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Episode 1: Reunion / Sky Masquerade
The sight of the world from within the omnidirectional AR interface truly was beautiful.
The sky from 6000 meters up. And below, the scattered cloud carpet could be seen.
“Alright, this is on a whole different level from those work-type Masquerades!”
Opening a communication line, Luca Bernard spoke to her younger sister Marie.
Luca was a 17-year-old girl, with frizzy dirty blonde hair. It bounced to and fro, and had never reached more than semi-long length.
“Of course it is, it’s the newest military unit. Now let’s get out of here already.”
Marie’s face floated in the center of the AR interface.
Marie had just turned fourteen, and her bright blonde hair was tied into twintails.
“Okay, let’s test out this latest-model Masquerade’s top speed!”
Though its propulsion thrusters were fully open, the force of their acceleration couldn’t really be felt. The G-force control system was working well.
Masquerade- to put it simply, it was the generic name for piloted humanoid robots. From construction to war, they saw a wide number of uses.
Their field of use had rapidly expanded ever since the ban on ballistic missiles that followed the third world war.
Currently, Luca was sitting inside the cockpit of a military Masquerade. Or rather, its omnidirectional augmented reality display was showing all sorts of data overlaid on the outside scenery.
It felt like she was sitting on the sky itself.
“Your machine’s acceleration is way too fast, Oneechan. Marie’s can’t even keep up.”
“Ahaha, that’s because I stole the best one!”
“No fair. Marie wanted that one too.”
Marie began to pout.
“Your angry face is adorable too, Marie!”
“Muu…… you’re treating Marie like a little kid again.”
Marie puffed out her cheeks, which only served to make Luca find her even more adorable.
And if it was for the happiness of this adorable little sister, she’d even become a thief.
About thirty minutes prior…
“Marie, it’s today!”
Visiting the laundry room of the floating battleship Arianrhod, Luca spoke to the white apron-clad Marie who was currently waiting for some clothes to finish drying.
“What do you mean ‘what,’ did you forget about our objective?”
When Luca said this, Marie checked their surroundings.
“Nobody’s here,” Luca shrugged. “It’s fine.”
“Looks like it.”
“Didn’t we take these jobs so that we could steal a military Masquerade from this battleship?”
Military Masquerades went for a lot of money. And although their selling routes weren’t secure, there were still tons of countries who’d love to get their hands on the Republic’s latest model.
“So, I’m saying that today is when we take action.”
Luca possessed a special power. And that power was whispering to her that “today is the perfect day.”
She’d already finished the preparations, and once she got into the cockpit it was as good as hers.
Since nobody would consider stealing a Masquerade from an aerial battleship in the first place, no guards were posted. They were all just sitting there in the hanger.
And although it was entirely possible that the tune-up crew might be present, the likelihood of them being unguarded was higher since there weren’t any battles going on.
“……wait a minute.”
Marie closed her eyes.
And a few seconds later, she opened them back up.
“Yeah. It’s fine.”
Marie also possessed a special power. It was thanks to it that they were able to survive the tragedy that took place seven years ago.
An atrocity called “revolution,” carried out under the flag of “justice.” Neither Luca nor Marie would ever forgive anyone who preached of such things.
On that day seven years ago, a massive army advanced on their once-peaceful capital, scores were indiscriminately slaughtered with gunfire, and everyone who survived lost their homes.
But thanks to Marie’s power, the two of them were able to escape the rain of bullets by a hair’s breadth.
However, the real hardship in their lives came afterwards. A single piece of moldy bread counted as an entire day’s worth of food, they drank muddy water, and were left with no other way to survive.
“Alright Marie, let’s go.”
It was a life where people would throw rocks at them while calling them rats. But even so, the two survived. So that someday they could be happy. Like back during their early childhood when they were wealthy.
Like back when they prayed every single day that everyone would be happy.
And now, inside the Masquerade’s cockpit…
“Hey, you two! What are you doing!?”
Another window suddenly opened in the AR interface, displaying the face of a woman with blue hair in a ponytail.
The Captain of the Lordseal Republic’s aerial battleship Arianrhod’s Masquerade unit, Celia Cross.
Celia was 23 years old, and possessed the same kind of special power as Luca and Marie.
“Whoa, as expected of <<Purple Lightning Celia>>. She already sortied.”
“Oneechan, isn’t she going to catch up with Marie?”
Marie was piloting a massproduced unit. In contrast, Celia’s was a specialized custom unit. There was a difference in their specs.
To be specific, Celia’s unit sacrificed top speed in favor of improved acceleration and mobility. At the very least, she wouldn’t be able to keep up. Luca was aware of this.
Because she had thoroughly investigated it prior to stealing the Masquerade.
Her original intent was actually to steal Celia’s unit, but she decided on the one that she’s currently piloting instead upon learning that it was a newer model.
“Why are a cook and a laundry girl able to pilot Masquerades!?”
As their communication lines were open, both Luca’s and Marie’s faces were exposed to Celia.
But that wasn’t an issue. Because they’d never be meeting again.
“I’ve been piloting work-type Masquerades for the past six years, since I was ten years old!”
“I’ve also been piloting since I was ten, for the past three years. You can check my resume for the details.”
Those were hellish days. Working from dawn to dusk, and their lives didn’t improve a single bit.
The aerial battleship Arianrhod was looking for civilian cooking and laundry personnel during this time, and Luca and Marie applied right away.
This wasn’t because they aspired to become a cook and a laundry girl, of course. Their goal from the very start was to steal a military Masquerade.
Because they’d always be living like rats if they didn’t take initiative somewhere.
“I see.” For a second, Celia showed an understanding expression. “…wait, that unit was adjusted for MY use! Even if you know how to pilot, you won’t be able to handle it! Give it back! If you do it now, I’ll give you a lighter penalty!”
“Shut up already. Who cares if I can’t handle it, I’m just gonna be selling it anyways.”
“You intend to SELL the Phantom!? Do you have any idea what kind of unit that is!?”
The unit that Luca was piloting was named “Phantom.” Though its frame was black, it was intended to be repainted in Celia’s colors.
And just like Celia’s “Lightning” nickname, her colors were light purple.
Marie was in a “Folklore,” one of the Lordseal Republic’s massproduced Masquerades. It was painted in Lordseal’s traditional light blue.
“Not really,” Luca laughed. “But I do know that it’ll sell for a lot.”
“Oneechan, others are heading out too.”
According to the radar at the lower left side of the AR interface, five more Masquerade units launched from the aerial battleship Arianrhod. They were all Folklores.
“Even if you come out now, it’s already too late,” Luca laughed internally.
The gap between them and Celia also showed no sign of closing. And if they continued on at their top speeds, she’d eventually lose sight of them entirely.
According to the speedometer, Luca was already going at the Phantom’s top speed of Mach 2.4.
Marie’s Folklore’s was Mach 2.3, and the Lightning’s was Mach 2.0.
But then, even more silhouettes appeared on the radar. Numbering six. With enemy identification codes. They were units that belonged to the Holy Raal Empire which desired world domination.
“Crap! We got so carried away that we invaded their airspace!?”
The panicked Luca didn’t confirm the enemy units’ entire ID codes. In other words, she didn’t see the name of their units.
“Turn back!” Celia noticed the presence of the enemy. “Do you want to die!? We’re at war with the Holy Raal Empire! They won’t give any warnings!”
She knew that.
The international alliance that centered around the Lordseal Republic considered the Holy Raal Empire as “evil” and fought for the noble cause of crushing its ambitions of conquest.
“I can’t turn back now!”
Luca started an open channel. She had a way out.
“People of the Raal Empire! I’m a civilian! I stole the Arianrhod’s newest-type Masquerade! And I’ll sell it to you, so please don’t shoot me down!”
“…and that is what she said, Lieselotte-sama.”
The face of Krista, a member of the Royal Guard, was displayed on the AR interface.
“Hm. One moment.”
Lieselotte Falkenmeyer, the acting Imperial Agent and Supreme Commander of the Holy Raal Empire’s army, slowly closed her eyes.
Lieselotte’s brilliant red hair reached down to her waist. Her beautifully refined features were doll-like.
However, most people would feel terror before they noticed her beauty.
Three years ago- when she was eighteen years old, Lieselotte rose to the position of Imperial Agent, and the Holy Raal Empire itself fell into her clutches.
And then she began walking the violent path of global domination.
Lieselotte possessed a special power.
She trusted it with her life.
“Very well. Protect the two lead units.”
When she opened her eyes, Lieselotte knew that the civilian’s words weren’t lies.
No, it would be slightly off to say that she “knew” this.
The conviction that this was true. She always obeyed this conviction.
Oridinary people referred to this power as the “Sixth Sense.”
“Understood. And what should we do about <<Purple Lightning Celia>>?”
“Kill her. She’s always getting in my way, but today will see the end of our relationship.
The reason that Lieselotte was here in this sky palace on this day and at this time was surely to settle things with Celia.
At least, that’s how Lieselotte interpreted it.
If not, she had no other explanation. Because the entire reason why Lieselotte came to this place to start with was because her Sixth Sense demanded it.
“The Lily Princess Lieselotte!?”
Magnifying the enemy’s silhouette, Celia gritted her teeth.
A white unit with a crest of lilies on either shoulder. A beautiful, unsullied machine. The machine that she swore would be shot down by her own two hands.
“But why is it here? Is it because she knew that I’d be coming? Even though I hadn’t sensed anything?”
The mere fact that they met here was fate.
Today, in this place, they would settle things. Both personally and in war.
By defeating Lieselotte, the Holy Raal Empire will finally wake up from the childish dream of “world domination.”
“Lieselotte!! I shall crush you with the hammer of justice!!”
The Lightning equipped a steel-rending sword in its right hand, and an assault rifle in its left.
Celia’s words were a shock to Luca’s heart.
The phantoms of seven years ago filled her vision.
The world on fire. The burning sky.
the Republic Masquerade that stomped on crying children.
The aerial battleship that focused its fire on the royal castle and slaughtered the entire royal family.
“Oneechan, calm down.”
Not even the words of her beloved little sister could reach Luca.
“Celia Cross!!” Luca screamed. “Don’t you… don’t ANY of you Republic people DARE to speak of justice!!”
Luca spun the Phantom around, opened its thrusters, and aimed right for the Lightning.
She went right past Marie’s Folklore.
“Sixth Sense above Level 3 detected.”
The Phantom spoke. As Masquerades aren’t supposed to be able to talk, Luca was somewhat surprised. But this was the newest type so she accepted that its control AI must be an advanced one.
“High-purity emotional energy detected. Activating sensory circuits. Expanding Mode Messiah. All armaments are able to be used. Commencing attack assist.”
At that instant, Luca fell into a sensation as if her own body was being taken over.
“What is this!?”
A slot bar that displayed a catalog of weapons appeared near Luca’s hands.
Completely separated from Luca’s own volition, her hand selected “Energy Sword Excalibur” from the weapon display.
“My body, it’s moving on its own!?”
“Now assisting,” the AI said.
At the same time, a pale green sword formed in the Phantom’s right hand. Despite the fact that it was definitely a solid object, it was possible to see through its half-translucent surface.
“Impossible!?” Celia’s eyes went wide. “Mode Messiah!? You mean to say that some cook has the same level of Sixth Sense that I do!?”
The Lightning sliced downwards with its steel-rending sword.
The Phantom dodged this attack on its own, and then spun around to the Lighting’s rear.
It would be more correct to say that the Phantom was using Luca’s body in order to move freely.
The Lightning evaded to the right. Normally, this miraculous level of acceleration was impossible to follow.
But the Phantom was keeping up with the Lightning.
And it used Excalibur to slice off the Lightning’s left arm.
Both it and the assault rifle that it had been holding were swallowed by the clouds.
“The difference in our specs……” Celia said, “…they’re too far apart?”
The Lightning fled above, but the Phantom followed without difficulty. And then used Excalibur to slice off both of its legs.
“This…… this is impossible……”
The Phantom grabbed the Lightning’s head with its left hand.
And then with its right, it drew Excalibur towards the cockpit…
She immediately realized what this machine… what the Phantom was about to do.
“I…… in a place like this……”
Excalibur was thrust right into the cockpit.
The Phantom opened its left hand, let go of Excalibur and created some distance between itself and the Lightning.
“Enemy silent,” the AI said. Ending attack-assisted Messiah Mode. Also, requesting that you be quicker about giving orders.”
The Lightning fell.
Luca watched the scene in slow motion.
She definitely did snap, and she did intend to attack.
But she had no intention of killing her.
That’s right, she had no intention of killing her.
The Lightning was swallowed by the clouds.
“I…… I just……”
“No! It wasn’t you, Oneechan!” Marie said over the channel that was open this entire time.
But her voice didn’t reach Luca’s ears.
Luca stared at her hands.
For the first time in her life, she killed someone.
And although her body may not have been moving of her own volition, it was still a fact that Luca was the one piloting the Phantom.
“I…… killed her?”
Luca vomited inside the cockpit the second that she came to this realization.
She killed a human being.
A horrible feeling of guilt.
Her body trembled as she clutched her shoulders.
But the trembling still wouldn’t stop.
Then, together with the chime that signified a received signal, text appeared on the AR interface stating that it was from the Holy Raal Empire.
“I need to accept this transmission…” Thinking that, Luca worked the control panel.
This was the Holy Raal Empire’s airspace. Ignoring them would only result in tragedy for both her and Marie.
When Luca accepted the transmission, another window in the AR interface opened up.
And displayed there,
was a beautiful woman with brilliant red hair.
But that beauty was cold, like a blade.
Luca knew this woman.
The demon king who desired to rule the world, Lieselotte Falkenmeyer. There was hardly anyone who didn’t know her face. But that wasn’t it.
“……you’re- no way, Lucrene!?”
Liese also recognized Luca, and was horribly shocked.
That was the void of time between the two of them.
Ten years ago, Luca consoled Liese, who was on the verge of tears and convinced that nobody loved her.
That was when they became friends.
In the royal palace’s garden, where multicolored flowers bloomed.
It felt like yesterday.
But everything changed seven years ago.
The consoler became a purehearted rat,
and the other party became the demon king who was hated by all.
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