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Let us review the situation.
Due to a virus injected during the operation to rescue Quenser, the Trinity Style’s emergency ejection system malfunctioned. Urd and Verdandi were ejected from the Object, leaving Skuld in complete control.
The Object used a single main cannon on the side. A powerful laser beam fully vaporized a container shell to create plasma, which formed a blade 5km long.
The ground flooded due to the heavy rain, forcing any Objects to use air cushions.
The river was only about waist deep, but the current was too swift for anyone to stand and drowning was entirely possible. The water was too muddy to see inside and even acoustic sensors had difficulty.
Quenser and Heivia’s boat was upstream of the Trinity Style.
They were retrieving empty drums and plastic containers drifting down the river.
Their boat was equipped with a ballista, a crossbow several meters long. It fired arrows thicker than a metal rod with aluminum and iron oxide powder in the tip to induce chemical welding. When those hit the Object’s armor, they would instantly heat up to nearly 3000 degrees, welding them on.
Quenser and Heivia were removing the contents and filling the drums and plastic containers with them.
To detonate them, Quenser included some Hand Axe plastic explosive with an electric fuse attached.
Then they kicked them into the river from upstream.
The current swept them toward the Trinity Style.
Of course, detonating them below an Objet which could survive a nuke would not blow the Trinity Style to smithereens.
They were aiming for something else.
As soon as Quenser pressed the switch on his radio, a blinding light surged out of the river directly below the Object.
At the same time, a lot of water vapor erupted from the river.
The Trinity Style would be using an air cushion so it could travel on both water and land. Needless to say, that system worked by blasting a bunch of compressed air straight down to create a layer of air between the ground and the Object.
What if that thoroughly calculated and equalized air current were disturbed?
What if it were made uneven so the weight was focused on a single point?
The answer was simple.
The Trinity Style had been moving so smoothly, but now it stopped and it sank into the river. It was only a difference of about a meter, but that was enough for the 200,000 ton mass to sink into the water. The layer of air vanished, the gap was filled, and the advantage of the air cushion vanished. It was just like pressing two wet palms together. Its movement was sealed.
On the boat, Quenser brought his radio to his mouth.
And he shouted to the Princess with all his might.
“She’ll recover in less than 10 seconds!! But she’s stopped! Blow her awayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!”
Quenser had no idea what Skuld was thinking as she piloted the Trinity Style in that moment, but the plasma blade main cannon was still aimed toward the Baby Magnum and the spherical main body’s many secondary cannons were still aimed at her older sisters as they floated down in their parachutes.
She would kill as many people as she could kill when and where she could kill them.
That stance must not have changed to the very, very end.
The low-stability plasma cannon fired by the half-melted Baby Magnum pierced straight through the murderer’s weapon.
This time, there was nothing Skuld could do.
The countless Dvergr work robots could rearrange themselves, but that was meaningless when the central JPlevelMHD reactor had been destroyed. The nuke-resistant armor swelled out from within and then burst.
The light was blinding and the noise deafening.
Urd and Verdandi’s calm flight was interrupted by the shockwave slamming them into the river and Quenser and Heivia’s rubber boat was flipped entirely over.
The two idiots grabbed onto the capsized boat for buoyancy because the powerful current pulled at their legs and threatened to drag them away.
“Dammit… Is it…over for the time being…?”
They were exhausted.
They could not just let the current carry them away. They had to return to the maintenance base zone somehow. They knew that, but they did not have the energy.
“Man, we moved a long way. We’re right on the edge of the combat zone. It might be easier to have the village in the forest pick us up. Waiting for the rescue chopper in a bed might not be so bad, even if it’s a cheap one.”
Quenser just about responded to Heivia with an exhausted laugh…but then he tensed up.
“Right on the edge of the combat zone? The village in the forest? Hey, Heivia, are you saying there’s a civilian residential area near here!?”
“Y-yeah. What about it…?”
Skuld was supposed to be extremely myopic and only chose the option that let her kill he most people in her current situation.
What if she had known about that village and had surreptitiously shifted her battle with the Baby Magnum toward the edge of the combat zone?
And what if her utter disregard for normal benefits had led her to focus on the village from the beginning?
“Verdandi to anyone who is listening, Verdandi to anyone who is listening. This is on an open channel, so the Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers need to listen up too!!”
The voice of an enemy nation cut in over the radio.
“I received Skuld’s emergency ejection signal just before the explosion. She escaped. This isn’t over yet!!”
“Impossible…” Quenser ignored all military regulations and grabbed his radio. “Impossible!! If she was floating around in her parachute, someone would have noticed!!”
“That’s why she didn’t use her parachute. She ignored the 50m drop and launched herself right into the flooded river. She’ll try anything if it means spilling the blood of even one more person!!”
It was obvious where she was headed.
“This is bad. If Skuld has a handmade snorkel, she can let the muddy water carry her right to the village. She’ll slip past all of us!!”
Frolaytia must have been aware of the situation because her voice arrived over the radio next.
“Experimental Battlefield Madagascar is a treasure trove of rare animals, so it has a lot of smugglers. There will be ships on the coast and even charter plans and helicopters that can leave under a falsified flight plan. If she changes clothes at the village and secures the funds needed to negotiate with some smugglers, she has good odds of escaping. And then that serial killer will arrive at a safe country. We must prevent any civilian sacrifices above all else!”
“What should I do?” asked the Princess.
“There’s nothing you can do in a dense village. But the simple presence of your anti-air equipment will restrict Skuld’s options. At the very least, she won’t be able to leave straight away even if there’s a helicopter in the village. You keep her in check like that!”
“Hey, Quenser, what should we do?” asked Heivia.
Quenser let go of the capsized rubber boat.
He let the current carry him away to follow the same route Skuld would have taken.
“It’s time to settle things with that twintail piece of shit once and for all!!”
It had originally been a small wooden village built in the gaps between the trees of the thick jungle. It would have maybe had 100 residents. But due to the flooding at certain times of year, all of the buildings were built high off the ground and they were connected by wooden bridges.
The land was entirely flooded. It was strange seeing tree trunks sticking straight out of the water. The animals were quite noisy, but that may have been because the squirrels and monkeys were fighting over the branches now that the land was not an option.
Skuld’s slender hands clung to one of the legs supporting a wooden bridge between two small buildings.
The serial killer had finally arrived at her hunting ground.
A young man had come out into the pouring rain because he was worried the gusts of wind were affecting the satellite antenna. When he noticed the (seemingly) drowning twintail girl, he quickly ran over.
“H-hey, are you okay!? Are you crazy!? I don’t know what happened, but why would you go outside today!?”
She clung to the strong arm he reached out to her and he dragged her up onto the bridge.
Meanwhile, everything’s outlines blurred psychedelically in Skuld’s vision. She could sense a human’s body heat, breathing, pulse, and creaking joints and cartilage from so close. She could torment, lick, toy with, and finally break him. That was all it would take for her to experience his invisible and inaudible life.
It was like a tightly closed bivalve.
Its breaking was not a sad thing.
Nothing was more wasteful than refusing to pry open the shell and letting the contents rot away.
“Those clothes… Are you a soldier?”
“No, um, I’m more like an important mascot made to look like one…”
Not even Skuld knew why she had lied. But it did not really matter if this young man realized she was lying. If that happened, she would just have to enjoy her meal without any preparation.
And when she took a closer look, she realized this young man was a little too muscular for her liking. He lost some points for the beard as well. That slightly reduced the psychedelic coloring of her vision. She was calming down.
Yes, she was starving, but that was no reason to gorge herself on bad food.
Anything would taste great to her now, but that was exactly why she had to start with the most exquisite dish.
After running and running to exhaustion, no one would want to drink a cup of lukewarm water smelling of chlorine. There were so many better options: ice-cold champagne, 100% orange juice, mineral water that made a brand name out of water, etc.
“I would like to contact my tour company, so do you have a phone I can use?”
“Oh, yes, don’t worry. We have a satellite line. This way. You must be chilled, so you’d probably love a heater and some warm soup, right?”
The young man really did seem to be worried about Skuld. He did not seem to be luring the young girl back home as an unexpected treat. Then again, this had been so unexpected that those wicked thoughts might start growing once he calmed down.
It did not matter either way to Skuld.
He was not her preference, but she could always find a greater feast after enjoying a nice little snack.
And a hunt was best when it was somewhat thrilling.
It was a desire for that sort of spice that had led her to start choosing her prey from the soldiers in her unit instead of the civilians she had previously targeted. A target that did not put up a fight and simply begged for its life was fine every once in a while, but it got old fast. Someone who would fight back however they could was much more enjoyable.
She was taken to a small house.
But this one doubled as a shop.
“I run a leisure shop. It’s mostly for hunting, though,” said the young man. “It might seem wrong in this treasure trove of rare animals, but if we don’t establish some rules and set some limits, the tourists will kill everything in no time. By telling them what animals they can hunt, how many they can kill, and what tools they can use, we can control things enough to keep the animals from going extinct.”
She had thought they would have nothing in common, but he had a decent sense of aesthetics. Skuld somewhat understood the way he thought about controlling lives. Although her prey was far from endangered. The planet was teeming with that species of primate.
“What about this life jacket and fishing pole? I don’t see how you could use those in the forest.”
“What do you think it was that swept you here? The jungle tends to flood during the rainy season, so I’ve expanded to cover marine sports as well. I also have diving equipment and spearguns.”
Skuld looked interested and traced her fingers across the speargun set up next to the counter.
It was a strangely shaped gun. It looked like a small plastic handgun had been stretched out to 70cm. And instead of lead bullets, it contained a metal spear longer than an umbrella. The end had a sinister barb just like a fishing hook.
“Big Game Hunter?”
Skuld curiously read aloud the words printed on it.
“That’s its name,” said the young man. “That’s one I customized myself, so it isn’t for sale.”
“Spearguns for fishing normally use gas or rubber to launch the shaft, but that one uses a blank rifle cartridge. Then again, that blank cartridge is also custom made. It’s packed full of gunpowder, so your gun will explode if you use it in a normal hunting rifle.” The shop manager shrugged. “It’s for emergencies only, like when a crocodile approaches the flooded village. It has a range of 20m in the water and 100 in the air. With a range like that, the risk of accidentally hitting someone is too great for use in marine sports.”
Four meters was normally enough for a speargun, so it was obvious how extraordinary the Big Game Hunter was.
“Everyone always says it’s too dangerous, but this is the only thing that does the trick when it really counts. You need something to protect your family, you know?”
Skuld slowly narrowed her eyes, but the young man failed to notice the slight change.
“Then…do you have a wife and child?”
“Yeah, they’re in the back. My son is normally getting himself into trouble, but he always curls up and trembles in a corner of the room when a storm blows in. But that’s part of what makes him so adorable. Want to see a picture?”
The young man pulled out his wallet.
The spot for a subway pass had a photo of a smiling family of three, including the young man.
Skuld’s eyes were drawn to one of them in particular.
The child was even younger than Skuld and his frame had yet to fill out.
He appeared androgynous, but he was likely the son the young man had mentioned.
He lacked the muscles of a man, but his bodylines were too pointed to be a girl.
Skuld’s eyes glanced elsewhere. The Big Game Hunter speargun was casually placed next to the counter, putting it well within arm’s reach.
And this wonderful life was in the residential area behind the shop. That bivalve was waiting to be pried open by Skuld’s hands. If someone stabbed a blade into it and used the principle of leverage to split it apart from the outside, the shellfish could not survive. But people were most attracted to the soft flesh within, and that only showed itself once the shell was opened.
In other words…
There was an attractive prey here.
There was an attractive weapon here.
She gulped. She felt like sweet poison was flowing through her veins as her heart pounded. Her nerves forgot all heat and pain as they specialized themselves to feel only pleasure. She could tell her entire body – from the most vital organs to the tiniest hair – was being alluringly remade. Skuld Silent-Third naturally repeated herself while a strange sensation spiraled through her mind.
The defenseless shop manager had his back turned as he messed with the phone on the counter.
And she said the same thing once more.
The river should have carried them to jungle village Skuld had gone to, but the current was not the same everywhere. Bumps in the ground, trees in the way, and small piles of garbage tangled with cloth caused the current to split apart in places.
The soldiers who had been together entering the forest were separated at some point.
The first one to arrive at the village was Quenser.
He climbed onto one of the wooden bridges between houses.
“This is Quenser. I’ve arrived at the village. We can’t afford to wait, so I’m going in now. I just hope Skuld was swept along a different branch of the river and taken right into a crocodile’s den.”
“Understood. But don’t pursue her if you don’t have to. The Object battle is over and the other excess mouths to feed are on their way there. You just have to make sure no civilians are killed. Find a way to stall her until reinforcements arrive.”
“I never thought we’d be working together with the Faith Organization.”
“This is just like in Oceania. No one wants to work with them any longer than we have to. And I can’t believe they’re acting like our territory doesn’t matter now that the battle is over. They’re pretending to be angelic volunteers after everything they did, so I’m going to fine them for all they’re worth once this is over!”
Quenser listened to Frolaytia on the radio as he stabbed an electric fuse into the Hand Axe he had molded in his hand. He attached the clay-like bombs to the wooden bridges, house walls, and tree trunks sticking up from the flooded river.
(Alpha, beta, charlie, delta…)
He did not have a real plan. He had no idea what would come in handy, so he was attaching it everywhere he could.
With the rain pouring and blowing, no one must have wanted to go outside. As far as he could see, the village was entirely silent. That made sense, but an unpleasant feeling rose in his chest. He was worried Skuld had already gone nuts here and opening any door would reveal a colorful world that stank of rust.
Was Skuld here?
And if so, where would she start her attack?
A normal serial killer could be profiled based on the conditions in which they acted, but that did not work with Skuld. She loved adlibbing everything. She would find herself in an unexpected situation and then choose whatever option would lead to the most death. Simply put, her decision making was passive, so a lot of it depended on fate’s dice roll.
“Someone took her in.”
It would start with an adlib that Skuld could not have predicted.
While spreading the Hand Axe around and investigating the wooden bridges that linked everything together like a spider web, he found something odd. Footprints would vanish almost immediately in the pouring rain, but some traces would remain.
He saw a long hair with a familiar shade of blonde caught between two boards on one bridge.
Assuming Skuld had climbed out here, he looked around. Most of the small house’s doors and windows were boarded up for the storm, but one place had left its front door defenselessly exposed.
Quenser exhaled and slowly approached.
The building was structured somewhat differently from the others. It was still only one story, but it looked like two of the others houses linked together. And the one out front had a sign on it. The name there suggested it was a shop for leisure items.
Quenser set up some bombs out of habit and then walked toward that front entrance.
The door was made of wood, so he could peek inside.
Should he press his ear to it, should he surreptitiously turn the knob, should he pound on the door to warn the civilians inside, or should he attach some Hand Axe and blow it up?
He was unsure what to do.
And then he heard the creaking of a floor panel.
After a momentary delay, the door was blown to smithereens from the inside.
The handmade speargun named Big Game Hunter had a range of 20m in the water and 100m in the air. That might sound weak compared to a normal assault rifle, but there was a trap there.
The destructive power of a bullet was determined by more than just the amount of explosive used.
In addition to the explosive used to fire it, the weight of the bullet was crucial.
It was like the difference between the same person hitting you with a wooden stick or a metal rod.
The bullet portion of a rifle round was only a few centimeters long, but a speargun shaft could be between 50 and 60 centimeters. That drastically changed the weight.
Not to mention when it was fired with a custom blank packed with so much gunpowder that a normal rifle would burst from within.
That meant it was unstable and did not fly far, but it had incredible instantaneous power.
The shot was as destructive as an anti-materiel rifle as it broke through the door and pierced the wall.
Quenser was not even able to clench his teeth.
As soon as the door was destroyed, he was blown backwards by the ferocious blast. If the shaft itself had hit him, his torso would have been torn apart. Since that had not happened, he must have been hit by the fragments of the wooden door instead.
Even so, it was not fun having several sharp splinters stabbing through his thick military uniform. He screamed and writhed atop the wet wooden bridge.
The girl’s laughter was far too poisonous to call lovely.
“Hee hee. Eh heh heh. Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha!!”
“Ah, gh, hah!!”
The twintail girl wore a green special suit.
She was a lunatic, a murderer, a serial killer.
She was Skuld Silent-Third.
When Quenser saw that monster step out of the building while loading some kind of arrow to her weapon, he bore with the pain and rolled to the side. He was lucky she could not fire in quick succession. Skuld loaded the shaft, pulled the cocking lever to expel the empty cartridge, and loaded something like a rifle bullet. She aimed the speargun downwards and the shaft fired with the power of gunpowder.
The wooden bridge broke.
Quenser nearly rolled into the surging river along with the pieces of the bridge, but he somehow managed to keep his balance.
(There’s a…bomb! Right at her feet. If I can detonate that…!!)
Meanwhile, Skuld finished reloading.
They glared at each other from opposite sides of the broken bridge.
He held out the radio connected to the bomb and she held out the brutal speargun.
“This is over, Skuld!! There’s a bomb below the bridge. Resist any further and I won’t hold back!! I’ll detonate it!!”
“Resist? Me!? Are you confused about which one of us is the hunter and which is the hunted!?”
“And I haven’t had a single bite of my feast yet.”
Skuld aimed her speargun away from Quenser’s chest, seemingly throwing away her card in this standoff.
No, that was not it.
Something rolled out from the broken door to the leisure shop she had left. She was aiming toward that. Anyone could tell it was a hostage with his hands tied behind his back.
“Gah, kh, ghh…you!?”
“Hee hee. Don’t move, okay?”
Skuld’s eyes narrowed seductively, the heat of ecstasy remained in her cheeks even in the pouring rain, and she let out a sultry breath.
She would occasionally glance back toward the house and lick her lips.
“I would love to have the greatest feast first. I can’t stand lukewarm water after running and running. So if you don’t move, I’ll overlook you. Until I’ve had a much, much more delicious feast.”
The lunatic’s words were not enough to understand the whole picture.
But in this short time, Quenser had grasped a few facts.
(There haven’t been any victims in the village yet.)
He glared at Skuld so intensely the air seemed to strain.
(And the target she most wants is back inside that leisure shop. I won’t let her kill anyone here. If she gets in there, there’s no stopping this tragedy!!)
“And you.” Skuld spoke to Quenser while still aiming her speargun at the shop manager. “Listen. There’s still a chance everyone will survive this. But if you try anything here…if you move so much as a finger, you’ll lose that chance. At the very least, that man will have this thing driven straight through his chest. Oh, dear. You would be causing an international incident, wouldn’t you? And soldiers aren’t supposed to slaughter civilians, are they?”
“How can you so blatantly ignore your own role in this!?”
“But I’m right. So what will you do? Will you obey my instructions or will you recklessly rely on your bomb? It’s your choice.”
The leisure shop manager’s mind finally seemed to be recovering.
His arms were bound in the pouring rain and tears welled up in his eyes.
With that strange half-tearful look, he called out to Quenser rather than Skuld.
He was not begging for his life.
His legs were trembling, but he still stood up and spoke for himself.
“Don’t worry about me. My family is in there! My wife and my son who only just turned seven!! So do it. I don’t care if I’m skewered, but I can’t let her in there with that weapon!! That space is only meant for my family!! So please!!”
“You heard him. So…what – will – you – do?”
Quenser clenched his teeth so hard he thought the back teeth would break.
Should he obey Skuld by throwing away the radio and try to negotiate, or should he accept that one sacrifice and trigger the explosion? Both options held possibility and risk. If he obediently threw away the radio, he and the shop manager might be shot to death. If he triggered the explosion, the odds were good the shop manager would die. He wanted more than anything to not have to make this decision.
But time was not going to wait.
Doing nothing was not an option. He had to choose one or the other.
Finally, he breathed a heavy sigh and raised both hands.
“Okay, fine. I’ll throw away the radio.”
“…!! Why!? Kill her! I’m telling you to do it!! Is it because I’m here!? Could you do something without me here!? Then I’ll just have her kill me right-…”
“Okay, stop. Make too much noise and I really will do it.”
She jerked the speargun toward him and his puny courage shattered.
His face twisted as tears and snot covered it.
“Stop. I said I’ll do what you want.”
“Oh, but maybe I should just do it anyway.”
“Stop!! I’ll throw it away right now!!”
Quenser spat out the words and chucked the radio in a long parabolic arc. Water splashed up from the river in the distance.
He kept his hands raised and glared at Skuld.
He was soaked with an unpleasant sweat very different from the pouring rain.
“Oh? Are you sure you should have trusted a serial killer?”
“Yes. I know you won’t kill that shop manager.”
“What makes you say that?”
“You have another target to kill first: me.”
The twintail girl gave him a baffled look.
And then she burst out laughing.
“Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!”
“When I was captured by the Faith Organization, you came to save me despite the risk. Returning to your old base might have gotten you captured too, but you did it anyway! That wasn’t out of a sense of camaraderie. You couldn’t stand having your sisters take me away from you and torture me to death. I don’t know where I rank in your twisted mind, but I have to be higher than that man there!!”
“Yes! That’s exactly right!!”
Skuld’s back trembled as she suppressed more laughter.
The tip of the speargun shook irregularly as it aimed toward the civilian.
“I found you first! I had dibs! But they were so mean. They showed up late, pretended they had justice on their side, and stole my prey right before my eyes!! That’s why I ruined everything for them! Ah ha ha ha ha ha!!”
Skuld’s smile vanished.
All emotion vanished from her eyes, like she was a strange insect.
“That doesn’t mean it applies here. After all, I simply choose the option that causes the most death in the moment. This situation is different from back then. And that changes my priorities. You can’t predict my actions. I mean, not even I can do that!!”
“Why are you so intent on killing?”
Quenser breathed heavily with his hands in the air.
Skuld still did not smile.
“People’s lives cannot be seen or heard. They are like water or air. We don’t understand their importance while we have more than enough.”
Her bangs were plastered to her forehead by the rain.
“So I want to know what a life feels like. Just like a drowning person driven to the edge and desperately seeking air, I want to know exactly what a life feels like. I mean, aren’t human lives noble things? They aren’t something you can take away just by staring at a screen and pressing a button, right?”
Had Skuld always thought this way?
Or had it been caused by the unrealistic exchange of lives she had seen in the cockpit as a young Pilot Elite.
Quenser thought about a great many things over a short period of time, but then he spat out his answer.
“Then kill yourself.”
“What do you think I’m doing? Ah ha ha!! What greater method of suicide is there!?”
She laughed confidently.
But Skuld’s speargun moved from the leisure shop owner and aimed at Quenser instead. The boy was unsure what exactly had tugged at her heartstrings or triggered her wrath, but that did not matter. He was sick of playing along with a lunatic’s logic.
He smiled thinly with his hands raised.
“Oh, so either way was fine with you.”
“That’s right. Either way is fine. I just wanted to know what a life feels like. I wanted to be driven to the edge for that. That could mean taking someone else’s life or it could mean exposing my own life. The most boring and insufferable thing is being raised inside a safe birdcage. Yes, inside that nuke-resistant Norn!!”
“Then I have no reason to hold back.”
“Hey, Skuld. Modern radios are pretty convenient. They don’t break just because you drop them in some water.”
“What are you-…?”
“And if you combine a piece of wood the size of a chopstick with a rubber band, a river’s current can remove the stopper while the rubber band presses the button.”
Skuld froze in place.
“…It can’t be!”
“Lastly, I threw the radio upstream. As the river sweeps it back this way, it’s sending out the detonation signal. Now, what do you think will happen to the bomb at your feet once it enters the effective range!?”back this way
Skuld did not hesitate.
She mercilessly pulled the trigger of the speargun aimed at Quenser.
At close range, the shaft had destructive power on par with an anti-materiel rifle.
But it was too late.
With an explosive noise, Skuld’s small body was launched several meters straight up.
The Hand Axe on the bridge below her feet had detonated.
The explosive blast must have thrown off her aim because the shaft did not even come close to hitting Quenser.
He slowly breathed out and waved at the leisure shop manager. The young man had fallen onto his butt with his hands tied behind his back, and he finally ran back into the house.
Skuld was caught on the roof of one of the single-story houses. The blast seemed to have smashed both her legs, but it had not been enough to sever them. The speargun was nowhere to be seen, but she had likely lost her grip and dropped it into the river.
Military boots belatedly pounded on the wooden bridges. Legitimacy Kingdom and Faith Organization soldiers climbed from the river and rushed in. They all aimed their guns toward Quenser and Skuld.
“Freeze! Put your hands on your head!!”
“We found both Quenser and Skuld. Damn, she’s passed out. If she had resisted, we could have shot her!!”
“This is technically a battlefield country, but we’re in a civilian village. Act with caution. I repeat…!!”
The deafening sound of wind passed by overhead.
A military helicopter from one side or the other must have arrived.
Quenser leaned against a wet wall and spoke to his awful friend Heivia.
“When can I put my hands down?”
“After we’ve retrieved all of the bombs you set up all over the place. Dammit Quenser, did you have to give us all this extra work!?”have
Skuld Silent-Third awoke on a shaking stretcher.
Her legs were filled with an intense pain that felt like the dentist scraping at her teeth but increased several times over. She worked her hazy mind, searched through her memories, and finally realized her legs must have been destroyed by the blast of the explosion.
She felt no fear or hatred.
She wanted to feel human death, so she joyfully accepted the pain. That was as true of pain given to others as it was of pain given to her.
She was not outside.
She seemed to be onboard a transport helicopter.
Urd and Verdandi were looking down at her.
“Hey, she’s woken up.”
“So it seems.”
Those two sisters holed up in their nuke-resistant armor and drowned in a sea of the powerful anesthetic known as “safety”. They used the simple idea of justice to burn away target after target on their screens, so those poor empty shells had lost sight of the meaning and value of a life. Skuld only felt pity for them. She knew she was insane, but her two older sisters did not know the same about themselves. They were the “proper” monsters who everyone praised. In that case, who was truly worthy of contempt?
“It doesn’t matter,” carelessly concluded Skuld.
What she had done and what she would do had not changed. She would continue to make the choice that would bring about the most deaths in the moment. It did not matter if her own name was on the list of the dead. What awaited her if she was court martialed and thrown in prison? She might be tormented and killed inside prison or someone might find her useful enough to release her. But that did not matter.
Whatever the situation she found herself in, she would pour all of her efforts into choosing the option that led to the most death.
“That isn’t happening, Saint Skuld.”
A young man spoke as if he had read her mind.
Instead of a Pilot Elite, a normal soldier peered down at her. It was Eric Kingsvalley. He had acted as her assistant while they were POWs.
“Our Norn was destroyed. An Elite’s value is linked to the Object, so you will temporarily lose the many military protections you had. ..In other words, the entire system protecting you is no longer functioning.”
A normal Elite might have gone mad.
Their entire life had been denied and they had been dragged down from the throne of genius to wallow in the mud of mediocrity. They seriously might have bitten through their tongue at that announcement. There was even a slight but definite movement in the cheeks and eyebrows of Urd and Verdandi as they listened.
But Skuld remained carefree.
“What does that matter?”
She saw no meaning in being a Pilot Elite. Objects and the Norn were not absolute. She wanted to know the feeling of a life. She had only ended up here in search of that answer. So she was satisfied if she had that position, but its loss did not particularly matter. Just like before, she only had to continue down her own path.
She was truly a monster.
An incomprehensible genius.
“Are people with a grudge against me going to be coming for me? Then why not open the helicopter’s cargo door and shove my stretcher out? I don’t care if you do. After all, I can sense the breath of life there. I’m sure to see something when I die.”
Eric gave her a complicated look.
For some reason, there was some pity in it.
“Saint Skuld. …No, Skuld. You truly don’t understand your situation, do you?”
Just as she questioned that comment, she heard a metallic sound. She had tried to move her arm, but it would not budge. She looked down at her body and saw thick belts around her wrists and arms. No, that was not all. Her broken legs were excluded, but there were belts around her waist and neck to bind her entire body to the stretcher.
And a needle was sticking into the inside of her elbow.
Her eyes followed that up to an IV bag on a metal pole. What was inside that? It was clear, but the view through it was distorted like it was sugar water.
Urd breathed a heavy sigh.
“This might be the last time, so we were thinking about having a final farewell.”
“But it looks like that was a waste of time. She really was born this way. She wasn’t some poor victim of her environment, upbringing, or any other conditions.”
Was it poison?
Were they killing her?
That was not enough to scare Skuld at this point.
But that was not it.
“It’s an antimanic agent,” said Eric with a shake of his head. “The drug is used in psychiatry to artificially calm a state of mania. But if you are given it around the clock, you will be unable to think and you might as well be a doll that simply stares up at the ceiling.”
For the first time, a bad feeling entered Skuld’s chest.
“We knew you would be satisfied with both killing and being killed, so we won’t give you either. You can drift in a drug-induced haze forevermore. You can rot in the eternal peace you hated more than anything.”
“Wait…no… That’s…you can’t do that! Then how will I know what a life feels like!? Everyone always told me to treat life wih cyare…”
Even as she spoke, she rapidly lost her ability to enunciate.
She had to do something. She had to remove the belts and escape. She could feel that intense impatience, but her thoughts never reached the next step. The more she thought, the more scattered those thoughts became and her soul was trapped inside a prison of barely moving flesh.
She could no longer even tell one direction from another.
She simply heard Urd and Verdandi’s voices echoing through the ether.
“Don’t worry about anything. It seems the Faith Organization will use its tax money to pay for your care.”
“But as a living sample for a failed attempt at a mass-produced Elite. Doctors will occasionally be opening you up and poking around while you sleep, but you’ll just have to pray that none of them are perverts.”
Skuld desperately tried to hold her thoughts together.
Once she fell asleep, a century-long slumber would begin.
But that thin thread of consciousness was under attack.
It could snap at any moment.
“What a pain. So this ends the 5th Norn Program.”
“And I thought we’d finally stabilized everything after using our actual sister this time. We’ll have to find another new Skuld and some Object or another.”
A mass-produced Object and a mass-produced Elite.
They were seeing which fit best with which as if she were nothing more than the ultimate artificial organ.
(There are other Objects being used…besides our Norn…?)
The Norns of North Mythology were the three goddesses of fate, but there were actually more than one group. Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld were the most well-known, but there were records of countless other Norns, some better known than others.
So if this too was following the myths…
(The three of us…aren’t the only…ones? There are other…trios…and Urd and Verdandi join the other groups…when the timing is right…? Oh, I see… The three sisters…can be freely rearranged…)
Skuld remembered something.
And that may have pushed it over the edge. She thought she heard a thin thread snapping in her mind.
“Find us a tougher Skuld for next time. The distortion always seems to concentrate there.”
“While we’re at it, how about I be Verdandi and you be Urd next time? I’m getting pretty sick of this role.”
“Honestly, I can’t believe any of this, Saints Urd and Verdandi. They’re going to make me sign something swearing to take this information with me to the grave, aren’t they? But anyway…”
“Ha ha ha. That’s right. I couldn’t help but laugh when the cloning group tried to interfere. I breathed a sigh of relief that we had already adjusted it all so nothing happened. Really though, clones? Don’t make me laugh. Did they think our noble program was just a stepping stone for those scientists in lab coats?”
“Yes, the 5th Skuld seems to have caused some problems, but I think the Norn Program can continue without issue. We can continue with a 6th or 7th. I don’t know what part of the infinitely connected triangle will break next, but that won’t be a problem either. The broken triangle will combine like an amoeba to form a different triangle. That’s the entire point of mass-production and standardization.”
“Yes, exactly, Venerable Elder.”
“Our Objects are the symbol of our nation and we give them divine names from our religion.”
“Allowing us to swap out the Objects and Elites as we see fit will do more than just increase their performance as weapons. It also allows us to work with or reconcile with other religions despite the great barriers in the way. In fact, it could even open the way to creating a single unified organization.”
“Yes, that would become a true Faith Organization.”
“We will create a paradise that values the noble idea of crossing the borders between religions to allow mutual respect between all those who know the wonders of worshiping a god. We would have a palace of eternal prosperity where no one could prevent us from receiving the infinite love generously poured down from heaven.”
“Unfortunately, we are becoming a Faith Organization in name only. Ideas of exclusionism are spreading through both the monotheistic religions and even the polytheistic religions which are supposedly more open-minded, so we can no longer ignore the friction and tension inside our own world power. Without a definite external enemy like the Capitalist Corporations or the Information Alliance, we would fall apart almost immediately. But the Norn Program could breathe fresh air into that problem. We would have true unity without needing an external threat. Honestly, your brilliance is downright frightening, Venerable Elder.”
“In that sense, the trouble caused by the 5th Skuld could provide some useful data. She was a symbol of the friction created by the interaction between religions. She had truly dark ideas and she was the barrier we need to break down. When a problem surfaces, we need to use it to our benefit. Analyzing and researching her psychology and brain structure would be quite valuable.”
“I cannot even envision the completed form yet, but we are in the process of gathering each individual step we need to reach that point. Please take good care of yourself so that we can overcome another difficult spot, Venerable Elder.”
“Yes, until we speak again.”
“Let us pray that this sinful and impure world will reach a godly age void of strife.”
Quenser and the Legitimacy Kingdom military were busy preparing to withdraw.
They had defeated the Faith Organization’s Second Generation Trinity Style and dealt with Skuld’s escape, so they had no more reason to remain in Experimental Battlefield Madagascar. Quenser was helping the many maintenance soldiers pack up all the equipment and tools.
They had received new orders.
A new strategy was underway somewhere in the world and they were being thrown into some other war.
“She was completely insane.”
Quenser breathed an exasperated sigh as he thought back on it all.
The Princess was sitting nearby with nothing to do, so she faced him with a blank look in her eyes.
“It wasn’t for her job, for money, for fame, for her country, or for peace. She killed for the sake of killing because it was her hobby. It wasn’t that she confused the means for the objective; killing was both her means and her objective, which is insane. And instead of being driven out, she was able to take root in her unit until she couldn’t be extracted. Everything about it was completely broken. It was entirely unprecedented.”
The Princess’s response was emotionless.
She looked slender and adorable at first glance, but she too had a monstrous side to her since she was singlehandedly responsible for the wars they fought in and she was the one that pulled the trigger.
Unlike Quenser and Heivia who crawled along the ground, the Pilot Elites were protected by nuke-resistant armor and wielded main cannons with enough firepower to end the nuclear age, so what had Skuld looked like to her?
Was it simply, “Oh, is that all?”
Or had Skuld seemed abnormal even to her?
“Which do you think is more sinful?” she asked. “Killing people for a hobby or killing people for your job?”
“The perfect answer would be that all killing is equally sinful, but that would kind of defeat our entire purpose here.”
What did it mean to work with an Object?
What would it mean if he one day designed them?
“Skuld claimed she always chose the option that would kill the most people in that moment…”
“I think she was dependent on that idea,” said the Princess. “If you look at it another way, it’s an excuse saying she wouldn’t have killed if the conditions had been different. She seemed to be saying a lot of philosophical things, but I think that was the core of it all. She didn’t want to take responsibility for her own actions.”
The path of the Pilot Elite began at a very young age.
They became a symbol of war.
Had she sought a way of escaping the mindset that the adults had built up inside her?
“Then what about you, Princess?”
Quenser suddenly asked something.
A juvenile side of him may have included a bit of cruelty in the question.
“What do you think is right?”
She paused for a moment, but she did not seem to think too much about it.
She answered in her usual unconcerned manner.
“You make your own decisions on your own responsibility and you kill on your own responsibility. What other answer is there in this world?”
Tomorrow, they would begin a new war somewhere else.
This world justified its actions, but the good were not rewarded and the evil were not punished. Even so, they would continue to struggle and search for what is right.
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