Chapter 1: The Listless Days of the Automaton Youth
“Good morning, Minazuki. Today’s yet another wonderful day.”
Called out to by an innocent voice, he lifted up his eyelids to find the face of a girl close by.
The girl looked ephemeral. Her long silvery-white hair sparkled in the sun rays beaming through the curtains, and the deep indigo-blue eyes of hers seemed to draw one into it. That she somehow looked like a doll probably stemmed from the fact that her expression was slightly stiff despite her beautiful facial features.
The petite girl sitting on Minazuki’s bed with no reservations stared intently at him with her big eyes as if expecting something. Reluctantly, Minazuki spoke.
“Good morning, Kanon.”
In doing so, her lips turned into a frown.
“Why must you always sound so lethargic every morning.”
“As a matter of fact, I do feel lethargic. I wouldn’t mind going back to sleep once more.”
“I won’t let you laze around like that. Not to mention, you don’t even feel sleepy.”
Kanon got up from his bed as she spoke and smoothened out the creases on her skirt of her uniform. Then, she turned to youth still huddled under the blanket and said.
“Come to the kitchen after you have changed. Breakfast is prepared.”
Without waiting for a reply, she left the room.
Left alone, Minazuki lifted up his body.
His room was the same as usual, with only a simple bed, an outdated television, an old closet, and a rustic table and chair. When it was decided that he was going to live with Kanon, he said he did not need a single thing, but she insisted, “No, you definitely need them!” and one-sidedly prepared them.
He felt completely unmotivated, but still got out of bed and changed into his uniform. With heavy footsteps, he entered the kitchen and found Kanon already seated at the table. Her toast had raspberry jam on it.
There was another plate of toast opposite of her.
He immediately surmised her intentions, but just looked over without taking a seat. His sight fell onto a small photograph standing on the windowsill.
The photograph, with its edges discolored, depicted three people standing with their backs facing a magnificent white palace. A man with a smile of joy stood next to a beautiful woman with black hair. In her arms was a baby—.
Noting that Minazuki was not taking a seat, Kanon said.
“Come on, take a seat, Minazuki. If we don’t eat quickly, we’ll be late for school……”
“Are you just incapable of learning?”
Kanon’s sentence was cut short by the youth’s exasperated voice.
“I should’ve already told you that I do not need to eat. Do you still think I’m some kind of living creature despite having opened up my chest and winding up the mainspring there?”
Even though his appearance was no different from a human being, Minazuki was an automaton.
He was created in the image of a 16 years-old Far Eastern youth. For a male, he was pretty fair-skinned and slender with a height just below 170 cm. As with any other automata, he had attractive facial features which made him look closer to charming than handsome. Nonetheless, his sulky expression made all of his intrinsic good looks go to waste.
“You should be able to eat. After all, you have an artificial digestion system……”
“Indeed, I am able to eat and drink. However, those are only functions for me to parade as a human. Machines do not eat. It is only to deceive the enemies through these perceived notions that we eat. That is not something I need to do currently.”
“Even if that was the case!”
“If you really want me to eat that much, you can just order me to. Since you are my master, you have the authority to determine my actions.”
At Minazuki’s callous words, Kanon’s brows knotted slightly.
Minazuki’s present owner was Kanon. The ownership chip embedded in the nape of his neck held the data of Kanon’s appearance and vocal pattern, allowing her to give the command for Minazuki to start up, any forceful order, and to shut down with a certain keyword.
“Don’t tell me you forgot the keyword for the forceful order? All you need is to add an ‘Order’ to the command. I have no intentions of going along with your playing house……”
“Never mind already! I’ll eat your portion of it as well.”
Interrupting him, Kanon reached her hand out. She took the toast opposite her and placed it above her own, and ate the jam sandwich with great vigor.
*Chew Chew Chew*……
Minazuki stared at the girl who had her cheeks puffed up like a squirrel.
Kanon glared back at him.
“Stop staring at people when they’re eating. It’s embarrassing.”
“Not a problem. I already have ten instances of you with jam above your mouth stored in my memories. The eleventh time is not going to be any more embarrassing.”
Kanon instantly turned red and wiped at her mouth before pointing to the door.
“If you’re not going to join in the meal then go and wait outside!”
Helweiz was a small country right in the center of the Europe continent surrounded by the Alps which specialized in the automata industry.
Automata, in other words, mechanical dolls installed with clockwork. In the Orient, they were also referred to as string puppets.
The first automaton was an orgel, a musical instrument which could play on its own. But with further research and developments, they now serve a myriad of roles in society. By now, the latter half of the 20th century, they were indispensable as a replacement for the human workforce.
Serving as the forefront of automata research since the 18th century, Helweiz was now an automata powerhouse with considerable influence in the region. Aspiring machinists from all over the world gather here, and the country was abound with automata. This was especially so in the capital, Yessel, where the number of automata outnumber that of humans.
Waitering automata served at cafés, and industrial automata labored at construction sites, while cleaning automata beautified the streets and parks……
Even with an external appearance that was no different from a human, one can easily tell an automata apart. The difference lay in the nape of their necks.
An automaton would have a mark engraved there indicating their purpose without exception. The mark also served as the insert slit for an ownership chip, and it was illegal in the present Helweiz to produce or sell automata without the mark.
However, Minazuki did not have the mark on his nape, while the insertion slit for the chip was cleverly hidden by his hair.
When Minazuki and Kanon left the house, a postal delivery automata riding a yellow bike zoomed past them. As he passed under the reddening deciduous trees, he tossed a package right into a postbox with fine precision.
The two of them who lived in the suburbs of Yessel took the bus to school every morning. As they made their way to the nearest bus stop, they could see automata at the bakery and flower shops assisting in the store opening. A waitress automaton at the open café repeated the usual, “How would you like a morning coffee?” at Kanon as they walked past.
“Ah, there’s a new parts shop.”
Her eyes seemed to sparkle as she broke into a dash. Ahead of her, a show window displayed the latest automata parts.
“Look, Minazuki. This mainspring, it’s an Edellight 950. Woah, what’s with the price tag! Was it always this expensive!? And look, this Edellight 800 has been reinforced with some gold.”
Kanon couldn’t seem to suppress her excitement at seeing the high-grade mainsprings on show. Minazuki stared at the milky-white mainsprings as he thought about what an unpleasant shop have popped up to himself.
The discovery of the Edellight ore in Helweiz during the 18th century was said to be the foremost reason for their rise as an automata powerhouse.
The ore, also known as the alabaster floral mineral, can only be found in the lands of Helweiz.
The primary energy source of the automata lied in their mainspring. And when it is made from the metal purified from the Edellight ore, the operating duration of the mainspring is increased markedly. Depending on the percentage of Edellight in the mainspring, some automata can even operate for up to one month or longer.
“It seems that they sell gears as well. There’s plenty of Galaxy Gears being displayed too. The way this many are lined up together is amazing, as befitting their name of ‘Galaxy’. The more you stare at it, the more it feels like you are floating in a starry sky…… Ah, i-is that a Harmony Gear!? Almost none of the shops stock it! Is that even for sale!? Minazuki, we must come here on the way back…… Kyah!”
With a *don*, Kanon fell on the walkway.
She had been so absorbed in the display that she bumped into somebody.
“I-I’m sorry. I was looking elsewhere……”
She apologized while still seated on the floor. However, the other party did not respond.
The young man in work fatigues completely ignored Kanon and returned to sweeping the sidewalk, collecting fallen leaves in his dustpan wordlessly. He did not even seemed to have noticed her bumping into him.
On the nape of his neck was a mark which identified him as a cleaning automaton.
“……I should at least mention this, but the bus is here already.”
Said Minazuki as he looked towards the bus stop. Kanon uttered a dumb, “Eh,” before leaping to her feet.
“Oh no. We’re getting on, Minazuki!”
She sprinted with Minazuki following behind her. However, her speed fell off soon after and he overtook her. They somehow managed to catch the bus just before it left.
“Please show me your pass.”
A driver automaton sat at the driver’s seat. Minazuki showed him his bus pass and stepped onto the bus.
“Please show me your pass.”
The driver automaton said so similarly to Kanon. However,
“Huh? Where is it. It should have been here……”
She rummaged around her bag, taking out her textbooks and notebooks and flipping them upside down.
“Please show me your pass.”
The automaton repeated the same words in the same tone at the girl who still could not produce her pass. There was not a trace of irritation to be seen on his face which still had a friendly smile plastered on it.
Kanon lifted up her face in distress.
“Minazuki, did I kept the pass in my bag yesterday?”
Minazuki searched through his memory.
“At 5.53pm yesterday, you displayed your pass to board the bus back and returned it to the pocket of your bag.”
“That’s right. So, it has got to be somewhere here……”
“But, as of three minutes ago, your pass dropped out of your bag when you bumped into the cleaning automaton.”
“Huh!? Why didn’t you say something so important earlier, Minazuki!”
“Not a problem. Since you did not pick it up, the pass should still be on the ground. Although, there is a possibility of the automaton just now sweeping it up.”
Kanon abruptly pulled Minazuki’s arm and pouted.
“We’re searching for the pass immediately. ……Sorry, we’re alighting!”
When she forcefully pulled Minazuki down the bus, the driver automaton parroted behind them in a cheerful voice.
“Please show me your pass.”
“Haah, we somehow managed to arrive before lessons started……”
Kanon managed to pick up her pass before the cleaning automaton swept it up, and they reached school without a hitch.
The National Haiden Academy. One of the top three high schools in Helweiz, with many of their graduates going on to become top automata machinists. Two months ago, Kanon muscled her way into taking the entrance examination, and now, Minazuki and her matriculated to this school in the Autumn.
In front of the splendid main gates, a security automaton greeted, “Good morning,” to the students with a smile. None of the students replied, “The weather today is great, isn’t it,” or something to the effect to him. That was because the standard automata were only programmed to repeat fixed lines and could not freely make conversation.
Countless students in the same uniforms as Minazuki and Kanon entered the gates along with them. Amongst them, Minazuki spotted various enemies and narrowed his eyes.
Kanon, walking alongside him, sensed the change in him and cast a sharp glance at him.
“Minazuki, what are you thinking of now?”
“There’s one enemy ahead at 2 o’clock, four at 7 o’clock, two at 9 o’clock……”
“Not a problem. I’ll slaughter our enemies in a ten-meter radius of us within five seconds.”
She grabbed the hem of his uniform.
Kanon came to a stop and so did Minazuki. All of a sudden, she brought her face close. At a distance where their cheeks were about to touch, she whispered.
“Didn’t I tell you so many times before that you can’t do that!? This is not a battlefield!”
“Not a problem. That is just a mental simulation.”
“How is that not a problem! The fighting has already all ended, there’s no enemies around!”
Minazuki looked down at Kanon right before him. In her appealing azure irises were reflected the face of an expressionless young man.
They stayed in that position for a few seconds staring into each other.
Then, Kanon flusteredly distanced herself. Her cheeks were flushed for some reason.
“Do you understand? No matter what happens, you must not reveal that you are an automaton to anyone. If exposed, a combat automaton like yourself will be scrapped, while I the master will be in danger.”
When the two of them entered the classroom, all the students who were noisily chatting away quietened down in an instant. In turn, the sound of whispering reverberated in the hushed room.
Minazuki’s seat was by the window-side in the center, and Kanon’s next to his.
Kanon headed for her own seat when she suddenly froze.
Her desk was scribbled full of derogatory insults. Among them were the words, “Dumbass”, “Ugly bitch”, “Die”, “Stop coming already”, and even the phrase, “Murder Machinist”.
As their classmates peeks to see her reaction, Kanon silently took out her handkerchief with an unchanging expression. She wetted it with some oil she used regularly for the maintenance of automata, and ink on the desk gradually came off when she wiped it.
This kind of harassment was a daily affair to Kanon. In cases where she couldn’t deal with it alone, Minazuki would help out and she would feel apologetic.
As she scrubbed her desk, their homeroom teacher, Meyer, entered the classroom. Meyer was a large male with a bear-like constitution. He saw Kanon and made an expression of pity. But, without saying anything else, he started the lesson in a loud voice.
The first hour of lessons was History which was unbearably boring to Minazuki.
“As the Principality of Helweiz is a small country with limited land space and resources, we did not get involved in World War II. Nevertheless, 15 years after the end of World War II, in 1960, an event occurred in Western Germany that shook the entire world. That is none other than the infamous……”
“The declaration of human servility by the Vampire Lord Ludwig.”
An overly-zealous student shouted out before Meyer could finish.
Vampire. They were not a folklore nor a product of imagination, but an actual species. The long-lived demi-human race consume the blood of other living creatures and were able to use magic.
“Correct. Before then, the vampires has never appeared in public standing throughout history. They do not have countries, instead forming clans gathered around extremely powerful kings known as the Vampire Lords.”
“Sir, I have a question. Since when did the vampires emerged on Earth.”
At the question, Meyer started rubbing the stubble on his chin with a, “Hmm.”
“Fantastic question. We do not know for sure, but they have stated to have been around since the ancient Babylonian times. The fact that various lands each have their own versions of tales of vampires corroborates to their long-standing existence.”
“In that case, why was it that their existence did not come to public knowledge until 1960?”
At the student’s follow-up question, Meyer looked across the classroom.
“Is there anyone here who can answer his query?”
“Here. That is because vampires can use a magic known as charm.”
The student diagonally ahead of Minazuki suddenly shot up, causing him to start back in surprise. Unaware of the stare Minazuki was fixing him with, the student sat down after answering.
Meyer gave him a nod in affirmation.
“That is absolutely right. The vampires can cast a charm over the people they have sucked blood from through eye contact. And this magic forces absolute obedience over them. It was conjectured that this magic is permanent, and so the victim will never reveal the secret of the vampires forever.”
When Meyer asked if there were any other questions, no one raised their hands.
Thus, he continued with the lesson and started writing on the blackboard with his chalk.
“The vampires have blended in with mankind since a long time ago and evaded the public spotlight, but that all changed when Vampire Lord Ludwig made his declaration of human servitude, taking a hostile stand against humans. ‘All of mankind should bow down before the vampires. Anyone in defiance is forfeit of their lives.’ With that proclamation, Ludwig killed off all government officials who opposed him and subjugated Western Germany in a mere ten days.”
“Sir, why did Ludwig made that declaration.”
Meyer’s hand stopped for a while when another student raised the question.
“……It was said to be due to an outburst of indignation at having to live under secrecy. However, it remains a mystery as to why he chose that moment specifically to make his declaration. Following that, with Western Germany as his foothold, Ludwig went on to invade multiple countries in Europe, espousing vampire supremacy and the right to rule over the world.”
The map in their textbook showed Ludwig’s invasion route with arrows, which lay rampant across Europe.
“Joining forces with other Vampire Lords, Ludwig then went on to conquer Eastern Germany, Poland, and Czecho-slovakia. Then came 1967, when they crossed the Alps and arrived at the Principality of Helweiz. Would you mind sharing with us what was the first skirmish between our country and the vampire forces, Mr. Zandelholz.”
Minazuki, who was staring out of the window without even taking out his notebook till then, faced back to the front at being called by a name he couldn’t seem to get used to. Steeped in Meyer’s gaze, he stood up.
“The Battle of Noiendolf. Also known as the Great Defeat of Noiendolf, the very first loss in the history of Helweiz. The army of the Principality faced off against the advancing vampire coalition led by the Vampire Lord Ludwig Rosenberg with conventional weapons, and were wiped out within days and forced to retreat. With that, the Northern city of Helweiz, Noiendolf fell to the vampires and remained in their possession until three years later during the Noiendolf Retake Battle led by the Automata Corps……”
“Mr. Zandelholz. It would seem that you have memorized the entirety of the textbook word for word. Though, you doing so would have made my job pointless.”
Meyer appeared to have realized that Minazuki was only reciting from the text, but only looked at him exasperatedly without saying anything else.
When he sat down, Kanon glared at him from beside. ‘You went too far,’ she mouthed the words without speaking.
It can’t be helped, he thought as he turned to face the other way. As an automaton, any information that entered his eyes were immediately imprinted onto his memory. Also, there was no way for him to understand what are the limits faced by human beings.
The body temperature of a vampire was 25 °C.
Thus, one can easily distinguish them from humans just by checking their body temperature even though they looked the same on the outside.
Hence, all anti-vampire combat automata were equipped with infrared thermal vision in their eyes. This allowed them to discern between humans and vampires, and only bring harm to the latter.
After school, Minazuki leaned with his back against the wall of the corridor, running through combat simulations against the vampire students passing by over and over again in his mind.
Who would have thought a future would come where mankind and vampires could co-exist. At the very least, that was an impossibility ten years ago when Harumi created Minazuki. Back then, there were a multitude of combat automata developed specifically for the task of exterminating the vampires in addition to just the Byakudanshiki. Everybody were just as desperate to defeat the enemy of mankind.
In spite of that, mankind has now made peace with the vampires and all combat automata were dismantled. Everyone were told to get along well with one another.
For Minazuki, whose purpose to eradicate the vampires was taken away, there was nothing for him to do. His existence itself was empty. All he did was to be woken up by Kanon everyday and follow behind her meaninglessly.
It was aggravating. It was not for the reason of enjoying this peace that he had been created—.
The door opened. Meyer came out of the classroom and gave a bright smile at Minazuki when he saw him.
“I apologize for keeping you from your princess in this short while.”
“We’re only cousins.”
Minazuki corrected him without smiling and Meyer laughed bitterly.
In the eyes of the public, Kanon and Minazuki were officially cousins. Even Meyer, who knew the special circumstances behind them, thought that way.
When Kanon followed him out of the classroom, Meyer bent down his large body to whisper to her.
“Feel free to consult me whenever something is troubling you, Miss Zandelholz. That is why I am here, having owe my life to the Grand Duke.”
“Thank you very much, Sir. However, I am more grateful to just have you serve as my guardian in school.”
Kanon said so stiffly to which Meyer furrowed his eyebrows.
“But, it appears to me that you seem to have trouble making friends of the same grade……”
“You need not worry about that. All I need is Minazuki by my side.”
Meyer seemed to have something to say as he cast furtive glances at Minazuki.
“……The Grand Duke also have some apprehensions regarding this matter. To have a boy and girl of your age staying together under one roof is……”
“What is there to worry about at this point of time?”
A strong voice cut off Meyer’s words.
The silvery-white girl appeared to be cladded in a regal aura as she stared straight at Meyer.
“When my mother was labelled as the Massacre Princess and loathed by the masses, the Grand Duchy instantly cut off all relations to her and me. What could they possibly be worrying about now?”
Only a small fraction of people knew this, but Kanon’s mother was Byakudan Harumi.
Kanon Zandelholz wasn’t her true name.
Rather, she was none other than the daughter of Harumi and the late Crown Prince Johannes, son of the Grand Duke Helweiz. By right, Kanon was supposed to be a princess and to be educated in the palace.
Faced with a pressure unimaginable from a 15 years-old girl, Meyer cast his gaze downwards.
“……In any case, please take care of yourself. If it becomes known that you are the child of the late Dr. Byakudan, a number of people who still hold animosity towards her will target your life. I sincerely beseech you not to reveal your heritage.”
“I will bear your warning to my heart.”
She replied to him curtly and turned to her back, running to Minazuki’s side.
“We’re done talking. Let’s go home.”
The two of them walked down the corridor with Meyer sending them off with a complicated expression.
“Just now Mr. Meyer called me out to tell me about the Inter-high Automata Contest. He asked if I wanted to give it a try.”
Even though Minazuki did not asked about it, Kanon started talking on her own. Making sure not to let his guard down against the group of vampire students walking towards them, he turned his head to face her.
“Inter-high Automata Contest?”
“It’s a contest sponsored by the country that is only open to students in highschool. Each highschool in Helweiz will send out a single team who will construct an original automaton. The automaton will be judged based on its creativity and ability. Many industry experts and the mass media will be present, and offers will be made to commercialize the remarkable automata. The winning team will also receive a reserved placing in a renowned university.”
“All I hear are merits. Why don’t you go ahead and join.”
“To put it simply, one cannot enter the contest just by wishing to. After all, each school can only send in one automata. To represent the school, one must first win through the selection rounds of the school.”
“I guess plenty of students will be wanting to contest, huh.”
A large proportion of the human students in Helweiz aimed to become automata machinists.”
The assaults of vampires in each country were continuing even now, and the human population was on a decline worldwide. This has led to a shortage of manpower everywhere which was being made up by automata, resulting in a demand for machinist globally.
“Yup. Since there are always so many applicants from our school, the selection goes by in-class first followed by schoolwide. The class meeting for selecting a representative is one month from now, so Meyer was saying to come up with a blueprint if I wanted to participate in the contest.”
“I see. Well, try your best then.”
“Although it’s a great opportunity, I turned him down.”
Huh? Minazuki turned to his side. He couldn’t tell what she was thinking through her stiff side visage.
“I thought you would’ve been first in line to join a contest like this.”
“Of course, I want to join too. It’s a well-established contest which Mom joined too in her highschool days. But, it’s probably impossible for me.”
“Impossible? How so?”
When they came out of the stairway, Minazuki heard the sound of a window opening. He spied a glance upwards and confirmed that there was no danger.
He retreated to beneath the eaves of the building and quietly watched the position ahead of Kanon.
*Puush* A large quantity of water poured over Kanon just as she started speaking.
“Oh my, my hands just slipped! I’m sooo sorry about that.”
A phony, theatrical apology came from above.
Several female students stood by the windowsill directly above them, all humans. Amongst them was Dinkel, a girl with her hair in characteristic ringlet curls who openly displayed enmity towards Kanon even during lessons.
“I was wondering who could it be when it turns out to be the Miss Zandelholz who can’t use anything but Harmony Gears. I wonder if your perhaps your notebook is soaked through as well. Then again, your blueprints for the Carnage Automata are better off being discarded, don’t you agree?”
Kanon did not answer her. Droplets of water rolled down her long hair and uniform as she stood there silently.
Dinkel snorted with a, “Hmph,” and slammed the window shut. She then tossed her voluminous ringlet curls to her back and left, her followers hanging behind.
The sound of hushed snickerings could be heard from the students going home around them.
After a while, Kanon opened her mouth.
“What is it?”
“You noticed, didn’t you? About the water.”
Kanon glared at Minazuki with a gaze filled with censure. Uncaring, he replied calmly.
“Of course, I noticed it. I even have visual confirmation of the falling water.”
“Then why didn’t you tell me! Look at me now, I’m soaking wet!”
“Not a problem. The water will evaporate as time passes. It is nothing dangerous.”
“Argh, geez, you’re so thickheaded.”
Kanon sighed and turned to the right.
“That’s not the way home.”
“How can I go home like this all soaking wet. I’m going to change to my jerseys so just wait here!”
Her uniform was completely soaked through and the now translucent white blouse stuck closely to her modest chest.
Minazuki watched the figure of her back as she ran through the school building.
It was not that he was thickheaded. He just did not feel like helping her out.
Minazuki could not stand Kanon.
No matter what the people around her said, she never spoke back to them or stood up for herself. She would just clam up and accept things as it happened. It felt as if she thought that was the only way she could atone.
It was a fact that the Byakudanshiki series created by Harumi killed a lot of humans in a rampage incident. Kanon probably felt culpable being that she was Harumi’s daughter.
But, was there really a need for Kanon to take responsibility for the rampage of the Byakudanshiki? Minazuki did not think that that was sufficient reason for her to have to bear with such harassment mutely.
She had most likely given in to resignation. Be it insults to her mother or the humiliation she was subjected to, they probably don’t mean a thing to her anymore. He just could not understand how she had given up on opposing public opinion or defending her mother’s name, and it vexed him.
The standing figure of Minazuki casted a long shadow in the evening sun.
Bathed in the din and clamor of the students on their way home, the aimless automata boy stared at his own shadow.
“The problem is that the Inter-high Automata Contest requires a group of three person.”
After changing into her jerseys, Kanon said on the way back home.
She was drying her hair with a towel she hastily bought off a general store. Located at a high elevation, Helweiz was cold enough that snow season started in late October. There was no doubt that she would have caught a cold had she gone home straight with her hair still wet.
After patting dry her hair, she used her fingers as a comb to straighten her hair. While checking her silvery-white locks with a hand-mirror, she spoke.
“If we are to join the contest, we will need to find one other student to join us in building the automata.”
“When did I ever say I’m helping out?”
“It won’t hurt for you to help out just a bit. They also have a monetary award for the winning team, you know? With that, we will be able to upgrade your parts too.”
As Kanon shifted the mirror here and there, a strange lights seemed to dwell in her indigo-blue eyes.
“……Where should we start the renewal works from, fufu. I’m guessing we should start with your artificial skin and get you the one that feels silky-smooth. Then, next is to replace your current eyeball with the large black ones used for females. A long hair would also allow me to dress it up in all kinds of different hairstyle, fufufufufu……”
Minazuki flusteredly shouted out when he sensed the clearly strange aura she was emitting.
“Stop stop stop! You just made me decide to not help out no matter what!”
“Sheesh, then what can make you join?”
“Isn’t that obvious. All I want is the latest artificial muscles. How much longer are you planning on making me use these ten-year-old muscles?”
“Eh, that’s so boring. It won’t make you look any more cuter.”
“What do you think I’m for! Don’t you dare make me appear cute! What I need is to become stronger! If not, forget about getting my help.”
“It can’t be helped then. I’ll prioritize your request and get you new artificial muscles if we manage to clinch the monetary award.”
Having counted the chickens before they hatched, Kanon gave a deep exhale. She then switched gears to turn serious and spoke again.
“I’m thinking of using Harmony Gears in the automata for this contest. Mr. Meyer tried to dissuade me from doing so, but my feelings remains unchanged. If I’m to make something, I want to make it using the Harmony Gear which I learnt from Mom.”
Kanon initially hid her relationship to Harumi when she first entered school, but was soon exposed when the blueprints she was using during automata engineering class showed the use of Harmony Gear. That resulted in the class’ attitude towards her changing, but she was still adamant in that regard.
Gears were a vital part of any automata as they were in direct contact with the mainspring. Without those, an automaton cannot even move a single finger.
“However, the world at large does not acknowledge the Harmony Gear. One look at our class and you can tell. If it employs Harmony Gears, it’s a Carnage Automata, they say. Machinists who use them are labelled as ‘Murder Machinist’. It’s hard to imagine any student willing to cooperate with me.”
As the Byakudanshiki were made using Harmony Gears, it became widespread that they were equivalent to gears that presented a danger to humanity. The current tendency in the automata industry was that Harmony Gears are not to be made, use, or traded.
As the people of Helweiz lived more closely to automata than in any other countries, they feared a repeat of the Tragedy of Kerner all the more so.
If not for the notion that Harmony Gear = Carnage, there might have been students willing to join Kanon.
Minazuki shrugged his shoulders at the realization that it would be impossible for him to get an upgrade to the latest artificial muscle this time around when it happened.
*Boom* came the sound of a crash.
It came from the construction site next to where they were walking along. When they turned their heads, they found tens of construction automata in the midst of their work. However, their actions appeared strange.
“What are they doing? Does the construction of buildings nowadays require them to swing around steel beams?”
“Like hell it does. This is clearly a case of a rampage.”
As the two conversed, the automata were still slamming the beams onto the ground or were throwing the construction materials here and there.
In a corner of the construction site, a man with a loudhailer kept shouting, “Order. Stop immediately!” to no avail. He was most likely the overseer of this construction site as well as the owner of those automata. Nonetheless, they ignored his forced order and continued their frenzy.
The overseer gave up and ran away after throwing the loudhailer aside.
Other pedestrians were starting to shout, “The automata are rampaging! Somebody call the army!”
Kanon pulled Minazuki’s sleeve.
“Let’s get out of here, Minazuki. It’s dangerous to stay around.”
“……It’s okay if I fight those, right.”
Flinging aside her hand, Minazuki muttered.
Kanon looked up at him in startle. Unheeding of her, his gaze was still on the rampaging automata.
Automata start to rampage when they get old. By the time they do, the only fate in stall for them was to be destroyed. If they harmed the populace, the army of the Republic would be called in, and they would be all but decimated.
—In other words, just like his enemies.
The moment he thought that, all impulse spilled out. He placed down his bag on the floor.
“I’ll go stop the rampaging automata.”
“What are you saying—Minazuki!? Don’t! Stop!”
“Not a problem. Since they’re bound to get destroyed anyway!”
Ignoring Kanon’s screams from behind, Minazuki sprinted towards the construction site.
He slipped through a gap in the barricade which had a “No entry” sign above it to enter the battlefield.
Immediately, a construction automata carrying a steel beam stood in his way.
With the body of a strong-built man taller than two meters, it was a model Minazuki knew well.
The name of the model was “Hercules”. It was distinctly muscular with abnormally long arms that extended till their ankles. As their name suggests, they were automata with extraordinary arm strength and toughness, and some were even modified for combat application during the war against the vampires. Though, they did not become as much of a hot topic as the Byakudanshiki, and it was anyone’s guess as to how much they contributed in the war.
Standing face to face, the difference in stature between Minazuki and the Hercules was evident.
Still, he was not fazed.
—Target confirmed. Shifting to combat mode—
The program in his brain announced in an inorganic voice.
In an instant, his thought processes accelerated and his field of vision expanded. The Hercules swung the metal beam at a ferocious speed.
Minazuki evaded the incoming beam with minimal motion and drew close to its bosom. Then, he swept his leg across in a low kick.
Naturally, the construction automaton would never have expected its leg to be swept under it.
The disproportionate figure of the Hercules easily toppled over, making a loud crash.
Minazuki was a close quarters combat type automaton with martial arts of various origins programmed into him. Once, a male student tried to get rough with him to harass Kanon, and was taught an unforgettable lesson using those techniques. Since then, not a single other person tried to lay hands on him.
Without a moment’s delay, he jumped atop the collapsed Hercules.
He then raised his empty right hand.
In the next instance, his first concealed weapon appeared in his palm—a short silver blade, an assassin’s blade extended from his right wrist.
He plunged the thirty-odd cm blade into the chest of the Hercules.
It broke through the artificial skin and smashed the mainspring within.
Any automaton with its energy source destroyed had no ways of moving. The Hercules came to an utter stop.
No sooner did the sound of heavy footsteps and something slicing through the wind approach from behind.
Minazuki leapt spontaneously.
And easily ascended over ten meters.
He was at a position higher than anybody in the construction site. Bathed in the evening sun rays peeking through the ridges of the Alps, the young man did a somersault in midair. While doing so, he gazed upon the messy materials storage area overrun with rampaging automata and selected his next targets.
Landing atop another Hercules swinging around a steel beam at thin air, Minazuki materialized his next hidden weapon.
A four-barreled coaxial pistol equipped with silencers was installed in his left arm.
The barrels glistening with a black luster protruded from the back of his hand with the Hercules in its sight.
His aim was the ownership chip in the nape of its neck. The chip, which also served as an auxiliary to the artificial brain, was another common weakness of automata.
Without making a single noise, bullets fired off Minazuki’s hand, shredding the nape of the Hercules into ribbons.
—That makes it two.
But, he was nowhere near done. There were still twenty over rampaging Hercules.
With the momentum of a whirlwind, Minazuki jumped into the mass of automata, almost impossible to tell whether or not his feet even touched the ground.
Steel beams swung from here and there like an obstacle course. He dodged those humming masses of metal effortlessly and slid his assassin’s blade through their defenceless chest one after another. —Ten down.
Minazuki mounted the shoulder of a freshly-destroyed Hercules and jumped from there. With a sweep of his left hand which housed the four-barreled gun, bullets flew everywhere. That was all it took for the giants around him to come to a halt.
From the point of view of an observer, all he was doing was running between the gaps made by the Hercules. However, as an assassin, everytime he passed by one of them, a pinpoint attack was made at a vital point which unfailingly incapacitated them.
The Hercules fell one after another with no chance of making a counterattack.
“25 down and done……!”
When his blade penetrated through the last standing Hercules, Minazuki took a glance throughout the haphazard construction site.
The bulky automata with their mainspring destroyed slowly collapsed onto their backs.
The simultaneous collapse of 25 rampaging automata raised a thunderous roar.
It was spectacular.
The frozen Hercules piled on each other like a mountain of corpses. Minazuki was the only one left standing. It was completely one-sided.
Yet, the face of the youth was clouded.
“……This is not what I wanted to do.”
His heart was struck with feelings of emptiness with nowhere to go.
This was something he chose to do himself, but all it did was widen the void in his chest.
Feeling wretched at having become a seasoned killer of construction automata, Minazuki lowered his head.
Right at that moment.
“We are with the Republic of Helweiz Army! Anyone present please respond!”
A dignified voice sounded out.
A gust of wind blew across the tattered construction site, covering it with dust and sand. Inside the sandstorm, a flash of crimson more vibrant than the evening rays caught Minazuki’s eye.
Her hair so red they seemed to have caught fire.
A girl with an overwhelming sense of presence and long hair unbefitting of an army personnel stood there. Female soldiers carrying machine guns stood behind her in standby. All of them carried an insignia on their chest in the silhouette of a red flower.
……The world is such a strange place.
Minazuki prepared to make a move to retreat from the construction site whilst bearing that old-fashioned thought. But, his feet accidently caught a piece of metal, sending out a metallic clank.
The girl with red hair shot her eyes in his direction.
Noticing his figure, her eyes widened as though she wasn’t expecting anyone to be around.
On the other hand, Minazuki ignored her as he tried to walk away so as not to be caught up in the trouble. But,
“Wait up. You don’t seem to be a member of the construction site. What are you doing here?”
She promptly circled about in front of him.
In response to the movement of who seemed to be their leader, the other soldiers surrounded him immediately, their machine guns pointed towards him unhesitatingly.
Minazuki stared back sullenly at the girl standing in his way.
She looked to be around the same age as Kanon. However, the curves of her body was widely different. Numerous medals adorned her voluptuous chest, while a saber hung off her narrow waist. A strong light dwelled in her large scarlet eyes which resembled rubies, seizing Minazuki in her sight.
“I was just passing by when I saw the rampaging automata. It looked interesting so I came to take a look. That’s all.”
“You wanted to take a closer look at rampaging automata? That’s just suicidal!”
“Yeah, I’ll be sure to keep that in mind next time.”
He wanted to leave straight away after making up a suitable lie on the spot, but.
“In that case, just how in the world did you do this?”
Her scarlet eyes glanced to the side at the fallen Hercules before shifting back to him.
The machine guns trained on him showed no signs of budging.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Cease your feigned ignorance immediately! You are sorely mistaken if you think you can fool me!”
The girl unsheathed her saber and thrusted it towards Minazuki.
“A rampaging automaton will not stop until it has been completely destroyed. Seeing as you are the only one in this area, how could there be anyone else to have stopped them except for you?”
“Who knows. Couldn’t a team that came before you have stopped them.”
“No, we are the first team from the Republic Army to have arrived following the report. You do not have to hide it. Putting the rampaging automata to a stop is an admirable deed. From what I see, you don’t seem to have any weapon with you on hand. Yet, how did you manage to stop those Hercules?”
“As I said, it wasn’t me.”
Minazuki was getting fed up with dealing with her, but had no choice but to play innocent.
It may have been a commendable effort to stop those rampaging automata, but there was no way he could reveal how he did that. After all, his existence itself was against the law.
“The Hercules are hard to deal with when they rampage since they have inhuman strength. To think you stopped them even without a gun, what’s more, with that small frame of yours……”
Suddenly, her eyes turned sharp as if she noticed something.
“Wait up. Could it possibly be that you are……”
—This is bad. Did she figure out my true identity?
With the survival of the country on the line, Helweiz managed to developed special artificial brains like Minazuki’s such that they were able to converse without revealing their identities as automata since even ten years back. However, it was clearly abnormal to be able to stop so many rampaging automata by oneself.
Surely, she would be able to narrow down as to his true nature by connecting it to the unbelievable scene before her eyes.
“I can’t believe it. But, I can’t be sure unless I test it out, since this is what my intuition is telling me. This would be a great discovery were it true.”
The girl started muttering to herself in excitement, her emotions showing up in her gaze as she drew close to Minazuki. Reflexively, he took a step back in retreat.
This is turning into a big mess. I need to escape from here somehow—.
Just when his brain was constructing up an escape plan, a thunderous *DOOON* came as a pile of beams collapsed. A Hercules stood up from within the mess.
The girl turned her sight towards it.
“My, there’s still some moving! All troops, prepare for battle!”
The rampaging Hercules swung down a steel beam in the direction of Minazuki and the others—.
Released from the aim of the machine guns, Minazuki took the chance to flee.
“Ah, stop right there! Grr, what an annoyance of an automaton! Fire at will!”
Bearing no heed to the girl’s order, Minazuki ran away at full speed with the cacophony of the machine guns at his back.
Kanon was by the entrance of the construction site, shuffling to and fro amongst the crowd of curious onlookers. When she caught Minazuki in her sight, her expression turned into one of anger.
“Minazuki! Why did you……!”
“We’ll talk later. Run.”
By the time she opened her mouth, he had already sprinted past her like a zephyr. She remained rooted for a moment, but chased after him straight away.
“Wait up, Minazuki! What! Why are you running……”
Minazuki weaved through the huddle with skills befitting of an assassin. He did not stop even when he heard Kanon’s panting voice.
As he went through the throng, he heard people muttering the phrase “Scarlet Maidens”. That was apparently the name of the squad led by the girl he met just now.
Only after he penetrated the crowd did he come to a halt.
When he turned back to look, there was no sign of anyone from the Army chasing him.
Great, looks like I got away.
Just when he sigh a breath of relief, a head of silvery-white hair bumbled out from the cluster of people. She was unsteady on her feet and her hair disheveled from being jostled around by the crowd.
“What’s going on, Minazuki…… Why did you run all of a sudden……”
“A member of the army seemed to have noticed my true identity, which was why I ran.”
As soon as he spoke, Kanon looked up at him with an, “Eh!?” Then, she approached Minazuki with the force of a bulldozer.
“What are you doing!? I’ve told you so many times before to take care not to reveal that! What do we do now!”
“That’s why I escaped, didn’t I. No problem.”
“There IS a big problem! This is not something you can brush off just by running away!”
“Not a problem. She needs to deal with the remaining rampaging automaton and does not have a chance to chase after me.”
Kanon stared at him as if she was looking at some fool.
“……You need to do something about the habit of dealing with rampaging automata. Since you are no longer a member of the army, it’s fine even if you don’t help the Republic Army.”
“Who cares about the Republic Army. I don’t have any intention of that.”
When Minazuki spewed out those words with revulsion, Kanon was baffled.
He thought back to the girl in the military uniform. She could be said to be a girl cladded in scarlet from just her looks alone, but the truth about her was uncovered through his thermal vision.
Anything above 35 °C was red, and blue below 25 °C. The girl’s face was a deep blue.
“It sure is a different world now if there’s even vampires in the army.”
The menu for dinner was stew, apparently.
As always, Minazuki rejected Kanon’s offer to eat together and was lying on his bed watching the news on the television.
Ten days had passed since Vampire Lord Ludwig commenced on his invasion into Northern Europe. The Vampire Army held the overwhelming superiority. It seems that the campaign will end within the month. The vassal states of the Vampires are due to offer up the fifteenth round of human sacrifice. Laments of grief could be heard all over the land. The vampire supremacist and Ludwig’s brother, Wilhelm has trespassed into Helweiz illegally. Vigilance against terrorist attacks by the Human Liberation Army is on the rise, and troops are being stationed……
Minazuki experienced a ten years gap between his previous and current reactivation. In that span, the war between the humans and vampires in Helweiz had ended, and the state of affairs in the country underwent a paradigm shift. For him who just awoke three months ago, watching the news to stay updated on worldly affairs was something he never missed.
*Kon Kon* came a knock.
“Minazuki, can I enter?”
It was Kanon.
He did not mind her entering his room as and when she pleased since he belonged to her in the first place, but she would always request for his permission like this. Once, he asked her about it, and she replied as such incomprehensibly with a face as red as a tomato, “H-how can I possibly enter the room of a boy without knocking!” It was utterly illogical.
When the door opened, there she stood in her overall fatigues.
Minazuki had a bad premonition.
“Minazuki, what you did today was truly impermissible. You should have known that allowing others to learn about your true identity is a taboo we must avoid no matter what. If you are going to be so willful……”
“Wait a second. Just what are you holding in that hand of yours?”
“These are your new eyelashes! With these, your eyes will look larger than ever before and make you look cuter even! Aren’t you glad!”
“No, I’m not!!”
Minazuki scrambled to his back as though he was trying to run away from the eyelashes.
Kanon, emitting a dangerous aura, entered the room so as to corner him. Her eyes were alit with dazzles, and drool leaked out from a corner of her mouth which was twisted up bewitchingly. ……This is an absolute pinch!
Minazuki tried to search for a way out of his predicament, but there wasn’t much space in his room. He was soon cornered.
“No can do, Minazuki. You need to accept your punishment obediently. I’ll make sure your body dutifully remembers just what a fatal mistake you have made, fufu……”
“Stop it…… I humbly request for a verbal warning instead!”
“I’ve only done this as my final hand since you wouldn’t listen to a word I said. I should have already mentioned this. If you are going to do as you pleased, then whatever modifications I want to make will be up to me as well.”
“Don’t tell me that was what you meant by doing as you wish! Damn it, that is out of my expectations……”
“Ah, this is going to be fun. Fufufu, Minazuki’s going to get an upgrade. How far can I go in making you as cute as possible, fufufufufu……”
“Come back to your senses, Kanon. You’re not thinking in the right mind now.”
“I’m always in my right mind. As proof of that, the development of parts to make you more stylish is going better than ever!”
“Rather than useless parts like that, make me some muscles! Muscles!”
Kanon, whose base nature was an automata maniac, ignored Minazuki even as he howled. With a suspicious grin on her face, she indicated towards the bed with her eyes.
“Now, lie down, Minazuki. I’ll do maintenance on your insides along the way.”
“My mainspring is an Edellight 950, so I can move for at least a month even if I don’t sleep or rest. There’s no need to go out of the way to make me sleep and do maintenance every night……”
Instantly, the loose expression on her face disappeared.
“What kind of nonsense are you saying!? Isn’t it obvious that you need to oil the gears that have worked so hard throughout the day. Or rather, that’s the minimum duty of one as the owner of an automaton. There’s far too many people who don’t realize that it’s the daily neglect of maintenance that leads to rust. It baffles me as to why the laws have not been amended to make the maintenance of their automata the charge of the owners.”
“……There we go, she’s flipped a switch or something again……”
“You have no self-awareness about just how valuable are the gears you are made up of. Harmony Gears are pretty much something impossible to get your hands on nowadays. What are we going to do if it ever rusts. Not to mention, you even went to battle today, surely there’s some parts which require repair too. The list of checks include whether there are any tears on your artificial skin, any breaks in your nervous cables, and also the replenishment of your ‘blood’……”
“Fine! I know already, so stop talking!”
If he just left her alone, she would keep talking non-stop. Minazuki knew that since he once received a lecture from her about gears which lasted the whole night. There was no stopping her once she reached that point.
Minazuki laid down on the bed in resignation and Kanon kneeled beside him. She stared into his face.
The girl’s facial features overlapped with that of her mother.
—That’s why I hate going to sleep. It always reminds me of Harumi’s final wistful gaze and the despair of being abandoned.
“Good night, Minazuki. And sweet dreams.”
Acknowledgement of Shutdown order by the Master. Minazuki’s consciousness drifted into a deep, deep abyss without resistance.