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Part 12: Watch Your Step!
Sure enough, when we returned, there was a near-electric energy buzzing about over at Unit 4's workstation.
The Industrial Area's been finished.
I was informed, thanks. It's on the south tower's thirteenth level?
...There's nothing stopping you.
Before you get too excited, Satsuki, we should offload some goods.
Ah, yes, the time-honored tradition of the loot dump.
Don't jump the gun.
Yeah, I'm the one who makes the guns!
This is a transaction, remember?
Yeah, don't you worry, ol' buddy, we've got a pile.
How's she even lifting that?!
It's not that heavy.
Those would break my pure, maidenly arms if I were to try to lift those!
By the end of this brief shopping trip, we're able to upgrade everyone but Richter's armor for lack of money. There's nothing particularly exciting here, but stat numbers are good civilization in this game, so no complaints from me.
...Outfitting five party members is expensive. Keima and Waji also have improved inventories that you'd expect—Waji's got Flashbangs for free escapes and Heal Aero 2s now, and Keima's got upgraded weapons, but I am a poor soul with l i t t l e m o n e y.
Before we headed off, we opted to take a look at the industrial area itself.
A bit of a mess, but I suppose it suffices for their purposes.
My organizational skills are second to few. City Hall's foremost handywoman strikes again!
Dev Team Leader: The work area itself is splendid, but we don't have very many staff to go around—though we do appreciate that new hire you picked up.
Oh, is she already at work?
Shirai: Oh, hey there! Smells a lot better up here, huh?
Would that your sense of smell carried over to a certain man on a few floors down.
Shirai: So you guys are the ones out there taking care of the dragons, right? Well, you had me at hello, pals. From now on, we're comrades!
It's good to have you! Hopefully you won't be alone for too long.
Shirai: I mean, not that I mind having so much space to myself.
Dedicating a whole area to one person would be a touch wasteful, though.
Who would be enough of a VIP to get that kind of treatment if the Prime Minister himself doesn't?
Alright, gotta go back out. Thanks for the heads up.
Y'know, I remember when you were the one wailing in panic any time a plan harder than "run away" got put on the table. You've come a long way, Chisa.
You think so?
Yeah, I just wish I could go out there with you.
How did you contribute in that fantasy world?
I used a bunch of merch for my favorite husbandos and used them as channeling foci for local invocation artes.
And what's stopping you from doing that now?
Well, 'cause this isn't there. Plus the kind of things I invoked back there were local.
Mm. But Chisa's current skillset is, in some ways, a logical extension of the techniques she performed eight years ago.
I just assumed things worked differently if you're isekai'd. That's usually how it works in anime and manga, right?
Are they a logical extension?
Well, at any rate, I'd enjoy picking your brain about this sometime, Mio.
You're gonna scrape her brain?!
Channeling foci to bogart her way into local invocation artes, hm?
Channeling what now?
Don't listen in on my muttering to myself.
Try turning your mic off next time, then.
...For a normal human to manage a way to jury-rig onto a local magic system in a completely different world through what she had on her... it's fascinating, isn't it?
I know I should be focusing on the exploration, but we're retreading old ground. I have time to think.
Were you listening earlier?
I try and keep abreast of all of Unit 13's minor conversations when possible.
What's your opinion of the matter, then?
Oh, you're... asking me?
You're about the only person here with the technical expertise to be a solid conversationalist on the matter besides myself.
Well, if the Captain's consciousness is capable of retaining the memories she possessed in the world of Iorys, that implies that there's a level of similarity between the way that world's informational energy is transmitted and the way our world's informational energy is transmitted. Of course, this is also implied by whatever circumstance led Mio to wind up there in the first place.
Of course, there are obvious differences—for instance, we don't have rabbit ears and we're not capable of outright magic... yet, I should say. But with these similarities in mind, it's possible Mio possesses some sort of talent she isn't aware of—after all, if our world can produce individuals like yourself, the Captain, or Miss Fudoji, then it's not remotely out of the realm of possibility that other members of the human race might have capabilities beyond our current understanding.
So, with that in mind, when we have a moment it might be enlightening to sit down with Mio and ask Mr. Ayafumi and Dr. Akaneno whether we could conduct a few evaluations. Not that I would want to force her into battle, of course, but as a case study for a possible unknown trend, it would be fascinating!
I'm sorry, what?
Koron, are you ready?
Who do you think I am?
would you look at that corpse. twitching, goopy, burning. that's what makes us a great team, koron.
Your willingness to follow orders in a combat situation helps.
Looks like another Granderodon straight off.
I am Looking
I, meanwhile, am conducting electricity.
For a point of reference, Chisa's Blizzard Assault on the same turn did 72 damage. Granderodons are tanky, yes, but also Shock just does a lot of damage relative to other spells right now.
Sand in your eyes isn't a fun sensation at the best of times, but having it barfed at high speed directly into your eyes is far less fun. Though I couldn't see for a moment after it, I could tell that Koron basically took it on the chin aside from being buffeted by the wind a bit.
...Ugh, I'll need to clean these off in a bit.
Oh, get up.
Koron's healing repertoire contains Resurrection, which... does what it says on the tin. It revives at a flat amount of HP that increases by level, as opposed to Richter's Nanomachines. It's also usable on the field, which is awful nice.
I'm feelin a little bloodthirsty, dawg.
Satsuki's Vampire skill drains a portion of the damage it deals as HP. It's nice for keeping her topped up if she has nothing else to do or direly needs healing.
...So he was just right there off the other side of the path the whole time?
Um... Please don't feel too bad. Sometimes these mistakes happen.
Of course these areas are laid out in a fairly linear manner that means that one would probably find everything they needed to in one trip if they were careful. Second-guessing oneself just means you'll have to go back later and feel like an idiot, even inside a dragon's den burrowed into the walls of a subway system.
What's next? Are we going to accidentally draw a map line over a passage so we think it's an oddly-placed wall until we've explored the entire floor, and then come back and realize we were idiots the whole time?
There, there. It's okay.
He was right there the entire damn time! One dragon! WHAT IF HE HAD DIED
sshhh shhh shhhh shhhh
we're cool now, captain baby
*sigh* Hello, Private. We're here to rescue you.
We aren't a hallucination, sir.
Private Makita: Well, with so many lovely ladies over me, when I'd been deserted, you know... I thought—
hey koron did you hear that. i'm a lovely lady.
I've told you that before. Do you need to remark on it?
Let her have her fun.
Private Makita: Bantering like that... you must be Murakumo, come to save me, right? Thanks.
Wow, you really booked it in here this time.
...I could see Gatou, this time, having wound up inadverdently riding the back of one of the turtles.
He's pretty much alright, so let's just get out of here quick. We'll get him back, then report back to Ms. Natsume on what happened.
Aw, chin up, Senpai. Everyone makes mistakes, right? If there had been a bunch more stuff over here, then you would've looked really smart!
Y-yeah! That's why you're the Captain, Chisa!
It didn't take too long for us to head back to the entrance of the offshoot caves.
...Promise not to look at me like I'm crazy?
There's this... vibration, almost in my bones. I've felt it a few times before. It's like part of me is quivering in anticipation of something I'm sensing.
Mm. I've met a few people like that. They say that when they size up a really tough opponent, they get this feeling in their body like they can't wait to throw down.
Is that it? Are you excited?
I want to see it. That 'thing' that Major Dojima mentioned... I want to see it. I want to have its picture in my mind, to be able to place a face to an opponent I feel like I'm going to have to fight and kill. I can feel it down here—when I shake like this, it's because I know there's something mighty near me, something I can study and figure out and eventually corner and cut down.
My heart starts racing. I start breathing faster. So... I guess I am excited, in some weird way. I don't like it, though. It feels weird, and foreign.
I guess that's the way of things when you're a soldier. I wonder if that's that same masochism as Gatou feels.
I'm... not sure.
When you start taking lives in a way that your morals tell you isn't normal, it starts to warp your perception. You start to realize just how fragile everything around you really is. Killing stops being a taboo and starts being a natural extension of your work. Some people sell food, clean pipes, sew clothes—killers end lives.
With that sword in your hand, you have the kind of power that could kill many of the people you'd see on the street. You move with that weapon like it's an extension of your body. So, it would make sense to me—your muscles, your instincts in combat, are crying out for something they can let loose on, something that your morals don't have to worry about fighting. A dragon isn't a person—to a fighter like you, a dragon might be equivalent to how people climb Mt. Everest just because it's there.
So how am I supposed to feel about this, exactly?
I would recommend taking it as it is—an aspect of your instincts that tells you when something strong is nearby. In this business, it's bound to come in handy.
Still. It's not something that used to happen to me.
Well, you're a lot better at fighting than you used to be.
I already miss high school.
That's a lie. I don't miss anything about high school.
As long as you're not as jaded as this old bat, you're good!
'Old bat', huh? You're forty-four and you've aged that gracefully and you're calling yourself that?
A bit of fun self-deprecation helps keep the mood light.
Major Dojima's encampment wasn't far down the tunnel, and we counted four heads.
Private Kamachi was relocated to City Hall—his mental state wasn't the strongest.
So it's true... everyone's safe. Good.
Despite her words, there was a tension that just finishing the mission didn't quite cut.
Private Makita: You should've been more careful. Remember, we're trusting you with our lives out there.
Sergeant Ikoma: ...Makita. She's done nothing but worry about you—Rin was the one who decided to get Murakumo's help.
Private Sasuga: Whoa, really?! But I thought the major hated Murakumo?
(Popular these days, aren't we?)
(That's the way of things between branches of government.)
Private Makita: ...Understood. Sorry, I should've kept my mouth shut. You're right on target—I take it back.
Sergeant Ikoma: Well, are we heading back or not? Let's not overstay our welcome.
...No, it's probably nothing. Let's return home now—it's about lunchtime, and even I'm getting a little tired.
I'm surprised it isn't later.
You're very efficient, all things considered.
(A lot more efficient than some people I could mention.)
(Be nice, it was her first assignment!)
yay! you did it!
The odds we get to the entrance without something happening are like, zero.
That's right, folks. Something is absolutely going to happen before we get to the exit. Totally. There's gonna be a boss or something.
Ah, you're playing reverse psychology with causality?
Dude. Don't say it out loud.
Oh goodness uh
Oh, gosh. You are so right. There is absolutely going to be a large monster in our way.
I am quivering in my boots.
Spitting in the eye of fate!? About this thing that is absolutely in our way?!
What the hell are you two doing?
The quivering in my bones hadn't receded since reporting in. We weren't far from the exit of the tunnel now, and the light of the sun was starting to become visible again.
Just laughing at causality by spitting in its eye, as humankind usually does.
Ah. Well, the ladder's right over there.
Ugh, great. Nice going, you totally jinxed it.
One more earthquake began to rock the subway tunnel, stronger than any that had come before.
See?! You see what happens when you jinx it?!
I had nothing to do with this!
From behind us in the tunnel, the Imperial Dragon that made these tunnels its home finally showed its face. Long and snakelike, it was far, far larger than any dragon we'd ever been beforehand, barrelling toward us as though it itself were a subway train. From this point, we couldn't see anywhere close to its full length—only a fraction of its enormity.
I had wondered when it would show up, the dragon which makes these tunnels its nest. It's not quite what I'd expected.
While I appreciate your dedication to theatrics, I would point out that it's coming directly toward us?!
PLEASE DON'T LEAVE ME BEHIND I AM NOT AS FAST AS YOU ALL SATSUKI HELP ME
BRO I ASSURE YOU I WILL NOT GET RUN OVER UNLESS WE BOTH GET RUN OVER
THANK YOU, THAT'S VERY REASSURING
And you're letting me run unassisted? Do you see how short my legs are?!
If you stopped talking, you could run faster!
I really hope it's not strong enough to—
It was strong enough to break through the debris that we had to run around.
I hope you've all learned an important lesson about jinxing today.
Yes ma'am I'm sorry ma'am
Come on, we're almost there! Chisa, you take the ladder first.
I'm not sure if we're going to have time to worry about that—Satsuki, can you jump it?
Not with Richter on my back!
You picked him up?!
You picked me up?!
How did you not notice?!
Then, all of a sudden, right before it reached the ladder—
—it stopped dead in its tracks, glaring at the exit itself with some form of disdain.
It... stopped? It must hate the light—oh, but get out of there quickly!
What's wrong? Is the colossal, wicked wyrm afraid of a little light—
Shut up and climb!
So that's it... the Scaber, huh? That size might prevent a problem...
Huh? Oh, uh—We'll be heading back to base now.
Frankly, I have no idea how she managed it, but despite Aoi and Gatou leaving before us, Aoi still found time to have to hurry over when we met the SDF in front of City Hall. The quaking inside my bones had left me once I'd exited the sewers, and now I just found myself boneless and covered in a high-strung adrenaline.
—and it was how big, you said?
At least the length of three train cars, from what I saw. And wider around, too, and that's about all we saw.
Well, now I'm glad we left before the rookie got turned into paste.
Hey, if there's one thing I'm good at, it's running fast!
That's how you do it!
Good to see you're back on your land legs, Private Kamachi.
Private Kamachi: Oh, uh... yeah. Ahah. After I heard that thing coming... well, we were all pretty worried.
Sergeant Ikoma: It was a pretty close call, wasn't it? You all are probably the only reason any of us are still alive—thanks a lot. Rin—
Private Makita: Hey! How can you even say that?
Sergeant Ikoma: Yeah, you need to cut it out.
Major Dojima started walking toward the doors to the building rather than responding.
Sergeant Ikoma: Hey, Rin!
I! I just—!
So like, I didn't wanna be rude or anything, but what crawled up her ass and died?
Sergeant Ikoma: That's our commander for you... It's nothing personal, I'm sure. She just wants to be respected. Our previous commander fell in battle, and she was next in the chain of command... but she doesn't have the confidence to do the job right just yet. Well, for her—Captain Inomiko and Unit 13, thank you. We gave you a lot of hassle this time, but hopefully we can help you out more in the future.
No problem at all. At ease, men, and take a load off. You've had a hard time.
The unit disbanded, and we Murakumo were left at the front.
Yeah, they've had a rough go of it, but they still stick together. Days like these bring out the best in people.
There was a little sniffling sound, and it took me a second to realize it was Aoi.
It's just, I can't help it! I didn't think you could say anything so nice!
What, are you fishing for a compliment?
I'm glad you two have a working rapport going now.
Don't patronize me.
Um, not to interrupt, but I have a transmission from Ms. Hikasa.
Thanks to your quick thinking, it does appear that SKY is currently a nonfactor in our operations, but I would warn you that that might not last. Time will tell.
As far as the rescue of the SDF goes, my sincerest apologies for being sent on such a hazardous mission with no warning. Your efforts were a tremendous help, and you have no current assignments, so please take some time to rest.
Oh, and Jeanne asked me to comment on this matter. Kirino's dog-like attachment to your capabilities are such that you're exceedingly unlikely to be fired any time in the near future, Mr. Esslinger.
How could she tell?!
It's written plain as day over your face, is how she tells it.
...So that one merits a 'hazardous', huh?
Oh—and Miroku! And you, too, M—Jeanne! Wanted to say without your navigation, we might all be dead now. I remember when you two were just brats, but I guess you really have grown up some.
...Y-y-you too! Er, um... I mean, sorry...
'Thank you', Jeanne.
Thank you! Hey—don't roll your eyes, you're blushing too!
Gatou walked off, and Aoi made to follow.
Thanks again for everything, Senpai. You were really awesome out there again!
Oh, but I've gotta go write the report for Mr. Gatou. See you!
See you, Aoi!
Whatever adrenaline was still in my body, it had solidly left me by the time we'd slunk up to our dorm.
Aoi had thankfully handed me a few candy bars, seeing my exhaustion, but chocolate was little comfort given how much I'd done today.
Ohhh god. Is the bed made?
'You bet, sweetie! I made it all special for yousie-woosie!'
That's appreciated, but please never say 'yousie-woosie' again—
Who gave you permission to come into our dorm?
Free country, ain't it?
Plus my darling daughter's a bit busy, what with dealing with the SDF, running around doing construction work, and all that.
I figured that the sight of a lovely lady making a home would be just what our captain needed when she came back!
That's the way of the world, y'know?!
...You're my mother-in-law.
'Japan's most beautiful genius', I presume?
Clever girl. I really dig that cape, by the way, who made it?
I can give you the retailer information later, assuming they aren't all dead.
Great, great. Anyway, you know Nacchan's got some really crazy vintage stuff? Booze aged like fine wine, 'cause it is fine wine and all. Her family's got the real connections, those wacky Hikasas.
Thank you, but I don't drink.
Oh I know, but I figured you might like the company.
Maybe some other time.
It took a bit to convince Mom to actually leave, being that she was rather like a fungus sometimes, but convince her I did.
Alright, team, I think we're clear for the time being—
Youka, for her part, walked over to her bed, hung up her coat, and then immediately crashed down and fell asleep. This was a common trend with her.
I'll be off assisting Mr. Ayafumi with running through today's data, then.
I'll go scrounge up some stuff and see if I can get enough to get you a new chakram, Ricky.
Oh, very appreciated.
Theeeen I'm gonna bop over to the Shelter and play some vidya games. Either of you two ladies wanna join me tonight?
In a bit, perhaps. I've some menial work to take care of first.
Maybe tomorrow, in my case. I'm still coming down.
Right, right, well, take easy, Chisa.
This is the end of Chapter 1.5, so the game progresses by having you sleep off the events of all that hot hot subway action. I take the opportunity to get a bit more pocket change and update everyone's equipment the rest of the way.
As we were left alone in the room, I turned to Koron to find something I really, really hadn't expected to see.
...that is to say, I saw one of Koron's eye sockets empty. She held her eye in her hand, and had pulled out a polishing cloth to touch up some of the tarnishing from the Granderodons' sand breath.
Is something wrong?
N-no, I just... I didn't realize your eye was made of glass.
They both are. I've got a box under my bed with a few extra sets. I'd forgotten you weren't aware—my apologies.
Wait, you're blind?
Physically. My extra-sensory perception makes up the difference—for the brief period between the awakening of my powers in vogue and the loss of my eyes, I experienced a curious, debilitating doublesight that resulted in my initial hospitalization, so one could consider my eyes vestigial organs.
She went at polishing her eyes with quite the dexterity—she'd obviously done this many times before.
...That must've been... unsettling.
Of course, if anyone would understand the sensation of having two contradictory lines of information being simultaneously processed by one's brain, I have no doubt it would be you.
There we are.
She casually popped the glass eye back into her eye socket.
Of course, the understanding that the primary sight organs were unimportant to my sight left me wondering—what parts of my body's function are actually those of my psychic presence, and not of my actual body? Where is my 'self'? What constitutes it? Do 'I' exist within my own body?
Nagamimi used to have eyes of her own, you know.
I carry her with me such that no matter how mad I become, I might still have a model of what parts of my body I've truly lost.
I lack eyes, and yet I see. In this new age of extra-sensory perception, alien beasts, fantasy worlds... The human consciousness remains the most fascinating thing of all, don't you think?
That's one way to put it.
...Er, not to depress you, of course.
No, I do appreciate you talking about this. It's... well, you're a good conversationalist about this stuff.
I try. I would rather one so essentially kind as yourself not become a hermit like me—it would hurt the world.
Well, I only really had one human friend who stayed with me after my initial hospitalization. I get on alright with hospital staff, of course, but it is an odd thing to suddenly be part of such a wide social network.
No matter how many times I tell her to refer to me by my first name, she calls me 'Naga-chan', and it's deathly frustrating. 'Naga-chan' is too damn cutesy, you understand me?
Damn Ageha. If she went and got herself killed, I'll grab her ghost from the underworld and torture it myself.
We'll find her. Anyone who's been friends with you that long isn't the kind of person to die unceremoniously—
That felt really rude to say! Wow!
Hahahaha! Au contraire, that's one of the best compliments I've ever received.
In many respects, you are a frightening woman, but I've come to like you, Chisa Inomiko. Let us mutually continue existing despite the confusing nature of our metaphysical status.
Wait, why am I fright—
Don't answer that
how long were you over there?
A while. Eyes clean, Koron?
Indeed. Sleep off your woes, Chisa. You've been awake too long.
Were Nagamimi capable of speech, I have no doubt that she'd say, 'she's right, go the fuck to sleep, dumbass.'
I had no idea she was so foul-mouthed.
Yeah, it's part of her charm.
The two of them left the room, and I lay down in my bed, my only company the sound of Youka's sleeping.
I'd woken up later at night, and hadn't managed to get back to sleep yet when I heard the door open.
...and I won't lie and say I wasn't a little disappointed to see Kirino, of all people.
I hate to bother you so late, but you keep having critical, all-day missions. How are you feeling?
Hoping I can get back to sleep in a bit here. Physically, I'm fine, just tired. Why?
Well, Ms. Hikasa is worried. She keeps telling me to "at least make sure Homura's wunderkind is in sound shape", you know.
...What a nice turn of phrase.
Before Kirino continued, he came in a bit closer, and his voice lowered in volume a touch conspiratorially.
! Yes, I did.
He probably—well, he probably had some choice words to say about Murakumo, didn't he?
...Would you like specifics?
No, there's no need for that, I just... well, I used to know him a while ago, and I was a little worried, is all.
...Well... I don't know. Please lift your arms. I need to do my job.
Please no stealth shots this time.
I... should've let you rest, huh. Um, good night.
And, um... er, yeah. Good night.
Good night, Kirino.
I flopped back onto my bed, and began silently bemoaning how nobody outside of my own squad seemed to want to tell me much of anything.
Next time, we finally start the game's fourth chapter, Chapter 2.