Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
The colossal Steel Python Simboa watched as Joshua threw the Steel Shard wherein his soul was imbued into the portal, watching it all silently without any emotion.
Every world and every World Will was different. Some World Wills favored involving themselves with the civilizations and races within their own bodies, perhaps even acting to aid those adorable and feeble mortals who lived and died like ashes, guiding them to prosper and flourish.
There were other world wills that tormented all things on their body—though they might not really wish to commit evil. To certain perspectives, they were simply thrusting their bodies and destroying for a bit, innocently and horrifically just like a child playing with ends.
If benevolent and apathetic ones existed, there certainly would be those that were evil or callous. Like intelligent beings, World Wills come in different types.
And that was where Simboa was different. Compared to those of its own kind that were active and preferred to be involved with the world, the Steel Python was not interested in anything. Wafting amidst the Void, it merely wanted to spectate silently as all life cycled and sleep soundlessly… And yet such a simple wish could not be realized.
The Steel Python that never once rested over a thousand years slowly dispelled the magical formation, and whispered, “I wish you could bring everything back to the right track… You are the only being willing to aid me after so many years.”
Meanwhile, Joshua’s soul was sinking.
The warrior felt himself falling freely past the shrouded portal, arriving at the layer between Void and world. The unfathomable dimensional curtain that shifted incessantly swayed beside him, and he felt countless voices and colors invading his senses.
It was the first time Joshua broke through an unfamiliar World Barrier. Usually, he would instantly cover such distances thanks to his familiarity with Mycroft, but he had to use what was a long time to get into Simboa due to the resistance from a mysterious energy.
Amidst the vague flowing light and the mysterious energies, the warrior’s soul seemed to hear a ‘voice’.
—Joshua. You proclaimed yourself savior, but who do you actually intend to save?
—You once said the people in this world do not need saving, that they would save themselves. Then why would you proclaim yourself savior?
The voice was wondrous. It seemed to come either from the depths of the heart or from the Void, invoking every fragile logic in the mind and probed it.
However, Joshua did not consider too much about the source of the question. It may have been self-doubts he had in the deepest reaches of his heart, or perhaps a demon inside that had developed after his living form developed to such a state. At present, with his soul and body having been separated, the lurking doubts surfaced… But those were trivial, and Joshua simply gave the questions his own answer.
—Saving worlds is an act, and being a savior is a stance.
To put oneself over worlds and to provide acts of salvation from up high, such thoughts were prideful and unrealistic… But in truth, one just had to act if they intend to aid others so that they would not lead to destruction.
So-called saving was nothing other than something he should do, just like how the empathizing and the kind would provide others with directions, or how they would lift up those about to fall or had already fallen. With such power he had now, the warrior’s kindness can achieve such feats without the need for any noble titles.
He proclaimed himself a savior was a mere statement of fact. From start to finish, Joshua is a warrior, and only a warrior.
The fluctuating dimensional curtains vanished.
The purple-green Steel Shard fell from the highest point in the sky, breaking through thick cloud layers and falling towards a diamond-shaped continent. The land itself was visibly barren, with only sporadic specks of green spread throughout every corner of the world. And in the heart of the continent, was a metal creation operating with tremendous reverberations repetitively, with a towering spiral tower at its center, piercing the clouds as it stood aloft in the middle of the world, its top flickering with dark-blue radiance.
Joshua was falling.
He had entered the world of Simboa.
It was a small workshop, less than forty squared meters wide apart from the mattress laden in traces machine oil. Apart from the work platform, every other spot in the room was filled with mountainous junk and spare-parts, the dark room itself full of the distinct odor of steel.
But at the moment, there was a more pungent smell than the substantial odor of machine oil and rust.
There was a humanoid puppet placed on the center of the work platform. It appeared damaged and waiting for someone to repair it, but right in front of it was the rigid form of a person, sprawled over that platform. One of his hand was hanging limply, and there was a conspicuously huge cavity on the side of his skull.
Fluids flowed incessantly from within, accumulating on the hollow of the work platform, streaming over the hand before dripping onto the ground.
It was the smell of blood.
A filthy diary that was covered in traces of machine oil and blood opened, its pages turning amidst the wind from the ventilation gap.
[Work diary, day 2971: Three ‘Nursery’ Suppression-mode Soul Puppets undergoing repairs. Two are successfully reconditioned, the remaining one had a dead mobility core. Requesting a new Soul Core from the ‘Colony’.]
[Work diary, day 2972: The Soul Core has arrived. Repairing the Soul Puppet was tremendously difficult, but it’s a success.]
[Work diary, day 2973: Promoted to Repairman, First-Class. Moved from ‘Nursery Repairs Number One’ to ‘Garden Repairs Number Six’. Workspace confirmed, work platform unlocked, the work of a new day would begin tomorrow.]
[Work diary, day 2974: Struck by the soul energy that spilt from a Puppet. Work incomplete. Head feels weird. What is this feeling… Received warning from Control—if there is incomplete tasks without applied permission, I will be destroyed.]
[Wait. What am ‘I’?]
Sporadic dirt and scrawling covered every text, leaving everything unreadable until the few pages beneath.
[Work diary, day 3002: I’m confused. What is going on? My mind is suddenly lucid after arriving in Garden, the knowledge that was previously unrelated started to click… I no longer have any memories of what life I had led before, and others around me are simply the same as the Soul Puppets, doing the same tasks day after day… I probably was the same as them before this.]
[Work diary, day 3003: It’s a month since I’ve awakened now. Usual Soul Puppet repairing tasks today, mostly simple joint impairment, took me less than three minutes… But everything is too abnormal. Other repairmen did not react when I spoke to them, just like those in the corridor… Can’t they hear me? On the other hand, the diary is now a habit. I probably would keep writing.]
[Work diary, day 3005: Stopped by Soul Puppets when I tried to leave Repairs. The Garden was just ahead: I could see children playing happily on the grass, and the Soul Puppets are taking care of them… perhaps I’m overthinking. Maybe, being from the Nursery, I don’t have enough clearance to move freely around? Still, I feel happy when I see the children play in such bliss.]
[Work diary, day 3012: Something’s not right! The children are playing identically day after day, just like… Just like the Puppets. I could sense a chill in my bone. There is something absolutely wrong about this place, am I the only one who feels that?]
[Work diary, day 3031: Second month after awakening. Nothing changed at all, everyone else’s lives are only ‘work’, ‘stare blankly’ and ‘sleep’. They could hear me, but they won’t care about what I’m saying. Incidentally, there had been a new batch of children who came to the Garden. They appeared more fearful of their environment than those before, but they seemed real… But after a few days, they became the same as the other children—happy, but like a puppet!]
[Work diary, day 3047: If this continues, I fear that I would be assimilated like those puppets… The damaged puppets are increasing recently, they appeared to be burnt by all sorts of flames and showed traces of freezing. Seemed to have gone through a battle. It’s a hassle to repair them, but it does help me shake off the sense of isolation…]
[Work diary… whatever motherfucking day it is. What the hell is with this damned world? I can’t even leave the corridors of Repairs! Those Soul Puppets are blocking the doorways while carrying the thrash-compacting furnace ray generators, can’t risk my life… I really wish to see a different sight—I even begin to miss the days I don’t have any intelligence. At least I won’t grumble even after working thirty days without stopping!]
The diary writer began to curse. His rage was visibly rising, but unable to find a channel to vent, he finally calmed and began to write into his diary again.
[Work diary, day 3173: Even if it’s hard to accept how the others could accept such a lonely life where nothing changes… perhaps I was wrong, and the part where my soul manages annoyances was disjointed like those Soul Puppets with damaged cores… But I don’t intent to repair it. Well, there are many books in Repairs, probably for knowledge about repairing Soul Puppets. Might as well read since there’s no way to vent.]
A blank section followed. The handwriting afterward, however, differed greatly from those before, seemingly having been separated by a long time interim.
[Work diary, day 3726: I’m probably a little mad to actually write in this diary again, but what I saw today must be noted down… The children from the Garden has grown, the oldest of them probably now adults. The Soul Puppets led them away to Healthcare, and they were never seen again… And then the stores of Soul Cores increased. Heavens. I don’t know what I’m saying—what am I doing? Who am I?]
[Work diary, day 3739: A few days ago, I stripped myself naked and doused myself in cold water. My head started to head up… that’s the fever the books mentioned. Soul Puppets entered the workshop and took me away—for the first time, I left the corridor of Repairs as they took me inside Healthcare. The same, expressionless people were there, diagnosing me, giving me medicine and injections… I took the chance to observe my surroundings. Another child was brought in by a Soul Puppet when I’m being injected, and it took her to the operation room in the back. When the same Puppet came out, there were two boxes in its hand. No child.
The puppet placed the boxes on a cabinet over in a corner, in which I then noticed that there were many of the same boxes placed on every cabinet around us. ‘Ultra-powered Unit’? That’s probably what was written on it.
I noticed that there was another additional Soul-Core in the stores when I returned to repairs. I probably understood – although my heart was unexpectedly calm – and here I was thinking I had gone crazy. Could it be that I am not actually mad, even now? Hahaha.]
[Work diary, day 4000: A round number. I begin to leave my depression: I am, after all alive. That means there’s hope—no matter how lonely or dull, I am better off than those civilians in Nursery or those children sent into the operation room. Heavens, I’m actually feeling a sense of accomplishment over that. In the end, compared to the ignoring peasants and the harvested crops, wouldn’t a lunatic repairman naturally feel that he stands head and shoulders over the others?]
[Work Diary. Day 4123: Today’s is most worth writing down, because there are more than fifteen Soul Puppets sent in for repairs—a record. Those idiots are filled with signs of having gone through a battle, with all kinds of piercing and shatters, and there are seven damage Soul Cores alone… Someone is fighting these bastards, and actually destroying them! That is the greatest dive for me. Even if would never know if these people would arrive, I would wait. Hope, and wait. That is the only thing keeping me sane in this endless isolation.]
[Day 4778: The guy next door, Repairs Number Five was taken away by Soul Puppets. There were wrinkles on his face, and his hands shaking. He was sent into healthcare as well, and another Soul Core was added. I glared at those patrolling Puppets for a long time afterwards—is there a soul I’m acquainted with beneath those steel shells?]
The hand that wrote those words appeared to be trembling, seemingly from fear and rage, but mostly bewilderment. The owner of the diary appeared to not know what he should be doing, right until the next entry.
[Day 5000, another round number. I’ve begun to get used to isolation, emptying my mind like those who keep staring blanking. By taking into account the Puppets’ patrolling patterns, I managed to visit some sections of Garden, and I mostly understood what kind of an environment I lived in.
Garden is surrounded by vast Nurseries, with new children sent in here every single day. I am at the centermost section of the Garden, and any heavily damaged puppets were sent in here for repairs or scrapping… If Nursery were the farm for the wheat and bread that we eat, then the Garden was perhaps the farm that nurture ‘Soul Cores’.
If that’s the case, whose wheat and bread are we?
In the very least, I believe my wait to be worth it. I am finding out the truth of our world bit by bit… Although I can’t awaken others, this record must have meaning. We have words, books, we could create Soul Puppets, build colossal Nurseries, we can’t be born as puppets that only know how to work and sleep… Someone had changed us into our state today, and I will remember all of it.]
There was no other entry afterward, with another huge blank section left in the diary from that page onwards. It was until the page flipped until the very last, where a huge number appeared suddenly.
[Twenty years. Twenty years since I’ve awakened. It’s been such a long time that I’ve even forgotten the start of my journey—found my diary fortunately, allowing me to remember the past.
I’m old now. Wrinkles are starting to show on my face, just as it had been with Repairs Number Five. My hand is not shaking yet, but it would probably be soon—it might be an illusion, but I keep feeling that the Soul Puppets were keeping their eyes on me. They’d probably send me to Healthcare soon, and I would become a Soul Core as well.
I had been shocked, fearful and despising of those of my own kind, those who never awakened, before proceeding to look down and overlook them. I believed myself to be exceptional, capable of changing things, only to eventually realize that I’m no different for them. I’ve even had to endure greater isolation and torment than they do, even as I led an identical life. So what? They are the same as I am, it is mere fortune that I gained sentience thanks to the Soul Blast, and only that: these words I have written down is only to prove my existence.
I pity them, just as I pity my own fate. I’ve thought for twenty years, and the conclusion is that I exist as long as hope exists. I would never lose my find, but I simply don’t have another twenty years to wait.
The battle continues out there. Puppets requiring repairs were being sent in incessantly, and it is exactly why I still held hope in my heart. I know that the Soul Puppets would return one day, taking me away and turning me into a Soul Core. Even so, I would never let them have that pleasure—they will never get what they want.
I would rather die with this hope that kills, rather than endure the infinite serenity of despair for a single second.
I choose death. I should have chosen the sweet mortal coil all along, freeing myself from the cage of hopelessness. Such is my only freedom left in this prison named ‘Garden’.
The repairman no longer maintained his own mind. This is the last work journal entry.]
Blood dripped, the viscous sanguine slowly congealing. The face of the withering middle-aged man could be seen sprawled upon that work platform.
His visage was tidy, his body robust. Years of maintenance duty had kept his body healthy even as his hair whitened and he started to body. He was wearing a grey repairman uniform, a blowtorch in his left hand while his right hand hung limply beside him, the fingers slightly curling above a pen that lay in a pool of blood.
In his last moments, the man had blown his brains out with the blow torch that could smelt alloy.
It was his choice: freedom in death.
Meanwhile, a purple-green radiance flashed past, ignoring everything as it landed on the little workshop.
Supremely dazzling silver radiance swept across everything around it as the Steel Shard began to select a host. As a dull hum echoed from every corner of the space, every Soul Puppet in the Garden began to look around, moving in search of suspicious targets.
Soon, however, the humming abruptly stopped: unable to search for its target, the Soul Puppet could only return to its usual place… but if there was someone who could sense the spiritual world, it would definitely hear a dull but distinct reverberation as if something was completely embedded and set in place.
And in the very next instant, an incomparable might swept across the entire Garden up to the Nursery, dimming all illumination.
In the small repair space, everything stayed the same.
However, the damaged Soul Puppet’s dull eyes suddenly flickered for an instant, just as a streak of silver radiance with purple-green tint permeated its entire body.
“Serial number: Snova-21 Harvest Mode reactivated. Core ready, unknown energy source inserted… Soul Trooper reactivated.”
A voice without emotion echoed, but it slowly changed, finally becoming the deep voice of a man. “Body most fitting for original lifeform found, commencing possession, assimilation, Steel Shard plugin installation and soul indoctrination…”