Part 30: You Are Not Part Of The Control Group

Much of the elevator ride was spent in silence, aside from the sound of my own sobbing. As it neared its destination, though, the tears started to dry up, and I roughly wiped my face off with my sleeve.



Hey, you hold the fuck on!

What?

We aren't just heading on like nothing happened. We're talking about this!

Oh, because you're so great at talking about your own issues, right?

That actually got Koron to sputter.

Wha—you back up there. This is not about me, this is about you.

There's a dragon up there and it needs to die. I have the sword, so I might as well do it.

Will you calm the fuck down?!

Calmer than you are.

Wha—I—

Calmer'n you are.



So what, you're just going to go on until you have another mental breakdown? Are you going to collapse in the middle of our fight with the Imperial? Will you slow the fuck down, Chisa?!

It's hot here and I want to be done. What part of that is so confusing?

The part where you're charging in recklessly like you want to die?

I stopped in my tracks.

What, you think I can't tell? You think it'd be easier if you died in combat, right? That way you wouldn't have to talk about anything.

I can recognize a death march when I see one, Chisa. I've done them, for god's sake.

Now, in case you've forgotten, we're your friends and we're here to try and help you.

Wha—we're just in the same unit. What we're here for is to wipe out dragons.

We've been living in the same room since March!!

So don't give me that 'we're just coworkers' bullshit, woman. Would I be this concerned over a fucking coworker?!

...

I don't know. Maybe you would. You guys are real people, after all—



There were a number of ways I expected that statement to go down. Maybe Koron would yell at me about the nature of being a person. Maybe Satsuki would bust into the discussion to beg me to please just talk to them. Maybe Youka would break my spine.

What I did not expect was one Richter Esslinger walking up and slapping me across the face, causing a few drops of my spit to fly out of my open mouth and sizzle on the hot metal below.


How dare you?

Wha...

All this time, you've felt this way? You've had this inside of you ever since I met you? And you didn't say anything—you never voiced these concerns to anyone? You never told anyone you felt unfit for this role?

How dare you! To call me—to call us friends and then recklessly endanger our lives by letting us put our trust in something you claim doesn't exist!

Do you know how happy I am to be a part of this unit, Chisa? This unit—your unit—this is the first place I've really, truly felt like my talents belonged, that I'm a worthwhile member of a team, and that I am really doing good. You call me your friend, enough to be on a first-name basis despite the fact that you clearly outrank me, but then you turn around and tell me that I've been wasting my time, serving in a unit headed by a person you're telling me is fake?

Do you even care if any of us live or die, Chisa?!

I-I...

Because right now, it doesn't feel like you do! You're the one always complaining that nobody will give you a straight answer, but here you are, charging on ahead and forcing us to speculate as to what might be going on in your head! You're being a hypocrite of the highest caliber, and...

And I'm frightened because I don't want to lose my friend! Maybe you think that you're a false, broken person, but that's only your perspective. I might not be a spectacular man, but if there's one thing I can pride myself on, it's my ability to digest information, and the information I've digested about you is that you are a real person! Any differences between your hearts and ours, they aren't that vast!

So slow down! Just let us in, damn you! Because, because this whole business is very bad for unit cohesion, and I am having a very hard time keeping information straight inside my head, and for one thing, I might be a thoroughly average man in most respects, but I don't want to die yet!

I swear I'll listen. I won't judge you for anything. You don't have to be scared of me, if that's it. I just want to be your friend, please?

It took me a moment to recover from his slap. It wasn't by any means the hardest strike I'd ever taken—honestly, his arm strength wasn't even that great. But it sent a shockwave through my head, and made me stop cold.

...It really... meant that much to you?

You thought it didn't?

I-I just... I... I didn't think I could have... an impact like that—

But you do, though. Um, I'm not interrupting, am I?

No.

I mean... well, um... uh...

Satsuki twiddled her fingers.

How do I put this... uh... it's like...

Even if you can't see yourself, we can see you. I guess?

You're trying to say that even if Chisa can't conceive of the idea that she could really impact us, we know how much her presence matters.

mmhm. thanks.

You're... important. You're our friend. We couldn't do this without you.

Out here, all we have is each other, right? You know? I spent—I mean, I spent a few weeks out there all by my lonesome, in case you forgot. And.

And I was really scared. Having you guys with me makes it less scary. And that... that includes you. And Chisa, you're... I mean...

Well, I mean, you're easy to fluster, but you have a good heart. You care about people, and you want to do the right thing, even if it's hard for you. It's not like there isn't a 'real you'. It's just... hurt. Right?

...Caring about people is... 'hard' for me?

Well, yeah. I mean, you can do the right thing even without caring about someone in particular, but it's hard for you to make those kinds of connections, right? You don't really care about everyone.

That got the tears to start welling up.

S-so what, I'm just—just a selfish person?

That's normal. Who the hell has enough time in the day to care, to really care, about everyone on the planet? You can have morals without being all-loving.

But I'm supposed to be, right?! This girl, Chisa, she's perfect, and I'm just not. I'm not like that at all, and she's gone because of me. I killed her.

Who cares?

What do you mean, who cares?!

I don't care. It really doesn't make a lick of difference to me whether you're the same Chisa or a different Chisa. I never met this old Chisa, so I don't give a shit about her. You're the one who followed me out to a graveyard to help me fix my kids' grave.

I would add that also, none of us have ever met this Raven fellow, either.

Oh yeah, that. I kind of forgot about that part.

You forgot?!

Not like it matters to me. Doesn't matter to any of us.




...She was right. It really didn't. They'd only ever known me—me as I was now. And it seemed like these four... well, in many ways it felt like they knew me better than I knew myself.

What am I... supposed to do?

Do you feel able to continue fighting?

I... But I don't have anything driving me. I'm not like you guys. Or... or Gatou. I don't have a will to fight—

Then get one.

Is it really that easy?

For the time being, you have one right here, don't you?

Huh?

We're going to be going into combat with the Imperial Dragon whether you're capable of it or not—and likely the remaining three after this, as well as whatever comes after. If dragons so powerful as to destroy an entire planet like that 'Niara' character exist, then we'll be in even graver danger than we have been thus far.

We might die.

No! No, you—

At my own exclamation, I clutched at my own chest for a moment. I hadn't expected that to jump out of my own heart.

See? You care about us, don't you? So fight to ensure we live.

Oh, that's a pretty good idea, actually.

...Well, the rest of you, sure, but I'm not sure Youka needs me.

Oh, can it. What do I look like, some kind of invincible juggernaut?

Absolutely.

But can a 'will to fight' really be something that... simple? And selfish?

When we get back to base, we are sitting down and we are talking about where you got this cockamamie idea that the only way to live was to be completely selfless. Was it your parents?

Probably.

Can I kill them?

I don't know. Not legally.






Fighting to protect them, my friends in Unit 13... It was a novel idea to me, and the second I took it on in my heart, my body felt a little lighter. A raw hunger to meaninglessly fight that had settled in my stomach abated, and I felt myself becoming a bit more in touch with my humanity.



Which was well timed, as it turned out.

Damm...there...

The transmission was heavy with static, and I doubt they even meant to be broadcasting.

What's happening? Kirino?! Answer me! Kirino!

Shit! The transmission won't stay together!

Please don't swear! We're not old enough for that!

Who cares?! Aoi! Answer me! What's with this interference—

You two. What's going on?

It seems like something's happened to Aoi and Kirino.

Well yes, I gathered that. Damn it, we have enough problems—

Sorry, I've been a bit absorbed in trying to help Miroku keep track of those two—their position has been a little erratic. I was distracted after Takehaya... well, um, anyway, have I missed something?

...

I'll tell you later, then. We're nearly to the Imperial's position. Keep trying to figure out what happened to them.

Okay.





Senpai...can...hear me?! So many... here...

Keep...back...!

Damn it, what's with all this interference? I've never gotten this much jamming before! I can't see a thing in Minato!



Jeanne...

Hey, it's okay. We're gonna handle this and then we'll be right back. You two just concentrate on that, alright?

O-okay. Okay.









...

Hoo. Okay. No time to be afraid.



Oh, you're fucking with me.

Can't classify this one?

No, I can. It's a hydra.






The Trinitro was a beast whose form itself seemed to be wrought of molten metal. It lacked eyes, and what passed for 'wings' on its ever-floating body were really little more than spokes of metal. Pieces of the thing's body that had almost managed to drip off before the metal cooled still hung in the air, perpetually about to split away.

Unit 13, please, leave Kirino and Aoi to us. Do your best in defeating the Imperial Dragon!

...

Satsuki, Youka, please handle the triage. Koron, Chisa, and I will handle the offense.

Huh?

It just makes sense. The two of you are best equipped to counteract this dragon's high temperatures.

No, I...

Richter putting forth a battle formation was new, and I hadn't realized I'd been dreading the act until he did so. Koron nodded and gave her assent, and then looked to me.

Well?

...Thank you, Richter. Can... I ask you all one thing?

Try and make it quick, I think it's ready to fight?

...It might be my rank, technically, but...

On the battlefield, I'm no more or less important than any of you. So... let's all work together as equals, okay?

If lightening your burden is what you require.

Yeah! I was kinda doing that anyway tbh

I think the only person who wasn't is Richter.

If I've been hurting you by attempting to be deferential in respect to your rank, I'm very sorry. I, um...

Well, I can tell you later. It's a long story. The point is...

That... you're my friend, not my subordinate. Right?

That's right. I'll follow your orders, and you'll follow mine, I hope. Because that's my duty to you as your friend—to stand with you on equal ground.

Richter...

If you're deferring your rank, then that technically makes me the highest-ranking member in combat situations. Sure you're willing to do that?

Of course! I'd trust you with my life, Koron.

...

Back at you, Chisa.



Alright I'm gonna put a bookmark in that and say something after the fight's over anyway

HERE IT COMES YOU GUYS

I'll be here to back you three up!

Engaging the enemy!

This'll make for great stress relief!

I took up my sword once more.

I won't lose them to you, or anyone! Let's rumble, Trinitro!








After that roughly thirty-thousand word detour, here we are at Imperial number four! Trinitro has my personal favorite design in this game—I love this awful thing. It's terrible.

Unsurprisingly, Trinitro is all Fire, all the time—he'll be inflicting copious amounts of Burn while he attempts to blast us into pieces. He's a real chungus, too—it hasn't been that long since Lore-A-Lua, but he raw doubles her HP total at 9000. This one's a slugfest, but it's much more straightforward than Laurie, and you've got fewer actions per turn to deal with than against SKY. He's no pushover, and took me a few retries, but he's nowhere near insurmountable.



Here's a veil, Richter.

I can't question the wisdom of that.





A dragon that's literally made of metal, as it turns out, doesn't cut very easily.

Alright, I'm prepared for further advancement.



Wise move, Koron! Ow.

I think I may have mentioned this at some point, but many enemies have two different animations for their regular attacks. Along with being classified differently for Youka's counters, they also differentiate between ranged and melee. Here, the attack that hit Chisa wouldn't have activated the veil, but the one that hit Richter did. I got a little lucky.

Chisa, I could use a route in!

On it!



This technique was one I'd developed based on Raven's scythe techniques for just this sort of situation, as it turned out.





Is this the first time I've used Payback on-screen? I literally don't remember. It's been two months since I wrote an update on account of a nearly comical string of bad luck and bad happenings in my life that I won't bore later readers with the details of. Anyway, Payback is an Iai Stance skill that lowers an enemy's status resistances for a while after hit. Considering there's literally not a single party composition in this video game that doesn't at least appreciate status ailments being more accurate, it's a good skill.



Biofeedback loop established!



Argh, bastard!



An eye for an eye, they say!

The dragon doesn't have eyes. Neither do you.

I have spares I can give it if you really want me to.

Later! Look out!



The beast hurled up a horrible rain of fireballs, most of which buried themselves into Koron's chest. None of the three of us escaped unscathed, though.

Bastard!

ssshhhh lemme treat that

Flame Bane is a real fucker. It hits 7 times randomly spread across the entire party, and each hit's got a 25% chance to inflict Burn—which doesn't tick for much damage per action, mind you, but the stat debuff sucks.



119, engage!



The two of you handle Koron, please! Chisa and I can remain standing!



I won't allow you to continue any further!



Access approved!



Thanks. Nice work, Richter!

! Brace yourselves!



Gah!

D-don't worry, I'm still standing!

Be careful, it's coming in again!



I dodged in front of the fireball to take it.

I won't let you hurt them!

Richter!



luvshock.exe online!



You've gotten a lot better at that!

What can I say? I try.



Koron!





lol luvshock + curse. freeze is there too. each of those attacks dealt around 400 damage total. curse is a good ailment



Tear it open!



Gladly!

Pieces of its body cracked under the flash-freezing blade I swung into it, and it roared as I did.







Hey, Richter, think you could make it hit less?



I can certainly try!





Alright, we're back—

—!





Everyone, it's attempting to self-liquidate to repair its wounds!

Sturdy son of a bitch, huh.

High-Speed Regen gives it a 180 HP regen at the end of the turn for 5 turns, so it's essentially a 900 HP self-heal.



I felt the energy building inside its core, and I saw Koron react the same way.

Readings indicate the heat inside of the core is increasing!



Firewall established!

Koron, throw up a shield for yourself!





Just gonna take it on the chin, huh?



The heat within released itself as a horrible beam of flame, burning my skin severely—it wasn't the worst fire I'd ever experienced, mind you.

Ah, where would an Imperial be without their big signature attack? Heat Breath is nothing particularly special—big damage to everyone, has a high chance to inflict Burn.





Like hell!





You won't last forever!

Satsuki! Spot me some medicine!



Oh that's much better thank you.

Maybe try not being on fire when you do your big anime moves?!



There was a burst of flame within the core, and Trinitro began to beat with a stronger pulse than before.

Internal Flame is another self-buff—this time, it's a 25% buff to damage dealt and a 10% reduction in damage taken. The damage reduction doesn't help the fact that this jerk is sturdy as all get out, and the damage buff is... non-ignorable.



OW



Just look at that laundry list. Jesus, he just won't die, huh.





Good timing on that shield, Koron! Ow!



OW

I think it knows who hurts it the worst!

I have complicated feelings about that!







The thing crunched down on Koron and sent her tumbling to the floor—I saw a fair bit of blood from there.

KORON

Gh, less yelling, more getting me up, please! I'm not dying here!



You've got all the room you need!



And I'll handle this for the moment!







Yeah, Internal Flare actually makes luvshock self-attacks hurt worse! The damage buff is higher than the defense buff! Who'd-a thunk?

You're doing great, Richter! We can do this!

We should press the attack while we can! That flare-up's finally faded. Chisa!

On it!





One more push, you two!



It hailed down more blasts upon us, but it wasn't able to knock any of us down.



! Readings have spiked again!

Shit! They're still—!



At that moment, I remembered something I'd kept with me. Something that I believed in.

Everyone, look! Mio made us bentos!

That's great, but what the hell—



What the?!

119's been kicked into a temporary overdrive!

Her cooking is quite something!

I'll say!





With this...

Alright! I've gotten access back in! Do your worst!



Its worst wasn't good enough to take us down.



Then, its movements slowed—a telltale sign of Richter's interference.

It's open!



Go...



Down!

I had a brief jolt of fear when the dragon started to move again after that swing, but those fears were unfounded—



The last swing the dragon took was at itself.



It roared in pain from its self-inflicted wound, and its body shrunk and absorbed back into the manufactory core from whence it came.






We did it...

We won! We won!

I ran over and grabbed Richter, tackling him into a hug.

W-whoa!

You did amazing, Richter! Just incredible! I don't even have words to describe half of the things you did, but it was all amazing! And Koron, and Satsuki, and Youka—we all did amazing! We won! We won, we won, we won!

The fact that my burns were still painful didn't stop me from jumping all around in celebration.

While I appreciate the positivity, could you give me a moment?



Then reality set in again, and I remembered the fact that Trinitro wasn't actually dead.

That's strange. The readings indicate it's still alive, but...

The entire Searsand suddenly began to shake under our feet, and I found myself nearly falling to my knees.

What now?!

The pressure in there is skyrocketing!






THAT'S THE WORST POSSIBLE ANSWER



In its weaknened state, Trinitro still had the power to erect a wall of flame around itself.



But what do we do? If you get close, you'll be burnt to a crisp!

Damn! I'm not sure I have enough in me after all that for cryokinesis on that level.

I don't think my bullets are good enough to get in there!

Well, if someone's gotta do it—



It'll be me, thanks.



Take!

There's a trick to it. Perks of knowing Aitelle.



Takehaya casually strolled up to the detonating core, almost without a care in the world.





Aitelle's hopes... I won't let them be dashed!



He drove his hands straight into the burning-hot core.



Are you insane?!

Draw your own conclusions!



I'll straighten you out!



After a struggle, Takehaya managed to tear Trinitro's essence from within the core, landing on the ground with it in his hands.



He breathed deeply, then clenched his hand—



—and shattered it.





Takehaya was bent over in pain, but before anyone could rush over to help him, he continued speaking.

I was wrong about you, Inomiko.

Huh?

I've been thinking. I was wrong, and I'm sorry. Thrusting damaged kids into the line of fire... it's the same way she's always been. You were never my real enemy, and I'm a damn fool for thinking it. Shit... I look like a real loser now, don't I.

...A bit. But am I a kid? I'm twenty-four.



Same...



...difference...

Right as he fell over, more footsteps echoed out across the metal tiling.





What the heck's going on?! He's burnt to a crisp!

The idiot had to act macho to try and make amends. Damn this boy sometimes, I swear.

I can keep him stable for some time, but he needs to get serious treatment now.



Miroku, call the med team and let them know!

On it!



We have a duty to take care of him. I... heard what he said earlier.

Nobody's got a problem?

Well, Ms. Hikasa is missing, and Kirino's just gone missing, so final authority on these matters would technically fall to Kirino's next-in-command. Kirino never changed his designated next-in-command, so...

So I have authority here, and you have my full permission.



Daigo paused for just a moment, and even though he was a stoic man by nature, I could tell there was a lot happening inside his brain in that moment.



---------------------------------------





"Residential D" slated for repairs!
"Industrial Area" slated for repairs!
"Baths" slated for repairs!
"Skylounge" slated for repairs!

---------------------------------------






Just like the Murakumo of days past. Lotta wretched memories here...

'Here'? Have they always operated out of City Hall?

No, come on, it's, uh...

Transitive.

What she said!

Think he's gonna be alright?

A flesh wound won't put him down. It's not his time to die yet.

Ms. Neko, Mr. Daigo... won't you let us treat you too?

Huh? W-whaddya mean? I'm fine and dandy!

We owe you one, so shut up, Neko.

Ah, there it is. It'd been too long since you said your catchphrase.



As Daigo walked away, I heard him muttering to himself, 'Do I really say it that much?'



Urgent report to all active operatives. Kirino isn't responding. Hurry to his last known position.

Message acknowledged... mm.

Yeah, I'm worried, too.

I don't think he was including you guys, at least... You shouldn't be going anywhere. Physically, or... emotionally.

Huh?

Um... I played back a recording to see what I'd missed before you got back.

...Oh.

You did a really good job, Chisa. I know I wasn't much help this time... but I hope you feel better.

...

Thank you, Jeanne. You've got important work to do, though, so let's talk about this later, okay? When everyone's home.

Alright. You promise?

I promise.

--------------------------------






You got pretty excited there, huh?

Huh?

Don't think I've ever seen you that giddy. It's a nice look on you. You could do with letting out some tension every once in a while.

SPEAKING OF NICE LOOKS

It's not just me, right? Everyone else has noticed?

Noticed what?

That you're smiling way more often recently!

What?

I've noticed it a few times, yes.

Oh, I just figured I wasn't supposed to mention, to try and keep up her mystique.

What are you talking about?

You! Smiling!

I don't do that.

Yeah you do! And it's adorable!

Oh, come on. I don't even know how I'd—



When the hell did that happen?!

You weren't even aware of it, huh?

No! Of course not! I haven't smiled in years! I...



take your time

Why are you documenting instances of me smiling?

Like I said. It's a nice look on you.

I highly doubt that. Any instance of me smiling would look ghoulish at best.

It really doesn't. I think you look nice when you smile.

Well, I—

...How am I meant to be standoffish about it when you give me that earnest look?

Tsundere.

Shut up. I...



take your time

It's just that nobody's told me that I looked nice in a long time. I wasn't sure how to react. Especially coming from you—you can be annoying as hell, but when you say things like that I know it's completely earnest and that's hard to deal with.

Well, other than my parents, but they don't count. As the person here with supportive parents—

My parents are lovely people, actually.

The point is.

...Where's Mio, anyhow?



We found her passed out behind the desk at the entrance to City Hall. Sharon had helpfully set up a cot for her.

Welcome back.

What have you been having her do?






With the disappearances and your steady stream of supplies, we had a surplus of resources we were able to pour into finishing several nearly-complete areas of City Hall.



We've finished Residential D. There's no official representative listed, but one girl said she wanted to meet you.



At one point or another, you rescued a bath engineer named Tomiko. She's been invaluable in assisting us to set up a public bath in the north tower. Heating them will use fuel, but I suppose that's alright once in a while.

A hot bath in City Hall? Right now, that sounds great.



Above that in the north tower, we've finished building... a 'Skylounge', Mr. Nagataka called it. It's an observation deck of sorts. I'm not sure what exactly it's for, but it seems nice enough.

I can't help but notice that both of those are in the same tower as Ms. Hatsune. Perhaps it's more favoritism.

Maybe, but it's nice to have those sorts of creature comforts, right?



City Hall is really coming together, isn't it? We've only got two levels remaining to repair, if I recall correctly.

That's correct. The twelfth floor has been slated for a fifth residential floor, but nobody's sure as of yet what to do with the middle of the south tower. Perhaps we'll have some inspiration.

The entire time, a few notices on the quest board were burning themselves into my eyes.

Sharon?

Yo,, Taich-yo-u! Nani's the haps?

I'm exhausted. Can I take a rain check on those?

Hai, hai! Practicing jibulf-care is mondo important!






Youka helpfully carried Mio along to give her the chance to wake up at her own pace.

Whuzza... whuh...



Hey, you! Been a while.

Do you know this girl?

Back in the Shelter, we got on pretty well. I promised to murder some dragons for her.

Melancholy Girl: Mmhm. And you made us this floor. I'm grateful. I wanna show you something my mommy and daddy taught me.



Stealth is better now! Wooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Remember, Snake. This is a sneaking mission.

Melancholy Girl: Hide, and don't make a sound, when you need to. Remember that, and beat the Dragons for us.

My word still stands.



Female Teacher: My pupils! I don't know if they're safe... I haven't heard from them all. Oh dear...



Guffawing Man: Dahahaha! Everyone's taking this so seriously. When you can't do much of anything, there's plenty of time to think of solutions!

im going to shoot you kvasir



Gentle Wife: Yeah, I understand. I'm sorry to worry you like that. It's just...

Gentle Wife: ...um, is Mio okay?

Overexertion. A bit of TLC and she'll be right as rain.

I'd like TLC, too.

That's her job!



A bent spoon. Hm. Sure, what's your price tag?

Cheeky Boy: Not just any bent spoon! This puppy's—

I know. I'm psychic. What's your price tag?

This is a Mind Guard, which protects against a number of status ailments. 1480.

Cheeky Boy: Thanks a bunch! It was totally worth it looking outside of City Hall—

YOU DID WHAT

Mio gave him one of her dirty glares while hopping off of Youka's back.

Cheeky Boy: Hey, I'm a lucky guy! Don't worry about me!

I'm going to worry. That's just—

Where am I?



I wouldn't exactly call myself an enthusiast, but I'm a deft hand with them. I—



Where did you get that?!

Pleasing Lass: I picked it up while I was on the run in the first month after the dragons attacked. It obviously had a history, but I couldn't find the name anywhere on it, so I made one up. Why?

...'Tomoegozen', huh? That's not a bad name.

It's mine, actually. I brought it to my Murakumo entrance exam, but I never wound up using it—it must've gotten lost in the shuffle. It's a very good sword. Lightweight, sharp as can be... What's your offer?

Pleasing Lass: Well, if it's yours... Let's say 2500 Az.

Sorry, just woke up, you sure you want it, babe?

It is mine, for better or worse.



'Tomoegozen', huh... You've gotten a new name since last I saw you. It's pretty lofty, too.



Newscaster: To think the 'Ghost of Yotsuya' would be saving me from ghosts. That'd be a story for the ages if anyone cared for news right now.

I hear you.

How do you suppose that one ghost is faring?

Properly dead again, ideally.



Fleeing Man: Y-you... you helped us out in the Toshima sewers. Thanks... all I have to give you is words, so here they are! Thanks!! A lot!!!

Cowering Man: City Hall is amazing. You guys have even built a bath, wow!



Safe Woman: That's how relationships happen now. I think we shouldn't forget what's important.

These are the three people we rescued during that one quest with the SDF search and rescue squad! They're pals now. How nice.



Tomiko: Thanks to you, I get to be the one who watches everyone else have fun. No, but really though, thanks a lot. Everyone can come here, relax, and ease the wounds of body and soul a little.



Tomiko: If you find anything good for fuel, I can heat the bath for you. Just let me know.

Will do!



A lovely reward. Anyhow, the Baths are where we spend the Quality Fuel we've occasionally picked up from enemy drops. Taking a bath not only fully restores the party's HP and Mana, but it also gives 300 free SP and fully restores the Exhaust gauge. This is by far Richter's easiest way of building EX, and it's really handy. I don't use it enough.



So how'd the whole Imperial business go?

We're going to need to talk about it.



Damn, this is ritzy given the circumstances.



Splendid Steward: Won't you have a glass with me? One of these, for example...



Ah, great. I'm dry as hell after all that heat.

Splendid Steward: I made this specifically thinking of you all, so it would please me if you'd savor it. Not as much, of course, as when the Tokyo below is flourishing once more. And I do have faith that that will come to pass.

EX Booster fills an EX Gauge to full. It's got one charge, but hell, that's pretty nice.

The Skylounge itself has a non-obvious purpose—it's where we'll be coming to pick up the proper rewards for those Heart Quests we've occasionally gotten thus far.



we might as well go check the rest of the flea markets



Arrogant Girl: This is mommy's favorite Fuma Shuriken!

You own multiple?!

Ah, I believe I could wield that. It's an oddly-shaped chakram, but a chakram nonetheless. We'll take it!



...

...

...



ANYWAY

Hm. Not a bad set of knuckles you've got here. Just screams 'use me to kill some Dragons.'

Plump Man: Ah, you see its true value, don't you. Weapons have ambitions of their own, after all.



Richter's base Speed at the moment is 42. The Fuma Shuriken gives a Speed boost of fucking 40! That's absurd! It's one of a Hacker's best weapons, and honestly there's a case to never unequip it—it's not like Richter does much direct attacking anyway. 2330.

The Duel Knuckle we get for Youka is much less exciting, but it's more number. 2400.



We don't have enough for Calm Girl's current offer, so we'll be back for that in a sec.

Mrs. Nagataka: Heya, kiddos! Good to see my best customers doing good—

Mrs. Nagataka: Koron, your cape is burnt!

Trust me, I know. Today was quite an ordeal.

Mrs. Nagataka: Well, anyway, I see Mio's feeling a little snooze-y, so today I've got a charm sure to keep even our resident sleepyheads up in battle!

A 'World's Best Dad' mug?

Mrs. Nagataka: It'd keep me up at night!

It's a Sleep Cut. 1000 Az, and that's the last purchase I can make.

Ma'am, have you ever noticed how lovely your daughter's smile is?

Mrs. Nagataka: Ohhh my gosh! Is she smiling again? She hasn't done that in years! Not since that one hospital!

Shut up!



I believe our last stop is Mr. Shibuki.



Shibuki: You've saved 45 people! In recognition of such magnanimous work, I couldn't give you just the same old items. These ones I put some thought into—I call this the Guardian Set! Take this from me with all their behalfs behind it, and know we're all praying for you every mission, my friends!



A gas mask?

That's one of the most useful things we've ever gotten.

As you might expect, the Status Guard is every other Guard item in one—it gives a 50% chance for all status ailments to fail. Handy! We also get ten Somanels, which cure any ailment in battle.



REIIIIIIIMIIIIIIIIII

Saaaaaaatsukiiiiiiii~



Ah, a metronome? That would be quite good for mental centering.

Calm Girl: Mmhm.... Thanks as always.

A Chaos Cut, preventing Confusion or Chaos.



Forlorn Girl: Oh, you came back! I've got more medicine... Lots of stuff this time. I've even gotten some mineral water.

That sounds great right now.

2000 Az, we get 2 Heal Aero 4s, 3 Silver Waters, and 5 Nano Hopes. Lovely. I love consumables.



Whoa! That's a lot of food!



I don't even know how to justify the fact that this woman has fifteen bentos for us. Five Fried, five Flag, five Tasty. 980 Az. One day these flea markets are going to be the death of me.

i could use a nosh

Crafty Woman: Pleasure doing business! I tried to make something nice for you, even out of lousy ingredients.

Bentos apparently have a mysterious power. I'll trust in them.

----------------------------------






Speaking of bentos.

By the way, if you've got an opportunity tomorrow, come see me in the Skylounge they just built.

Case in point—here's Rin's Heart Quest reward right now! We'll get it next time.



Okay, I'm properly awake and ready to chat! How'd it go?

Well, the Imperial Dragon is dead. I think Takehaya and I have made steps in resolving our differences, and he, Daigo, and Neko are in the clinic right now. It was a... productive day.

I don't like the word 'productive' coming out of your mouth.

-----------------------------------

We told Mio what had happened, and the fear and concern on her face was palpable. Once we'd returned to our room for the evening, a bone-deep exhaustion rapidly set in, and in the midst of the explanation, I had to excuse myself to sleep, opting to use Unit 10's room so as not to interrupt them. Once I did, Mio was able to discuss... what had happened to me... in greater detail, to all of them.



Who the hell...

What the hell?! Who makes someone go into combat after all that?!

The depths of human depravity in the name of upholding tradition never cease to amaze me.

Frankly, I'm amazed she's even remotely functional. She must have an awfully resolute heart to survive all that, damaged as it may be.

I'll crush their goddamn spines if I ever see those bastards. And Hikasa, too. I'll snap her neck off her shoulders! Making an injured young girl go to war—it's insane! We're civilians, but that monster forced her to be a soldier!

...

Not to mention all the fucking experimenting—!

Mama, you should stop.

Huh, I—

...Sorry. I know that's... probably hard to hear.

I understand. I... The worst part is I can't really say I'm that surprised, that Aunt Natsume would do that. I can't...

I don't know. I'm sorry.

Don't apologize. None of this is your fault.

Isn't it? I mean, if I hadn't brought her back with me, none of this would've happened to her.

We can't know that. And at any rate, you could never be blamed for that, Mio. It's not a crime to love someone, and wish to be with them.

I just... wish I could make it better for her. I wish I could make that pain go away. She'd been getting better, but then this whole thing started, and it's been eating away at her all over again, and I can't be there for her when she needs me, and—

It's alright. She has us, at the very least.



What?

M-moe?! Gap moe?! You can't just hit me with a smile like that!

I'm trying my hardest to be reassuring, here!






















Richter.

Ah, Koron. Yes? I was just about to go to bed.

I've been thinking about what Aitelle said. What she specifically said.

Oh?

She said that we were these 'hunters'. However, she never specified which of us were hunters.

...I would assume it was all of us.

No. I don't believe so. She was very particular in her wording. To be a bit blunter about it, I believe she was trying to avoid telling us that Chisa isn't included in that number.

Why wouldn't she be?

The powers Takehaya possesses, as an artificial hunter, don't entirely match Chisa's. And if this 'hunter' business is a reaction from the planet, putting its faith on the shoulders of a girl so deeply wounded doesn't make sense. Wouldn't you agree?

What exactly are you trying to say?

Whatever Chisa's powers are, they're something else—I'm almost sure of it. And, I was wondering...

Once this war is over... I can't help but wonder if maybe this enigma of Chisa's might hold some significance to... me. And people like me. So... I was hoping that, if I don't make it to the end of this battle—

You will.

You can't guarantee that.

It's an order. You will.

An order? You're giving me orders now?

In this case, yes. I'm sure everyone else would agree with me. I forbid you from dying. Frankly, I forbid you from dying until you've lived a full human lifespan.

Aiming awfully high there, aren't we?







But I will. I'll pass this thought on to your friend, as well.

Thank you, Richter. And...

My lips remain sealed.

...Thanks.

Next time, we begin Chapter 5.

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