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Gate – Jietai Kare No Chi Nite, Kaku Tatakeri - Volume 9 - Chapter 7

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Chapter 7

Translator: Nigel

Editor:Deus Ex Machina

’’That's how it is. You will proceed to Ginza Garrison, which is being besieged by the demonstrators, and hand this to General Hazama of the Special Region Expeditionary Force.’’

Kanou did not beat around the bush. He showed up at the appointed place and handed a letter that looked like it contained a document to Itami. They were currently at a certain riverside golf course at Saitama.

Since they were in the presence of a currently-serving minister, Tomita and Kuribayashi stood in line, at attention. Tuka and Itami were not part of that line.

Kanou's secretary Noji turned on the vehicle's headlights, illuminating the green, and then they heard the sound of a helicopter.

Workers in orange jumpsuits refuelled the helicopter with hoses connected to drums on a small truck.

Itami accepted the document and spoke the question he had been harboring in his heart.

’’Where's Lelei?’’

’’I cannot say anything given my position. Do as you feel is appropriate.’’

This was a devious way of handling things. He had not issued any orders. In other words, Itami was free to do as he pleased. However, Itami did not quibble about it. That was because he had already decided to rescue Lelei, even if he had not said as much.

Kanou continued speaking.

’’Let me introduce you to your pilot, Kawai of Kasa Airlines. He was once a Lieutenant in the JMSDF, and he's the only one I could drag over here.’’

The pilot held a map in one hand as he checked their route, and he extended the other to Itami in greeting as he heard the introduction.

’’Pleased to meet you, Lieutenant Itami. I'll be taking you 13'000 feet into the sky above Ginza. Just leave it all to me.’’

Itami took the extended hand and shook it, but he could not help but exclaim as he heard the figure mentioned in those words.

’’Eh!? What do you mean, 13'000 feet?’’

’’I will explain the details of the operation, Lieutenant Itami. Have a look at this.’’

Noji stepped up.

Kanou's secretary leaned in close, possibly excited by the atmosphere of a covert operation in the air. He shone a flashlight onto the piece of paper that was laid out on the car bonnet.

And here I was wondering what he'd show me, Itami thought. When he looked, he saw that it was the blueprints of the Ginza Garrison's dome.

’’The Minister obtained this data through a helper in the Ministry of Defense. This is a national secret, so please don't reveal it. Now, there is a hatch on the top of the dome, like a manhole. If you can descend through there, you should be able to get inside without being hampered by the rioters. And as it happens, the Gate is directly underneath. I've prepared ropes, so once you get in, you can use the rope to descend in front of the Gate.’’

Noji laid a 40 meter-long bundle of red mountaineering rope, along with 8-shaped buckles and carabiners on the bonnet of the car engine.

After that, he laid two break-action shotguns on top of the rope, their round barrels rolling along the rope. Their stocks had been shortened in an illegal procedure, and they were now about the same size as a machine pistol. He put down a can of ammunition with them as well.

’’Unfortunately we can't do much about weapons. We had no choice, so we stole the Minister's personal shotguns, complete with the entire gun safe, and we reported it as missing. So please don't bring it back.’’

Itami was stunned by how the Minister's secretary could talk about committing crimes so calmly.

’’We were quite worried about a lack of firepower, but fortunately Tomita and Kuribayashi have weapons of their own.’’

Tomita and Kuribayashi showed off the PDWs they were holding.

And then, Noji took out a large case.

’’Here's the longbow you wanted. Still, can you really handle its draw, Tuka-san?’’

’’Ara, you pull the bow with your back, not your arms.’’

Tuka took up the bow, strung it, then nocked an arrow and drew the string to demonstrate how she would be shooting it.

’’Acute-hno unjhy Oslash-dfi jopo-auml yuml-uya whqolgn!’’

She incanted a spell to accelerate the arrow with a tailwind, and the arrow she launched from the tee struck the little pink flag standing up from the par-4 hole dead center.

’’Ohhhhh! You scored a hole in one from this distance! Amazing. I guess seeing really is believing.’’

However, Itami indicated that he did not understand the previous conditions, and spoke up.

’’Ah, hang on a bit. Were you talking about parachutes just now?’’

’’Ah, yes. This operation is only possible because you and Sergeant Tomita are airborne-qualified, Lieutenant Itami. Your skydiving skills are both of a professional standard too. Unfortunately, we could not secure any military parachutes, so we obtained two skydiving parachutes instead. Please make do. Also, time was tight, so we could only get brightly-colored ones.’’

Saying so, Noji produced a pair of packed parachutes (in backpacks) from the car's trunk. He handed one to Itami and one to Tomita.

’’Tomita, you're a skydiver?’’

’’Apparently he's a qualified skydiving instructor.’’

Tomita said, ’’Yup’’ and fastened the straps of the backpack around himself with swift, practiced movements.

’’Wait, a 13'000 foot freefall? At night!? And a tandem jump!?’’

Just as Itami was about to say it was impossible, Kanou cut in before he could say anything.

’’Fortunately you're a professional parachutist! After all, if we couldn't even do this, then we'd be completely out of options!’’

Hang on a bit ー Itami worriedly drew close to Kanou.

Kanou was spouting disinformation;Itami did not possess such skills at all. Not only was Itami not a professional skydiver, he had been kicked out the door by the jumpmaster and the assistant jumpmaster. In other words, he was a coward.

He had tried to explain that many times. But it would seem Taro-kakka had completely forgotten that fact during this time of emergency.

However, Tuka put her arms into the harness while saying ’’Lucky me!’’ and he lost the chance to make that correction. It would seem she had been fascinated by this ever since Kasumigaura

’’Youji! Help me put this on! Hurry up and put it on!’’

As Itami fitted Tuka with the safety harness, he said:

’’S-surely we could enter through another access tunnel or through a manhole in the subway. For instance, there's the famous hidden tunnels in the Tokyo underground;there's a lot of ways to approach, no? Even if we don't freefall in...’’

’’There's nothing like that. Those underground tunnels are all on the Imperial Palace run between the Imperial Palace and Nagata-cho;they don't extend to Ginza.’’

’’Ah, er... but...’’

Noji had already discussed other routes of infiltration, and it was because they had no other choice that he said, ’’enough nonsense.’’

’’Are you listening? I've said this before, but the parachutes we have are brightly-colored and very eye-catching. So we've arranged things with the police. When you drop, we'll cut the power to Ginza for a moment. That ought to plunge the streets into darkness so they can't see anything. At the same time, the riot police will fire their water cannons and launch a diversionary attack on the protestors. That ought to get the enemy's attention. At that time, you will drop onto the Gate, Lieutenant Itami. Got it?’’

Alright, we're out of time. Hurry up and prepare, Secretary Noji urged Itami. In the end Itami put on his parachute as well. Tomita carefully geared up Kuribayashi. The safety straps were just like from his paratrooper days, so they did not cause Itami any difficulties.

However, perhaps Tuka sensed the sluggishness in Itami's movements, and she turned to ask Itami a question.

’’Don't tell me you don't want to go?’’

And then, Itami replied:

’’Sorry if this sounds like a betrayal of your expectations, but I was really reluctant to go in your case. I was really afraid back then.’’

’’But in the end you still tried hard for me! I'm so happy!’’

Tuka instead hugged Itami's neck. To her, it must have sounded like, ’’I conquered my fear of the Flame Dragon for you’’.

’’Which is scarier, falling from a high place or the Flame Dragon?’’’’

’’They, they're about the same. Besides, I'm not a qualified skydiver. This is against the rules of the air. If the skydiving association people heard about it, they'd complain.’’

However, since they had no other choice, they had to go through with this.

’’It'll be fine. I'm sure you can get over it, Youji.’’

’’I think I can be brave when I hear you say that.’’

’’It'll be fine. As long as the parashoot opens properly, I can control our landing location. The wind spirits were really friendly to me when I tried it the last time.’’

After putting on a skydiving suit and resting the nightvision goggles which took the place of goggles on her forehead Tuka braided her hair in order to keep it from getting in the way of her descent.

’’I'm so excited to be walking in the night sky. And even if we fall straight down, I'll be with Youji... mm, sounds great.’’

Tuka seemed terribly happy as she freely confessed that she would be happy to die with him.

The helicopter took off and then accelerated forward, the tip of the aircraft suddenly lurching upwards as they pulled away from the gold course.

The shaking of their rapid ascent was like riding a roller coaster.

Instantly, the city scenery flowed past below them. The streetlamps, the lit windows, and the lights on the cars all seemed like shooting stars.

Tomita was adjusting Kuribayashi's harness and checking to see if it had loosened. Since all her weight would be resting on that harness when the parachute opened, even a bit of slack would be frightening.

’’Tomita, you take the lead. I've never done a tandem jump before, so I'll leave the pre-jump check to you.’’

’’So I'm jumpmaster? Alright. Everyone, please listen to me. Kuribayashi, I'm going to conndct our harnesses, so please sit on my knee.’’

’’Then Tuka, please sit on mine.’’

’’Eh! Are we going to continue what happened in the hospital?’’

’’As if, you dummy! We're just joining our harnesses.’’

’’I know~.’’

Itami poked Tuka's head as she went ’’Ufufu~’’

’’Owie~’’

’’Once we've hooked up and finished inspection, we'll wait for Kawai to shout 'ten minutes' and then we'll sit down on the helicopter skids. El-tee, Tuka, please sit beside me. After that, once Kawai gives the signal to go, we'll jump. El-tee, don't forget the drogue parachute.’’

Tomita indicated the small parachute below and to the right of Itami's parachute pack.

’’How about jumping out on the third 'jump'?’’

Tomita nodded. ’’It's about time,’’ he said, and Tomita extended his hands under Kuribayashi's arms and let her sit on his knee before starting to connect their harnesses.

’’El-tee, are you alright? You look kind of pale.’’

Kuribayashi looked at him through her goggles. His fingertips were most definitely not trembling from the cold.

Itami hurriedly hid his face with his goggles.

’’Don't look down on me, I was a former member of SFGp, you know. I'm a skydiving veteran and whatnot.’’

Seriously? Kuribayashi tossed a dubious gaze his way.

’’It's true. Actually, I'm a super S-class, but I just pretend to be an otaku because it's annoying. If anything comes up, I'll help you out, so just relax and jump.’’

’’The hell you say? What kind of chuuni bullshit is that!?’’

’’But it's cool, huh?’’

To think he could actually say that despite never having done it before.Since there were experienced people all around him, Itami had ended up learning from them in his daily life, and through his personal training and practice, he had picked up a surprising amount of skills from his environment.

However, Kuribayashi did not seem quite convicned. She muttered, ’’Is that so,’’ while nodding several tiems.

’’Kuribou, when you freefall, make sure to hold Tomita's hand tight, okay? And hold on tightly to the harness. Also, there'll be a sudden air pressure change, which will hurt your ears. Do you know how to equalize the pressure?

Kuribayashi replied, ’’ah, yes’’ in a way that made him very nervous. Did she really believe that Itami was an old hand at this? Itami pointed at the altimeter on Tomita's wrist. It read 12, but the needle was already at its maximum. If there was a number 13 on it, the needle would probably be pointing there.

’’Tomita, I'll open early and descend slowly. Don't worry if you don't see me.’’

’’Roger!’’

’’Lieutenant Itami! Ten minutes to jump!’’

As the pilot's words reached his ears, Itami gathered up the scraps of his courage, filled his body with it, and took a deep breath.

***

Liu coughed lightly, then brought the mic to his mouth and turned to face the massive Gate before him.

’’We are an international NGO that seeks to liberate the Special Region from Japan's monopoly! Gentlemen of the JSDF, please permit us to enter the Special Region!’’

There was a Type 74 tank in the center of the Gate, which was surrounded by a human wall. The JSDF's posture was to refuse everyone entry into the Special Region, and their answer was within Liu's expectations.

’’The Special Region is under the management of the Japanese government. We will not allow anyone to enter without governmental approval.’’

’’You are essentially saying the Special Region is Japanese territory. We cannot abide by that at all. The Outer Space Treaty that the Japanese government is a signatory to also applies to the Special Region, and it forbids any country from laying claim to it.’’

(TL Note: Roughly: forbids any militarization of outer space and celestial bodies. Google it.)

’’Please address those demands to the government. We have never considered the Special Region to be covered by the Outer Space Treaty. That is because the treaty addresses ownerless celestial bodies and the reaches of space. However, the Special Region and Arnus are sovereign territory of the Empire. They are not covered by the Outer Space Treaty. In addition, our country has signed a treaty with the Empire acknowledging our rights to the area around it.’’

’’The international community does not acknowledge any such nation as 'the Empire'. We feel the Special Region is an ungoverned celestial body. Such reasoning was once used by the former Prime Minister Hojo. Therefore, the Special Region falls under the Outer Space Treaty!’’

’’The situation was different during the Ginza Incident. Our country has signed treaties and agreements which acknowledge the existence of the Empire as a nation. Therefore, the Outer Space Treaty does not apply.’’

’’Only the Japanese government has acknowledged the nationhood of the Empire. The international community has not. You ought to look at the declaration that we of the various nations have drafted.’’

’’As I was saying, such demands ought to be addressed to the Japanese government. Whatever reasons you come up with, we are ultimately acting according to the orders from our government. We cannot let you pass when you do not have governmental permission.’’

’’If you persist in your stubbornness, we are left with little choice. In order to prevent the Japanese government from laying claim to the Special Region, we will destroy the Gate. Are you alright with that?’’

The two big trucks behind Liu revved their engines, filling the interior of the dome with noise and black exhaust fumes. The JSDF personnel guarding the Gate raised their weapons, ready to fire at any moment. Killing intent filled the air, and the muzzle of the tank's cannon swivelled to point at the trucks. The air between them was electric.

Liu put aside the microphone and grumbled to himself.

’’This is crude work. I'm more suited for intellectual tasks.’’

He had heard that the Japanese people lacked a sense of danger awareness, but it would seem the JSDF and its affiliates were a different matter. Liu understood that further negotiation was pointless, but currently, such pointless negotiation was essential to the success of the operation. They had to buy time.

’’We'll give you some time to think about it. Until then, carefully consider what you ought to be doing.’’

After addressing the JSDF personnel like he was doing them a favor, Liu stepped down from the front line of the protestors.

The men behind him stepped up to stare down the JSDF, as though to fill the gap he left. It was just like a pair of teenage delinquents sizing each other up for a fight.

Following Liu's withdrawal from the front line, he found the military commander Major Wu Lianpao barking furiously at the people around him. Liu asked Major Wu what was the matter.

’’Ahhh, why did they cut off cell phone communication too? Now we can't even contact Diabo's side.’’

The phone in Wu's hands said, ’’ The number you have dialled is currently unavailable due to power...’’ in a mechanical voice.

’’This is what we've been reduced to.’’

The soldier responsible for cutting the cables replied:

’’You say that, but we had no idea which cables controlled the Special Region's cellular network! Besides, we were just following our orders in cutting the Japanese government's communications with the Special Region.’’

Major Wu kicked at the tires of one of the trucks.

’’Dammit! All you were supposed to do was cut the communications between the Japanese government and the Special Region, and now you've gone and cut our line of communications with Diabo too! What do you expect us to do now!?’’

The soldiers looked silently at their commander, who was speaking harshly while in the grip of his emotions. Liu sensed that this might affect morale if it kept up, and so he tried to soothe Wu:

’’Please calm down, Major. I was the one who ordered the sudden change in the operational Plan. The lack of coordination which resulted from that change is my fault.’’

’’No, it's not your fault, Chief Liu. If anyone's to blame, it's Diabo for not putting the Jade Wall into the box!’’

The original plan was to take advantage of the confusion to seize control of the truck containing the crate and take possession of the Jade Wall which ought to have been in the crate. After that, they would surround the Ginza Garrison with the people from the other countries in the name of a protest, coordinate diplomatic pressure with the protesters and the media, and thus force the Gate's management to be handed over to the United Nations.

However, when they opened the box, they only found the staff inside.

In a panic, they contacted Diabo, whose response was ’’If you want the Jade Wall, then make me Emperor. What happened to the troops you were supposed to transfer to me? If you don't make the trade, you can forget about getting your precious Jade Wall.’’

’’Once the Japanese government closes the Gate, we won't be able to send your Highness men even if we wanted to. Therefore, we need her. Trust the safety of the Jade Wall to us.’’

’’In that case, all you need is to bluff them, no? That's why I sent you her staff. Make good use of it, make them think the Jade Wall is in your hands, and that's all you'll need.’’

’’How could we do that? The Japanese won't fall for that.’’

’’In that case, there's no point continuing this conversation.’’

’’Do... do you really have the Jade Wall with you, your Highness?’’

’’Of course. Bring 10'000 armed and armored men over and I'll hand her to you.’’

At this point, Liu had two options.

The first was to give up and go home in defeat. The other was to seize the Jade Wall from Diabo by entering the Special Region. Liu was forced to decide his fate in a very short time.

’’Even if we enter the Special Region...’’

Liu looked at the protestors before him, and his mind went blank.

They were nominally called protesters, but the people before his eyes were little more than an international NGO gathered from various countries. And then there were the exchange students they had mobilized, as well as workers and Communist party members who had come over in the name of tourism, in addition to the unit of special armed operators under his command.

It was that unit of special forces troopers which had given Komakado the mistaken impression that this was an army, but the truth was that they did not belong to the People's Liberation Army. They were the military arm of a secret agent organization that the Party intelligence apparatus had put together.

In order to conduct clandestine activities overseas, this unit was composed of Turks, Mongols, Koreans, whites, and various other races and ethnic groups so people would not be able to tell their true origins. Of course, there were Japanese people among them as well. In addition, each of them had non-Chinese passports... for instance, the Turks had Turkish passports, and there were passports from Pakistan, Russia, Mongolia, Japan, Taiwan, and the like. Neither did they speak Mandarin;they used rarer languages or English. Of course, each of these operators was a capable individual. If they were used well...

Liu made a decision.

He selected the females from this secret operations group and formed them into a team.

’’After this, we're going to cause more chaos than we planned. Pretend to be tourists who were caught up in the confusion and seek help from the JSDF personnel in the garrison. After that, we'll force our way inside. Once we swarm the dome en masse, they'll surely take you to the Special Region for protection.’’

Among the dozen female operatives, the youngest, Ling Fanghua, tilted her head and asked:

’’If that's what you order, then we'll do it. But will you be alright, Chief? Will they attack you if you're empty-handed?’’

’’The Japanese have always been hesitant about firing weapons. In particular, they heavily censure people who use force on unarmed people. Also, we have people from many nations present, so they won't dare do anything for fear of being condemned by the international community if they massacre people.’’

’’What should we do after we enter the Special Region?’’

’’Naturally, you are to seize the Jade Wall. You will bring the Jade Wall here by any means necessary. Once you reach the Special Region, locate and make contact with Prince Diabo. After that, demand that he hand over the Jade Wall.’’

’’What if Diabo puts up resistance?’’

’’By any means necessary. So long as you can obtain the Jade Wall, Diabo is expendable. This is your mission. Do you understand?’’

After that. Liu and the others stirred up the international NGO and they had the students and workers taking part in the protests force their way into the Ginza Garrison. There, they encircled the Gate and stared down the fully-armed JSDF servicemen.

Major Wu returned his useless phone to his breast pocket, then turned to address Chief Liu.

’’During my days in the academy, I learned that simplicity is the key to success. Counting on others or luck ought to be minimized, and the tasks assigned to each person should be as simple and easy to understand as possible. Having powerful backup is also essential. From that point of view, this operation makes no sense at all.’’

Their recovery of the Jade Wall, their objective, was at the whim of Diabo, and successful recovery of her was in the hands of the female operatives who were disguised as tourists. Even if their aim was to negotiate with the JSDF and the Japanese government, it would be very hard to make Japan give in just by taking the Ginza Garrison.

Perhaps Wu's words grated at him, because Liu replied in a self-deprecating way:

’’Indeed, perhaps all you see is the battle that lies at the end of this road. But there's an ample chance of success. You don't have to worry.’’

’’However, as you can see, the present circumstances do not favor us at all.’’

’’Certainly not. We will not be opposing the JSDF with our fighting power here. We can subdue the Japanese government by attacking them in every aspect of life. For instance, simply prohibiting the export of rare earths will severely impact the Japanese economy. The shock will be like their Prime Minister's residence being bombed. In addition, we can arrest Japanese workers on charges that might warrant the death penalty. Also, we can give Japan a hard time by inflating the yen. For instance, if we bought large quantities of the yen, that would strike a deathblow to Japan's export industry. According to what we've seen on the TV news, their city infrastructure is very vulnerable to hacking. The losses they will suffer are incalculable. We can request such non-military support at any time. Don't worry.’’

’’Are those things really effective? It all seems vague to me.’’

’’I'm sure you would think that, as a military man who spends his time surrounded by weapons that directly damage human lives and property. However, this operation is being carried out by us, a non-military department. In my case, I can make full use of all the methods at my disposal, including your own military forces, to launch an attack on every aspect of Japanese society and thus ensure the success of this operation.’’

’’Chief Liu... the representative of the NGOs has a question. They're having their doubts about the actions we've taken that have gone beyond the scope of what was expected. They have grave concerns about escalating the disturbance. And then there's the matter of discussing the strategy to deal with the media...’’

’’We have the Japanese media in our grasp. Contact HQ and have them give our supporters a taste of the carrot. That ought to allow us to keep this quiet for another day or so. Then don't forget to request a second round of support from our country to shake the Japanese government. Although, I'll probably have to handle the coordination between the other NGOs... Major Wu, I'll leave this place to you for now.’’

Wu saluted tiredly and went ’’Roger.’’

The twelve female operatives who had escaped the disturbance in Ginza and who were pretending to look for help had successfully infiltrated the Special Region, and they now walked behind the male and female JASDF personnel leading them.

’’Please wait here until Ginza quiets down.’’

They were taken to a small room on the fourth floor of a building.

There were six closely-packed double beds inside. In other words, they would be waiting here until the disturbance had calmed down.

It would seem their tourist disguise had worked, because nobody was on guard against them.

While there were two sentries posted at the door, the operatives felt that it was a very normal response.

They opened the windows to peek outside and learn about what was going on outside, and the guards asked, ’’What's going on?’’ like the good guys they appeared to be. Ling played the role of a foreign tourist trying her best to express her thoughts, and deliberately stumbled over her words.

’’Ah, toilet... we can't go?’’

’’No, please do.’’

They were given permission to go to the bathroom, and lunch was delivered at noon, so it did not feel like anyone was wary of them. However, it was as though there was an invisible boundary at the entrance to the hallway. Once they drew close, someone would gently but firmly tell them that they could not go any further.

’’Over here, cannot? We came, all the way, Special Region, want to, go outside, walk walk.’’

’’My deepest apologies. You are simply sheltering here during a time of emergency and you have not been given permission to enter the Special Region. Therefore, you are only permitted to move within this building. We seek your understanding.’’

Even a cute smile combined with an earnest plea could not convince the sentry to let her past. Defeated, Ling returned to her room.

’’How's the outside?’’

She addressed the question to one of her colleagues who was looking outside, and the answer was not very promising.

’’Lots of activity. There's vehicles running here and there. Looks like the men are pretty busy.’’

’’The JSDF is fighting a final battle with the Empire. They're probably preparing for that.’’

’’No, this might also be because we took the Gate in Ginza by force and they're preparing to eliminate us.

In truth, this racket was due to the Idaten order that had been issued when the Ginza Garrison had been overtaken. The units holding the fort at Arnus were preparing to evacuate in accordance with the retreat preparation order.

In order to prepare for the upcoming White Rabbit order, they were burying fuel and ammunition in pits and then setting up explosive charges to blow them in place, in addition to choosing which weapons they would bring back and what stores they would leave behind.

’’Dammit... I'm going to have to leave you...’’

At the JASDF hangar, Kamikoda rubbed his face against his beloved Phantom, then poured the contents of a one liter bottle on the undercarriage wheel. It was hard to imagine that he would bid his beloved craft farewell so early and in this fashion, and Kurihama wept alongside him.

Perhaps the C1 cargo plane's aircrew felt the same way. They swept up the cabin and then said their farewells in their own ways. Then, with a thunderous crash, the hangar door closed.

The crew chief bellowed at Kamikoda and Kurihama.

’’Oi, Kurihama! We're going, tear Kamikoda off his plane!’’

’’Crew chief, please give us a bit more time. To him, it's like bidding his wife farewell.’’

’’Ahhhh, can't be helped, then. Then we're moving on first!’’

’’Got it, thank you, Chief.’’

The JASDF personnel each took their bags and headed for Arnus Garrison from the JASDF district. The dome was packed full of trucks and other vehicles in preparation for a swift movement to the other side of the Gate once the White Rabbit order was given.

However, the female operatives did not know that, and to them, it appeared like preparations for a full offensive.

’’We can't do anything with armed soldiers running around everywhere.’’

’’We've got no choice. We'll have to wait until the sky grows dark.’’

The female operatives chatted and read books and otherwise pretended to pass the time as they waited for sunset.

While the JSDF servicemen would occasionally check on them by asking, ’’Do you need anything?’’ in an approachable tone, they were all women, so they did not do anything rude like entering without knocking or peeking on them. Therefore, the time passed for them without any stress.

Eventually, the sun set, and after they had their dinner it was nightfall. However, the number of people around them had not decreased, and the surroundings had not quietened down.

In addition, there was the sound of a disturbance from the outside, mixed with several screams and cries. They could even hear the sound of gunfire and explosions. These were clearly the signs of fighting.

’’What's the matter?’’

Everyone poked their heads out the window to see what was happening outside. There was a huge blaze in the town at the foot of the hill. It would seem there was a fire.

’’What should we do?’’

Ling looked out the window, and she sensed that the JSDF personnel were focused on what was happening outside.

’’We ought to sneak out amidst the confusion. The building's position is the same as what our information said. We'll leave through the window and head for Arnus on foot.’’

A spectacled girl asked a question.

’’The problem now is how to make contact with Diabo. We don't know how he looks, and we can't search for him. Also, isn't that so-called prince in hiding?’’

’’Currently, we know that Diabo has a female interpreter who knows Japanese. Her name is apparently Panache. She's a noblewoman in this world. I'm sure she must stand out wherever she goes.’’

’’Let's ask someone about where she is.’’

Infiltration and escape was their stock in trade. They did not need to discuss anything;they soon turned the bedsheets into a rope and made their preparations.

The ladies picked six of their number to go, while the other half would cook up an alibi for why the rest were gone. That was because someone would realize something was up if they all disappeared at once. Ling stuffed a balled-up towel under her blanket to make it look like she was asleep, then silently opened the window and slowly reached her hand outside.

Given that they had received specialized training, rolling bedsheets up into a rope and rappelling down was no big deal. The half dozen women in the shadow of the JSDF barracks quietly set out toward Arnus, the heart of the disturbance,

***

The Idaten order had deeply affected the residents of Arnus too.

After all, there were less JSDF personnel around, but the few JSDF shoppers had passed the message on to the residents and then suddenly vanished as well.

’’What's wrong? Why the rush?’’

The head chef saw a familiar JSDF serviceman running past and called out to him.

’’The order's been given to prepare for a retreat at any time.’’

’’Didn't you tell them you were going to stay here?’’

’’If the Idaten order's been given, everyone has to retreat.’’

The head chef cursed, ’’goddammit!’’ and kicked a chair.

’’Why's everyone going, weren't they going to leave some people here!?’’

’’There seems to be a disturbance near the Gate, or at least that was the reason they gave.’’

That incomplete explanation filled the ALC workers with an uneasy feeling of ’’the time has finally come.’’ That unease soon spread to the whole of Arnus.

The problem was that it was not just Arnus' residents who were uneasy, but that this feeling had spread to the newly-arrived refugees as well.

As mentioned earlier, these new refugees were not from Coda Village. They were the orphans and victims of Zorzal's scorched-earth campaign. They were orphaned children, old people who had lost their families, wounded people and many others, all of whom who had received Arnus' protection.

The memories of slaughter and massacre were still vivid in their minds, and without the JSDF as protectors, they would once again be subjected to the nightmare that Zorzal had unleashed upon them.

’’What should we do?’’

’’We need to ask them to take us with them...’’

’’There's no way that would work. Surely there's no way they'd bring us along too?’’

’’How can they be so irresponsible? Don't they have a duty to take care of us to the very end?’’

’’Even our own lords didn't do anything to help;why would the army of a foreign land care for us? They're not obliged to do anything at all. We should be grateful that they even gave us a temporary place to stay.’’

’’Well, isn't that mature of you. But I don't want to starve and I don't want to die. And I've had my fill of being afraid. I'd rather live in decadence and be thought of as a pest than live in proud poverty!’’

The refugees looked at each other and discussed matters in uneasy tones.

In the end, they came to the consensus that they would tell the JSDF, ’’please don't leave us here, if you're running away then take us with you.’’

But in a corner of the meeting hall where everyone had come to discuss matters, there was a group which kept their eyes on the surroundings they talked about things which deviated somewhat from the main body's conversation.

’’Their security's weaker now.’’

’’Everyone's very uneasy. Now's a good time to cause havoc.’’

After they heard the words being exchanged behind them, the children felt a strange sense of foreboding and tilted their heads as they tried to figure out what they were talking about. However, the children could not fathom that the contents of that conversation were a threat to everyone's safety, and they left them be to continue talking.

Tuwal the Harpy was in a corner of the hall where everyone else was discussing things.

She was not affected by the air of unease around her, and she sat in place with a calm look on her face. Then again, it was not so much calmness as a lack of concern. She simply did not feel the discomfort everyone else did. Every day had felt unreal ever since she had been brought here. She wondered if her feelings had withered away.

After washing her hands of her life in Akusho, she and the girls had decided to bid their dangerous lives in the Imperial Capital farewell, promising each other to make a fresh start, living a new life in the wilderness with their husbands. Life in a frontier village was by no means easy. She was not used to the strenuous lifestyle, which had left her and her husband exhausted at the end of every day. But beyond that, it was happy and fulfilling. That was because they had hope in their hearts ー the hope that tomorrow would be a better day.

But then these days had been snatched away from her all of a sudden. When she came to, she found herself in a JSDF medical facility in Arnus. Why was she there? What had happened? Understanding the sequence of events which had come to pass was not easy, and she was at a loss as to how to react to all the things which had suddenly happened to her. Even as she thoughtback about what had happened, the memories lacked a sense of reality and freshness. She could not tell the difference between what was true and what was just a dream. It got to the point where she thought that everything after leaving the Imperial Capital had been a delusion or a dream. She even thought that she had to get back to her daily work ー standing at the corners of the Imperial Capital's Akusho and picking up customers by tugging at their sleeves.

Still, that might have been better. That way, she could have said, ’’what a silly dream’’ and paid it no further heed.

She looked up and saw the unfamiliar ceiling of the meeting hall stretching overhead. The walls were piled high with futons and pillows made of superior materials

She put on a pair of slippers made from a material that was called ’’rubber’’ or something, then walked slowly over to the basin to wash her face. As she looked at herself in the mirror, she thought of something:

How did she feel now? Was she sad?

Frankly speaking, she had thought, ’’I knew this would happen’’. She had ended up like this because a being like her had tried to escape Akusho. Akusho was where she belonged.

However, a voice called her name and pulled her back to reality.

’’Tuwal. I'll be going to negotiate with the people on top afterwards and bring them over. In the meantime, could you help me take care of these kids?’’

Looking back, she saw a woman standing there. She had a group of orphans with her. Apparently her name was Touhatta. She seemed to have the blood of many races within her, so Tuwal could not place her species.

’’Me, take care of children?’’

’’Yes. You seem quite free, could you do it?’’

Some of the refugees were full of energy and vitality, and they took care of others.

No, perhaps they did so to avoid having to face their own misery. People became stronger as long as they had someone to protect. There were those who sought others to protect in order to strengthen themselves.

’’You can? Then I'll leave them to you.’’

She had not even agreed yet, but before she knew it, Tuwal was stuck with caring for the kids.

She looked at the children with a puzzled expression on her face. The fact was that Tuwal was bad at dealing with kids. Once they cried, she had no idea what to do about them.

She tried recalling her childhood years, but she could not find any relevant experiences. That was because nobody had cared about her or helped her when she cried, so all she could do was stop crying.

Now, if they were men, stopping their tears and cheering them up would be easy.

She thought of these things as she looked at a crying boy. He had probably scraped his knee when he had fallen down. With her skills honed through years of hooking, she could play with men's hearts as she willed. For instance...

’’Eh, why am I thinking about stupid things like that?’’

She shook her head, and brought herself back to reality.

’’That's just a li~ttle to early for all of you.’’

Little bit nothing. It was much too early, far too early.

What kind of faces would people make if they heard this, Tuwal muttered quietly to herself, and then she carefully put the crying boy on her knee.

For some reason, there was something odd with the way he was crying. It felt a little off.

’’What's the matter? What happened?’’

As she looked on, several kids suddenly rolled around on the ground with pained looks on their faces as they moaned in agony.

’’What's happening, what's going on!?’’

One of the worried children peered at the children on the ground and asked, ’’Does your tummy hurt?’’

Were they sick? Were they hurt? Had they eaten something bad?

Panicked as she was, Tuwal accidentally let the child on her knee fall off, but the child who fell off her knee burst his clothes and grew huge.

’’Is-isn't this a Dar!?’’

The Dar were a kind of monster which mimicked humans or demihumans to infiltrate towns and cities, and they consumed the humans or demihumans who cared for them. However cute or innocent they might appear, it was nothing more than a monster's mimicry. The fact was that they were not children.

Screams came from all around.

’’It's a monster!’’

’’We're doomed! Nobody will save us!’’

’’Help!’’

’’Run! They'll eat us up!’’

The people blowing on the silent flutes shouted and fanned the fear in everyone's hearts. The disaster in the building stole away their daily lives.

The monsterized Dar's eyes turned bloodshot, and it bared sharp claws and fangs as it attacked everything around it. As Tuwal watched, the Dar lunged at the children in front of her with its teeth and nails.

’’Run away!’’

Tuwal shouted for the kids to run. That was all she could do.

However the Dar seized a child who could not run in time. It cracked open its skull with a crunch, then plucked off its limbs and shoved them into its maw.

’’Aiieeee... aiiieeeee...’’

Blood drenched her body, and Tuwal backed away.

The Dar turned its eyes on Tuwal. The voices of men turned were replaced by the wailing of women and children, and they spread throughout the refugee camp. Thus, the refugees became the first target of this monster terrorism.

At night, fire broke out in all the narrow, long temporary houses at once, and monsters stalked between them.

It was not just one or two of them. The Dars waited in the path of the fleeing people, and the panicked masses ran hither and yon in order to escape their sharp claws and terrifying roars.

’’Is the enemy attacking the refugee camps? They've set fire to the place too!’’

’’No, the children turned into monsters! Everyone's being attacked!’’

’’That's exactly what Zorzal's army would do, dammit!’’

The JSDF personnel grabbed their weapons and rose to their feet. However, since they had received the Idaten order, they were forbidden from leaving Arnus Garrison.

’’Why!?’’

As their men approached them, the officers ordered the servicemen to contain themselves.

’’Does that mean we're supposed to watch the refugees die before our eyes?’’

’’You can't take that risk. If you go out, you might not be able to come back!

As he keenly felt the pressure radiating from his subordinates, Major Higaki wiped his forehead clean of the sweat that had beaded on it and repeated, ’’You can't, it's an order.’’

’’The guys from the other units can't make it, but weー’’

’’What do you expect me to do with our numbers!?’’

With the exception of 3rd Recon, the 1st to 6th Recon Teams under Reconnaissance Headquarters had been assigned to various combat groups to take part in anti-Zorzal operations. Currently, Higaki only had 3rd recon under his command, and Itami was no longer the leader while Furuta, Kurokawa, Kurata, Kuribayashi and Tomita were no longer around. The only people remaining were Sergeant Major Kuwabara and six others. That was all of them.

As Kuwabara insisted on moving out, Higaki wiped his sweat away with both hands like he was trying to wipe off his sour expression.

’’No. I can't permit it.’’

’’Still, we can't just leave these civilians be, right?’’

’’Those are the rules. Once the Idaten order is given, we are to stand by in preparation to leave. Those are our orders.’’

’’There's no need to obey orders like that!’’ Leading Private Tozu shouted.

However, the training officer standing beside Higaki rebuked him.

’’You idiot! How do you think the organization's supposed to function if people disobey orders!?’’

’’That's true, but we're still human. How can we call ourselves the JSDF that the people love if we just watch as people are in difficulty? Isn't that who we are!?’’

’’What do you mean by spouting empty platitudes like that!?’’

’’That's what the el-tee said before.’’

Higaki shouted, ’’that's enough’’ before slapping the table.

’’I know very well what you're trying to say. But I can't say you can go. That's because if the White Rabbit order is given, we'll have to rush back to the Gate as soon as possible. At the very least you need to stay close by and not stray too far. Otherwise you might get stuck here and be unable to return.’’

However, Kuwabara adjusted his helmet and said:

’’Don't worry, there'll be a way. After all, Lelei-kun can open the way for us.’’

’’What does that mean?’’

This time it was Higaki's turn to ask the questions. Lelei's ability to open the Gate was treated as a national secret, so Higaki did not know about it. The fact that his lower-ranking subordinate was briefing him about it was a strange turn of events.

Perhaps Higaki had accepted Kuwabara's explanation, but he still shook his head and said, ’’No.’’

’’Even if she tries, there's no guarantee that it'll work, no? I can't risk you on the basis of a possibility.’’

Not even the men of 3rd Recon knew how many times Lelei had succeeded. That said, they had already begun gathering up the people who wanted to stay under the precondition that the Gate could be opened again, so one could say a lot of people were looking forward to it. Therefore, the men of 3rd Recon shouted:

’’We'll be fine. Just leave it to us!’’

’’Nishina, you've got a wife, don't you?’’

’’If I stand by and watch women and children die like that, how could I go back to face my wife? She's a forceful lady, she'll say she hates me and then divorce me.’’

’’I don't want to curl up and hide from this!’’

’’You guys...’’

Higaki looked around at the others, like they were shining, brilliant beings.

’’If you can't approve no matter what, can you at least pretend you didn't see it? We'll take responsibility for it. Otherwise I won't be able to proudly tell my grandkids that grandpa fought to protect everyone.’’

Those words came from Master Sergeant Kuwabara. However, Higaki simply stared at his desk and replied in a trembling voice:

’’I cannot. That is the one thing I cannot allow.’’

’’Major!’’

’’That's because if anyone is going to take responsibility for this, it's going to be me!’’

The training officer beside him had a surprised look on his face as he asked:

’’Major Higaki?’’

’’If anyone has to take responsibility for this, then it will be me. You are all my men, and everything you do must be carried out under my command.’’

’’Major?’’

Higaki stood up and looked back at the training officer who was questioning him.

’’Maybe that's the way it is now. To me, it is that way right now!’’

’’?’’

’’Once the Idaten order is given, all personnel of the Special Region Expeditionary Force are to abandon their posts and combat in order to prepare for a retreat. They will wait until the White Rabbit order is given or the Idaten order is cancelled. But I am now giving orders on my own authority. After this, 3rd Recon will be under my command!’’

’’Sir!’’

As Kuwabara replied, Nishina, Sasagawa, Tozu, Azuma and Katsumoto straightened up. Higaki surveyed his men, who stood tall and strong in a line, and nodded.

’’I like the look on your faces. Let's go save everyone!’’

Under Higaki's command, 3rd Recon practically jumped into their HMVs.

One of them ー Leading Private Tozu ー silently braced his rifle and cricked his neck.

He knew that there were children who could turn into gigantic monsters. However, he did not seem eager to take care of them, but frustrated.

’’Dammit... to think there was more than one of them! Why didn't I tell the people on top about this!?’’

In order to dispel his regrets, Kuwabara said:

’’So you're that smart, huh? You can actually predict the future. Well, that's a shocker. If you can't do it, then don't complain about not having done anything in the first place! You're not the only one who knew that those monsters could look like children! But even so, nobody expected this. It can't be helped.’’

’’But we could have given the kids an examination or checked them out somehow, boss!’’

’’How!? How would you tell them apart? Any checks we perform in the Special Region are obviously going to give abnormal results, and we don't know what those results mean. It's not like spotting those monsters is going to be as obvious as latex face masks!’’

’’But...’’

Katsumoto, who was pointing the .50 caliber machine gun forward, expressed his agreement with Kuwabara.

’’Tozu, it'd be better to focus on how to save the casualties rather than remain hung up on what's already happened.’’

’’You lot, load weapons! And fix bayonets. Katsumoto, you may fire at will.’’

Under Major Higaki's directions, the men fixed bayonets on their Type 64 rifles. Katsumoto pulled back the vehicle-mounted machine gun's bolt and chambered a round.

Kuwabara turned to Nishina.

’’Hurry!’’

Tozu nervously asked Higaki:

’’Speaking of which, what about the kids? Should we save them even if they might turn into monsters?’’

A situation where one could not tell friend from foe was nothing short of terrifying. If anyone could be an enemy, then they would have to be wary of everyone. And in this situation, where a child could be an enemy, it was best to avoid them.

’’Why are you stating the obvious!?’’

However, Higaki said that the children had to be saved too.

’’If you go over to them and they're not a monster, then you save them, kid or not.’’

’’What happens if they hulk out in front of us?’’

’’According to the rules for using weapons, you wait until it gets bigger. Once it's big enough that it doesn't qualify as a kid any more, we'll flag it as a monster. After that you can kill it without hesitation. Even if they censure us for shooting children, I'll take the blame for it. So you mustn't point your guns at the kids before I give the order.’’

’’R-roger.’’

Azuma and Tozu nodded one after the other as Higaki ordered them not to point their weapons at the children before they were confirmed as monsters. Sergeant Nishina turned back from the driver's seat and said:

’’Do you know? Attacking a transforming hero during his henshin sequence is against the rules! Keep that in mind!’’

’’Got, got it.’’

The HMV kicked up dust as it roared into the Arnus Refugee District. The headlights immediately lit up a group of monsters wandering around and looking for prey.

Nishina saw a group of people being chased by monsters, and so he drove the vehicle between them.

The Dar failed to strike in time, and there was a tremendous sound of collision as its claws sank into the bonnet.

’’Shoot it!’’

Kuwabara and Tozu opened fire and bullets rained down on the monster.

This large, carnivorous monster was comparable to an elephant or a rhinoceros, and it could take a few bullets. Blood sprayed into the air, and the beast staggered back, but did not fall.

’’Shoot it! Shoot it! Keep shooting!’’

However, this was not the first time these veterans had encountered such a foe.

Most crucially, Kuribayashi had defeated an opponent like this in melee combat. The Men In Green would not lose now that they were allowed to use their guns. They were all trained and experienced soldiers, and they could deal with any foe. That was what they believed.

The monsters began converging on them, as though drawn by the gunfire.

However, Tozu and Sasagawa continued shooting as Kuwabara reloaded, keeping a continuous stream of fire on the monster.

Even the monster could not bear their focused fire and it fell to its knees.

’’Alright, next.’’

They killed the monsters off one after the other.

Katsumoto was in charge of the heavy machine gun, and he killed a horde of the monsters as they approached from afar. They made sounds like a hammer pounding on an anvil as they fell.

’’Oi oi oi, how many of them got in here!?’’

The large-caliber rounds blasted chunks out of the monsters' arms and bodies. But there were just too many monsters.

’’Alright, let's go!’’

Mount up! This way! Hurry!’’

As Higaki made his decision, Kuwabara grabbed the hand of the refugees being chased by the monster and bundled thenm into the HMV.

Are you alright? Are you conscious? What's your name?’’

To,,, Touhatta. This is Toista.’’

Good, you're alright, then. Let's go, Nishina!’’

Roger!’’

After Major Higaki gave the order, Nishina floored the accelerator pedal.

The HMV's bumper sent the oncoming monsters flying, and then it ran over them with its tires. The monsters trying to pursue them immediately backed off.

’’Whew... we're saved.’’

Sasagawa said so with a sigh of relief, but Major Higaki warned him not to get careless.

’’There's still monsters around. We need to go back after putting these people down!’’

’’It'll be fine. It's easy enough to deal with those brainless monsters once we show up.’’

The training officer's face was blank as he chastised Sasagawa.

’’That attitude of yours is dangerous. Don't get care... guwaargh.’’

’’Major! Training!’’ Tozu cried

Major Higaki and the training officer had been stabbed in the chest by the refugees they had just saved.

After stabbing Higaki, the man blew on a flute that made no noise.

’’The hell are you doing!’’

As he shouted, Tozu used his rifle butt to beat down the woman who had stabbed the training officer with a knife, and then he turned around to smash the man who had stabbed Higaki.

’’Die! Die, damn you, die!’’

He hit them over and over again. It took a long time before Kuwabara managed to restrain Tozu from rampaging inside the vehicle.

’’Tozu! Calm down. They're already dead!’’

’’How should I know, boss? They might be monsters too!’’

The woman Tozu had beaten down moaned on the ground, and then she took out a pouch from a hidden pocket and splashed the liquid inside the vehicle, drenching Katsumoto and Tozu.

’’This stinks! What the hell is this!?’’

’’These are the body fluids of insect beasts. Now the Dars will go into a frenzy and chase you. You're all dead !’’

After saying so, Touhatta laughed shrilly as she rolled over the bed of the HMV and then jumped off the vehicle.

The woman hit the ground hard, and Azuma fired a hail of bullets at her.

’’Wait, don't shoot! Stop shooting!’’

’’Boss, what happened!?’’

Nishina was currently driving, so he was focused on the road ahead and could not look back.

’’The two of them have been stabbed! Nishina, get us to the hospital!’’

’’Roger!’’

Nishina turned the steering wheel towards Arnus' medical facility, but the way ahead was blocked by monsters. Their timing was perfect, as though they had been called there.

The monsters knocked down the temporary housing with their mighty arms and blocked their path.

Katsumoto showered them in bullets, but the HMV drove over a stack of logs and square timbers that had been tossed in its way..

The vehicle bounced up and down. It went out of control and began to list rapidly. Ahead of them, Tuwal tottered slowly over on shuffling feet.

’’Look out!’’

Nishina turned the wheel hard as he shouted.

’’Oh shi-!’’

The out-of-control HMV overturned and hit a corner of a longhouse used for temporary shelter before stopping.

’’What the hell!’’

’’Is everyone alright?’’

Because the vehicle had flipped, Nishina had to climb out of the driver's seat, and after ensuring no civilians had been caught up in it, he said ’’this is a temporary housing building.’’ Then his men shouted from inside the vehicle:

’’Sergeant Nishina! I can't move!

’’Katsumoto's been thrown out of the vehicle!’’ Azuma replied in a panic.

Nishina jumped down from the HMV and started helping up his immobile men.

However, he heard the sound of gunfire behind him and hurriedly looked back. He saw Katsumoto, who had been flung out of the HMV, firing on the horde of advancing monsters. He was probably unable to flee because he was protecting Tuwal, who had collapsed.

’’Dammit, why are the monsters gathering here!?’’

’’Sergeant Nishina, they must be drawn by the smell of the liquid that woman splashed on us!’’

’’Katsumoto! I'm coming, hang on!’’

Nishina frantically reached for the rifle he had dropped in his vehicle.

However, Katsumoto's rifle chose this moment to run dry,

As he stared down the monsters closing in on him, Katsumoto shouted, ’’Choke on this!’’ and there was a ping as he popped the safety pins on the grenades he was holding in both hands.

’’I’’ll leave the rest to you, Nishina!’’

As he shouted that, Katsumoto rolled the grenades under the feet of the monsters, and then shielded Tuwal with his body.

***

’’Braven Squad and Quatinco Squad, go firm up the defense in the streets!’’

Sensing that the situation was critical, Yao put on her bondage armor, replaced her command baton with her sword, and then commanded the mercenaries hired for the merchants' protection to assume defensive positions

The tribe where Yao was born had been attacked by the Flame Dragon, so she clearly understood the importance of grasping the situation and responding swiftly in times of emergency. Therefore, she was the first to act. Things being what they were now, there was no need for any special tactics. Things could be saved by giving clear and precise instructions.

Having lost their jobs which paid a stable income, the mercenaries threw on their gear and immediately formed a shield wall to strengthen their defense.

’’Yao! Isn't it bad to act on our own?’’

Arnus' defense was handled by the JSDF.

The man who said this, the man who was worried about future problems which might be caused by the mercenaries here organizing into units, was a man called Hunt, who surpassed the other mercenaries in age, military experience and popularity.

’’We can't depend on the Nihon soldiers now. They have orders of their own, and everything they're doing revolves around those orders.’’

’’Really?’’

Yao thought back about how she had once begged and pleaded with them, but they had not done anything.

One on one, the Japanese were not bad people. But once they grouped up, they immediately became stonewalls. That could not be helped.

’’Arnus is our town, so we'll defend it with our lives. Isn't how it should be?’’

’’Understood, but how about her Holiness!?’’

Hunt was talking about the most powerful commander of the ALC's officers. With Rory around, everyone could fight with their hearts at ease.

’’Her Holiness is currently searching for Lelei.’’

’’Searching for Lelei? Did she go missing?’’

’’Nobody saw her after the afternoon. At first, we were wondering if she was hiding somewhere, but she still didn't turn up after we finished eating. Lelei-denka was targeted by assassins in the past, so her Holiness was very worried and went to search for her on her own.

’’So you're in charge of this place now?’’

’’I can hand over command anytime you want. This burden is too heavy for a slave like me.’’

’’No, if I take command, people will doubt me. Since this job needs you to manage all sorts of people, you're better suited for it. After all, you're the closest thing to one of the ALC's officers there is, and although you're a slave, your master is Itami-dono. Nobody will complain about that. So, what should we do?’’

’’Start by tightening up the defense, then gather and protect the noncombatants. Hunt, I'll leave that part to you. Carry on.’’

’’Can do.’’

Hunt pounded his fist on his chest, giving Yao an Imperial salute to show he understood.

’’Also, I hope you'll tell the people on the streets to go to the cantina. I think gathering everyone in one place will make it easier to protect them. What do you think?’’

’’By people on the streets does that include noble ladies?’’

There were noble heiresses and their maids who had come to Arnus for language studies.

While most of them had moved on to join Pina in Italica, Panache had said she would be staying in order to keep an eye on Japan's movements. Hunt was implying that ordering Panache to gather up with the other refugees was too much for himself as a mercenary.

However, Yao did not hesitate.

’’I told you to gather everyone. If they don't go, then say it's an order from my Master Itami. She ought to move once she hears that name.’’

’’Did Itami-dono really say that?’’

’’Of course not. But I suppose Itami will forgive me for using his name to get things going at a time like this. If you show him results, he won't complain.’’

’’Roger!’’

And so, the children of Coda Village ー led by Kato-sensei ー the old men and the ALC's workers all gathered to the cantina. Of course, Meia, the head chef and Giselle were there too.

’’I apologize if it's a little dirty, but please come this way.’’

In the end, the mercenaries brought Panache and her maid to the cantina, while Diabo and Metmes also showed up there.

’’Yao! Why'd you gather everyone here? This many people won't fit into the store at once!’’

They had moved the tables to the corners and left only the chairs, but the store was still packed full of people. The head chef and the waitresses were also complaining ’’how about thinking a little’’ to Yao.

’’People without chairs can either sit or stand. The elderly, the children and people who have trouble standing can go to the VIP area and take the chairs from there. If there's still not enough space, then stand nearby or along the road. Get everyone in town into the vicinity.

’’What on earth's going on!?’’

Perhaps the news had not fully spread yet, so Yao explained the situation to everyone.

’’Simply put, there seem to be monsters called Dars rampaging through the town. The new refugees have been attacked.’’

’’So it was the Dar! What are monsters like that doing here!?’’

’’Judging by the circumstances, it would seem they turned into children and blended with the refugees. We're gathering up everyone to protect you from the Dars. But even if we gathered all the ALC's mercenaries, there wouldn't be enough of them to protect the entire town, so I wanted to consolidate our fighting strength ahead of time.’’

’’Dammit, that bastard Zorzal!’’ Diabo cursed.

However, the head chef looked admiringly at him.

’’Servant-san, it turned out just as you said.’’

’’I know. But don't say that here, head chef. People will just get confused by this joke.’’

’’Mm, got it. Sorry.’’

The head chef's apology was sincere. However, nobody could simply ignore that very meaningful exchange. Everyone's eyes went to the head chef and Diabo, and their silence demanded an answer from the two of them.

’’Who are you? I haven't seen you around before.’’

’’Er, um. I'm a follower of Diabo-denka. Ever since the Empire was taken over by Zorzal, his Highness came here to stay with Panache-dono. I apologize for stowing away here, but there were extenuating circumstances, so I seek your understanding.’’

’’Eh... that means you're a prince of the Empire?’’

Metmes elegantly nodded.

’’Regretfully, I have been driven to hide in a place like this. ’’

In this way, everyone learned about Metmes-as-Diabo. However, that then made them wonder about the conversation that such a person had with the head chef.

The head chef could not bear the silent pressure from everyone, and blurted out:

’’He came to warn you that Zorzal might do something like this to this town.’’

At a loss for what to do next, Diabo went along with it.

’’Yes. His Highness knows the character of his wicked brother very well, so it was not a stretch for him to predict that he would do such a thing. However, he did not expect him to actually result to such immoral methods.’’

***

The two grenades exploded, and the monsters collapsed, seemingly caught within their blast. But that also implied that their thrower, Katsumoto would be engulfed as well. Even so, a quick death was better than being torn apart and eaten alive by a monster ー or so he thought as he steeled himself for death.

Of course, he could not involve Tuwal in his suicidal scheme. Therefore, Katsumoto threw himself on top of her, like a shield.

But in the end, he did not defeat the monsters.

’’Ahh, I hate this! I hate suicide attacks like these!!’’

That was because a black whirlwind had decapitated the Dars before the grenade went off. Bereft of their heads, their massive bodies fell on top of the grenades, which absorbed most of the blast and shrapnel. And then, the massive halberd stuck into the ground further protected Katsumoto and Tuwal.

Rory pouted and hefted her halberd, bringing the root of a tree up with it. She pointed at a stunned Katsumoto and glared at him.

’’Fight so you can live until the very end! As one of Youjy's men, you'd better learn from your boss! Youjy would have struggled right to the last moment!’’

For some reason, her words sounded very passionate. One could sense that she hated seeing people she knew throwing their lives early without much consideration.

Although there were warriors, heroes, bold generals and great commanders in this world... no, it was precisely because there were such people in this world that there ought to have been many men that Rory might have liked. Katsumoto had been bothered by that fact all this while. But after seeing Rory's anger, he sensed that she did not seek a man who lived among battles.

A man who lived in battle would die in it. She had probably seen too many people choose to die like Katsumoto had. However, Itami was different. That was because he did not live in battles, so he would not want to die at the end of the fighting. He would probably struggle until he drew his last breath. Even if the reason for that was his hobbies... so that was why she was attracted to him. That must have been it.

Katsumoto grinned wryly and searched for an excuse.

’’Ah, er, I just thought that this was the only way...’’

’’You shut up! Of course, I respect your courage. But throwing your life away so casually will scar the person you saved!’’

Saying so, Rory pointed at Tuwal, who Katsumoto was protecting with his body.

While self-sacrifice was a wonderful thing, dying with the enemy was still a defeat that came from being drunk on one's ego. Running towards death was nothing more than suicide ー so pronounced Rory.

’’Got it? However pathetic or embarrassing you might look, do not give up until the very end, but think of a way to live on. If there's a bomb on your right, then use your right hand to shove it into a Dar's mouth! That way, even if your right hand is chewed off, you'll still live, right? I hate high and mighty men like that! Got it!?’’

Rory said that she wanted warriors to be resilient. That was because the desire to not give up on life until the end was what gave birth to miracles.

’’If you die in battle, it'll count as suicide, and I won't collect your soul. All you can do is go to Hardy's side. So please.’’

After Rory delivered her angry, dark-faced plea, all Katsumoto could do was nod, ’’O-okay’’ in shame.

***

’’Sinn oenn huumrrra!?’’

They were supposed to be hidden in the shadows of Arnus Town, but someone had suddenly addressed them from behind. Ling Fanghua jumped in surprise, and straightened up.

This was a tremendous shame for trained operatives like themselves.

She viewed the people of the Special Region as an undiscovered tribe ー in other words, an inferior race ー and had looked down on them. It would have been one thing to be spotted by the JSDF, but Ling Fanghua had not expected to be caught by one of the locals.

She was bathed in a keen gaze that carried hints of a bestial presence within it, and she broke out in goosebumps. The armor they wore looked like it had been well-used in battle, which only added to the fear she felt.

At a closer look, more than half of the mercenaries were dog-like demihumans.

’’No, they're not dogs, more like wolves.’’

While she knew that there were demihumans living in the Special Region from her dossiers, when she actually saw one, they were far removed from the impression she had formed of them in her mind. Perhaps she had thought, ’’they ought to be like costumed mascots in amusement parks.’’

But after seeing one in the flesh, her body was numbed by a ferocious presence, as though there was a loaded and cocked handgun pointed at her. It was how prey felt when they were spotted by a hungry wolf.

They were very sensitive to scents, and they rooted out Ling's comrades, who had scattered to hide, without fail.

’’Koii moram mutta! Mai fayuure humettaa?’’

The wolf-man asked Ling that question over and over again.

He was probably asking who they were or something like that.

Of course, Ling did not understand the Special Region's language. However, given their actions, the mood in the air, and the situation they were in, she theorized that they were trying to verify their identities.

’’...We're, er, ah...’’

Ling pretended to be uneasy as she and her friends looked at each other, and at the same time they answered in Japanese.

The mercenaries relaxed as they heard her, and sighed briefly. Their attitudes seemed to say, ’’Alright, I got it.’’

This made Ling unhappy. She had pretended to be weak in order to get the Wolfman to lower his guard, but it felt like she had been snubbed as utterly worthless.

LIng could not bear that sort of treatment. The Wolfman sheathed his sword and waved that she should follow him, and Ling just stared.

It would seem Ling Fanghua and the others had been taken to one of the restaurants in town.

Perhaps they had gathered all the residents in this town, but it was packed full of people from all kinds of races. There were so many people that the establishment could not hold them all, and they spilled out onto the surrounding streets and the plaza. There were armored warriors carrying shields, spears, swords and the like standing watch over everyone.

’’Why are there local soldiers here?’’

Ling tilted her head.

She could understand if the JSDF personnel had gathered the citizens here to protect them during the disturbance, but they were not JSDF men, so it looked like the town had been conquered by soldiers from outside.

’’Ling, what should we do?’’

’’Let's observe the situation for a while. We can't respond if we don't know what to respond to. Also, since all the residents have been gathered into one place, it should be easy to find Diabo.’’

And so, Ling and the others sat in a corner of the cantina like the mercenaries had said.

Elsewhere, the mercenaries that had escorted Ling over called out to Yao to report to her.

’’Yao, listen to me.’’

’’What is it, Wolf? Look, I have a Master I respect very much, and while I'm very happy that you're asking me out, I'll have to refuse.’’

’’That's not it! Don't keep thinking of stuff like that when you look at me! Otherwise even he'll start to think that I'm out to get girls, no?’’

’’I think we're well beyond the 'start to' part.’’

’’It's not like that this time. Anyway, I sniffed out some women who looked like they came from Japan, and so I brought them here.’’

’’Why would Japanese people be hiding in town?’’

’’I don't know, maybe they're afraid of the Dars? In any case, I put them in a corner of the shop. They don't seem to understand the language. But given their movements and their bodies, they don't seem like the reporters from before.’’

Yao turned in the direction where Wolf was pointing and looked at Ling and the others.

Almost all the JSDF personnel had cooped themselves up on the hill in preparation to retreat or something, so why had they come down here? Frankly speaking, she found it hard to believe that they had encountered the Dars and hidden from them.

’’Wolf. Did you see the Dars?’’

’’Nope. Didn't smell them either.’’

’’Then why were they hiding?’’

’’Beats me. Don't the people on the hill think in grand ways we can't understand?’’

Wolf erected a finger and pointed it at Arnus Hill.

’’Though speaking of which, one of the women is staring really hard at you. Don't tell me you did something to her? I trust you haven't done anything fishy, right? If you did, then we'd have to hand you over to the MPs...’’

’’I didn't do anything like that! If she's pointing a burning gaze at me, then surely she's fallen in love at first sight because of my natural charm, right?’’

’’What nonsense are you talking,’’ Yao laughed. But Wolf looked at Ling's body and licked his lips.

’’Damn, but that woman looks delicious. If only I could communicate with her, maybe we could end up together...’’

’’Even if you could communicate with her, no woman would go out with you.’’

’’My my, jealous, are we?’’

’’Say what you want. I'll handle the rest, you guys just remain on watch.’’

Yao shooed Wolf off with a ’’hurry and go.’’

Just as Wolf was about to go back, he stopped and asked Meia, ’’Say, can you translate something for me?’’

’’What is it ~nya?’’

’’Please ask her if she wants to have fun with me.’’

Meia was speechless for a moment before mumbling, ’’are you retarded ~nya?’’

However, Meia felt that the best way of acquainting him with reality was to relay his message to her, and so Meia translated for him while adding, ’’This Wolfman wants you to do lewd things with him ~nya. You should kick him or punch him ~nya. Looking like you're hurt works too ~nya.’’

Ling blinked as Meia suddenly addressed her, but then she immediately smiled and replied, ’’Sure, when I'm free next time.’’ Her smile seemed very cheerful.

’’Nya!?...That Wolfman isn't kidding ~nya. If you tell him that, he'll probably rape you and get you pregnant ~nya.’’

’’Wow, really?’’

’’He pretends to be a gentleman and stuff but he'll go for it if you let him ~nya. It'll be over for you ~nya.’’

’’It feels like you said too much.’’

Even Wolf, who did not understand Japanese, could tell that Meia was not singing his praises. Yet Ling looked at Meia with sparkly eyes and replied:

’’Frankly speaking, I like wolfish men. Maybe I'm reacting to him from a previous life or something.’’

Meia broke into a sweat and grinned to herself, ’’W-well, imagine that,’’ and then she relayed Ling's words to Wolf.

’’Really!? She said that? Wonderful!’’

Wolf raised his arms in joy and wagged his tail, and he looked like he was about to go up and push her down on the spot, in full view of everyone. However, Ling said, ’’I told you, we'll talk about it later, now's not the time for this, no? While I don't know what's causing this disturbance, you ought to have work to do. Go finish it,’’ and then she pushed him back.

’’That, that's right. We have to protect everyone from those Dar bastards. Then, I'll see you later. I'm Wolf. What's your name?’’

’’I'm Fanghua. But my friends call me Huahua.’’

’’Huahua, is that it!? Alright, then it's a date!’’

Wolf went, ’’Let's move out, you lot!’’ and dragged his friends off with him.

Everyone stared dumbly at Ling.

This is the first time Wolf's flirting actually worked, everyone whispered. Even Meia, who had helped translate, could not help but stare incredulously at Ling.

’’Speaking of which, what are the Dars?’’

’’Dars are monsters who change into children to infiltrate villages, and then they become big and nasty and attack people ~nya. They'll eat you if you meet them ~nya. It'd be better for a Japanese person like you to flee above ~nya.’’

’’I can't. Actually, I have business with someone called Diabo, so I'm looking for him. Do you know where he is?’’

’’You're looking for Diabo-denka ~nya? Ask that person ~nya.’’

Metmes was sitting on a chair from the VIP area, and Meia pointed him out as Diabo.

Beside him was Diabo himself, posing as Metmes, discussing something that seemed very meaningful with the townsfolk.

’’The person beside him is his servant Metmes ~nya. And that woman is Panache-sama ~nya.’’

’’A follower? What's that man saying?’’

’’He says he wants to draw on everyone's wisdom to negotiate with the Japanese so they don't close the Gate ~nya. He said, at this stage, maybe we all have to come together to ask them not to close the Gate ~nya.’’

’’I see...’’

Ling nodded, and then asked Meia, ’’If you don't mind, could you help me translate?’’ and then she approached Metmes. Her companions followed as well.

Meia thought they were all Japanese, and so she was not wary of them.

Yao and the mercenaries were focused on the outside.

All the people in the cantina were thinking about how to negotiate with the Japanese.

Thus, a great trap was set. And so, for a short while, nobody noticed Meia and Metmes had gone missing.



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