It was about a month after I, Charicles, was assigned to the base that I finally encountered it.
Stoicheia, in where the former region of Magallanica was.
The western reaches of the continent are known as the Mega Archipelago.
The archipelago is home to a number of bases operated by the Aqua Force, the Stoicheian navy. Some are military ports with access to the open ocean, while others are secret facilities camouflaged by the unique topography of the region.
The base where I am currently stationed is one of the latter. It has no official name, but has the code name “Site M.” I remember thinking how cool it would be to work at such a top-secret site. Of course, because of that, it doesn’t even appear on the maps used by the military.
–Early morning patrol.
It’s a busy day. There are a number of visitors at Site M.
The surface of the ocean is big. But what lies beneath is even bigger.
Patrol–which is to say, the task of monitoring a given area of the ocean for any threats, warning those in charge if any arise, and, if necessary, intercepting them–presents those patrolling with two main difficulties. You mustn’t mistake a friend for an enemy. And you mustn’t mistake an enemy for a friend.
“Ah, cadet. How are things?”
I hear Inroad Shooter call to me as he comes to relieve me.
Strictly speaking I’m his superior, but I don’t mind him being so friendly and talking to me casually when we’re on our own. Even as a junior officer I know that the most important asset on the battlefield is a reliable ally. And Inroad is certainly that. He’s a veteran, a good companion, and has excellent judgment and empathy.
“One trespassing pirate ship, stragglers on the ocean floor… There were three attacks by the 12 immortal sailors and other deep-sea monstrosities, but we managed to scare them off with our harpoon cannons. The ocean is alive today… I’m already beat and it’s still morning.”
It’s worth mentioning that for us Aquaroids talking underwater is no different to walking above the surface. We can also swim as fast as we can run.
“The pirates have been getting bolder lately.”
“I know that the Granblue pirates actually work to help the Stoicheian shipping industry. We can’t do anything about illicit activity that takes place on foreign ships. But we have to protect each other’s territory, don’t we?”
“You gotta take the good with the bad. All we can do is take out those who dare to disturb the peace on the seas. ‘In the name of justice,’ right?”
“Right, in the name of justice.”
Inroad salutes with a laugh, then swims to a sunny spot on the ocean floor where I had been standing guard.
I reach the dry dock back at the base and walk up the shore, leaving a trail of seawater behind me.
One convenient thing about us Aquaroid is that we’re actually made out of water, so we don’t have to wipe ourselves dry like the humans do.
I look up to see where the voice had come from and see a figure with its back to me looking up at a huge structure.
Creed Assault. The commander of Site M.
Unlike Inroad Shooter, he is absolutely my superior and in fact the highest-ranking officer on the whole base, and he is known for being strict. He’s even been given the nickname “Iron Mask” by some.
Creed Assault turns around to answer my salute and I nervously recall the same information I gave Inroad.
“You haven’t forgotten anything?”
I’m shaken by his question. You mustn’t make mistakes. There wasn’t anything else… Ah!
“The Tear Dragon in the entrance to the dock has been completely stationary for days now, as though it’s waiting for something.”
“I see. You have no idea, do you? That is the unmoving Vice-Admiral Flagburg Dragon. It has a great deal of natural talent and power, but rarely gets to show it.”
I pat my chest in relief. Though I’m surprised to find that the Tear Dragon has the same rank as Creed Assault himself. For a cadet like me, every day, every moment is just another test. Creed Assault turns slightly and points to what he was staring at earlier.
“Do you know what this is?”
Another question. I rack my brains.
It’s placed in the oldest dock on the base. It’s the size of a building. The material, the shape… It’s connected to a huge, rusted chain, which could be a mooring or shackles, giving it a sense of history…
“It’s a weapon. An old one.”
“It’s an archaeological site. As far as I am aware this base was left unused for at least a thousand years before it was entrusted to me by the great dragon that shares my name, the Admiral of the Azure Storm. It was said to be more powerful than any dragon could withstand. Ever since the establishment of Site M we have maintained, cleaned, and carefully stored this here.”
Creed Assault looks pensive, holding his saber like a staff. The saber, formed from water using the same magic that forms the Aquaroids themselves, is legendary for having once been used to cut a whole pirate ship in half in one blow.
“What is the significance of the use of Tear Dragons on the battlefield?”
“They are heavily armed and heavily armored; we take advantage of their enormous physique. They are the backbone of our naval superiority. They are basically living battleships.”
On the battlefield we keep the navy safe from underwater threats while the Tear Dragons overwhelm our enemies on the surface.
“And the Tear Dragons assigned to this base?”
“There are two of them: the High Rate Burst Dragon and the Aggress Blue Dragon. For a base the size of Site M that would be sufficient as a defensive armada, but we lack a command center. We lack a flagship dragon.”
I respond immediately, and even give my own opinion. Creed Assault glances down at me.
I prepare myself for a beating for being insubordinate. But I’m an officer cadet for a reason.
I’m constantly thinking about how to react to any situation and how best to deploy the forces beneath me, so to say, about command. The forces here at Site M are good at their jobs. They’re well trained and have plenty of experience in the field. But I often feel that we need something to bring our individual strengths together… To make us stronger than the sum of our parts.
A long, tense silence descends over us as we stand there beneath that huge, ancient weapon.
Beep! Beep! Beep!
“Unknown winged bogeys incoming from the north. No response to hails. Multiple contacts, all hands to battle stations!”
Our silence is broken by the entire base being put on red alert.
At the same time the dock is filled with water. This is to help us aquatic races move more easily; in other words, we’re getting ready for battle.
“Move!” I yell. The water is already up to my chest. I should be able to get to the north gate before anyone else.
“Wait!” I halt immediately.
“You said that we lack a command center.”
“I did.” I start to wonder why I said that. I grit my teeth.
“The presence of a flagship or some other symbol of command on the battlefield can increase the offensive power of a force tenfold.”
“Y-Yes. I agree.”
“An insurmountable threat is looming; it’s knocking on our door. Perhaps this is no coincidence. There is a key that has been handed down through successive commanders of this base. Charicles, will you take it?”
This is the first time that Creed Assault has ever said my name. My heart skips a beat.
The dry dock is now full of water, and we are fully submerged.
“It is time to unleash this ancient power!”
Creed Assault unsheathes the legendary saber.
The commander shows quick prowess with his saber, slashing through the giant chain in one move. A roar of delight then come from the dragon behind me.
Coming up to the surface, I see the Flagburg Dragon in its full armor, roaring in the center of our fleet, bringing the winged attackers to the ground.
“Cadet. That is…”
Inroad Shooter has surfaced nearby and utters this in amazement.
We track a missile as it flies toward an enemy and explodes. Dazzling beams of energy arc through the air and straight through the enemy.
The Flagburg Dragon seems capable of using this ancient weapon that no living dragon has ever used with relative ease.
“This is not a spectator sport, cadet.”
Creed Assault has come up too, though I didn’t notice him doing so. He speaks to both me and Inroad respectfully.
“A battleship’s greatest weakness…” continues Creed Assault.
Inroad Shooter looks to me expectantly.
“Its head and feet. In other words, the sky and sea.”
“So ready yourselves, Marines! I’ll cover you.”
“In the name of justice!”
We shout out our motto then dive.
“For our flagship, the Flagburg Dragon!”
The last thing I hear as I dive is Creed Assault’s voice, so full of satisfaction and pride.
<<Notes about Terminology>>
Aquaroids and Tear Dragons
The Stoicheian (formerly Magallanican) navy, known as the Aqua Force. At its core are the three pillars: the Aquaroids, the Tear Dragons, and the Mermaids. The mermaids are an aquatic race on Planet Cray and are common in the navy as a result of their natural abilities. Aquaroids are another humanoid race. They are artificial warriors created by combining magic and water and are unique to the Aqua Force. They specialize in water manipulation and underwater combat. Tear Dragons are far larger than any other dragon race and have both powerful offensive and defensive capabilities, including guns and missiles. They are used by the Aqua Force as battleships and aircraft carriers.
Supervising Editor: 中村聡