Blue skies, azure waters, white sand. The temperature is just right. A parasol waves in the breeze.
“A service announcement to all beachgoers.”
A cool drink sits atop the table with an assortment of fruit floating in it.
A sweet smell wakes me up from my reverie, and when I look up, I see a typical beach-going girl in her bathing suit, smiling and winking at me.
I smile back at her and raise my glass. It’s just what I need to quench my thirst.
I’m in the eastern reaches of the Dragon Empire. I have reserved this beach, with its endless white sands and always sunny weather, just for me.
The terminal built into the table beside me uses AI to determine my mood and uses that to select songs from a library of over 10,000,000 songs from over 2,000 channels. Right now, the music’s a bit melancholic.
The beautiful woman in a bathing suit gently caresses my shoulder.
Heheheh. I don’t mind. I am on vacation, after all.
But this isn’t…
The miasma-filled skies above the Dark State weeps.
Horrifically deformed figures turn the elegant structures in the magical town to rubble.
“No! That won’t stop them. Magic didn’t work, science didn’t work!”
The cries continue. The howls of grief soon get drowned out by the grinding noises of the city’s destruction.
“Don’t give up just yet!”
I fly through the torrential rain faster than the speed of sound, then swoop down and plunge my fist into one of the deformed figures.
As my fist makes its way through the magical-constructed form it opens up a large hole, exposing its innards.
“Heh, so you can feel pain then, monster?”
The monster turns to me and spews forth yellow flames. The temperature must be close to 6,000 kelvins.
It’s too late to try to get out of the way, so with a wave of my arm I create two gravity fields to either side of the monster and suck all the air away from it… The flames subside.
The hand pointing to me falls with a snap.
The creature that had resisted both magic and science is now caught in my gravity trap, rendering it all but useless.
Cheers erupt around me.
Some ask for my name, to which I reply by turning around in the air with a flourish.
“My name is not important. But you may call me the Master of Gravity. Hah!”
Hmm, not bad. But still not… Heroes don’t boast.
“Go to hell, you lowlife! Hahaha!”
The whistle of rushing air erupts around where I’m pointing to. The effects of gravity at that point suddenly increase by several orders of magnitude.
The golems residing in the castle all suddenly turn to dirt.
Oho, this is it! Gravity is my weapon. No, gravity is my ally.
I snap my fingers without thinking, and…
I hear a voice in my ear, and then feel an explosion of unimaginable pain deep within my chest.
That pain… How to describe it? Other mercenaries would understand immediately, but I suppose I would start by saying it’s like a toothache. It’s an unavoidable, unignorable pain, like having a cavity, or an enemy kicking your teeth in. And then there’s the nails. It’s like when you cut a nail too short, or when you catch it while climbing a wall or tree and rip it off. Imagine all that pain but multiplied tenfold. It’s enough to knock the wind out of anyone.
The hellish pain feels like it goes on for an eternity, but in reality, it only lasted a few seconds.
The pain disappears suddenly. I find myself able to breathe, and I lose all strength. Sweat pours off my body like a waterfall.
“Not bad, but that’s child’s play compared to what I’ll do to you.”
I slowly open my eyes.
I see a black orb glowing crimson floating above my prone form.
“What… What is this?”
The shock from the earlier attack is still gripping my body, even affecting my tongue, making it difficult to speak. Despite my garbled speech, I hear a response.
“It’s a ‘seed.’ It is the source of your ability to manipulate gravity.”
A sickening voice responds to my question.
In truth it sounded more like “It’sss a ssseeeddd,” but the sound of it was so disgusting I can’t help but convert it into normal speech in my head.
“Wh-Who are you? Show yourself…”
In my current position all I can see is the ceiling and wooden joists of a dilapidated old house. Where am I?
“You’re a tricky one, Baro.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Would you prefer Magnes?”
“I’m serious, use my full name.”
“Getting annoyed, Baromagnes? You haven’t changed one bit.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, old man. Have we met somewhere before?”
I really don’t recall this voice. And the “old man” bit was kind of a guess, but I can’t imagine anyone other than an old man sounding like that.
“Hoh, we’re onto insults already? Stubborn as always.”
“So? What will you do with me?”
“You leave me no choice. I will absorb this seed, and become a complete being.”
“So go ahead and do it already.”
A silence falls in the room.
In that time, I desperately try to remember. Come on, why am I here?
I start with yesterday and retrace my steps.
A humid morning, an anonymous request, my usual drinking spot, a magician who gave me a letter without revealing his face, terrible handwriting, the ruin of a house on the outskirts… I waited until nightfall, and then… I fell asleep? No, even if I did it would have been nigh impossible for anyone to creep up on me.
So, was that monster that attacked earlier and decimated the city just to flush me out? They’ve gone through a lot of trouble.
“What’s wrong? Not like I can stop you. Get it over with already.”
“…Right now, the seed is unstable. If anyone other than you touch it, everything in its vicinity will be drawn into it and it will disappear. In a sense it’s not unlike a radioactive material. Not that I’d expect you to understand a word I’m saying.”
Haha, I understand plenty, old man. Thanks to our connections with the Dragon Empire, we now have scientists in the Dark States. I was talking to Arius just the other day when he came to see his mentor. He told me about uranium.
But thanks for the hint, old man. Now I know what I’m up against.
I also notice… something…
“Well, I’d best take it back, then.”
I force my broken body to reach out and grab the orb with both hands.
“Just try it. Once I’ve trapped it in my device, then you’ll be done for.”
The old man takes out a device with a flourish.
I yell out as loud as I can. I feel my throat give out, but I have no choice at this point.
The ceiling falls in.
“Whaaa?!” the old man exclaims.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, Baromagnes!” He’s surprised by the voice of Deformed Hammer.
Nine figures stand there backlit by the moonlight in the summer night sky.
I see. I figured someone was coming when the bugs stopped buzzing… Ah! Cheap shot! What’s with the cool entrance, anyway? Include me in your plans too, guys!
Crimson Igspeller’s scarlet flames chase down the old man. Though of course I can’t move, so I miss the action.
One of the pillars supporting the roof is hit with a shock wave and breaks in two. The old man… He dodged it. Dammit. Deep Soniker has the incredible ability to manipulate the air itself, turning into enormous, transparent blades.
Green flames dance around the room. Idiot! Watch where you’re throwing that fire, Uncanny!
“Heheh, who d’ya want me to burn, then?”
The old man roars in response to Uncanny Burning’s taunts. Just maybe… He’s a little singed.
My partner-in-crime Electro Spartan comes in with his electric attacks.
Tap tap tap! Shhh! Swish!
Cleave Muddler, the quiet one, chases after the old man with the blades on his hands and feet. I don’t have to see to know it’s him.
“You’re a clever one. But do you really think you can best me?!” retorted the old man.
“Let’s see if you can dodge this.”
The sound of metal falling. I hear the old man cry out in pain as though the hand he’s using to hold the device that has my orb captive has been slashed. Which must mean that even Huckle Hustle has come to my rescue. You better watch out, old man, those claws hurt.
“Ugh, don’t think for a moment you’ve bested me, Baromagnes.”
The old man’s voice suddenly sounds much livelier, which startles me.
“That power is mine. No matter what you do, I will come out on top.”
“Shut up, old man. Just die already,” a woman’s voice replies.
An almost inaudible sound starts up. A gravitational anomaly. I open my eyes wide.
The next moment I see the old man being swept away, along with most of the house we’re in.
I only know one person who can manipulate gravity like this.
“Thanks for that, Alexandra. And everyone else, too.”
Clap clap clap. I hear applause and a disgustingly cheery voice.
Ah, so they came too. As the Phantasma Magician Curtis appears I can’t help but roll my eyes.
“Are you all right, Baromagnes?”
“Don’t worry, it’s noth… Woah!”
I grab the orb and powerful vibrations shake through my body as I bring it back into my chest. I tap on it. I start to cough, but it eventually subsides.
“Hey, don’t overdo it! It’s dangerous.”
The woman in black known as Alexandra glares at me. She looks so pretty with her silver hair shining in the moonlight. I didn’t see your face earlier, but you’re younger than I expected.
“Seems like I’m the only one who can touch it.”
“What? I can’t hear you,” replies Alexandra.
Have you forgotten that I can’t speak right now?
“No problem. I’m just glad I decided to come here after all,” Curtis interjects.
“Of course, rescue missions cost you extra, Baromagnes,” Huckle adds.
“So, what will you do now?” asks Cleave Muddler.
He has the old man’s device in his hand.
“I’ll take that. And I’ll take Baromagnes’s orb, too. There are too many questions left unanswered. There’s a lot of work left to do,” Curtis says.
Electro and Deformed lift me up and support me from either side.
“Hey, not enough,” Uncanny complains.
“Hmm. I’d hoped for a bigger challenge but turns out it was nothing,” Deep replies.
Crimson nods silently.
Hey, if we fought until you guys had your fill there’d be no one left alive on the planet.
“I’ll introduce you to a doctor friend of mine, Baromagnes. You look terrible, you should get some sleep.”
I really should. Still, my friends did save me from a close call, and I got my power back… Maybe.
“He’s fine. He’ll be back to full strength in no time,” Alexandra quickly interjects.
Oh, right, she can read my mind.
“Tch, shut up.”
“Huh? Wanna say something?”
As Electro covers his ears the others, even Alexandra, start laughing.
And just like that the night returns to normal, as the two moons shine down on the hazy summer night.
* All units have been converted to those used on Earth *
<<Notes about Terminology>>
Dark State Mercenaries
The Dark State is a Kingdom ruled by demonic forces. Even prior to the nation’s formation the area was known for the ruthless demon lords who ruled it and fought among themselves. It was in those dark times that the role of mercenary was born; they were even needed in the Chakrabarthi Divine Era from time to time to fight in the skirmishes that would break out between feuding demon lords. There are some, like the Phantasma Magician Curtis, who employ these mercenaries on behalf of the demon lords, independent nation states, or even on behalf of individuals.
All mercenaries are trained soldiers, but they also have unique skills that they bring to the table. These hidden talents come in handy when they are not in active combat. This even includes gravity manipulators using their powers in construction.
Mercenaries generally keep away from each other to prevent conflicts of interest, but it’s a small community, and there ultimately is a sense of camaraderie among them.
Supervising Editor: 中村聡