T/N: This part is LN-only. It’s fairly long and dense, so it’ll be split into two parts.
Iori parrots back the words of the man before her, who looks to be about her age.
He’s a man that gives her a slightly spindly impression, but if he has sold an orb to Simon, he shouldn’t be underestimated. If it comes to trades that have become public recently…
“Are you someone connected to D-Powers?”
In response, the man looks surprised for a moment, but then immediately smooths it over with a normal expression.
“Yeah, more or less. I’m just a humble G rank member, though.”
His reply strikes her as a bit odd.
Why would he mention being G rank unprompted? Normally G rank adventurers have a strong tendency to avoid speaking about their rank, excluding a small subsection that are obviously beginners anyway. The only exception would be times when it’s beneficial to emphasize being weak, such as asking someone for protection. However, to Iori, that doesn’t seem to apply at the moment. Another possible reason would be that he’s trying to hide his true strength, but…
“Did you acquire your card very recently?”
“Eh? Yes, well, last month…”
And yet he’s close enough with Simon to casually chat him up. Iori has a sudden thought, Don’t tell me, he had the same experience I did──’
Iori recalls the chain of events back then when she was rescued by a JSDF rescue team.
It was close to the end of summer 2015.
The dungeons, which appeared at the beginning of summer, monopolized conversation in society, but they only affected Iori’s life to the extent of the Chiyoda-Line being severed between Yoyogi Park and Harajuku.
Her livelihood hadn’t changed overly much compared to before the dungeon’s appearance, and even now she had visited a friend in Okinawa to get a final breather before entering the final stretch of her graduation thesis.
“Miho, are we really at the right place here?”
The two were walking along a very narrow path, almost like a tunnel that had been created by the trees.
The sticky atmosphere, and the temperature that caused her to drip with sweat even when standing still, made her feel like they were walking through a jungle. The cries of the cicadas, searching for the last partner of their lives, only intensified that unpleasant feeling.
“Hmm, probably. I mean, there’s no other path or anything.”
Iori was not reassured by Miho’s vague reply, opened a compass and map app suited for orienteering, and tried to check their route.
However, the smartphone’s compass pointed towards a different direction each time she moved.
“That’s really weird?”
“What if you try to calibrate it?”
Miho drew a sideways figure eight in front of her eyes while holding the smartphone in her hand. This method of adjustment was apparently patented by Asahi Kasei1. The first time Iori heard about it, she admired them for having come up with such a good idea.
However, even after Iori imitated her, doing the same motion several times, the result didn’t change much.
“Is the geomagnetism around here messed up?”
“Ooh~!? Isn’t that the work of some kind of powerspot!?”
“Yeah, sure, sure.”
Miho was an engineer, but she loved the spiritual.
Having said that, since she enjoyed it while being fully aware that most of those things don’t have much scientific significance, and mainly have an effect on psychology, she wasn’t so crazy about it that it was annoying, and if push came to shove, there were many things about it that Iori could enjoy as well.
As a rule, places that were particularly beautiful or sentimental were often said to be powerspots.
“It’s fine, it’s fine. A fantastic reward is waiting for us at the end of our hardship.” Miho said and started to walk again.
But just as before, her sweat was running down, a strong smell of grass assailed her nostrils, the cicadas enjoying their existence was annoying, and at times even some small winged insects flew at her. Iori had been taken along to various places by her spiritual-loving friend, but this place ranked first in difficulty.
Moreover, at the time when even Iori started to get fed up after hours had passed, that suddenly appeared.
It was a place that widely opened up, located at the path’s dead end.
The sun finding its way through the tree’s leaves created rays of light, and the air, which had felt so humid, felt refreshing as if only that place was a part of another world.
“It’s probably here.”
They came to an essentially empty D-shaped space, with neatly mowed undergrowth..
Only a single, white, quadrangular, prism stone stood all alone in the middle of the D’s straight line.
“That’s the Ibi stone?” 2
“I think so.” Miho nodded once Iori asked.
In a manner of speaking, an Ibi stone is a guidepost from the divine domain, a stone for the gods to descend while using it as a landmark.
“Even though it’s called a sacred site, there’s no torii3 or anything anywhere.” Iori said, while recalling the large number of torii erected at the Sacred Ground of Yaeyama, which they had visited just yesterday.
“Those were put up after the Meiji era, when Shintoism was adopted as the state religion. It looks like quite a few of them have been removed pretty recently.”
In that case, the torii that used to be here were removed, or otherwise, torii might never have been erected here in the first place.
Iori believed that it was very likely the latter after surveying the area.
At any rate, the area was so empty that it was actually weird.
The heat, grass smell, and the small winged insects clinging to their sweat – all of them, as if unwilling to part with summer – which had accompanied them on the path up until now, were completely gone.
Only a strange, empty purity dominated this place.
“Even fish find it difficult to live in the purity of Shirakawa?” 4
Somehow that line just slipped out of Iori’s mouth while she recalled Matsudaira Sadanobu, who had forced the Kansei Reforms through.
And that wasn’t all, this place was pregnant with an odd silence.
I wonder, why can’t I hear a single cicada cry, given how loud they were on the way here, Iori thought.
If it was just that, it might have been reasonable to believe that the cicadas had stopped crying, but strangely, even the roaring of the nearby ocean had disappeared as well.
To Iori, the scenery that had been simply refreshing and beautiful until now, started to look like a different world, as if they wandered astray into some spirit domain.
“It’s a place where you meet the gods, that’s why. This is what you’d call a spiritual effect, eh?”
When Iori looked in the direction of Miho, while glossing over her uneasiness with a joke, Miho was gradually moving back, trying now to capture a panoramic view of the Ibi stone ─ all of the D’s straight line in the frame of her camera while taking pictures. Iori headed behind her, about to call out a warning, concerned that Miho might fall off the edge.
“Hmm, I guess a little bit more to the left…”
Miho, who had retreated all the way to the summit of the D’s curve, moved a bit to the left, but there was no ground in that location.
Iori grabbed Miho’s arm at once, and just as Miho began to scream and fall off the edge, Iori pulled the arm towards herself with all her strength.
However, pulling Miho up caused Iori to lurch forward in exchange. Iori stumbled forward, took a step into empty air ─ and slipped off a steep slope just like that.
She could hear a voice frantically calling her name from above. Oh, it’s Miho.
“Ouch, it hurts.”
Was it a blessing that she wore long sleeves, although sunburn was now the least of her worries? It didn’t look like she had suffered any serious injuries.
Even after she carefully tried to move her arms and legs, there were no signs of a sprain or break. She could feel that the damage was limited to small scratches.
Once she looked up, she could see the sky through a thin crack. Although the slope had been steep, the fall hadn’t lasted all that long, and at the end she had apparently dropped into a rocky crevice-like place.
“Ah, Iooorriii! You okay!?”
“Yeah! I just grazed my skin a bit!”
“That’s good to hear. So, does it look like you’ll be able to get out yourself?”
In response to the question, Iori surveyed her surroundings for the first time. Although the sunlight was shining in through the crack, she couldn’t see well, as it was still fairly dim.
Her smartphone, which she had kept inside her chest pocket, had been flung off somewhere, but although she didn’t find her smartphone, the small backpack on her back was fortunately okay.
She took out a flashlight she had put in there in case they went to Gama (Cave)5, and turned it on, trying to confirm the area ahead of her. Being illuminated by that light, a part of the fallen stones and the wall reflected it in golden colors.
“Gold? As if, who am I kidding?”
“It’s probably iron ore. I’m pretty sure there are times when magnetite patches turn golden. The compass going haywire since a while ago might be due to a small vein of strong magnetism running through this region.” Iori mumbled to herself while examining the walls.
“Ah, sorry. Ummm…climbing out of here looks impossible! There’s a cave up ahead, and it looks like it continues quite far in, so I’m gonna have a look for a bit!”
“Eh? Don’t do that! It’s dangerous! I’m going to call for help right away, so just stay put!”
“Okay! But just for a bit──” While answering like that, the flashlight beam, which she turned into the darkness ahead, illuminated something completely outside her expectations.
“Iori!? What!? What’s wrong!?”
What was illuminated within the flashlight’s cone were the bones of a person, no matter how you looked at it. Moreover, it seemed as if all of the bones were in one place.
“A-Ah, sorry. There’s something here that surprised me a bit…”
“What is it? Did you find a pirate treasure?”
“Treasure? Yeah, well, academically, in regards to human culture…no, isn’t it a tad too new?”
“What are you talkin’ ’bout?”
The skeleton had been carefully enshrined, as if some kind of ceremony had been performed.
Traditionally, Okinawa had used aerial sepulture. Although most people used cremation nowadays, urn burials were still carried out on isolated islands, and it’s said that cave burial had been practiced up until the 70’s in Miyako. The remains were put into Gama, and after many years had passed, the bones were washed before placing them in a bone storage urn for the final rest.
Gama was a boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead. And at the same time it was a place where all purity was washed away, as it was a holy ground. Once Iori looked closer, many bone-like objects, presumably from other people, were scattered around the skeleton.
“You know, it kinda looks like this place is a gravesite.”
“Yeah, people that appear to wait for their bone washing are──”
When she was about to explain, something faintly shining appeared from around the corner deeper down the cave.
Seeing that, Iori wondered whether she might not actually be dead already.
“Iori? Iori!? What’s wrong!? Did something happen!?”
“Miho, be quiet…!”
What showed up was a fish with a beautiful silver color, floating vertically, while elegantly making its dorsal fin wriggle back and forth. Each time it moved its fin, a rainbow-colored light glittered, so beautiful that it captivated Iori’s eyes.
The problem was the fact of this being on-shore, meaning that the fish was swimming through the air.
Unless she had lost her mind and was now hallucinating, there was only one possible explanation for this phenomenon.
“Miho, call the police. Tell them that I found a dungeon-like cave, okay?”
“There’s something like that slightly ahead of me.”
“Something, you say…are you alright?”
“I don’t know, but I will hide so that it won’t spot me.”
“Got it…damn, why must this place be out of range!? Wait a moment, I’ll be right back!”
Saying so, Miho apparently ran off in the direction of the parking area.
“There would be nothing better than not being found by that, but…” Muttering that, Iori retrieved a survival knife from her backpack.
It was a knife that had an engraving of Momotaro being born from a peach on the grip, a mass produced design, manufactured by a knife maker in Okayama.6 Once Iori said that she would go to Okiniwa, her little brother gave her this knife, saying, “Take this with you as a charm if you go to the primeval forest.” Since it looked like it would get in the way, she had even considered leaving it behind, but seeing as it was given to her as a charm, she had reluctantly stuffed it at the bottom of her bag, bringing it with her.
“Sometimes that guy’s quite useful, isn’t he?”
As she was looking at the thick, unrefined knife blade, she had the impression that she could feel slightly relieved.
When she took a fleeting peek at the silver fish swimming on the opposite side from the shade of a rock, the number of fish had grown into a school that continued to quietly swim through the narrow light pouring down from above.
Assuming they are scabbard fish, they will be actively hunting carnivores. Their sharp blades are similar to razors that can cut you by just touching. Iori silently prayed from the bottom of her heart that they wouldn’t come in her direction.
She didn’t know whether her prayers got through, but after a while the flying scabbard fish returned the way they came from.
Sitting down in relief, Iori felt like something touched her nape with a clap.
Timidly turning around, she faced a great white shark that seemed to be two meters long being right now in the process of opening its mouth widely to sink its teeth into her.
Iori, who screamed soundlessly, brandished the survival knife in her hand as she lost control of herself, stabbing the shark’s head with all her might.
The shark, which certainly hadn’t expected to receive a counterattack here, rolled over, sending Iori flying with the momentum.
Being slapped against the wall on the other side, Iori powerfully hit her back, unable to get back up right away.
The shark, which had been writhing opposite of her, apparently hadn’t died, and came swooping down on her at tremendous speed after turning its black eyes, which were completely emotionless, in her direction.
Watching that with a blank stare, Iori instinctively tried to dodge its body by sliding below it. And then, when its demonic face passed above her while laughing with its mouth gaping open, she felt a strong irritation towards this irrational event, and kicked its belly from below at full power, driven by an outburst of anger.
Just because it was kicked at full strength by a weak woman, it didn’t mean that the monster would be defeated by that. However, that kick succeeded in slightly shifting the monster’s direction of movement and the fate that should have befallen Iori.
The shark, which had its movement direction turned slightly downwards, powerfully hit the hilt of the knife still stuck in its head against the wall. The shark convulsed strongly, and then the light vanished from its black eyes.
The survival knife, which had been stuck in the shark, fell down towards Iori’s head, as she watched the turn of events vacantly. While cutting off a lock of her hair, the blade planted itself into the ground.
And then a silver card appeared on her chest as she was laying sprawled, like some cursed tools used to offer prayers to something.
“Did I possibly survive?”
The rainbow-colored, shining, orb that manifested in front of her as she muttered those words might have been god’s compensation for having offered a sacrifice. Iori, who had completely lost all sense of reality except for her back pain, touched that orb without a shred of hesitation, releasing its power.
After being engulfed by a sensation of floating, as if gravity had released its hold on her, and once the weird feeling similar to her body being rebuilt came to an end, mystically her backache mostly disappeared as well.
She carefully sat up, and made sure that nothing was wrong with her, such as bone fractures at her limbs. Then she silently stood up, wiped off the dirt, and picked up the knife and flashlight.
Next she absentmindedly gazed at the silver card she had obtained just now. Strangely, her own name and rank were written on it.
“This is a D-Card, isn’t it?”
She knew about D-Cards, which could be obtained at the time of defeating a dungeon monster with your own efforts for the first time, since it had become a hot topic in the world. And, the card also listed the name of the skill she had acquired.
“<Magnetic Field Manipulation>? …You’re saying those fish floated because of magnetic force?” Mumbling like that, she made the survival knife in her hand float above her palm.
“For real, it floats…”
The stainless steel used in the knife mostly contained martensite, in other words, it was very magnetic.
Iori laughed softly, as she felt that it was a skill suited for an engineering woman. She could relatively easily manipulate the magnetism as long as she imagined the magnetic flux.
Once she used her power on a fallen stone at her feet, she could draw it towards her hand. Pyrrhotite that could also be mined in Okinawa had a dispersed intensity, but it was a magnetic substance.
Thinking that it might be possible, she climbed on a similar stone and tried to make it float as if using it as a platform, but that didn’t work out.
“Awful. Isn’t this telling me that I’m too heavy?”
There might be another reason for it, but right now she didn’t have the spare time to study it.
After all, she didn’t know when dungeon monsters might come attacking her. If one insisted that her newly obtained skill had become a weapon, she would need to master it as quickly as possible.
Being able to manipulate magnetic fields means something like a railgun is…, she even thought, but then she changed her mind after considering, No matter how high the magnetic flux density, the electric charge will be zero, and thus the Lorentz force will be zero as well, I guess.
“If it concerns something I can manage to get done with just <Magnetic Field Manipulation>, it’d be induction heating or a coilgun.”
If I make the intensity and magnetic field orientation change at high speed, it’ll create electricity within a piece of metal placed inside that field, through electromagnetic induction. It follows Faraday’s electromagnetic induction law.
The size of the electromotive force at that time is expressed by d(ϕ)/dt, with ϕ as magnetic flux, t in seconds, and d naturally being the Leibnitz notation showing the differential. In plain words, the change in the magnetic flux of one Weber7 per second will generate an electromotive force of one Volt.
If I can manipulate the direction and strength of a magnetic focus and the magnetic field density with <Magnetic Field Manipulation>, it’ll allow me to freely change the magnetic flux, and it should theoretically be possible to increase the electromotive force indefinitely.
The joule heat created at that time will be R x I² x t. R is the electric resistance of the object in Ohm, I is the streaming electric current in A (Ampere), and t is the elapsed time in seconds. If we use V for the electromotive force, the generated electric current will be I = V / R according to Ohm’s law.
In short, because the joule heat will be V x I x t, it should be possible to increase the generated heat indefinitely if I can increase the electromotive force indefinitely. Electric current must flow in the material, though.8 The principle behind a coilgun is much simpler. After all, it just makes a magnetic substance fly by pulling it with a strong magnetic field.
You can’t obtain a strong enough magnetic field to allow for lethal velocity because there’s a limit to the electric current in the current world, but it’d be a different story if you could manipulate the magnetic field itself.
Iori tried to create a magnetic field stronger than the one obtainable through a coil around the pyrrhotite-like stone on her palm. At that moment she could observe not only the stone on her palm, but also the surrounding magnetic stones being immediately drawn towards her hand, and thus cancelled the magnetic field in a panic.
“Whoa, that was scary…”
Normally, the strength of the magnetic field created by a pole will be inversely proportional to the square of the distance, according to the inverse square law.
In short, the power will sharply drop the further the distance, and yet a magnetic field powerful enough to move the surrounding magnetic substances has been formed.
“Manipulation…going by extreme logic, it means I can freely set the direction and strength of a magnetic field, doesn’t it?”
At the moment she applied a magnetic flux possessing a powerful magnetic flux density on the magnetic substance on her palm in a direction away from her own body, the stone vanished in front of her eyes, and crashed very loudly against a wall around ten meters ahead of her.
Iori, who felt dumbstruck by the excessive power, came to her senses after seeing a swarm of silver fish turning around the corner after being lured by the sound just now.
For an instant she was reminded of the shark just now and her face turned pale, but resolving herself that it would be better to do something about them before they get close, she picked up several stones at her feet.
Those stones were the surrounding, magnetic, objects that had gathered at her feet due to her previous magnetic pull.
Once she added power to a magnetic body with the same trick she had used moments ago, one fish within the swarm burst open.
“That’ll work, won’t it? It was a different one from my target, though.”
Iori imagined the magnetic flux lines leading to the target.
If it was a common draw-type of coilgun, the bullet would come back if you didn’t turn off the magnetic field as soon as it passed the pole for pulling, but if you could set the magnetic flux freely, it was unnecessary to worry about such things.
The magnetic object that was shot out very likely flew along the lines imagined by Iori in accordance with the generated magnetic field, and directly hit the target.
After all, the bullet moved at such a high speed that it was impossible to follow its flight path with her eyes. Iori had no choice but to guess whether it had flown along the lines, but since it hit, there was likely no mistake in that assumption.
Annihilating the entire swarm of scabbard fish heading for her in such a way, Iori put her hands together in prayer towards the skeleton, and then proceeded further down the cave.
Having received a rescue request, the police immediately passed it on to the department for dungeon countermeasures. That information was at once transmitted to the Dungeon Capture Unit that had been deployed very closely for training.
The JSDF’s structure, which only allowed for a dispatch within the framework of a disaster relief mission, had been drastically simplified as far as dungeons were concerned, and it had become possible to directly request a dispatch by the dungeon countermeasure department that received a report.
In regards to this matter, there were many misleading arguments, such as saying that it would be used for war, or that it would change for the worse because of the simplification of the JSDF’s dispatch, but the opposing opinions were easily crushed due to the actual danger of monsters swarming out of the dungeons, and an adequate system was set up speedily.
This time the relief order was passed down on the Dungeon Capture Group’s first team led by Sergeant First-Class Hagane who were training at Okinawa with its many caves by coincidence. They quickly got their equipment ready, and boarded the HiMan9.
“Well, I’d expect nothing less of Okinawa. I didn’t know that we would be deployed in a HiMan with an air-conditioner. But, it doesn’t really cool the air in here,” said the flippy Leading Private Kaiba who energetically got into the car which had maintained a temperature that was still better than the one outside.
Okinawa’s sunlight was strong. If you went all day long with your upper body exposed, you would be burned all over your body, as if you had been dunked in boiling water, even if it was cloudy. Compared to that kind of external heat, the inside of the HiMan was paradise.
“Alright, now that everyone is in the car, we’re off. I will explain the situation while we move.” With those words, Hagane distributed the documents to everyone.
“At 00:05, a woman slipped down into a place similar to a cave which is marked on the map.”
“A place similar to a cave? However, us being ordered to dispatch means…”
“Correct. It looks like that place was an undiscovered dungeon. Because of that, it’s our turn, as we’re the ones closest to the place.”
The team members, who heard that, thought that a single, unarmed woman in a dungeon might have already passed away, but none of them voiced it out.
“The woman’s name is Kimitsu Iori, 22 years old. Our objective is to rescue that woman, and to capture the dungeon, if possible. Still the rescue takes precedence.”
Leading Private Seruhio, who had been born in Okinawa, silently looked at the documents and muttered with a pale face, “Dat cave’s haunted by evil.” 10
“What was that?” Sergeant Sawatari to whom the words next to him sounded like a spell chant turned his head to Seruhio and asked.
The complexion of Seruhio, who looked back at Sawatari, became even worse, and he squeezed out his words with difficulty, “The cave located over there is a mourning ground, so to say. Locally it’s simply called tiral.”
“Tiral?” Hagane asked back after hearing that story.
According to Seruhio’s explanation, tiral seems to be a Ryukyu dialect for cave.11 In contrast to gama, which meant natural cave, tiral, or tira is a word deviating from 『Tera (Temple)』, and apparently indicates a cave that’s a burial ground.
“Terror, that’s yet another very cocky way to refer to a burial ground, isn’t it?”12
“Captain.” Seruhio added a grim expression to his very pale face, and said, “This ain’t no joke or anything. That place is dangerous! That place…is where the abandoned gods dwell!”
Due to the excessive words by Seruhio, none of the team members could speak up.
A place where abandoned gods live in the 20th century? All of them wanted to laugh that off, but the strong pressure ruling the car didn’t allow them to do so.
“A place where the gods live? You mean, it’s a sacred grove?”
Sacred groves were important places in Okinawa’s faith, and he had heard that they were similar to funeral halls, in a broader sense.
“Captain, you know of the Ryukyu faith?”
“Hmm? Yeah, there seem to be various taboos, so I attended a lecture before coming here, just in case, but to be honest, my knowledge isn’t all that deep.”
“Sacred groves are the places where the noro13 perform the rites, so they are different from tiral. However, if it’s in the meaning of being boundaries to the netherworld, both seem to be so.”
“The old festivals might be the same anywhere, but here almost all of them are ceremonies of a divine welcoming for the visiting gods.”
Seruhio took a short pause of one breath, and then started to explain to no one in particular, “We interact with the visiting gods by holding determined festivals at fixed times.”
“For example, Kudaka’s Izaiho, which has become famous, is a ceremony to welcome the visiting gods from the next world. And after having them confirm a new divine woman, we send the visiting gods back.” 14
“So? What has all of that to do with this case?” Hagane was bewildered by the cultural anthropology lecture that had suddenly started in the middle of his briefing. “Still, is it actually possible to choose a god through a human ceremony or such?”
Assuming the ceremony was basically like opening a door, it was difficult to say whether the gods arriving from the other side would be the ones chosen by the humans. Even if they strictly controlled the procedures and timing of the ceremony.
“Do you know why the Izaiho is held only once every twelve years?”
“The position of the stars or the calendar? I don’t really know, but such things play a role, don’t they?”
After all, the wall separating this world and the netherworld seems to become thicker and thinner depending on the calendar, no matter which book in which country at what age you check.
“That’s also one way of thinking, but as a matter of fact it’s because it would take twelve years to amass the power of prayer to choose the visiting gods.” 15
“If it takes twelve years to accumulate that power on an island as full of shrine maidens as Kudaka, just how can other regions choose a god with power that was amassed within a year then?”
The classification of good gods is something merely decided by humans of their own accord.
If we assume that the visiting gods are chosen irresponsibly, it might happen that even annoying, evil gods arrive.
“That means, it’s a place that abandoned the gods?”
“Going by the recognition of the people back then, it’s a place where the gods were sent back forcibly without being warmly welcomed.”
He says the tiral is a boundary to the netherworld. Then it wouldn’t be strange even if everyone believed that the gods might go back on their own accord as long as they are locked up in there.
“It’s no problem if they go back, right? So, just what is there supposed to be?”
“…Captain. The gods of Ryukyu are the shrine maidens.”
On Ryukyu, the gods borrow the bodies of shrine maidens to manifest. You might also call that a possession.
The manifested gods are the shrine maidens themselves in the physical world.
“Don’t tell me, they’re like people descended from gods…”
“It’s like being possessed by something evil and being spirited away. It’s terrifying.” His Okinawan dialect spread through the car, which should be hot, like a chant, making them feel such a strong shiver that no one would think of it being summer.
“The irrational things called dungeons have appeared in the world, and their interior has been overflowing with creatures that seemed to have slipped out from some fantasy book. Even if we truly found a god or two over there at this point in time, it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore.” Hagane states as if to smash the frozen atmosphere inside the car. “Got it? No matter whether we will find gods or whatever in there or not, our mission is to rescue the victim from the newly discovered dungeon.”
“As expected of you, Captain. How cool!”
The tense atmosphere became loose due to Kaiba’s casual banter, and it felt as if the surrounding sounds had returned.
“I wonder just how many monsters I have defeated since then?” Irori asked herself.
As she walked through the cave, while putting the stuff that would occasionally drop, and which she couldn’t really identify, into her backpack, she heard the roar of waves, and saw a blue light shining into the cave from ahead.
Once she quickened her pace, in the hope that she might have found a way out, she ran into an open room. The room at the end was slightly wide, and possessed deeper inside a blue, shining tide pool that seemed to have a diameter of around ten meters.
Stalactites were hanging down from the ceiling, and each time the tide pool swayed, the blue light made the shadows of the stalactites flicker, as if being a living creature.
The end of the tide pool is very likely connected to the ocean, seeing how a strong scent of salt is hanging in the air.
As she was unintentionally looking absentmindedly at that fairytale-like scenery, black shadows appeared beneath the water surface, and many huge scabbard fish jumped out into the air from within the water. It looked as if the tide pool was actually a spawn point for the monsters.
Iori defeated the monsters with the same method as before, but the instant she finished off the last fish, she suddenly felt a light dizziness.
How to describe it? My body feels sluggish. It closely resembles the times when I’m terribly exhausted.
“Have I possibly used this power too much?”
It looks like the monsters are born from this tide pool.
Feeling that it would become bad for her to stay here like that, Iori started to stagger back in the direction she came from. She felt like she could escape outside through the tide pool as long as she could hold her breath, but she considered that to be a disadvantageous gamble.
At that moment a remarkably big, black shadow rose up, pushing out its dorsal fin through the water’s surface.
C-Come on, this isn’t a Spielberg movie, now is it?
While running as fast as she could with her shaky legs, and pulling a cramped face after seeing that, Iori thought about trivial stuff, like Spielberg being too tame a choice, as it would be more like The Asylum’s outrageous movies if a shark were to fly out into the air next.
If that shark is going to attack me in the same way as the first one, the only help in sight would be to jump into its mouth while holding onto a chainsaw.16
Her wish to somehow not be discovered was in vain. The great white shark that seemed to be around five meters long peeked out through the water’s surface, jumped into the air in the next moment, and started to chase after Iori.
She felt like she would faint if she used <Magnetic Field Manipulation> one more time, but struggling to the bitter end was Iori’s credo. While fleeing, she tightly grasped the charm knife her brother had forced on her.
At that moment, Iori heard such a voice from in front. Iori reflexively laid herself on the ground, following the voice’s call, hearing the sound of guns being fired intermittently from the front.
As she was laying down, as if clinging to the ground, holding the back of her head, the gunshots soon stopped, and someone called out to her, asking whether she was okay. When she slowly lifted her face, she found a boorish but reliable-looking man kneeling while looking her way in worry.
Iori clung to the man while trembling in fear, and then let out a cry and started to sob.
“Ooh, captain, what a nice side benefit.”
“You held out well all by yourself. You must have been scared.”
I see, I was scared, wasn’t I? Iori mused.
At that moment, Iori understood her own feelings for the first time. As she stayed like that for a while, the troops that had headed up to the tide pool room came back.
“It looks like there’s a dead end on the other side. If it means that the dungeon is limited to just this cave, we should have visited all places with this, but…”
But, it didn’t look as if the dungeon had been completely cleared.
“The boss should be somewhere…”
“If it’s on the other side of that tide pool, we have to give up for now.”
It’s probably because none of them has underwater equipment such as scuba. Iori guessed.
Once Iori accidentally looked to the side, there was someone who was paying undue attention to the direction she came from, with a very unsettled look.
“Captain, we should go back right away. It might be too late already, but still, right now!”
“Calm down, Seruhio. Why are you so panicked?”
“Captain, this guy has been like that all the time since seeing the skeleton at the place we came from. I think he got cold feet?”
“Yeah! I’m terrified! You guys are so calm because you don’t know what that was!”
“Just what is it you’re saying?” Hagane asked Seruhio.
Seruhio is an excellent team member. However, his condition has been too weird since a while ago.
“Didn’t I explain it at the briefing!? It’s just as said! Anyway, hurry. Let’s quickly get out of here!”
Hagane was puzzled by his strange behavior, but there was certainly no reason to stick around here any longer. After all, the target had been secured.
“No helping it. We will begin retreating.”
“The exit was in the opposite direction, wasn’t it? I thought that it might be a dead end since the passage became narrow.” While walking together with everyone, Iori asked Hagane who had been walking next to her.
“It’s a place one person can barely pass through alone. If you had only known that, you would actually be at the exit around now.” Hagane said with a smile. It was a smile that seemed to give others a peace of mind.
Iori finally sensed a feeling that she had been rescued well up in her.
“Look, if we go around this corner, we’ll find that thing that scared the shit out of Seruhio, won’t we?”
A man with a slightly frivolous feel teased the man who was excessively anxious ─ Seruhio.
Seemingly not having even heard that banter, Seruhio restlessly looked around him with frightened eyes.
“Hey, give it a rest, Kaiba.” A bespectacled man, who seemed to be the serious type, said to the frivolous man.
“There was an altar-like place, and I think the corpses, which received a cave burial, are in a state of waiting for the washing of their bones, but after all is said and done, they belong to humans. I think it would be best to contact the police, just in case.”
“…Those aren’t anything──” Seruhio, who was about to finish with “like that,” loudly swallowed his breath.
A young man, who had been walking in front, turned back over his shoulder towards Seruhio, obviously worried about him, and then followed his gaze. But the man’s action of turning his head back to the front never finished.
Another man was dumbfounded for an instant, seeing the head of the man, who had been walking diagonally in front of him, having disappeared, but in the next moment, he began to shoot his gun as if having gone mad.
At the time when Hagane tried to ask what had happened, the upper body of Private First-Class Shimabukuro, who had fired the gun, burst open. And then pure terror peeked out from the place where the path took a corner.
“Get down!” Hagane’s voice breathed life into everyone that had survived.
What showed up had been moving slowly so far. Its upper body seemed to be the skeleton that had been enshrined on the altar. Right now, a light brown membrane wrapped up the skeleton like a dried-up skin. Its head was unruly covered by white, thin hair, similar to the silken threads spit out by silkworms. Its lower body half had transformed into something like a fish’s tail fine. It was as if──
“The mummy of a merman!?”
“Captain, is this guy this dungeon’s boss?”
“Probably. However, it’s far beyond the level of what should be found in a one-cave-only dungeon like this. Just what the hell is going on here?”
Shimabukuro had shot his Howa17 on full auto. No matter how shaken he might have felt, most of the shots should have hit at this short distance. And yet the thing in front of us is moving as if it felt no pain at all.
“That’s why I warned you, didn’t I…? I told you this is a place inhabited by the abandoned, mourning gods! Now…now it’s all too late…” Seruhio said with a shrill voice while tearing up.
“So what? Are you saying that thing over there is a collaboration work between the dungeon and the mourning gods?”
“Mr. Seruhio, tell me, why are you so well-informed about all of this?” Iori faced Seruhio, who had completely lost his will to fight, and was holding his head in his hands.
“Eh? My granma was a yuta who soothed the gods here.”
A yuta was a kind of shaman. You could say, if noro were the priestesses governing over religious ceremonies, yuta were unofficial spiritualists. As there apparently was a period where yuta suffered persecution because of their role, the yuta themselves seemed to have a tendency to avoid revealing that they were yuta.
“Granma told me that she had a conversation with something inside a forest in her childhood. After she married and gave birth to my mother, she was on the verge of dying from illness, and that’s when she told me that she had become a yuta to console the something she had spoken to in the past.”
“Then, that was your grandmother’s friend, wasn’t it?” Iori asked while shifting her eyes towards the merman mummy that was slowly drawing closer to them.
“I don’t know, I really don’t! But, what’s only clear is the thing’s hate towards humans!”
After all it had been abandoned in the tiral while a god dwelt in its body since they didn’t like the god inhabiting it.
“I don’t know whether it’s the grudge of that god or the person who was turned into the god’s vessel. But, for our fate either will bring about the same outcome.” Seruhio dropped his shoulders in resignation, donning an expression of already having given up on life.
Hagane listened to Sawatari’s report while casting a sidelong glance at Seruhio.
“As far as visible from Shimabukuro’s case, the Howa doesn’t seem to be a match for it.”
Sawatari dealing with things calmly even at such a time was reliable, but Hagane had noticed that his hands were shaking faintly.
“If it comes to equipment besides the Howa on this dispatch──”
“Captain Hagane, I still haven’t had my fill of playing with girls, so please come up with some kind of ingenious plan allowing us to return alive! Fuck, I’m so nervous that I’m going to pull the trigger at any time!” Kaiba’s hoarse voice skillfully managed to calm down the place with his usual, casual style.
Defeating that with our current gear is impossible. Hagane said while resolving himself for the worst, “Alright, we’re going to quietly retreat. In case we get attacked, we will retreat while plastering the enemy with a barrage. Once we enter the tide pool room, we will move to a corner next to the entrance. Once that thing enters the room, we will push it back by everyone shooting 06s at it simultaneously, and then we will escape into the passage. Afterwards, we will escape in a beeline.”
“What are we going to do if it doesn’t get pushed back by the 06s?” Sawatari asked.
Hagane shrugged his shoulders while answering, “Then we won’t have any other choice but ram it with all of us.”
Hearing that, Sawatari chuckled and replied, “I’m kind of bad at Sumo, though.”
Hagane turned his face to Iori, and instructed her with a serious expression, “Listen, if that thing has moved back to the other side of the entrance, you will run towards the entrance without any hesitation.”
Saying so, Hagane’s group, who took up camp in a corner of the room, adopted a shooting formation.
Once a part of the monster vaguely showed itself from the entrance, “Get ready!”
“Get ready to shoot!”
And when its body fully entered the room, Sergeant Hagane shouted, “Fire!”
Four rifle grenades were shot out alongside his yell. The four grenades fully hit the monster’s head and body, and exploded. But──
“Not a single scratch..!?”
The monster moved back a bit, but it didn’t look as if it had suffered any significant damage.
Now that it had reached this stage, it couldn’t be helped. Hagane’s unit decided to focus on at least allowing Iori to get away.
“We will lure this guy to a corner deeper inside the room while we still have its attention. You make sure to escape outside through the entrance during that time.”
“Eh? What about you guys then?”
“Our duty is to protect the lives of the citizens.”
“Don’t worry. We won’t be finished off so easily.” Hagane said with a friendly smile while tapping Iori’s shoulder. “Okay, let’s get this started.”
The five of them moved in order to lure the monster deeper inside the room while firing their guns in burst mode. And just as planned, Iori arrived at the room’s entrance when the monster had left.
Seeing that, Hagane’s unit felt relieved despite being in such a situation. They had been able to accomplish the minimum objective of their mission.
“Well, doesn’t it look like the mission will work out one way or another?”
“It kind of sucks if we get annihilated, don’t you think?”
“At the end, scatter, and run away while passing on both its sides.”
“We coulda jump into that pool over there?” Kaiba said while pointing at the shining, blue water surface.
“I don’t mind, but you’re confident that you can swim faster than a merman?”
“Ah, I guess it’s the fate of a hunk to get chased after all, huh?”
“Who’s a hunk here?”
Them trash-talking with each other in the face of death was probably because they had accepted their fate, or maybe because their personal experiences related to death were rather shallow.
“Don’t look back, even if someone gets done in. Run while only thinking about your own life.”
When they glared at the monster in order to resolve themselves, Hagane and his men were shocked to see Iori standing on the other side.
“What is she doing, that girl!?!”
Standing at the entrance, Iori spoke to the monster she faced while strongly gripping her brother’s knife.
“You have probably many things you want to say.”
“Hey! What’re you doing! Hurry up and run away!”
Iori continued speaking, as if she hadn’t heard the voice at all.
“But, we have our own circumstances to deal with. Though, I certainly believe that you’ve been treated cruelly while having been left summoned here like this.”
Due to the excessively powerful, focused magnetic force that took all her might to control, the surrounding pebbles with magnetic elements had started to fly up.
The somewhat large survival knife, which Iori had held, floated next to her while trembling constantly.
“Your cherished friends have left this world long ago…you ought to return to your own world now as well.”
As if responding to that, the monsters turned around in Iori’s direction, widely opened its mouth full of fangs, and screamed soundlessly.
“I’m sorry, okay?” The instant she said that, something was fired towards the monster along a loud bang, blowing the monster’s upper body into smithereens with a sonic boom.
In front of Hagane’s team, who had watched that spectacle in mute amazement, the broken bones continued to drop into the water with splashes, and the merman’s lower body turned into black light, melting into the blue light emitted by the water’s surface.
The tiral is a boundary connecting this world with the netherworld. I’m sure they will be able to return to their original place through the ocean located deeper inside. Iori thought.
Iori was engulfed by a mysterious feeling of satisfaction while sensing how her own consciousness suddenly melted with darkness.
If he has experienced something similar to what I have, it wouldn’t be strange for him to possess some kind of powerful ability ─ similar to the one created through a skill orb, Iori believed.
“You, are you possibly──”
“Look, everyone from your team is calling you.” Yoshimura said to Iori, as if grabbing onto the godsent opportunity to get out of this.
Iori fixedly stared at his face, but then showed a smile all of a sudden, saying, “Then I will have you tell me your story next time,” and then ran after her teammates.
Tell her, she says. I wonder, just what does she intend to talk about with me. Getting involved with the top explorer of the JSDF is something I kind of…no, definitely don’t want, though.
Once Yoshimura reassessed his own appearance, and then went back to his new home without diving into the dungeon before being told something similar by someone else.
Once he got out of the car at the parking lot, strong rays of sunshine poured down on him, as if pricking his skin, even though it was almost evening by now. As the University of the Ryukyus Hospital was located on high ground, it allowed an extensive view over the Pacific Ocean stretching out in the distance.
“Ugh, hot.” Muttering that short comment, Hagane started to walk towards the hospital ward.
The cool air felt nice on his heated skin when he stepped through the hospital’s entrance. He knew the hospital room’s number, but he still stopped by the nurse station to handle the formalities before going to the hospital room.
Once he confirmed the nameplate next to the room’s door, he knocked.
“Yes, please come in.”
When he opened the door after hearing the reply, he spotted Iori sitting up on her bed with a visibly improved complexion.
“It’s good to see that you’re healthy.”
“Mr. Hagane? Well, it’s not like I’ve been ill or anything.”
“Well, after you collapsed on the spot, you didn’t wake up for two whole days. Even if it’s not an illness, it made me feel anxious.”
“Why, thank you. Sorry for having made you worry.”
“Don’t worry about it. All that matters is that you’re alright.”
The distant Pacific Ocean glittered due to the intense sunlight through the room’s window, despite the sun being already on the last stretch of the day.
“Why didn’t you run away at the end?”
Being asked all of a sudden, Iori didn’t know what he was talking about for a moment, but once she understood, she bashfully scratched the tip of her nose with her index finger while saying, “I don’t consider it to be very Japanese to let others die, despite having a possible way to save them on hand.”
Hagane smiled wryly at that, and answered, “It’s problematic, you know? If the person in need of rescue doesn’t follow instructions.”
“Excuse me for that.”
“To begin with, what did you plan to do if you hadn’t been able to defeat it in one shot?”
“Hmm, I didn’t really think about that part. I just knew that I had to throw peach seeds to send back that which came from the land of the dead.”
“What’s that about?”
“It’s out of Kojiki. God Izanaki repelled the evil spirits chasing after him by throwing peaches.”
Hearing her mention that she used a myth as basis for her actions in reality, Hagane was rendered speechless for a moment, but once he remembered that it was about a dungeon, he decided that it might have been the correct approach, and unintentionally breathed a sigh.
Because dungeons had appeared in the world, myths had started to permeate the modern era while blending to a remarkable degree with reality. It might be impossible to say that her argument was special or abnormal. All the more since it wasn’t odd for her to harbor those kinds of emotions in such a place.
“So, even though they’re in season now, where did you find something like peach seeds?”
“In the hilt of the survival knife my brother lent me.”
“What’s up with that?”
Iori told Hagane about the knife her younger brother had pushed on her.
“The scene of Momotaro being born out of a peach had been carved into its hilt.”
“Huh? Just that?”
Being asked about it now, that was actually the only thing backing her actions. Back then, Iori recalled the design drawn on her brother’s knife, was seized by that idea, and didn’t even consider the possibility of failing in the slightest.
That might have possibly been a suggestion by Seruhio’ grandma, Iori thought. I mean, even she wouldn’t have any interest in her grandson getting killed.
“It was a knife I took along against my will, as it was a charm, but it really protected me, I suppose. But, the knife itself is gone. I’m pretty sure he will be mad at me…”
As Iori, who felt down, was strangely ridiculous to look at, Hagane said, while suppressing a laugh, “Let us give you a new one then, as thanks for having saved our lives.”
“Eh? You mean it?”
“You’re a lifesaver. I had absolutely no clue what knife I should buy.”
Iori, who faced off against the dungeon boss back then, looked like a goddess, but now, as she was frolicking around in delight, she appeared to be a normal female college student you could find anywhere. However, her power was no illusion. The three words <Magnetic Field Manipulation> were definitely carved into her D-Card.
Hagane remembered why he came here, and broached a new topic, “What are you going to do after graduation?”
“Let’s see. I don’t have so much research material left to remain in the laboratory. I think I will get a job after receiving an offer by some enterprise. Otherwise──”
“Want to come to my place?”
Despite not believing her ears, Iori’s face turned bright red due to the phrase used by Hagane, which invited misunderstanding.
Realizing the meaning behind his own words after seeing Iori’s reaction, Hagane added in panic, “Y-You misunderstood! That’s not what I mean! My place ultimately means the Dungeon Capture Group!”
“Dungeon Capture Group…”
Once Iori, who repeated those words with a blank stare, regained her calm, she said with an attitude that made it clear that she had become slightly sulky, “Well, I already thought that it might be something like that.”
Iori took out the chain hanging on her neck, and retrieved her D-Card. “It’s this, right?”
“You’re right. We certainly want that ability. But the reason why I invited you were the words you said before.”
“Not being able to let others die despite having a possible way to save them on hand.”
“How about it?”
“…I don’t have enough stamina to enter the JSDF. In the first place, the next year’s officer cadet examinations are over, right?”
Hearing her words, Hagane felt like he had a good chance.
“Why do you know about that?”
The first stage of the JSDF’s officer candidate examinations was held almost one year ahead in May of the preceding year with enlistment in April.
However, ordinary college students weren’t aware of this, except for those considering to join the JSDF to begin with. Usually one definitely wouldn’t expect for the examinations to be so early. That’s why many students were late in registering once they would make up their mind, resulting in being delayed by a year. Though it might be just the right opportunity to bring up a weak body in shape.
“Ah…well, with the recent events, I got slightly curious, seeing how I also obtained a power like this.”
The slightly embarrassed face of Iori was fully reflected by the room’s window. The sky that had turned madder red dyed her cheeks.
“Would you take the examination if your participation were to be accepted as a special case?”
After all, she is the leading actor of Japan’s first dungeon clearance. Using a slightly pushy method might go through, Hagane assessed.
Wondering why he would go so far, Iori concisely replied, “Don’t I have to pass the examination first?”
“I don’t have any worries about that part.”
Being bestowed with a disposition that has a trace of divinity, she’s a woman who took on her duty by herself while overcoming madness.
While looking at her profile, Hagane remembered the story of Seruhio’s grandmother, thinking that Iori looked just like a Ryukyu shaman. Now that it had come to this, that also might have been destiny.
This was Okinawa. The islands where the women became priestesses, serving the gods.
- Asahi Kasei Microdevices – Company providing electronic parts
- This is about sacred sites in Okinawa. The hallowed stone here is called Ibi. It’s a specific stone placed at many sacred sites which becomes a place to pray. You can google it by using “Okinawa sacred sites” as search term if you want to know more.
- Shinto shrine archway
- This is a part of an old satirical tanka that’s still well known nowadays, something along the lines of “Even fish find it difficult to live in the purity of Shirakawa, and yearn for the former impurity of Tanuma.” It has a rather deep historical reference. Shirakawa refers to Matsudaira Sadanobu who made the Kansei Reforms as Shirakawa’s daimyo, Tanuma here means Tanuma Okitsugu, a politician of the Bakufu government, and the fish refer to the common people. Sadanobu enacted the Kansei Reforms with the justification that he’s aiming for an honest and sincere government after Tanuma was overthrown, but the new government had many aspects that were oppressive towards the common people since the reforms had very strong retrogressive aspects considering the era. During the Tanuma period bribery was rampant, but since it was a time where people could live more freely, they yearned to return to those times. Here it basically means that the place is so pure that Iori asks whether it wouldn’t be better for it to actually be less pure.
- It’s one of those sacred spots in Okinawa, full name is Makiminato Terabu of Gama. Look it up if you like
- Momotaro is a famous Japanese folklore. Look here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Momotar%C5%8D
- Unit of magnetic flux
- The formula is a bit misleading cause the author replaces R in in R x I² x t with R = V / I which is a modulation of I = V / R.
- Author’s note: HMV (High Mobility Vehicle), an automobile used to transport troops of the Ground Self-Defense Forces. T/N: The abbreviation Kouki used in the novel stems from the car being called 高機動車 (High Maneuverability Vehicle) in full. 高機 equals Kouki. I abbreviated it to HiMan since I don’t know of any better English counterpart. I could have gone with Humvee, but that’s another type of car.
- Thick Okinawan accent here, luckily author provided a note, else I wouldn’t have understood a thing xD
- Ryukyu refers to the southwestern Japanese islands forming the Okinawa prefecture.
- Terror in English here…it’s similar to the pronunciation of tiral for Japanese, it seems.
- Female Mediums in Okinawa
- Sorry, but this goes quite deeply into Okinawa’s religious traditions. Izaiho is an inauguration rite for a new divine woman. niraikanai is the next world in Okinawan folklore. If you want to look it up, google for イザイホー and ニルヤカナヤ.
- Author’s note: That’s fiction
- It’s about Sharknado (2013) according to A/N. It’s a TV drama about a large amount of sharks being blown up by a tornado, attacking while flying through the air. In the series, there’s a scene where someone jumps into a shark’s mouth while holding a chainsaw.
- Howa Type 89 Assault Rifle according to author’s note
- Author’s note: The MK3 is a hand grenade. It’s a very small hand grenade with an effective radius of two meters, the type that kills and wounds through the shockwave of the explosion
- 22 mm grenade that can be used together with the 89 Howa assault rifle