Part 27: lily in desert

We had discussed some time whether the environments constructed by the Imperial Dragons were created or constructed—that is, whether they used materials from the surrounding area and altered them, or created materials out of whole cloth.

To be blunt, the dragon in Kokubunji laughed in that discussion's face.

Kokubunji Searsand, the game's sixth area.

A desert had engulfed the residential district, and in the distance, a colossal structure, glowing with an eerie light and moving to an unknown rhythm, stood tall amidst the sands. Spouts of sandy steam burst from it, and waterfalls of sand ran over its sides, falling endlessly toward the earth.

Whaaaat the...

Oh god. It's the desert level.

What the fuck is this?!

Youka's coat blew in the wind so hard that I was a little surprised it didn't go flying. Richter's scarf slapped him in the face.

The wind is blowing like anything... wow, it doesn't seem like there's anything but desert. I haven't confirmed any signs of life just yet, but I'm getting high infrared readings from beyond here. It could be the missing people—please investigate.

Well, we're probably never unburying those houses.

I wouldn't say never, but it will take quite a bit of work and time we don't currently have, yes.

Hm. Do you suppose the phone lines are being sent into that facility through the sand? That would explain how power is being routed.

What is it

I have no idea.

It had been a very long time since I was in a desert, so climbing up sand dunes at this point was beyond me, especially ones this starkly defined. We puttered up the sides for a while, but weren't able to get anywhere.

We'll need to go around.

...You feel that?

Yes, I do—


Get your heads in the game!

Let's go!

Out of my way! I don't have time for you!

Koron performed her veiling technique, but instead of heat, the air began to sparkle with twinkling ice fragments.

Richter, my apologies, but I imagine it's going to hit you.

Yes, ma'am.

Zero to the Bone is Koron's Ice-element veil, and it's similarly useful to the other one in different situations. Most enemies in this zone are weak to Ice, so it comes in handy.


Our poor boy.

There, there, Richter. It's okay. C'mere.

Thank you

Much like... uh... fuckin, what was it, Granderodons? This is an attack that hits everything and can inflict Blind.

Chisa, now's the time.


Woodwind Duet does a LOT of damage on a weakness. It's... it's pretty good.

...It's nothing but sand, as far as the eye can see.

To be honest, I'm sadder for the people who lived. I mean, at least most of my hometown was still there—twisted, yeah, but it was there. Imagine people who lived here, surviving for long enough to get this far, and then seeing their entire neighborhood get washed away under the sand, so far you know you'll never see it again.

They can still survive. Someone who has their life can continue living.

Memories can do a lot to help someone keep going, even if they hurt you, y'know. And places like these have a lot of memories, that'll just get washed up in the sand.

A place that no longer exists, except in memories, hm?

Where are you from, Koron?

Akasaka. We were right next to the border to Roppongi, so we'd cross over there often.

Hold on, there's—

...never mind.

There's another one of those flying fish over there.



So you go clubbing often

I've never been 'clubbing'.

Hold on, these are footprints. Still fresh.

Hey! Hey, excuse me!

Gamer Dude: H-hey! Hey!! Human beings?! Get me out of this desert, please!

Don't look now, Chisa, but—


You know, if I weren't helping you with that, I'd think I hardly needed to be here.


Oh, is there?


Satsuki began hugging the golden gun, cuddling it like it was a plush toy. Koron smiled at it.

Well, I hope you have a good time with that.

Oh I will.

Also, I sniff loot. Loot well in the distance.

This way?

Yup, yup. Warmer.


This desert is massive...

But if I don't map it, no one will!

That's a good attitude.


Wrong way, idiot.

I opt to have Koron start casting Freeze twice here, so this one doesn't even get off a single attack.

...God. I hate deserts. What an awful, spiteful climate.

Just use your telekinesis or something to float away all the sand particles and walk normally.

...Are you joking?

I don't know how this shit works.

For your sake, I'll inform you that even if I were capable of such a thing it would be counterproductive. In fact—

They really aren't having the best success with this. You'd think they'd stop.

Ah, yes. The disassembled pieces of a standard in-home boiler. Probably not something we want right now, but let's take it with us anyway!

You seriously think that's going to work?

Dream on!



This was a peculiar, many-sided dagger which Satsuki pocketed so quickly I hardly got a look at it at this point.

I'd wonder what people were doing having these around in their homes, but that's a rather pointless line of discussion.

Nishiki: Huh? Uh, that's mine, actually. Weird, mirages shouldn't be able to pick those... up... Wait, are you real people?!

That depends on your definition of real.

Oh my god.

Yes, we are real. Hi!

After what seemed like endless walking, we finally managed to reach an underpass.

Do you think it's got air conditioning in there?

It must have at least enough to keep the facility without combusting.

Don't get their hopes up, Richter.

But I want to get my own hopes up, too!


So that's it... Trinitro's lair. It's almost vomitous, seeing it blotting the horizon like that. What a hideous thing.

I gripped the hilt of my blade tightly.

...Beast. I'll slice you into atoms. Maybe then you'll know to stay in your lane, you disgusting little neophyte.

You know we can hear you, right?


Every word.

Hear what?

If you're dissociating again, Captain, this is fair warning—I will be extremely unhappy.

Oh, no! Please don't get mad at me!

Um... it seems like all the readings are coming from in there. Could the missing people be inside?

My head swiveled on its side to see a pale blue silhouette walking through the desert, heading toward us with a speed and purpose. I recognized that voice. There was a quality to it, something unmistakable. It was her.


Aitelle, yes? That was your name?

She nodded.

I am Aitelle, guardian of the stars. Captain Inomiko... it's good to see you. And your friends, as well.

Uh, right...

You know, it would be nicer to see you if you could perhaps be a bit less cryptic? I don't know about them, but personally I prefer when people use words that mean what they mean.

And you would be Koron Nagataka, correct? ...You aren't wrong. To tell you the truth, someone very close to me has told me before that I have a hard time getting to the point.


...No. No, she isn't one of SKY. She is... family. We often disagree, or butt heads, but she is family nonetheless. Please, forgive me. It has always been a habit of mine to use too many words, to soften blows. Most likely, it is my worst habit.

Captain Chisa Inomiko. Vice-Captain Koron Nagataka. Vanguard Youka Fudoji...

She looked up to the sky for a moment.

Secretary Richter Esslinger, and Treasurer Su—

...Satsuki Kazuki.

thank you yes

I have been waiting for you.

Looks like it's time to settle some accounts, Chisa.

...So he wants to actually fight me, huh?

That is correct. Beyond here, there is a factory for assembling and disassembling Dragons. You shall go there, and so shall he, ere long.

...I hope that you do not think him an unkind man, Captain.

Hm... Unkind, no. I think he's kind. Maybe just a little...

Smug, standoffish, and toxically masculine?

Yeah, that.

...I am sure that the two of you could be great friends. Yet, until you show him your power... he is incapable of accepting you, Captain. It... hurts me to see him feel this way.

...I am sorry. I say too much.

Aitelle... you know something about me, right? Something I don't know?


Spurred by her silence, I made to proceed, before she answered—

You said that you love this world. Is that still true, Captain?


...Please go to meet him. We may talk more then.

Aitelle... was a kind woman. Kinder than I knew. She was being kind, maybe because it was the only thing she knew how to do.

I didn't realize that then.


We walked onward for some more time, before we found ourselves at an opening in the great factory. The heat was evident even from just outside. Within, sounds of blowing steam and the scent of raw metal emanated, as the glow of a pool of molten iron—or something like it—flowed beneath the walkway we entered.

Wrought engines of unknown metal pumped and whirred to our sides as we entered the colossal structure.

So, anyone know any OSHA guidelines?

A few. Why?

Well I was just thinking it would be a funny bit if I were to like, notice every OSHA violation in this place and write them down as a strongly-worded letter, but I'm kinda blanking and I don't think it would be as funny as I originally thought it was.

It's hot. It's hot. It's fucking hot in here, it is hot.

Uh, yes, but what is that?

Is it some kind of... machine for constructing Dragons? It's possible the infrared readings I was getting was a result of all this machinery firing...

And there he was. Neko and Daigo flanked him as he strolled behind us into the factory.

Yeesh, my dogs are barking. Real pain to get out here, isn't it?


Of course, there were hardly any Dragons to take care of, courtesy of you. It was really just a long walk. Out in the desert, isolated... it's a pain, but it's also perfect—no way for anyone to interfere.

What do you want, Takehaya?

I wanna give you a little test—to see if you're really the partners Aitelle has been looking for.

...What are you even talking about? No. I don't want to fight you, Takehaya.

Oh, I think he might be jealous his girlfriend is more interested in you than him! What's wrong, big boy? Your fragile male ego feeling a little shattered?

Hey, you little rat—!


Takehaya clapped as he cackled.

See, that's what I expect more of. But you, Captain Inomiko—you always miss your line. I really don't know how to make this any easier for you to understand—I don't care what you want. I'm just another obstacle in the way of you saving the world, right? A paragon of justice like you ought to have tried to strike me down by now.

That's ridiculous! I don't understand what you want with me! I thought your grudge was with Natsume!

Ahh, you would think that, wouldn't you. So—you came here to wipe out the Imperial Dragon, right?

Of course, it's not like we're with the Dragons. It's just a simple life-or-death test—who can reach the Imperial Dragon first? We'll both be starting from here—you can see there's no dirty tricks, right?

Man, you're irresponsible. All those kids counting on you, and you're coming out here to try and settle a grudge you have with a girl who barely knows you?

True enough.

Admitting it doesn't make it better. Daigo, Neko—I know you're smarter than this. You know this is a waste of time, right?

It's not a waste of time! This is important! Takehaya can hardly sleep at night!

Shut up, Neko.

...Take it seriously. There'll be time to talk when it's all over.

Ugh, fine. If you insist, we'll play along. But I'm not going to lose to you!

That's what I wanted to hear!



And then—

?! I'm detecting a dragon nearby!


Ahhh, so that's how it works!

The mechanical dragon floated in the air, propelled by an unknown force, undulating and twisting its disparate pieces ad nauseum.


That's rad. That's rad! Check that dragon out!

Oh, I am.



Wow, this is fascinating!


You wanted to figure out how it worked, huh?


Jeanne's already sent me all the details—seems you've encountered SKY? Dangerous thing at a time like this, but it's not like me complaining will do anything.

Oh, yeah. I know.

Try and gauge their intent by feeling out this 'test' of theirs, if you would? Their actions here are so peculiar that it's making me think there must be some sort of significance to the recent disappearances.

Slippery one, huh.

Well, if there is an Imperial in Shibuya as Chisa theorizes, then that would be the last of our seven to find. It makes sense it would feel the need to hide.

Huh, yeah, you're right! Well, we're gonna give Minato a final once-over, then head back to City Hall—OH I ALMOST FORGOT! We found this big warehouse on the way here, and...

...wait for it...



Alright, let's all do our best out there!

Don't need to tell me twice! As a resident Speed Queen, I take the outcome of this race quite seriously!

Seems like they locked the door behind them.

Or the dragon did.

Ha! Wouldn't it be cute if it played fair with the race?

More goddamn hot shit. Everything's hot. I'm hot.

Take off your coat.


Iiiit's model swap time! Magma Slimes are basically just new slimes, but Volcanic Turtles have a nasty new trick. Namely,


Try and outdo me, will you?!


Alright, folks, let's get started! This iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis the story of a girl, this is the story of a girl, this is the story of a girl—

IT'S BEEN ONE WEEK SINCE YOU LOOKED AT ME (this is the story of a girl)

SOMEBODY ONCE TOLD ME (this is the story of a girl)

The world is a vampire (this is the story of a girl)

I'VE GOT ANOTHER CONFESSION TO MAKE (this is the story of a girl)

Sing songs in languages I can understand, ya hipster!

That was more like five songs, actually.

Real fair giving us the winding path, Take.

This one moves in a diamond pattern, much like it does in combat.

Will you get out of my way?! I don't have time for you!


Feet not on the ground. Weak to Aerial. This was an Exhaust attack, too.


Yes, these two ARE tearing these dragons to pieces, why do you ask?

Hey Takehaya, did they just kill that dragon before it even fought back?

Keep running.

I just think we should try doing that sometime.

Shut up, Neko.

ah, yes. moisturizer. always a lovely tool.

You can run pretty fast when you put your mind to it, Chisa.

Well, I wasn't in track when I was in high school, but the archery club and the track team oftentimes saw each other, and I'd try and keep in shape as best I could.


The adrenaline pumping through my veins was enough for me to dodge out of the way of the machine's breath entirely.

Then, with my blade, I split the connector between the pieces of its body, and sent it tumbling to the ground.

...So that's what a paragon of justice looks like...

That is the most logical place for it.

Seems like you can use that elevator to get up—

Says the guy who was gawping at our fighting the whole time.

You snooze you looze, Kazukitty!


Hey, get back here! Everyone, on the elevator!

We did manage to get on, just before it rose up.

Hoo... hoo...

Shit... don't worry, I'm fine...

Was it that obvious? What the hell is this about?!

Sure, I'll answer your question, but first, one of mine.

Wha... I, you mean me?

Who else would I mean?

Well... uh, I... I...

I started grasping in my mind for a salient answer to that question. I felt like I had an answer, but it felt like the wrong answer, time and time again. I wasn't sure. What did he mean? Wasn't it just natural that I was fighting here by this point, I thought? What did he want me to say?

Um... to protect the people of Japan. I love this nation, and I—

Ha! An admirable answer, indeed.

That... struck me.

Well... well, I...

Your friends—Fudoji's fighting in the memory of her dead kids. The hacker, Richter, he's fighting so he can prove himself useful, if I don't miss my mark. The other two, too—I don't know all that much about them, but I can see it in their eyes, a purpose for being here. And you're dodging the question, acting like you've never even thought about it? You're the strange one here, Inomiko.


I tossed off Satsuki's hand on my shoulder and took a step forward.

So what, you just wanna psychoanalyze me instead of answering my question? What's wrong with you?!

Oh, yeah. How terrible of me. Why would I get in your way, try and stop you from your goals?

And that—that struck me in the stomach so hard I nearly recoiled.

You mean... Aitelle?

Got it in one. I don't have any intention of laying down my life for 'humanity', or anything grand like that bullshit you're spouting. But giving my life for her sake—that's a much brighter prospect. I live for Aitelle.

Wow, look, everyone! It's the world's most powerful white knight! Wife Guy Supreme!

Are you kidding me? I might love her, but it's unrequited.

She's suffered unimaginably. She lives for the sake of her duty as the 'guardian of the stars', and she's lived a long, long time.

So, what, we're those 'hunters', and you're jealous about it?

Apparently, I lack some certain quality, and my ersatz power won't suffice.

If you're too much of a coward to not let yourself be deluded by these lofty ideals you have—then there's no way a paragon of justice like you is any better than me!

The elevator came to a stop.

Enough chattering. Neko, Daigo, let's go!

...but she does...


There was a moment where I just stood there... paralyzed. Unable to move my body. Stuck, stone still.

...Ridiculous. He's projecting all of his damage onto you.


It's not your fault if he can't handle his own realities. Come on. That boy is going to get himself killed sooner or later if you don't stop him.


Next time, Wait! Don't be hasty. This must be Koumei's trap!

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