Chapter 3: Countermeasures
In the great mountains outside Crannigan,
On the main continent of the planet called mid-Childa,
Is a great cathedral that sweeps towards the sky.
Of the organization called the Saint Church, this grand building is the center around which the rest of that organization turns. Among the faithful, it is the seat of worship, the Holy See.
Inside that great building, is a sweeping office with magnificent paneled windows, glass stained with an icon of significance within church history.
A heavy table of fine dark wood sits low beneath the sweep of that room's high ceiling.
And, on the thickly upholstered couches on either side of that table,
Two beautiful young woman, sipping tea.
With a delighted noise, one lowers her teacup. "Ah-ha, somehow you always brew the same leaves so much more deliciously than I can."
Colonel Hayate Yagami. Even holding such a rank, she can still be considered a rising star within the TSAB sky, and an Ace of dreadful power.
"Your words of praise are simply too much for my simple skills."
With a demure smile, Carim Gracia. Even if it is merely a rank of courtesy, a Major General in the TSAB. In terms of real power—Knight Director within the Saint Church.
Hayate sighed regretfully. "But, I don't suppose that you just called me here to drink delicious tea."
Carim's gentle expression was also touched with regret. "It is truly unfortunate that we don't live in a world where that could be the case."
She turned her gaze, alighting on the window.
"I presume you've seen that open letter that Dr. Yuuno Scrya sent out?"
Hayate hummed. "It can't be helped. Now that he's taken on his own students to guide, it would be a little ungrateful of the TSAB not to lighten his burden as the human reference encyclopedia of the Infinite Library."
Carim smiled. "The timing is not bad, since it's been relatively quiet. But, that letter had a much more serious point within it."
Hayate cocked her head. "Oh?"
Carim nodded. "Yes, in his own words, since he has such talented students, naturally he wants to present them with challenging digs, and he apologizes in advance for any inconveniences."
Hayate considered, tapping her finger to her lips. "So, reading between the lines, he's saying, 'everybody look out, we're gonna go stir up some Lost Logia, sorry in advance if they rampage', or something to that effect?"
Carim Gracia nodded with a serious expression. "Yes. And, since the containment and handling of Lost Logia is a major mission of the TSAB, even if it creates inconveniences in the short term, there's still broad approval for that kind of proactive mission." She smiled. "Especially since your cute childhood friend has amassed so much goodwill working in the Infinite Library, and avoided getting involved in any sort of political disputes; frankly speaking, he has a better reputation than I do."
Hayate Yagami honestly chuckled. "I don't think his intentions were so far-sighted as that. Yuuno-kun is simply an honestly helpful person."
Carim Gracia nodded.
Hayate casually took another sip of her tea. "So, this is a guess on my part, but if the one bringing up Yuuno's plan to go after Lost Logia is you, then I wonder if you've created a prophecy."
Carim smiled. "That's very astute. Your guess is naturally correct."
Hayate nodded. "So."
Carim delicately cleared her throat. Her magic swelled and lit around her. The cards spun in a cylinder around her; the mechanism she operated to draw a prophecy activated about her.
With a strong, cool voice:
"The Blue Cat Shall Reveal unto the Infinite Greed a Vision of Apocalypse; and They Shall Build Works Exceeding Those Forty of Hell."
Casually, Hayate Yagami took another sip of tea. When she finished, she said, "I don't like it when your prophecies are about Jail."
Carim smiled. "It's not certain, but it certainly appears that way. Well, since prophecies are most useful when they can be broken, my hope is to be as proactive as Dr. Scrya is demonstrating."
Hayate smirked. "The imagery of either forty devils or a 'vision of apocalypse' certainly does sound like a Lost Logia of some kind getting started up."
Carim smiled. "Since his mission is so quietly popular, I think it would be best for the TSAB to honestly endorse the works of Dr. Scrya, don't you?"
Hayate smiled. "Oh ho… you're about to say something amazing, aren't you?"
Raising her hand to her lips, Carim Gracia softly giggled. "I can't get anything past you." Then, lowering her hand, her voice became more serious. "Colonel Hayate Yagami. As the liaison officer working in the support of Dr. Yuuno Scrya's admirable mission to collect and contain various Lost Logia, please accept command of Special Lost Property Division Six."
Hayate smiled. "Of course, I accept." Idly glancing out the window, she mused, "And naturally, I will be keeping my ears open if I hear even the slightest whispers involving a guy named Scaglietti."
Carim smiled. "Well, let's just do our best to build up our ability to handle Lost Logia." With a raised brow, "And of course, if some of Yuuno-kun's broad popularity rubs off on you by association, that can only help you, right?"
Hayate laughed, rubbing the back of her head. "With the support of so many friends, I could probably reach the top!"
To that, Carim Gracia smiled softly, and raised her teacup in a dainty salute.
I I I
A sensation like warmth entered high on the back of Yuuno's neck, where his vertebrae connected to his skull. The warmth blossomed forward and up.
Like fingers of sunlight that were reaching up from his brainstem into his higher brain functions layered on top.
Like spears of fire jabbing his mind, a bonfire in his lizard brain that was trying to grill his thoughts.
The accelerating heat pulsed, like sound being poured into his skull and ignited into words that seared his brain.
He screamed as the words poured heat on his thoughts.
And then the heat stopped. As if a great hand had reached out and snuffed out a candle, the burning was gone from his mind.
Line 1: Come forth oh ye suffering ones
No, even if a candle was snuffed, the hot wax would still be pooled at the base of the wick. This was like someone had poured liquid carbon dioxide on the flame, sucking away all the heat even as the flame was put out.
Line 2: Cast out and buried in the subconscious Gehenna darkness
And then, into the feeling like being chilled that had appeared in his mind, oil was poured into his ears, a cold and alien sensation that coated and gummed up his neurons. He could not think. He could not formulate even one spell.
Line 3: Small ones, ye thoughts of impotence, ye seeds of the tree of woe
For a single, frozen instant, the only thought in Yuuno Scrya's head was raw animal terror.
Spell invocation: Mass Despair
I I I
The dust blew.
The wind scoured his flesh. His lips, pressed in a thin, cracked line, were frozen in a scowl.
He pushed forward through the wasteland.
There was no because.
There was no reason to go forward.
He had been banished.
The winds that howled about him could not silence the quiet thoughts that repeated within him.
He wasn't smart enough to understand what she had been doing; he simply liked listening to her talk. And it didn't hurt anything, it was fine, because, a Striker like him had the security clearance anyway.
Pointless Acts, Ye Worm Among Worms
She knelt before the throne.
The haughty gaze that she did not dare to meet smothered her.
"Useless thing." The judgment had a tone that was halfway between sneer and indictment. It was the voice of one who had expected little, and still been disappointed.
"Even such a simple task, and you could not complete it." Even though she did not dare look up from the ground before her, her mind's eye could clearly see that woman shift to rest her chin on her palm.
Ye Failure, Ye Failure, Ye Failure
There was an accident.
He didn't know.
It was stupid to feel guilty.
Even if he had been there, even if he hadn't been off doing his own work, all he could have done was—
Also suffer, and also die.
Die like the two of them had.
Just like that, the reason he was so proud to swing his sword were gone. The things he wanted to protect were gone.
Compared to that, getting thrown away like trash had been like a footnote.
Maybe it was really a dishonorable discharge, but the additional terms were clear.
That was fine. No, not fine, but rather, emotionally trivial. His mid-Childa was already gone, anyway.
Meaningless Indeed, Ye Miserable, Small One
"Stand." The voice was hard, expressing an ugly, thinly concealed hope that she would not.
But she did. Obediently, with eyes still cast demurely on the ground before her, she stood.
A beat of hesitation. And then, those pale, thin arms were thrust out from beneath that black cloak.
Those hands balled into fists, a desperate attempt to stifle those trembling muscles.
Ye Worthless, Unnecessary One
Enforcers had come.
The first time, all those years ago; banishment had been an excuse. They were simply waiting for him to drop out of view, into the shadows.
Into some shadowed corner, where no one would notice, or care, if he died. Where there would be no other TSAB branches to ignorantly tug on the thread and pull out things the Ground Forces had buried.
They'd tried to taunt him, saying, "we'll hunt her down and kill her too."
Hope had erupted.
Even though he wasn't as smart as her, he was still a little cunning. The secret between them: all of his magic, had been copied into her Device. The Sonic Move, the foundation of his way of fighting, was available to her. Shooting magic, even though it didn't really match his temperament.
If he survived until now, then certainly, so could she.
And, he had understood enough, to know what Project F had been… and she had been so, so close.
They could be together again.
His mid-Childa could still exist.
So, he simply killed them. Without hesitation, without any mercy, he ruthlessly cut down those foolishly believing that they would kill him.
He slaughtered the Enforcers that had been sent to silence him, and with hope in his heart, set out on a quest to find them both.
Ye Pathetic One, rub thy belly across the Ground
"Still trying to be a good girl, Fate?"
Magic skittered across her senses, and the binds gently lowered across her outstretched arms, pooling on that exposed skin.
"But it's too late."
The binds were like snakes, slithering over those arms, those wrists struggling to stay still and aloft.
"A good girl wouldn't have failed."
And like striking snakes, those binds snapped tight, wrenching those arms out. Without raising her eyes, her face tensed, holding in the cry as her shoulders were torqued.
"So you must be a bad girl."
The binds pulled, the chains of power tugging, lifting. Her feet dangled uselessly beneath her, her feet uselessly squeezing together.
"And bad girls must be punished."
The whip of light ignited, and lashed outward.
Suffering is thy earned station
The years had ground that hope away. The hope that had bloomed within him, was withering under the simple reality, that their lifetimes were being spent, separate.
Even if he did find them, she would be grown up. Raising a family would be impossible. No matter what, he hadn't been there.
His dream had expired, even as he relentlessly chased after it.
There was still one cool shadow left.
There was still one last thing he could do.
Even if he could not raise her, he could appear before her.
He could say that.
It would not replace the lost years.
It would not undo the reality that he was not there for either of them.
But, if he could explain... maybe he could still make them happy, if they knew that he had never given up on either of them.
Ye Foolish Child, all your acts, all your works, have failed
He stumbled and collapsed into the desert dust.
She fell and bleed across the cold stone floor.
I I I
Their heads rocked back. Their bodies grew taunt and all of their muscles clenched.
And then, like two dolls cast away, they fell from that sky.
I I I
The machine was like a great claw that closed around his head.
Delicate curved blades of piled circuits, that pressed into his shaved head. The skin and bone of his skull was like a window for those radio-machines to communicated with those circuits that threaded among his neurons, enhancing or even replacing the function of that human brain.
Slowly, the machine fired up.
His metathoughts, monitoring his own consciousness, became aware of an echo.
Each thought, accessing memories or considering some equation from his work or simply participating in the gestalt emotional superconciousness of the Conjoined, did not happen once, or even twice. It was like each spoken word endlessly echoed inside the room called "his skull".
And, even as he became aware of the echoes, they diverged.
Memories of events with details that did not match.
References to emotional node-kernels with different indices of participants.
Experiments-the differences in outcomes were statistically insignificant—but different outcomes, none-the-less.
The Exordium had succeeded.
Communicating through the great blades of computer equipment that nested around his skull, the Conjoiner Jastrustriak was successfully sharing his thoughts with the Jastrustriaks of parallel dimensions.
Ye, Such a Grand Work, Ye Human
The walls of the room called "his skull" had doors carved in them by those blades. Doors that opened onto other rooms, that were subtly different.
Thought-tokens and ideas were freely passed between those rooms, like paper airplanes being endlessly thrown.
But those rooms, connected together, like a floor of a building, became aware of other floors.
Because if this floor was "now", was all the rooms that occupied different positions within this time-plane, then there were higher floors in this building. Even as he became aware of those elevator shafts, he realized, they led into "the future."
He had known.
He had been told.
But, to experience it directly in his own mind…
The head, which contained the room called Jastrustriak's skull, the face of that head had a delighted smile.
Ye, Grand Works
Because, just like the paper-airplanes with the mathematical proofs and interesting algorithms printed on them were shared among those rooms, pieces of paper drifted down that elevator shaft.
They were merely signs, rather than words or arithmetic symbols.
They were not blueprints, but rather, sketches.
Thy Pride grown great
Even if they were just signs, they pointed out the correct path through the thick mist of ignorance.
Even if they were just crude sketches, they still provided shape to tools he could not yet imagine.
To Fall is Thy Destiny
Compared to the signs,
And compared to the sketches,
The most important thing that poured down,
Was the river of tar.
The pieces of paper were flecks of white,
In an unending flow of black.
It was as if the building was jammed into a sky of unrelenting, unending muck, that continuously flowed down those elevator shafts.
Those shafts were like straws, sucking tar into the present from the future.
And that tar, was
Ye Miserable O##
And that tar, was
Unending, unrelenting antipathy.
Built up for incomprehensible eons, a great and terrible malevolence.
It gazed upon those signs,
It peered at those sketches,
And understood nothing. It did not think. It could not comprehend. But, without any of that, it still hated.
Anything that gave form.
Anything that gave shape.
Including you, little computer
Anything that possessed the volition to add organization, that contradicted the spontaneous and unthinking ordering of the chaos,
It craved their destruction.
Hunched in some pile of mud
It hungered to rip up those signs. To shred those sketches.
To unmake, anyone that dared to make.
You are nothing compared to the vast evil
That lurks between the stars
It was nothing less than the enemy of all thought.
I I I
The Conjoiner Jastrustriak opened his eyes.
This Device, this Grimore, had pried open his mind with its magics, to rip open his despairs and smear his face in them.
But in opening his mind, it became open to his mind.
And the brain of a Conjoiner, was a potent computer, an infamous computer.
Because, it was said their minds could hack into anything with circuits—and enslave it.
I I I
He plummeted through the sky. He could not control his flight spell. His mind was in turmoil.
But, his constant companion was still beside him. That shape of bronze was still attached to the loop around his arm.
"Defenser". With that announcement, a bright red plate with a rim of mid-Childan runes lit up below him, and he smashed into the water.
Falling onto water from so high up would have the same hardness as falling onto cement.
His bones would be smashed, and his organs pulped.
But, the spell broke that fall, and his barrier jacket protected him regardless.
Sputtering, he floundered in the water, breaking through the surface, blinking the stinking brine from his eyes, spitting out water.
A yellow circle lit up above and beside him, and another mage smashed into the ocean before him.
Grimly, he pulled himself forward with strong even strokes.
I I I
That anachronism, wearing that dirty, beaten coat, suddenly looked strange.
The ragged top-hat was gone.
His bare head was exposed.
There was no hair.
That skull, with skin as smooth as a boiled egg, was not round.
A crest of bone rose straight up.
Thick flesh muscled that bone, with veins and arteries pumping warm blood up through flushed skin that stretched back from that muscle like a sail.
Dumbly, Yuuno realized that it was a functional thing, that crest of flesh. It was not some bizarre decoration.
It was a vane. A way to dump heat.
That hot blood was carried out of the skull, and cooled, and pumped back in.
It clearly marked the man as unnatural.
No human brain could possibly generate such heat.
So, he was a cyborg.
That was the most obvious truth. Compared to the Numbers, compared to the Nakajima sisters, he was obviously—
Farther from human.
Yuuno thickly swallowed.
He grimaced, picking himself up from the red floor where he lay. He wondered if he could fly.
He doubted it.
He swallowed again, clearing his throat.
"Was that…?" He didn't know what he was asking.
With eyes closed, the cyborg—Jastrustriak—nodded.
[Those were all memories.] The telepathy was, Yuuno didn't think it sounded like a voice. Dimly he could tell that it was being passed through the Lost Logia. The man was sending his thoughts to the Book, somehow (Yuuno couldn't determine the mechanism without examining them more closely), and it was the Book that was performing the actual telepathy spell. Simply, the Book was functioning as his Device.
The Book was his Device. A chill down his spine.
But that telepathic voice, was not a simulation of sound, not 'a copy of his speech in your brain'.
It was richer, full of inflection and subtones that a human voice could not produce. It was like five voices speaking in perfect unison, but despite having the same rhythm, each stressed different words, each expanded on the meaning more fully.
It was definitely the voice of a natural telepath.
[Your worst memories, pulled from your brain, and sharpened, and thrown back to skewer your heart.]
Yuuno nodded shakily. "So…" He paused. "What happened? Why did it stop?"
Yuuno's swallow had nothing to do with clearing his throat.
[Your name is… Dr. Yuuno Scrya.]
Yuuno blinked at that, surprised. "I—yes, how did you know?"
[This Book had loaded the memories of everyone present into itself as part of its spell. When it broke those memories were accessed by me.]
Yuuno sighed. "Well, it can't be helped, I suppose." He scratched his head, frowning. "Even if it was a terrible experience, that was an amazingly effective mental search magic. I hope the spell data wasn't corrupted too badly when it crashed."
[The spell didn't crash.]
"You just said it broke?"
[…I apologize. It wasn't the spell that broke.]
[What broke was the Grimore's personality emulator.]
"…You drove a Lost Logia insane?"
[It was only emulating intelligence. No sapient beings have been destroyed.]
"That… that actually does make me feel better." Yuuno paused. "So… let's talk."
"What happens next. To you, and your friend."
Even though he was only considering it for several seconds, Yuuno noticed that the pulse on the cyborg's head-crest sped up. He wondered how much time was passing subjectively, inside his machine brain.
[The harvested memories I accessed indicate the TSAB is extremely lenient towards people who agree to recruitment.]
Yuuno nodded, the beginnings of a relieved smile tugging at his lips.
I I I
Fate drifted. The blue-green water enveloped her. She felt like a jellyfish, a limp thing floating nervelessly without any direction.
Light was diffused dimly around her. She was not that deep, but water quickly snuffed out many colors.
She felt like she wanted to sink deeper into the darkness. The black despair felt like a weight that should pull her down and properly swallow her.
She clearly imagined a voice.
That imagined voice sounded so sad for her.
Because we're friends.
Fate Testarossa Harlaown cleared her nose and her mouth by breathing out smoothly, and stretched into a streamlined form, calmly swimming up towards the sunlight, where pink and yellow lights would shine freely.
Her head broke the surface, and she whipped her hair out of her eyes and controlled her deep breathing to sweep the burning out of her lungs.
Over the steady and far-away roar of waves breaking on the beaches of Salt Bay, the sound of splashing, swimming arms approached on her.
Fate nodded, clutching the prism of her device in her hand. "Thank you, Bardiche."
She prepared herself to confront this man swimming towards her.
Spell after spell rose up in her mind, branching outwards along possible events, mapping her actions and reactions.
That blond-haired man swam forward.
As he closed in towards her, his mind reached out to her.
[I never gave up on you.] He said.
[Even though I couldn't be there], those pain-filled words said, [even though I am too late to do anything], he continued, [I never gave up on returning to you.]
Fate stilled, sinking down for a beat, before she began treading water once more.
"That's not me." She whispered.
He paused. Even if he could not understand her words, that tone of voice still reached his ears.
Fate prepared herself. "I'm not Alicia. My name is Fate Testarossa Harlaown. I am a Project F clone."
He paused. His face grew heavy. Even without him telepathically projecting his thoughts, she could see in his face that his mind was racing, putting together the pieces that had been ripped from her with the ones she had just handed him. "Then… those… Precia…"
Fate remained strong. "Yes. Those were my memories."
His face twisted, became a rictus of anger. "I failed!" Those crazed eyes turned towards her.
"I couldn't save your mother!"
"I couldn't raise your sister!"
He lunged, wrapping his arms around her. For the first time in decades, he held something softer than a sword in his hands, but that joy was nothing to that grief.
"And I couldn't protect you!"
He shouted. He raged. "All three of you! All three of you! I couldn't do anything. I didn't even know you existed, I didn't even know. But still, I never gave up on any of you!" He sobbed, clenching her to his chest.
"Twin girls… two beautiful daughters, and I couldn't protect you from anything."
"Fate", He cried, "forgive your failure of a father. Because he wants you to know, even if he failed to reach you, he never stopped reaching out for you."
Fate stared at the ocean sky.
Someone she'd never even known existed. A total stranger she'd never met before. Compared to the fulfilling life she'd lived until now, he was certainly an unnecessary existence.
A hole in her heart was quietly filled.
The arms in those uniform sleeves came up. Underneath the weathered arms thrown around her neck, those smooth arms wrapped around his ribs.
"Thank you, Father." She said, smiling. "I'm… I'm happy to hear you say that."
By some unspoken signal between them, they both lifted up to fly in that broad blue sky.