It was probably some sort of alarm. The bell continued to ring loudly.
Sounds of activity could be heard from above the ceiling. Most likely, they had begun to hunt for the intruders. After a few moments, like Komurasaki said, the footsteps could be heard descending the stairs.
“Raishin, what…what do we do?”
As she hugged Raishin’s arm tightly, her legs were trembling.
Had Komurasaki’s hidden form magic art been broken?
Or perhaps, this icehouse was rigged with a barrier that triggered an alarm when an intruder was detected.
“Yomi. How many others can detect us like you can?”
“If they’re under the control of a puppeteer, then all Garm units should be able to do so.”
In short, there was an extremely high chance they were in danger of being captured.
“Komurasaki. Can you fool that active sensor thing?”
“I can, but… It’s difficult. I can’t extend the effect to you.”
It was an answer he expected. Raishin felt his stomach twist into a knot.
“In that case, the only option left is to break through them.”
“You really are a bold little brat. However your simple-mindedness will only get you killed.”
“Do you have some sort of plan?”
“Stupid boy. Of course we’re going to escape.”
The footsteps were getting closer. Narrowing her eyes at the flustered Raishin, Yomi walked further into the room with unsteady steps.
“Look here. This thing opens.”
She was pointing at a spot on the floor. Raishin crouched down, and felt around with his hands.
There was a slight bump. It felt like some sort of metal plate. It seemed to be some part of a mechanism because it was surprisingly light for its thickness and easy to lift and open. Yet when released, it slowly closed shut on its own.
There was an empty cavern below and obviously, nothing could be seen.
It was like an entrance to hell. A slightly unnatural sound of something flowing could be heard coming from it.
“Is this a secret escape route?”
“No. This is a garbage disposal.”
“Garbage disposal? Wait, then where does this lead to-”
He never got to finish his sentence. He felt a kick behind, and suddenly his body was flying through space.
He felt fear and shock reflexively, as well as a sense of floating.
He fell for an extremely long time through the hole, for what felt like a full minute to him. Of course that wasn’t true. In actual fact he took just three seconds before landing with a splash.
Just as the sound suggested, he was in the middle of a body of water. His feet couldn’t touch the floor, he couldn’t see anything and worse of all, the current was fast!
“Don’t chatter needlessly!”
Yomi rammed into him. Komurasaki seemed to have also landed in the water, because there was a splash behind him.
The temperature of the water felt like it couldn’t be anything above five degrees. His only consolation was that he hadn’t suffered any cardiac arrests yet. However, the extremities of his body were quickly becoming numb and he could feel his warmth slowly disappearing.
(This isn’t good…!)
He was a proficient swimmer but since his clothes were currently soaked with freezing water, sooner or later he’d drown. He hurriedly kicked off his shoes and removed his harness. The loss of his tools were regrettable, but he valued his life more.
“Where does this lead to? How long will it take us to get there? Can we lose our pursuers?”
“Don’t ask everything at once. Firstly, this leads to the sewers below Machine City- or that’s what they say.”
“So we’re relying on hearsay? And it’s a sewer!?”
“Beggars can’t be choosers. And at the speed we’re going, we should be out of here pretty soon. Of course, we’ll only lose them if there’s a big number of fools up there.”
There was the possibility that they’d go ahead of them and lie in wait. Or even possibly chase after them.
Even then, they had no choice but to swim onwards.
Yomi dog paddled as she pushed on, with Raishin riding the currents and swimming in a breaststroke. Komurasaki was surprisingly fine, even with her kimono on as she seemed to be swimming on unhindered by it.
“…I’m sorry, Komurasaki.”
Komurasaki was surprised by his sudden statement. A bewildered look flashed across her face.
“Even with a fine automaton like you, we still ended up in this pathetic state. Because of my lack of skill, now you might even get stolen by them. Now that the situation is like this, I…”
“That’s not true! It’s not your fault, Raishin! And also, this is at least half my fault…. I think. I knew that this would be dangerous…”
“I’m just a bastard that can only curse my own incompetence. Shouko already made all the secret preparations, and I still wasn’t able to learn anything. I still have no clue whatsoever why Frey is targeting me.”
The only thing he knew for sure was that D-Works was up to some shifty research.
That much was already clear to the military. Shouko had specifically despatched Raishin here, which meant that there was something else she was expecting from him, something he was suited for.
“Damn it! It’s because of screw-ups like these, I’m called Second Last!”
“You’re Second Last!?”
Yomi exclaimed in a startled voice. Even within the darkness, her eyes were shining. Faced with her sudden surge of hostility, Raishin was taken aback.
“…So what if I am. What’s gotten into you all of a sudden?”
“You want to know why Frey’s trying to eliminate you?”
In a low voice like she was trying to hold something back, Yomi sighed.
“It’s very simple. If she lost to you, the programme would be frozen.”
“Programme? What programme?”
“The production of the Garm series.”
Raishin remembered Charl’s words. The competition to decide who would be supplying the British army with next generation technology- D-Works was one of the participants.
“So then, Rabi is really being tested in the Night Party?”
“Yes. It’s a field test for his performance and also to collect data.”
“If Rabi loses, then what?”
“Then obviously, D-Works will submit a different model for consideration.”
In the back of Raishin’s mind, the image of an automaton bearing wings floated to the top.
“You look like you know about it. The Angel series are automata developed by a different research laboratory. On a one-to-one comparison, it far surpasses the combat ability of the Garm series. Because it’s made up of inorganic components, it’s easy and straightforward to maintain. The only problem is that the cost to produce it is high, and it’s difficult to control. Only an extremely skilled puppeteer can handle it.”
When he had previously seen it in action, Cherubim itself seemed very raw, close to a wooden puppet. If you wanted it to perform complicated manoeuvres, you’d probably need a very delicate sense of control.
“On that point, The Garm series is easy even for a newbie puppeteer to control. For better or worse, it’s just a dog. Maintenance might be problematic, but it’s cheap to produce so you can use it then dispose of it when you’re done.”
Raishin frowned. Use and dispose. Those were despicable words to him.
“If the Garm programme is halted, what will happen to the dogs in the shed?”
“Obviously, they will be disposed of.”
With that answer, all the pieces fell into place.
If she couldn’t prove the usefulness of the series at the Night Party, all the dogs would be disposed of.
That was the reason. This was the circumstances that forced her to try and “assassinate” Raishin!
(Damn… this kind of reason-)
His bitter sentiments were cut short by Komurasaki’s shout.
Ahead of them, something could be seen amidst the darkness.
It was a shaky light. Faintly illuminating the darkness was the light from a lamp!
He felt an immense killing intent. Clutching Komurasaki’s head close to his chest, he dived under water.
And not a moment too soon, for something skimmed over their heads. Short swords embedded themselves into the walls, causing water to evaporate as it passed by.
The second round wasn’t imminent. The opponent seemed to have lost sight of them. Whether it was because of the darkness, or because of Komurasaki’s hidden form, the enemy didn’t notice Raishin. In any case, Raishin closed the distance between them while underwater and reaching from the bottom, he kicked himself up flying out of the water.
His aim was perfect, for he appeared right in front of his opponent.
As he thought, the enemy was a puppeteer. An automaton resembling a mannequin was following behind him. Although it had a different form from Cherubim, its arms were covered in countless thorn-like short swords.
His kick cleanly connected. The puppeteer, not having the time to block was sent flying, crashing and falling flat onto the floor.
The automaton froze like it had encountered some sort of error. Just like Cherubim, independent action didn’t seem to be one of the strong points of its software. Raishin sent it tripping flat onto the floor, and just when he bent down to pluck out one of the short swords in its arms-
The sound of a gunshot rattled his eardrums with a loud bang.
There was a dull feeling in his side. It might have grazed him… but he had no way of knowing. Nevertheless, the adrenaline and the numbness from the cold water prevented him from feeling any pain. Raishin quickly sprang up, turning to face his new opponent.
It was a man in black. His gun was pointed their way. It didn’t look like an automaton was accompanying him.
Raishin kicked off the floor, leaping towards the man.
At that moment, his knees gave way.
The cold water had robbed him of more of his strength than he thought. His legs were numb and moved sluggishly.
Raishin was startled. The barrel was right in front of his eyes. This… this was a dangerous situation, right?
A split second later, the flash of the barrel filled the tunnel.