Prologue – The Puppeteer from the Far East
“Yaya is cute, Yaya is super cute. Yaya is the cutest in the world.”
The girl was clasping her hands together, muttering softly like she was deep in prayer.
The gentle sunlight drifted down, with the rhythmic sound of steam hissing in the background. The train had departed from London, and was now Liverpool-bound. In one of the 2nd class passenger carriages, a scene was unfolding between an odd pair.
The two were Orientals, a youth and a girl.
Their oddity did not extend to their appearance alone. Inexplicably, the girl was leaning over the seat opposite her, as though trying to cover the youth with her body, while whispering strange words to him.
“Yaya is so cute I love Yaya Yaya is so bewitching Yaya is my wife—“
Abruptly, the whispering stopped.
“What were you doing so close to my ear?”
“Yaya was reciting a charm to make Raishin fall in love with me.”
“Was it really something so cute and innocent? Because it sure felt like you were trying to corrupt me somehow, you know?”
Completely ignoring his retort, the girl calmly pointed out of the window.
“Look, Raishin. We’re already inside Machine City.”
“Ahh, about time we arrived. Travelling half a day from London’s no joke. My butt’s sore from all that sitting.”
“That means the top school in all of Western Europe should be coming into view shortly.”
Grinning happily, the girl pressed herself up against the youth.
“This school houses its students in dormitories right?”
“So when night comes, it’ll be just the two of us to ourselves right?”
“I’d think so…”
“I’m looking forward to many sleepless nights then <3”
“Actually, I’ll be sleeping. If you try anything funny though, I’ll kick you out of the room.”
“What’s with that look of betrayal on your face? I’ll say it again; we’re not here on a vacation.”
The girl’s face clouded over, heartbreak etched deep in her trembling black pupils.
“This city is, after all, where the Wiseman’s Night Party will begin.”
The expression on the girl’s face immediately tightened.
“Magi competing against one another for supremacy, the winner decided through a blood soaked banquet of battles.
“Yeah. I’ll be counting on you then, Yaya.”
“Of course. If it’s for Raishin, I’d be willing to go through anything; through fire, into your futon,”
“Don’t sneak into my futon.”
“Ah, is this what they call an interest in outdoor fuc…“
“What was that? Did something so vulgar just come out of your innocent looking face?”
“If that is what Rashin desires, then Yaya will serve with all her heart. Whether it’s in the bushes, or even if it’s in front of everyone.”
“As much as I’d like to thank you for your devotion, I can’t… because you’ve completely misinterpreted something. I don’t want THAT kind of service; rather, what I’m expecting from you is something altogether different.”
In that vein, the two of them carried on their playful banter as the scenery of the modern town flashed by them outside the window.
Concrete buildings lined the main street, while T-Fords imported from America trundled along the paved roads. The street corners were littered with stands selling coffee, run by machine dolls. The dolls’ body were made of tin, and their stiff, awkward movements were somehow amusing to watch.
Machine City Liverpool.
The point base from which the vast amount of cotton produced by the city of Manchester was exported to the rest of the world. The British Empire proudly boasted that it was one of, if not the best, port cities in the world. Recently however, it was also becoming famous for being the next great city of academics, after Cambridge.
Finally, the train pulled into the station, which had a beautiful iron dome as the highlight of its modern design.
And passed on through, without even a hint of slowing down.
“Why didn’t it stop?” “This was supposed to be the terminal station!”
The passengers were stirring, doubt and dissatisfaction lining their voices.
The train conductor burst through a door, a dire look on his face.
“Everyone, please, please calm down and listen carefully to me.”
Having asked for such, it was obvious that he himself was anything but calm. In a trembling voice, he continued on.
“The brakes are not working!”
There was a silence so quiet you could hear a drop of water.
And then almost immediately, the entire carriage descended into a panicked frenzy.
“Everyone calm down! It’ll be fine, the train will eventually come to a halt on its own!”
However, the conductor’s voice did not register with anyone. It was lost amid the screaming and roaring of the passengers.
In the first place, the train did not look remotely close to slowing down at all. This was probably because it was on a slope.
It was simple physics. Anything on a downward slope would never naturally come to a stop.
Like an omen of the catastrophe to come, the train literally began to shudder. At that moment—
“Everybody, return to your seats!”
All the passengers simultaneously turned to gaze at the speaker.
The voice belonged to the person who had been bantering with the girl earlier, the Oriental youth.
He was of small build and had a slender figure. His eyes were sharp like an eagle’s.
The young girl standing next to him was clad in a kimono. The kimono was short, and the fluttering of the cloth allowed one to catch an occasional glimpse of her thighs. Her bare shoulders showed off her lustrous skin, which was white as snow. Her face did not have any outstanding parts, so at first glance she looked plain and simple, but in reality, her exceedingly well-ordered features was like a delicate work of art belonging to a museum. Her waist length hair shone with a brilliance that made it look like it was perpetually wet. Her skin was tender and soft like a white peach. She was shorter than the youth by a head, making her look like a literal doll.
They weren’t ordinary people. Overwhelmed by their presence, the passengers quietly returned to their seats.
“Conductor, please inform the rest of the carriages as well. Those who do not wish to die should hold on tightly to their seats.”
It wasn’t a request, it was an order. The conductor gave the briefest of nods, before dashing off into the next carriage.
The youth watched him disappear, before making his way through the carriage. As he did so, his eyes came to rest on a seat next to him.
A young girl was hugging her little sister, the latter curled up into a ball.
There was fear reflected in her eyes. Her small frame made her resemble a frightened little squirrel.
The youth flashed a clumsy smile at her, before placing his hand on her head.
“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of everything.”
The youth took off his coat then nimbly exited through a window, making his way to the top of the carriage. The kimono clad girl followed shortly after him.
Moving with the grace of acrobats, the pair swiftly ran to the front of the train.
“Raishin, look at that!”
“That’s… a pretty sharp bend.”
The line running through downtown had a particularly harsh curve. If the train were to mount it, it would surely derail!
“We have to stop it before it reaches the curve. In that case… Yaya, Shinkan Shijuuhachishou (1).”
Using the nose of the train as a base, the girl kicked off it, propelling herself forward. The backlash was tremendous, causing the train to decelerate sharply.
The girl sped through the air like a bullet, landing a considerable distance in front of the train. However, the train had not stopped. The train was rapidly charging straight towards her, about to run her over!
The people below on the streets noticed the abnormal scene unfolding and started screaming.
The youth however, remained unfazed. Bracing himself against the spout of the engine locomotive, he prepared some kind of attack.
On doing so, the girl opened her palm towards him. In a flash, something akin to a bluish-white flame gushed forth, forming something like a chain that linked the girl and the youth together.
The girl was now right in front of the train. A few hundred tonnes of train was now bearing down on her—
And then, a crash.
It was an attack so strong the front of the train was dented in. The inertia of the carriages behind the front car carried them forward, causing them to collide into each other in succession. Some of the carriages were even forced upwards. The girl had driven her geta(2) firmly into the ground, breaking the railroad tie and causing it to be lodged deep into the earth. A great amount of train ballast had been blown up into the air, and the girl herself had been driven back fifty metres or so.
However, the girl was unharmed.
Demonstrating her body’s extreme sturdiness, she had completely stopped the runaway train dead in its tracks. As for the rest of the carriages, there were some which were slanted in different directions, some had their shafts broken, others had derailed… although, having said that much, none of the carriages had flipped over completely. While it was impossible that the injury rate would be zero, at the very least the number of casualties had been minimized.
After confirming the train had come to a complete halt, the youth leapt down onto the tracks.
“Well done Yaya. You sure as hell didn’t hold back anything, did you?”
The girl was delighted from the praise. She stuck her head out expectantly, fidgeting while waiting for him to pet her head. However, the youth abruptly turned on his heels.
Just like that, he started walking back. Having no choice, the girl chased after him.
When they returned to their carriage, a scene of carnage lay before them. Luggage was strewn about all over the place, and the moans and groans of the injured could be heard. Still, there were no serious casualties. Giving them a quick, unsympathetic glance, he began to search for his own trunk.
Just as he found his trunk, a voice called out to him from behind.
It was the sisters from earlier. The elder sister was looking at the youth with a shy expression on her face. The younger sister timidly approached the youth with a slight smile on her face, holding out his coat.
The youth took it, and turning to face the elder sister, curtly asked her.
“Are you hurt?”
“No. Um, are you… a mage?”
“No. I’m a Puppeteer.”
“So, that girl over there, she’s an automaton…?”
Her eyes widening, she stared at the girl next to her, a little unnerved.
Her shock was understandable. Blood flowed under the girl’s skin, which had a slight tinge of red to it. She had a heartbeat, and she was breathing as well. No matter how you looked at it, she was totally human.
This high level of detail in an automaton, while not unheard of in this place known as Machine City, was something that could hardly be called a common sight. For most of the residents here, the automata they were familiar with were mainly cheap tin constructs which had exposed gears and cylinders.
The female form automaton, much like a real girl would, gave a gentle smile.
“Yes, Yaya is Raishin’s “personal doll”. —Even in bed”
That last part was an unnecessary remark.
The passengers started whispering amongst themselves. The elder sister started blushing deeply while staring at them.
“Nooooooooo you pervert!”
Whoosh, went her open palm through the air, as she slapped the youth on the cheek.
Hugging her little sister, she ran away as fast as she could.
“Right now, there’s this dark feeling swirling about in my heart. I wonder what it is.”
“It’s anger! Why do you always keep saying things that will cause other people to get the wrong idea!?”
“But…! That girl was looking at Raishin with a lewd look in her eyes…!”
“You’re the one who’s looking at other people the wrong way!”
After being scolded, the girl dropped the hem of her kimono and looked down at her feet despondently.
Her thin eyebrows pointed downwards, while tears began to form at the corners of her eyes.
Her sad figure was painful to watch. The youth let out a sigh.
“Forget it. Let’s go. If the police get here it’ll be a hassle to deal with them.”
Slinging his trunk over his shoulder, he started walking off. The clip-clop of the geta echoed as the girl followed closely behind him.
Stepping off the carriage, the passengers could only watch dumfounded as they disappeared into the throng of people in the city.
Machine civilization only started to blossom at the start of the 20thcentury. Alongside the remarkable development in science and technology, mankind was able to establish advanced magic as a system.
Machinart. An innovation which completely turned the world of magic upside down.
It involved running a magic circuit through an automaton, and having a puppeteer control it. This combination allowed the casting of magic that were faster, more detailed, and stronger than traditional methods.
With the advent of this technique, magi were able to compress complex magic circles and long incantations into automata, effectively being able to cast magic instantly.
At the same time however, this technique was also being exploited for military use.
The victory at Trafalgar, as well as the triumph at Waterloo… neither of these would have been possible if not for the existence of the pride of British army, the Machinart Division
Of course, this wasn’t restricted to just England. In this era, countries stockpiled automata in an escalating arms face, as well as continuing to develop new, talented puppeteers to control them. The major powers of the world were in a frenzied state trying to outdo each other.
It was only a matter of time then, before the field of education became something of national importance.
A few hours after the incident with the train, at the heart of the city of Liverpool.
A curious couple stopped before a massive gate.
An Oriental youth and an automaton girl. It was the pair who had stopped the runaway train earlier.
“The Royal Academy of Machinart, Walpurgis.”
The youth read out the words engraved onto the plate, with a cynical smile on his face.
“Famous for being the highest institute of education within the realm of magic. It looks more like a fort, no, maybe a prison would be a better comparison.”
The scenery he was describing expanded before his eyes as his walked on.
Towering over the front was a large, majestic lecture hall which brought Buckingham Palace to mind when one looked at it. Its brick walls were easily 50 metres tall, and its stone-wrought gate had little eyeholes set in them. The holes didn’t seem like they were made to repel incoming enemies, they felt more like they were there to shoot down any fleeing students. As further proof, the gatekeeper wasn’t monitoring activity from the town, but rather, keeping an eye on the premises.
Even the most conservative of people would have to admit the whole thing was pretty overbearing. The school was as frightening as a military base.
However, unbothered by it all, the automaton girl pointed towards the dormitories.
“Look over there Raishin. That’s our new love nest. <3”
She was in high spirts.
In contrast, the youth was unnaturally silent. Noticing this, she tilted her head at him.
“What’s wrong, Raishin? You look depressed.”
“Once we pass through that gate, you know you won’t be able to return to the world for a quite a while right?”
Testing her resolve, the youth stared straight into the eyes of the girl.
“It’s the law of this country. All automata belonging to the students of the Academy cannot step foot into town until after graduation.”
Her hand on her chest, the girl spoke without hesitation, like she was reciting a pledge.
“The only place Yaya desires to be is where Raishin is. Whether it’s on the battlefield, or in prison, that will never change.”
“You think too highly of me. I’m merely using you as a tool for revenge.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself Raishin. Yaya was a mere doll created by Shouko, from the day I was born I was but a mere tool. And then once this tool was given a purpose, she started living for the first time in her life.”
Her gentle smile was as beautiful as the blooming of a flower.
“I’ll always be by your side Rashin. Even when you’re in your futon.”
“I’ll have to decline that. However, keep up that strong resolve of yours.”
The youth relaxed his face, and strode forwards with firm steps.
On that day, the solitary youth, alongside his matchless automaton, passed through the gates into the academy.
With that, what awaited him was that banquet of strife—
1: 森閑四八衝 (Silent Forest: 48th Point)
2: Japanese sandals.