Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
What entered Joshua’s eyes the moment he entered the Garden was bright light and emerald grassland.
Artificial light shone from the glass roof above. Feeling the revitalizing air, the warrior could also sense the hollow chipper sounds of children playing dead ahead.
As he took a stride forward, he picked up the fragrant scents of milk and honey. The sweetness of fruits wafted in the breeze as well, and he saw the many differently colored flowers across the grasslands as he looked out. There was the occasional fruit tree spread sporadically over the place, the aroma of ripeness flowing from their fruits.
Everything was so perfect, as if paradise.
However, it was not all Joshua saw: he saw much more as he focused his gaze, just as it was the tip of the iceberg. He saw several Soul Puppets leading a group of children who were singing softly at the center of the garden, along with things that made him speechless.
What he saw were bone and skin.
It was bone. Joshua moved his puppet body a step forward from white tile corridor to green pastures, causing the soil beneath to crater. He looked around at half of the Garden—half of the surface layer of the white building was blanketed with tiles burnt from bone powder, while the artificial lightbulbs overhead were made entirely out of human skulls. The few benches placed around the garden were put together with tibial and femur, while the little artificial hill nearby standing aloft inside a fountain were simply a pile of bones.
The children who were singing at the moment in the wonderful garden were holding strips of simple musical instruments, singing under the guidance of the Soul Puppets simple yet beautiful tones. It was bizarre, however, that the children and the puppets were not affected by Joshua’s fight a moment ago—not even the tremendous blasts distracted them.
And with a single glance, Joshua could tell what their musical instruments were made of: skin and bone.
A little girl who was either seven or eight years old grinned. Holding a little two-faced drum, she struck it under the guidance of a Soul Puppet rhythmically, singing an innocent tune even if her drum was made with the harvested craniums of two other children who were about her age, before covered with a layer of human skin. Another twelve-year-old boy was blowing into a crude six-hole recorder as he sat beside the girl—who knows what materials it was made from, and who was sacrificed for it, even as the melodious sounds of the flute overlapped everything.
“La-la-la-la-la… let us prolong the dream. Tomorrow would always come, continuing the song and rhythm…”
The dulcet children voices and the crisp music revolved around his receptors, but Joshua did not keep observing because he noticed something even more unbelievable. At a corner of the garden, to the left of Repairs and Healthcare, a building made entirely out of human bone and stone was being constructed. Its structural frame had been established, with half of its surface layered with concerted, while some sections were covered in bone-powder tiles. Just as the warrior studied it gravely, he noticed that the huge dome over Garden was made of familiar materials.
Silently lowering his eyes again, he looked toward the Simboan children who were playing and singing under the guidance of Soul Puppets, holding musical instruments and toys made from bone and skin. There was no question that those things were crafted out of their own kind.
Even so, the children would never care about that, or know if they were made from the flesh of their own parents or siblings… Because they understood nothing and know naught.
Until now, whether it was the three Soul Puppets or the Simboan children did not show any inclination of paying the explosions or Joshua any attention, even as the warrior strode towards him. It was until Joshua stood right in front of them that the three puppets that were instructing the children in rhythm and hand motions turned, emitting unusually gentle voices.
“Serial number Snova-21 Harvest-type, this isn’t your assigned zone.”
“Serial number Snova-21 Harvest-type, please head to Sixth Repairs for maintenance.”
“Serial number Snova-21 Harvest-type, please head to the fortifications at Nursery for battle.”
The voices of the three distinctly special Soul Puppets were rich with emotion and moving, speaking to Joshua at almost the same time, emphasizing his tasks. Be that as it may, the warrior did not say a thing, first glancing at the Simboan children who were still playing and singing a few meters away and not reacting to his behemoth presence, before extending his hand forthrightly.
Crack, crack, crack.
With three crisp echoes, Joshua exerted a force at least ten times more than those the puppets could muster, crushing and pulling out the heads of all three Soul Puppets that had no combat ability. Then, tracing their circuits, he directly destroyed their Soul Core, freeing the souls that were enslaved for who knows how long.
And in that instant, the music stopped.
Joshua turned to the children once again after destroying the three puppets… or what he would call children for the time being. Watching the juveniles of the Simboan intelligent beings, his machine gaze that was a simple red light flickered, but the atypical rhythm showed that Joshua’s thoughts were jumbled at the moment.
The light in every children’s eyes darkened after losing the guidance of the Soul Puppets. Their movements had initially been rigid—even those who were playing appeared to be puppet, but the light in their eyes at least made them resemble a lifeform. But now, most of the children had stopped playing their instruments, stopped clapping and stopped playing. The songs were cut short abruptly, the scampering ones suddenly fell to the ground—most of them simultaneously lying down or sprawling over the grass as if their power was suddenly out, freezing where they was with no sign of life.
Some of the children who were singing before were still spouting lyrics albeit disjointedly, as if an erroneous programming.
“La-la-la… The future repeats… Time moves on… Tomorrow… Yesterday… La, la, la…”
As if a machine issuing an error alert, even those children finally stopped saying anything, apart from the single, random intonation such as ‘Eh’, ‘Ah’ and ‘La’ wafting out of their opened mouths. Like the simple voices and vibration, they were all meaningless.
Such a life… could never be considered living.
Joshua had become aware of the general situation in the first instance he noticed the sights. As his machine body could not, Joshua inhaled and exhaled deeply in spirit. He had thought that this place may have been just a mechanized factory for souls, never once assuming that the puppets – and those controlling them – had conducted everything with such absolute.
The low voice slowly resounded over the garden. The warrior looked up to see that most decorations of the Garden and other sectors were crafted from human skins and bone, solid and white, their form perfect and without deformities, just like having been chosen exquisitely… it was until now that why the zones beyond the Garden were called ‘Nurseries’, and what ‘serve’ actually meant.
What else was there to grow beside plants? Of course it would be humans… In this barren world that appeared to have gone through an apocalypse, what other livestock was better to be grown than humans? The sight of the sheer number of white bone and human skin was simply shocking, just like the autumn piles of grains—perhaps, to those puppeteers behind the scenes, the humans of the Nursery were essentially no different from plants or grains: they were all inexhaustible resources that would keep growing after harvesting.
Joshua stepped forward to the front of a child who had soulless gaze. A boy around thirteen, he wore simple gray-white clothes, his eyes lightless and showing no spirit. He simply breathed and maintained his life, but his body otherwise had no intention of moving—even when Joshua straightened his index finger and poked his head.
Silver fiery light that showed a tint of purple-green flashed for a second.
Joshua inspected the child’s soul through the power of the Steel Shard, and yet all he saw was emptiness. Everything was hollow as if the mind construct and soul constitution of the child had developed some error. In fact, he could only remember anything in the past seven seconds—he would forget anything beyond that, reverting to an unsullied white paper.
A piece of white paper, a sheet of ignorance.
Knowing neither good nor evil, devoid of wisdom and will would certainly mean that there were neither courage nor ideals either. There is no despair in emptiness, and certainly no hope: Joshua could find nothing in the soul that was deprived of all imagination, cognitive ability or even basic knowledge. Rising speechlessly, the warrior looked down on the children sprawled upon the grass—he wanted to feel some sympathy and rage, but his rationality could not see those ‘things’ as life.
Without sentience, and broken like a doll in every aspect apart from body and soul—how were the children of Simboans any different from real marionettes and puppets? They were but crops of flesh, seedlings awaiting harvest.
In the divine legend, Adam and Eve had walked upon the Garden of Eden. They knew no good, evil or shame, living blissfully under God’s will. They knew nothing and understood nothing, henceforth enjoying the bliss ignorance—until the Serpent tempted them to eat the Fruit of Wisdom, shattering that bliss and falling from Eden.
As everything about the Garden clicked together, Joshua remembered the classical mythology. As he stared at the remains of the puppets that kept shuddering and pouring out machine oil and spare parts, as well as the groups of Simboan juveniles sprawled over the ground, even the warrior’s heart that had gone through a thousand battles quivered.
If the bliss of ignorance was Eden, then this was the evilest Garden of Eden.