Part 70: Exceedingly Near, in a World Endlessly Far

September 15th. To say it, it should sound like that longest month should have been about halfway over, but it didn't feel that way. We'd still only defeated two of Fomalhaut's Imperials along with the risen Sleepy Hollow. The beast in the underground still lived, and Fomalhaut wouldn't soon stop torturing our kind... to say nothing of our battle with SECT11, and our hunt for the ATL Code.

—On September 15th, one of those conflicts would come to a peak, and enter the beginning of its climax.

I was woken up by a sudden transmission from Jeanne that was just as suddenly cut off.

What do you suppose her problem is?

you didn't ask, but my cats are fine.

I was going to ask after I woke up more, I swear.

I know!

We were getting unfortunately used to being thrown out of bed with little morning, even if Youka couldn't help but grumble about it as we walked to the Research Ward.

Morning, Emille. Kirino.

Good morning, team! What's good?

Oh, good. You're up.

You're a terrifying alarm clock, you know?

Could be worse. I've had worse alarm clocks.

What's the situation?


It's moving rapidly. Who the heck is carrying this thing?



Twice! Damn it! Why does the universe hate me?!

Damn! Unit 13, head out there on the double! Recover the ATL Code at all costs!

They aren't going to get away from us again!

Sumie had to ministrate in self-pity for a bit before we went, but we did go.



I'd say it's about time to get back at them for the Underground. See them think about shooting me with a bazooka again.

Let's go, guys!

The Expressway was devoid of Dragons or monsters. We weren't going to have to explore anything today—it was just time for a battle.

Multiple lifesigns detected ahead!

Tch... Chisa! Sumie! You two had best not let them get away with interfering with our strategy!

Himuro: Our job this time is logistical support. When things get tight, we'll teleport and fly to a safe space.

Shichiro: I've learned a basic recovery skill! You can rest easy, senpai.

Taichi: Let us know if you need anything and we'll come running!

Asumu: I've resolved to be a shield for others—

Taichi: Aww, c'mon, Nishitani. You're gonna let all this good scrap metal go to waste?

Asumu: All you've done is made your spear harder to lift.

Taichi: For now, sure, but it's still better at blocking shots!

Thanks, Taichi, but I'd prefer you stay back. Maybe tackle a straggler or two if someone tries to get away.

This one's our fight.

Is that someone hiding over there?

Waiting Woman: Oh, well... Maybe he's at the Diet Building?

There they are!

SECT11 had surrounded the girl in the hood, and Shouji was walking up to menace her directly.

Quit messing around and hand it over quietly.

Izumi. Search her.


Stop! Get away!

...She doesn't have... anything?! No way! Where'd she hide it?!

Thought it was too crazy, but... is it true?

Huh? What are you talking about?

Hey! Sakuraba!

...Tch. They're here.

You aren't running away this time, Blunder Twins. I'll burn you to cinders if you don't back the fuck off!

! ...Sumie...

Everyone. I know you're intelligent, and I'm certain you've already guessed this—but now that we're here, it wouldn't do for me to keep it secret any longer.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure we gathered that one.

It was pretty easy to figure out once we saw her.

...Pffft... hahahahahahaha! Oh, that's a laugh!

This girl's an anti-Dragon weapon? How the hell does that work?

Whatever. Our orders were to retrieve the weapon, not to ask questions.

The girl who possessed the ATL Code cowered in terror.

It's okay! We're gonna rescue you!

I know we haven't known each other long, but you can believe in big sis Sumie, okay?

The ATL Code isn't something you know how to use! It's—

No, you shut up! She's not just a tool you can throw around like you want! That's a living, breathing girl! You can't just steal her and act like she's property!

...That's for folks back stateside to decide.

Go to hell, you big jerk! You're full of it! If you hurt her, I'll never forgive you!

God, it's just preach, preach, preach with you people! Listen up, gogglehead.

If you guys don't even have that much common sense, I'll have to drill it into you. Ready to learn what the word 'strong' really means?!

A property dispute is one thing, but now you're claiming a living person is just a tool? I didn't think I could despise you more.

I'll show you what a 'human weapon' really looks like, little girl!

Everyone! Let's go!

It's time to make that faker eat those words! Unlike last time, this one's for keeps. Since onii-chan isn't in the battle himself, this one isn't too hard. Izumi is flanked by an Assault Soldier, similar to those we fought in the Underground, and a new SECT11 type, the Grenadier—the two have the same skills, but the Assault Soldier is sturdier physically and the Grenadier is sturdier magically.

Unfortunately for Izumi, we happen to have just unlocked Tier 3 skills, so stuff like Ricochet, Koron's upgraded elementals, and particularly, the Reacts, are available for us. Thanks for showing up so we can test them on your face, honey!

Calling me a little girl? You're the puny one!

Oh, really?

Slightly bothersome.

Piss off!

That was an attack?

...for the record, this is the one on the left. The Assault Soldier.

Oh my god, did you seriously just miss all of them?!

Koron! Together!

Lovely idea!

Get in there, team!

Ha! That barely even hurt!


I probably should've gone for a single-target to ice one guy, but hey.

Argh! My eyes!

Hurry up and die, already!


Ow! Fuck!

You aren't doing a particularly good job of keeping us down, you know.

oops it seems you are getting styled on

Keep going!

Chisa. Get your eyes working again.


You're an eyesore!

Pour It On is Izumi's nastiest trick, giving a 50% bonus to the next attack from the entire enemy party.

oops you're looking a little shot there bucko

Dang it!

Don't worry too much! Just keep fighting, everyone!

Don't stop, carry on~ Akiramenaiiiii~

That blade of yours hardly even cuts!

Tch. There we go.

Okay, get the heck outta here.

...Prepare yourself.

Quit posing around and swing your damn sword!

Tch! What the hell?!

Air Slash is just a basic 1x damage AOE. It's got 0.8x accuracy, though, so...

Chisa, care to show her how a real swordswoman fights?



Alright, little soldier, watch out.

Damn it, guys, seriously?!

Your turn.

I can charge up too! Watch out, asshole!

Oh my god, DIE already!



Ghh! Sho?! Little help?!

Bit busy here! You got it, Izumi!


Dynamite Toss, the upgraded version of Mine Toss, is the upgraded version of Mine Toss.

You're pathetic all by yourself, Izumi Sakuraba! A downright joke!

N-no! C'mon, I can't lose!!

I'm not gonna lose! I'm—I'm strong! I'm the strong one here!


Fall down.

Damn... it!!

Now to deal with the elder brother!

Hold on, li'l buddy, we're coming!

Man, I didn't even have to step in yet. Good job, y'all.

Wh... what the hell?! They were so weak before!

I told you, didn't I? That you were picking a fight you couldn't win?

It's hardly been a week, and these guys are already this strong... Izumi, it's fine! Back off!

I... you gotta be...

...kidding me...

Buy me some time, would you, boys?

Will: Sorry about this, guys, but orders are orders!

Get the hell outta the way!


Hey, wait up!

Shouji leapt to stop the girl in her tracks, and in grabbing at her, he managed to take hold of her cloak...

...W-wha... your ears.

And somehow—somehow, despite everything I had experienced thus far, despite myself being one of the strangest beings on the planet Earth, I really hadn't found myself expecting that she would be a catgirl.


Everyone in the middle of the battle had to take a moment and turn around to look.



Will: Um...


This moment of universal, existential bafflement lasted for only a few seconds, but it was an instant of quiet amidst this fraught battlefield.

...Then Shouji remembered how to speak.

But you're definitely no ordinary girl, huh...

Sorry, but you're coming with me!

Please! Help!

You wouldn't!

Sorry, weren't you just saying I would never know how to use it? If it's a weapon the US can't use, I can get rid of her just fine, right?


How dare you?!

Everyone, we're withdrawing! Grab Izumi and go!

Before we were able to formulate a plan to get the girl back, they'd already managed to escape.

As we stewed in our failure, Kirino chimed in.

What on earth is going on here? Why is that girl a weapon, and moreover, why is she a catgirl?!

...That was the aspect it would be difficult to explain until you saw her with your own eyes. Would that I could explain it after successfully retrieving her, but...

Are the scouts tracking those guys?

Yes. Come on, Unit 13. Head to the Research Ward—to the room that was blocked before now. I have some explaining to do... and so does she, frankly.


We did. The blocked room of the Research Ward was now open to us—and when we got inside, we saw the fruits of Emille's labor.

I only borrowed existing data and know-how. Some politician or another had funded attempts at this before... and I saw my opportunity.

Within the tubes in that lab were floating bodies—similar to humans, but not quite. Some had elongated ears, and some possessed more obviously bestial features, like the hooded girl's ears.

...Ms. Hikasa diverted funds to the research of artificial life, I know. So she's an artificial lifeform, born and raised in a lab...

No, this one wasn't her. I mean, not directly. It was kind of a splinter thing—I think it was mostly headed by members of the United Nations party.

So... what's with the ears?

I'm sure you have some idea. Twelve thousand years ago, this planet was invaded by a True Dragon.

You've gotta be kidding me.

Nope. These are the Lucier. They're the race that inhabited Atlantis, so they're also the ones who defeated Niara the first time. You can tell by the ears.

So this ATL Code—

Its more proper name is the 'Code of Atlantis'. This power of metallurgy is what allowed them to defeat Niara in that ancient war.

...I see. The ability to craft orichalcum, is it?


Orichalcum. It's the proper term for metals made out of the hearts of Dragons.

Do you guys remember that spear Takehaya picked up when he became a Dragon?

What? Yes. Why?

That... was actually the Dragonslayer of Atlantis. It's the same spear they used to rip his wing off. It only worked quite that well once, but there's this underwater ruin just off the coast of Tottori, see... It was still in there. I guess Aitelle probably took it from there, and then Takehaya used it.

Clearly I underestimated you if you've visited the ruins of Ladyin.

You revived this ancient race to create someone with the power to forge one of these Dragonslayers?

Yes. Just so.

I understand your moral reasoning. This is why I proceeded under this project under my own auspices and mine alone.

...Shit. What the hell are we even supposed to say about this?

This is... far beyond anything I had expected.

If nothing else, I can applaud your commitment to your ideals.

But if you have these Lucier, why have you pursued this specific girl?

Every Lucier possesses the Code of Atlantis to some degree, but how much you can do with it varies from person to person. Only the royal family and close relatives have the power to create orichalcum, and you couldn't get that by forcing it into a human. Outside of that it's not like it's a direct correlation, it's just how the Lucier royal family worked.

Sumie Kazuki. You aren't simply saying this as an archeologist, as an explorer, are you?


Let me... put it this way. The chance of developing true use of the ATL Code... you could express it as a ratio. If you were the last queen, Ulania, those odds were 1/1—she was born with the use of the ATL Code to such a degree that she had no other abilities. But say there was a random guard in her regiment. That person could have odds of 1/16, 1/64, 1/256... But they'd be able to have some other abilities, too. They might gain the power of true metallurgy. The chances were lower.

It's like a human psychic, how they get their own ability, how it's rare for any other ability to work exactly that way. But the ATL Code isn't just a normal psychic ability. I think it must be an expression of the planet's desire to fight off threats, the same way hunters are. So as you get further out... even with odds like 1/4096, 1/8192. That's odds like finding a Shiny Pokemon, and there were millions of Lucier. It's not that uncommon, right?

But how do you express a planetary defense mechanism in a race like humans? A race that's like the Lucier in so many ways, but unlike them in so many others? The odds get astronomically low. Even to humans from the place where Atlantis was present, that's ridiculous odds.

Let's say it was odds of, say, 1/2,578,917. At those numbers, you would assume that on average, one person in every two million, five hundred and seventy eight thousand, nine hundred and seventeen people would have that power, but that's speaking entirely in averages. With odds like that, you can't actually know if that's true unless you're looking at it globally.

And that's if it's those odds. It might be higher. If you go from 1/4 to 1/16, that's squaring, right? So maybe, square that number before. That's 1/6,697,314,400,000. Almost seven trillion to one against the idea of this happening. Seven trillion! I don't even know if people can conceive of how large that number is.

But you can't guarantee a chance like that won't happen. After all, there's always one, right? I mean, like, if someone says 'a million to one odds against' in some media or another, it'll probably be that one. A billion, a trillion, a quadrillion to one, you can never, ever guarantee that that one won't happen.

That a human child will be born with abnormally long ears. That that child's ears will be surgically altered before they even have memories to draw on, maybe. That even though that child, by all, all rights, really, really, really should just be a human... they're not. That they're different, abnormal, from the day they're born, for reasons nobody on Earth could possibly explain. That they're given something they never asked for.


And, you know what the worst part is?

Even when this child sees the race she actually, physically is, she knows she's still not physically right, because of a funny little thing called sexual dimorphism. Can you imagine? That's not a rhetorical question or anything. Is that something anyone else can possibly imagine?

Because you know what? It fucking sucks! Not only do I have to be the actual definition of a freak of nature, I can't even be the right kind of freak of nature! And I don't even get to have my gender-inappropriate pointy ears, either!

And I've got to worry about like, what if some fucking government weirdos find me out and try to make me into a bioweapon?! Because I can't make orichalcum but I'm pretty good at the whole thing past that, actually! And so I've been been living with that teeeeeeeeensy tiny bit of anxiety for a while and then the apocalypse happens?!


Sumie had spoken so quickly and for such a long time that she had to pant in order to catch her breath.


So what I'm saying is, I've known for a while exactly what you did. I'm not stupid. And it doesn't really surprise me, knowing you. But it's not like getting mad at you now is going to change the fact that Marina, and all these other kids, they've... already been born. They're already here. You're not the kind of person who does these things without meaning to take responsibility.

I feel really bad for them, but I know why you did what you did. And I'm not absolving you. It's on you to absolve yourself, I think.

How... even-handed of you. I hadn't expected such a judgment from you, of all people.

What, you mean because I make jokes a lot? Yeah, turns out I can be serious when the moment calls for it, who knew?

...Go, then. You've all heard what I needed to say.

Kirino stormed out of the room, and we left shortly afterwards.

...Am I wrong to feel like this?

How do you feel?

I... well... intellectually, I know that what she's done was sound. She has the best witness testimony possible in an actual Lucier who's studied her own heritage as well as she could.

Oh, hey, kids. What're you doing here?

We were listening in from HQ on that whole thing. You can really rant when you want to, you know that?

Oh, you didn't know that?

You're mad on our behalf, right, Kirino? But... even if I was born tied to a table, even if I've seen so many of my friends die, knowing nothing but misery...

Even if I never get the chance to live long, I was brought into this world with the power to help people, and I'm glad about that.

...You two...

Marina... she's like our sister, born from data. If I've learned anything from people like you, or everyone in Unit 13, it's... no matter how you're born, no matter if you're an artificial child, or a test subject, or a human dragon, or a Lucier... If you're born, you're alive. So I don't want her to be a tool, or a weapon! She was born to love, and be loved!

You two have grown up so fast, you know?

Hey, cut it out! We've just got a sister to look out for all of a sudden.

but you better be careful. i've got big sister privileges first.

Then she can just have a big family!

That sounds like a lovely idea.


Yes. You know, I agree. Let's end all of this messy human weapon business by giving her a family. That's a good takeaway.

Hey, people tell me I have a problem, so what's one more, right?

We just learned a lot of crazy stuff, but it's not really that different, yeah. We're all people here.

We're all people...

Not just humans. We're all people. You're right. Humans, artificial children, Lucier, machines...

Count yourself.


You trailed off like you were ending that list. Count. Yourself. Chisa.

Fine, fine! Even a dragon!

thank you i appreciate it

...Haha... hahahahaha! You guys are ridiculous, you know that?

Hey, Sumie... Uh, I guess you're kind of the best authority here all of a sudden. What do you think we should do with the other Lucier kids?

They're unconscious right now, right?

As far as I could tell.

Then let's wake them up once the war is over. I don't want those kids to wake up to the world like this.

Sounds good. ...As soon as we find Marina, you guys need to move, so go ahead and take the rest of the day off. Chill out. Even you, Richter! I don't want to see you in HQ until tomorrow?

Oh, alright.

We'll be helping him, so don't worry. I'm worth at least, like, 80% of you anyway.

Sure, Miroku.

Man. Now I'm gonna be overseeing a bunch of extinct elves and catgirls coming into the world, too. Crazy shit, huh?

Frankly at this point, despite the inherent absurdity of it, it's business as usual.

Alright. See you!

We all took a moment to take a deep breath now that we were off the clock.

Alright. Sumie?


On the one hand, I feel quite bad that I couldn't help you with this until now. I wish I'd gotten to hear it.

Oh don't worry I've been bottling that stuff up for like two years now, I've LITERALLY never told anyone.

On the other hand, I completely understand why you didn't tell me.

Oh yeah, no, totally makes sense.

Yeah, I can't blame you.

There is, unfortunately, not a therapist in the world qualified to tackle your extremely unique and existentially challenging circumstances.

As a fellow member of the 'human-shaped but non-human dealing with issues nobody else in the world could possibly understand' club, you have my deepest sympathy.

I mean really cannot blame you at all.

Shit, how do you even explain that? 'God rolled a one out of a billion chance so I was born an Atlantean elf'?

I was robbed, you guys. I was literally robbed.

So is your, ah, is your nose a Lucier thing, as well?

I mean maybe like in the general sense of Lucier having better smell than humans but no, that's me also being a psychic. Something so very particularly me couldn't be a species trait, are you kidding? Could you imagine? An entire race full of me?

Oh, god. That would be horrifying.

yes exactly you understand

And that's why there's only one me, and we should all be glad about that fact!

I was kind of worried it was going to turn out you were also a test tube baby, and that perhaps all the details of your adolescence we'd heard were... metaphorical, or maybe implanted memories?

Oh I actually went through my phase of maybe thinking that I was an experimental subject and just nobody told me and I got taken before I could remember, but nah.

So there are just two different humanoid races that evolved separately on Earth, huh? Weird.

Don't ask me about the logistics. I'm just here to sniff out treasure.

But seriously though!

Yeah, seriously.

I can't help but feel glad that you were born under such unlikely circumstances, Sumie. In the sense that I highly doubt we would have met had you not been.

No babe that's too sweet

Are you keeping any other secrets from me that I don't know about?

Uhhhh let's see. Lemme think about that, there's kind of a lot, you know, in my lived experience. Uhhh...

Important secrets.

I can't think of any, I'm pretty sure you know all the ones that are central to understanding the basics of the Sumie Kazuki experience.

Okay, good.

Oh but I did kinda have to use your toothbrush on the 10th? I couldn't find mine.

Ah. That's fine. It's not as though that's the only way we trade spit.



Alright, I'm gonna leave you two to it and go get drunk.

It's hardly noon. Will you be alright?

Do you not trust me or something?


At a time a few hours later when I was the only one in the room, a knock came on the door.


...May I sit?


More than anyone, you must loathe me. Not only did I transgress the bounds of human morality, I did so to create another tool—for the same reason you yourself were born. In the past, I have transgressed morality such, and more than likely, I shall in the future.

Emille... you know, I think you've gotten much more human, lately.

...Excuse me?

In your ability to admit fault. The Emille I met in 2021 never would've admitted she was wrong that way. You really have changed.

I don't... I don't want your compassion, or regret. I just feel... when I look at you, I feel as though I've debased myself.

Why are you telling me this?


Because you...

...I... what am I doing?


Is this what it means to possess 'will'? 'The power to be more'...

...Chisa... For just a short while, may I stay here? You needn't say anything, but... I don't want my frailties, my insecurities, my lack of certainty... I don't want those visible to all. Only you, Chisa. Only you may see them.

Alright. You can stay.

September 15th was an eventful day, but we ended the day with a newfound resolve. One last member of our big, strange, dragon-hunting family needed rescuing, and we were going to do it no matter what.

The next day would mark our final battle with SECT11.

Once you complete Chapter 3, you unlock the ability to use an extra pair of character portraits—the Lucier designs. This is unlocked in system data, so you keep the option if you start a new save file, and there are upgrades you can buy with Dz to help you use them on this file, too.

...Or I guess you could train up a character from level 1 if you REALLY wanted but don't... do that. Don't do that.

Anyway, that's Chapter 3. Next time, we begin Chapter 4.

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