very pleased with this display. She then nodded and said, ’’Very good,’’ before ordering them out of the audience chamber.
The lackeys were confused for a moment, and they looked to their master, Zorzal. However, as they saw Kuribayashi pulling back her rifle's bolt, they scattered amidst a clattering of metal.
Zorzal's eyes were wide in disbelief as he looked on the slaughter in front of him and at the sight of his fleeing cronies.
His body was shuddering uncontrollably as Itami levelled a mysterious weapon at him. Would it spit fire like the thing that killed his flunkies? Would it spit fire and turn him into a corpse like the one beside him? Was he going to die? Why, why was all this happening to him?
He was the first prince. He should not be subject to this unreasonable treatment.
He was the future Emperor of the Empire. Nobody should have dared do this to him.
And then, Itami looked down the sights of his gun at Zorzal, and spoke.
’’All right, first prince-dono. As you were saying, this girl was one of the people you captured from the Gate. That means you must have more prisoners, right?’’
’’Hmph! I have no need to answer disrespectful questions asked by disrespectful men!’’
Zorzal said that in an effort to restore the tattered shreds of his dignity. If this man knelt down before him and apologized, then respectfully begged a favor of him, perhaps Zorzal might find it in himself to show his largesse. If not, then there was nothing to say. He could go ahead and kill Zorzal if he wanted. But if he did that, then the man could forget about hearing the answer. Zorzal and the knowledge he had was his own hostage.
In the end, Itami smiled bitterly and called out to his subordinates.
’’Kuribayashi. Make him talk.’’
This was the first time Kuribayashi had been so happy to obey an order given by Itami.
The following scene is somewhat violent, and we need to adhere to the age limitations on this publication. Thus we will describe the scene with sound alone.
Pachi, gucha, dosun, gan, ban, goh, dosu, gucha...boki, something like that.
And of course, Zorzal was screaming all this while.
’’Stop! Wait, stop! Stoooooop! Ahhhh it hurts! Guheee! Abbah! Gwaaaaargh! No, don't break my finger, let me g- aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh!’’
Unable to bear this sight, Piña and the Emperor looked away.
Of course, they had thought of stopping her, but they were worried that if they spoke out, Itami and the others would turn their anger on them instead.
Piña was grateful for her experience in Italica. After all, this was the first time a member of the Imperial family had been in such grave danger.
Hamilton and the maids were hugging each other as they stood by the wall. They were trembling as though the earthquake had come again.
This gruesome scene finally came to an end when the door to the audience chamber opened,
The ministers, generals and those Praetorians who had regained their discipline were all led here by Count Marx. However, as they saw what was before the throne, they froze.
The first thing they saw were scattered corpses, followed by Zorzal, who looked like he had been applying blood to himself as makeup.
Zorzal's broken teeth were scattered all over the floor, along with what looked like molars. Blood streamed from his mouth and nose. Everyone who saw him was frightened.
Itami glanced at the soldiers who had just arrived, then trained his gun on Zorzal once more, like a kid about to squash a bug.
’’Well, your Highness the First Prince. I believe you can answer my question now.’’
Zorzal did not reply. However, that was because he was too dazed to understand Itami's question. Itami then decided to pull him up by the lapels to get his attention.
However, at this moment, Tyuule interposed herself between the two of them, throwing her arms open in a protective gesture.
After seeing that body covered in cuts and bruises, Itami winced in sympathetic pain before he could appreciate her beauty. Her injuries were probably from being dragged around.
’’Please do not harm the Prince.’’
She was covered in wounds caused by this man, and yet she was protecting her tormentor. Her strong spirit gave Itami pause.
Her state of mind might have been similar to children who were abused by their parents. Or it might have been a form of Stockholm Syndrome, where captives empathized with their captors.
In deference to her will, Itami lowered his gun. But he was still frustrated, and he poured that frustration into his next words.
’’Your Highness. I believe you mentioned earlier than this woman was one of the people you captured from the other side of the Gate. That means you must have other people in captivity, am I correct?
Zorzal could not speak because of the immense pain, and could only nod weakly as he whimpered in agony. Then, he scrabbled behind Tyuule. It was a disgraceful sight.
’’Hiroki! What happened to Hiroki?’’ the girl called Noriko wailed from behind Kuribayashi. It seemed like they had been kidnapped together, so there had to be at least one more person here.
’’The man was sent to the slave markets. I don't know what happened after that.’’
Zorzal spat out blood as he answered, then fainted from overexertion.
Sugawara faced the Emperor, seated behind Piña.
’’Your Majesty. I hope you will reserve your welcome for after you return the captured citizens of our country to us. I do not know what gods you worship, but you had better pray to them for the lives of our people. Princess Piña, I will leave the matter of finding these people to you. I look forward to your answer.’’
After saying that, Sugawara exchanged glances with Itami, and then made to leave this place.
’’Stop right there, barbarian scum!’’
If they permitted this sort of violence against their leaders, the Empire would be utterly disgraced. Under the command of one of the generals, the Praetorians drew their swords. It looked like there would be another battle here tonight.
However, the Emperor's voice kept them from moving. This was because the Emperor was fully aware that fighting the JSDF would only add more corpses to those already on the ground.
’’Sugawara-dono. I admit the army of Japan is powerful. However, being strong in battle does not equate to victory in warfare. Your nation has a grievous weakness.’’
’’And what weakness would that be?’’
’’Your country loves its people;far too much, perhaps. Excessive righteousness makes you predictable. Excessive trust leads to massive losses. When the enemy is strong, one should not fight them. The tip of the sword is very sharp, but the hilt of the sword is its weakness. If the edge is sharp, then all one needs to do is break it. Even a so-called invincible foe cannot hope to escape unscathed when they are exhausted and fleeing for their lives. Once a country's national power is depleted, no matter how civilized or advanced they are, that country will be destroyed by barbarians. That is a fact which has played out before in history.’’
Sugawara replied, ’’Indeed, our country does have this weakness. Our JSDF trains to defend our country. Do you wish to test their conviction?’’
’’What's this, do you intend to fight to the end? Have the negotiations not started already?’’
’’Your Majesty, I am fully aware that peace is merely the preparation time for the next war. That being said, peace talks are no reason to stop preparing for war. My country, indeed, my entire world has moved beyond the Empire's mindset after centuries of bloodsoaked history. I hope this Imperial Capital will not vanish during the course of the peace talks.’’
He seemed to be hinting that a certain nation was trying to drag out the peace talks to buy time.
Sugawara's words were a threat. Even though they had ceased all combat operations during this ceasefire, if Japan put their minds to it, they could resume hostilities at a moment's notice. And this time the battlefield would be the Imperial Capital.
The Emperor clicked his tongue quietly, and spoke.
’’You say that, but isn't that the same as rejecting the upcoming peace?’’
’’Indeed it is. So please be prepared for the dreadful consequences that will result if you lie.’’
’’Oh, all right, I believe you. It's only natural to believe in one's country. But do you think you can make it through intact?’’
As the Emperor was saying that, the aftershock struck.
The earth shook once again, and flakes of paint from the cracked ceiling fell like dust.
The Emperor went pale from fear, while the generals, ministers and Praetorians fell to their knees as they clung desperately to the walls.
’’All right, let's go!’’
Leaving these pathetic faces behind him, Itami proudly led his people, Sugawara and the girl called Noriko past the trembling Praetorians, and left the audience chamber.
At the group's head were Sugawara and Itami, followed by Kuribayashi and the kidnapped Noriko, with Tomita bringing up the rear. Itami offered Noriko his uniform coat to cover up her nakedness.
Everybody was silent.
After ten to twenty minutes of walking, they exited the palace. As Itami sighed, he moaned, ’’Crap. My hand just moved by itself and I hit him.’’
’’Yes, that was a huge f*k-up. How are we going to report this?’’
The rush of blood to their brains had subsided. Itami and Sugawara began worrying about what excuse they would give for this.