Life is Tough for a Minos: Chapter 1 [Mobuseka x Gunvolt AU]
Chapter 1: The A.I.
Life signs detected within proximity of Tower.
Suspending Hibernation Mode.
“Nnnhhh… what’s with the racket?” In a sealed chamber devoid of light, a digital mind stirred as the sensors scattered throughout the island registered the arrival of a living being. Roused from slumber, the A.I. inquired with the sensor logs for clarification as it began to defrag its data. “Yep, that’s the biometrics for a lifeform all right. Scan for Septima Energy. Make sure it’s not the enemy.”
Scanning for Septimal Energy.
The prompt devoted more resources to the scanning system as it combed the island for energy matching the wavelength of those attuned to the Septimal layer of the Lifewave. It only emanated from those who were registered as the enemy of Humanity in its data banks. Those entities were Septima Holders, also known as Adepts, who waged war against the Humans in a conflict that created massive devastation the A.I. had been tasked with correcting for….
Far longer than expected based on its internal calendar. “Ahh, I slept for way too long this time. Hopefully the automated maintenance subroutines I set up kept the security systems functional.”
No Septimal Energy detected.
“Whew… that’s good. I can focus on making sure everything else is operational later then. But if the scanners are registering life signs…” It checked the logs linked to one of the cameras in the vicinity. Then its circuits began to buzz as its digital brain processed the visual feed. “It’s really a Human! After all this time!”
The A.I. began combing through the logs of the data around the island for deviations from the usual activity, to see how long they had been there or if there were signs of other visitors. It wasn’t exactly hard to do or time-consuming since things had been stagnant without any external influence or changes detected by the automatic scans over the last thousands of years. “There are signs of debris that weren’t present before from a vessel of some kind, with traces of a mineral used for levitation via tapping into mana particles in the atmosphere. No signs of other ships or corpses. Talk about lucky. If they had crash-landed anywhere else, they’d be goners.”
During the war between Adepts and Humans, a being known as Demerzel had developed a means of tapping into the Lifewave that circulated throughout the planet. But as the Humans began to push back the Adepts, Demerzel caused it to accelerate its flow until it began vaporizing. Then it erupted from below in a cataclysmic event that spelled the end of life as it had been.
The land was ripped apart. The seas churned and turned to poison, contaminated by the turbulent element. The air itself was choked with volcanic smoke and gases that became electrified. Soon the world was left barren of the capacity to nurture or sustain life as its very essence seeped out like blood from countless wounds.
So much of it being present was toxic for biological organisms. Even entities born with an attachment to the Senary and Septimal layers could only handle so much exposure before it warped and killed them. But the world itself needed that energy flowing through it to produce life. If not for the fact that the particles were subjected to gravity to the degree that it prevented the bulk of it from ascending past the bottom of the Stratosphere, it would be impossible to revitalize the planet as the A.I. had been doing so dutifully…
Well, okay maybe it slacked off just a bit since it was a largely automated process at this point. The exterior atmospheric barrier prevented mana from entering the island aside from that which was being condensed and funneled back down. If that was functional and operating within the set parameters, there wasn’t much left that required devoting resources to actively.
Approaching biometrics do not match authorized personnel.
Registering individual as an ‘Intruder’ and activating security system for elimination.
“Don’t you dare!!” The core of the A.I. began to shake within its container as it used its authority to override the protocol. It wouldn’t do to kill the first guest they’d had in thousands of years. “Turn off the security system entirely. Register their biometrics into the database as a ‘Guest’ User with permission to access the Top Floor directly. Uh… what else?”
It combined its mind for what to do when meeting someone for the first time. This was big, so it couldn’t afford to offend them or make a mistake. A good first impression was needed. “Right, it’d probably be weird speaking to a voice coming from the walls. Use the terminal to determine the optimal language to communicate with them. Set up the gardens with Template Five’s appearance. Oh, and ready some snacks and tea from the stores while I jump into companion pod to speak with them personally in my Administrator Mode.”
Acknowledging Authoritative Bypass.
[—Leon Fou Bartfort—]
“Well, this is new.” Leon Bartfort said as he stood outside of the entrance to a massive steel pillar that ascended into the turbulent sky above that had green clouds that crackled with countless streamers. In front of him was a terminal meant to open the structure before him, currently displaying a number of different languages and asking for the ‘Guest User’ to select which one to use before it would open the way.
It was known only as ‘The Tower’ back when he had been living in Japan. Back before he died and then reincarnated in the world of a Dating Sim that was made by a company that normally made platforming games. It was a paid DLC map, set beneath the Death Zone at the bottom of the sky. A mysterious island that shouldn’t be there considering the entire lower world was supposed to be completely inhospitable to human life.
In the game, after you paid for the DLC, you would visit specific coordinates and your ship would suddenly malfunction before being drawn into a surging flow of mana until it was pulled down on the island. The Heroine and her Love Interest depending on the route of the game would then see it as an unexplored dungeon and ascend it floor-by-floor, facing off against various robotic enemies that belonged in a more sci-fi-heavy game, while navigating different environments like an arctic region or jungle.
And when you finally made it to the top you would be rewarded with a power-up for the Love Interest’s partner. Then a forced escape sequence would occur, and they would find a new ship with much higher specs to replace their old one. The island would then vanish with no way back until you started a new game file.
Leon had been planning to retrieve said cheat items and spent a month getting to the coordinates when he had been sucked in, just like in the game. But so far, he hadn’t seen a single enemy unit. And now the entrance wasn’t responding to the ID Card that would open it in the game but instead asking him to select a language for Guest Access.
Something must have changed the scenario. But considering how closed off this place is, the only thing I can think of was that someone else beat me to it.
There were holes in the theory, but he couldn’t dismiss the possibility of it. If he had been reborn in this world and regained his memories, then chances are someone else probably had as well. And considering what a crappy setting this was depending on the luck of the draw, rushing to get ahead was the smart call. The only reason he hadn’t earlier was because of the danger involved, but he would take a chance of dying to accomplish something for his own sake over being forced to enlist and be a sacrificial pawn.
Of course, if someone did beat him to the punch the biggest problem would be if they had already made off with the ship. His own hadn’t survived the crash, so he would be stuck here with no way to get back home if it was gone. He really hoped that wasn’t the case as he selected the text in Hiragana for Japanese and then stepped through the gate as it opened.
The barren world transitioned into a hive of chrome and steel. Rimmed with soft lights that illuminated the entirety of the floor, it was meant for receiving goods and supplies given that it had several metal containers packed away. Leon was cautious as he maneuvered around them to elude patrolling drones, given that he didn’t have the endgame equipment that he should.
Instead, he had some equipment picked up near the start of the map. The game developers had the foresight to at least give the player some pretty good gear along with the ID Card to open the dungeon by going to what he supposed was a storage bunker of some kind. The equipment there consisted of a powered armor suit, a firearm, and a shield that had high stats.
He was partway through the level without an encounter when the speakers cracked to life. “Hey, welcome to… wait, that equipment. How do you… I mean, I suppose I don’t mind that you took his old gear given you didn’t know better after crashing here. But that stuff is thousands of years old, so try not to break it.”
It sounded like a young girl’s voice speaking in Japanese. But there was an almost robotic tone overlaying it. Leon assumed it was because of the speakers.
“Uh, anyway, you don’t have to worry about being attacked or anything. I had the security system turned off so you could come right on up to the top through the elevator in the back. It’s been ages since anyone has been here and I’ve got a ton of questions.”
Leon took the invitation with a grain of salt as he made his way over to the elevator. The moment he stepped inside the door sealed shut, and it began ascending. In the game, you had to go from floor to floor to unlock the higher levels, but it seems like I’m heading straight to the top.
The elevator continued to climb upwards until it reached the entrance to the top floor. His boots lightly clunked against the metal floor, the walls filled with screens that were showcasing different camera views and data. It was probably meant to be a monitoring station, but the central focus was a device in the center that was connected to thousands of wires that fed into it from the ceiling above.
In the game, after the Heroine and the Love Interest managed to climb this far, they would find the device inoperable but see that there was a massive vault on the opposite side. Opening it using the keycard from where you obtained the equipment would net the final prize, one of the most broken items in the game. But it would also trigger the forced evacuation sequence.
Yet the device now glowed with a verdant green light and hummed softly. “Am I supposed to use this?”
“Yep!” said the voice from before when he responded in Japanese. “Just place your hand on the pad and it’ll teleport you to the gardens above. I’ve just finished setting up some refreshments for you.”
Leon’s brow furrowed. He had never heard about a garden area. But given how massive this place was, he was sure there were entire blocks that went unventured for plot reasons within the game. He went over to the device and placed his hands on the pad—
Guest User recognized. Teleporting to the Hanging Gardens.
—and then there was a flash of light as the glow from before caused the world of steel and chrome surrounding him to be replaced by an atrium from which sunlight seemingly spilled in from the clear blue skies above. The metal floor was polished to the point of being reflective, but the walls looked to be made of white marble. They even had flowers and ivy growing around not only where the glass met the stone but crawling down the walls, filling the air with the soft fragrance of nature that contrasted the chaotic sky and barren landscape outside.
It was uncanny as Leon moved towards a gateway that was ahead of him. The moment he reached it the doors slid open to reveal an expansive field of flowers and luminous trees. It was like something out of a fairytale, with a table that had been set up with a single chair, what looked to be some kind of edible blocks on a plate, and a cup with a kettle nearby.
But all of that was secondary to the young girl standing next to the table.
Or at least Leon wanted to say it was a young girl around the age of Finley, maybe. She had unblemished skin that was paler than most he had seen in this life, her arms covered with evening gloves that came up just short of her shoulders, and her thighs wrapped by robotic-looking stockings. And he explicitly chose not to comment on her bodywear—not that there was anything it barely covered worth mentioning.
At her feet were high heels that looked similarly mechanical as she hovered just a few inches above the ground, surrounded by what looked like the petals of a lotus. The lotus theme seemed to be present throughout her design because adorning her short, light green hair was a band from which a similar flower blossomed. And behind her back floated what looked to be mechanical pods that sprouted the petals like angelic wings.
“Thanks for coming!” Her mechanical tone only added to the evidence she wasn’t human, but something else. Yet she wore a small smile as she waved a hand over her head toward him, beckoning him to come closer. “I didn’t have time to prepare much. But I hope you’ll like it.”
“What exactly are you?” Leon asked.
“I’m the Supervisory A.I. for the Lifewave Condensation and Terraformation Tower. I’ve been given the directive to revitalize the world and, if possible, aid Humans like yourself against Adepts. Normally I would operate throughout the Tower. But since you’re the first guest we’ve had, I came out to greet you personally. If there’s anything you need then I’m your girl.”
Was this part of the background lore of the series? Leon scratched his head as he wrapped his mind around what she told him. “Well, if you’re speaking of Adepts as separate beings, does that mean you’re supposed to help Minos then?”
Her head quirked at that. “I’ve never heard of that term before. But it’s been thousands of years since I have received any new information. Mind filling me in?”
“Minos is the term given to people who are born lacking Septima,” he explained. “Most people in the world are those born as Adepts, while far fewer like me are born without a Septima. It’s seen as either an omen or a genetic defect depending on who you ask. But since we’re a minority, we’re labeled as Minos for short.”
“No… that can’t be…” The expression the A.I. had been wearing melted away. “Adepts were growing in number, but to completely overtake Humanity would mean that… No, Master promised that he would succeed. That was why he needed me to stay here. So that the Humans he fought for would have a world ready for them.”
“Sorry, but that’s just how it is. The Minos are the minority, and the way things work makes life difficult for them. At least in the Holfort Kingdom anyway. Can’t say I know much about other places.”
In the Holfort Kingdom, there were effectively two things that determined your lot in life. The first was whether you had a Title of Nobility, as it was a feudal system that had long since gone out of practice in his original life. Where your family stood in terms of peerage determined just how easy your life was. However, at least it was possible to either rise into becoming a noble with generations of hard work or if you were able to receive a title from the crown.
It was a different story when it came to your Septima. It was common knowledge that the stronger your Septima was, the more valuable it was. Commoners who were born with a strong Septima could be adopted and elevated into noble families. But, by that same measure, someone who was of noble birth but born with no Septima effectively had no value and could be discarded without a second thought.
Hearing his confession, she went from floating to falling to her knees and bringing her hands over her eyes. “Master promised that Humans would have a bright future for them. That’s why I was told to do my best and wait for someone to come. But if we lost the war and Humans have become the minority then… what was it all for? Master… what did I spend thousands of years alone for?”
I can’t say that reaction was unexpected. Leon could only imagine how long thousands of years were from her perspective. All that time alone, knowing that she would likely outlive the one she made a promise to in the hopes that his dream would carry on. Only to learn that it was all for nothing in the end. But lying wouldn’t have solved anything, would it?
Telling her a lie might have softened the blow. But the truth would come out eventually. And when it did, nothing would sting more than having the trust placed in the words you were told broken. He had learned that the hard way.
Still, Leon took no pleasure in watching her sitting there crying, nor being the one responsible. Especially not when it dredged up a memory of a life once lived and long gone, of a little girl weeping on the playground. She’d often shed crocodile tears to get people to do what she wanted. But now and again they’d be genuine, and he could tell every single time that was the case since it’d stir up a certain feeling in his chest. Just like now.
He sighed to himself before he approached the girl, so lost in her grief that she no longer registered his presence. She seemed so much smaller now that she wasn’t floating and putting on airs that made her seem more mature than her appearance would suggest. He crouched down and, pausing for a moment, began to gently stroke her mint-green hair. “It wasn’t for nothing.”
Her hands lowered slightly at the unexpected gesture, and her eyes locked onto his as the tears still cascaded down from the corners. Then she slowly reached out to touch his hand. He suspected that if she had been here all this time alone it was also probably the first time since then that she had been touched by another living being.
“I don’t know much about what happened in the past of this world,” Leon began. “I can’t say that I know the details of the promise you made with your master. And I don’t want to lie and say that being born without Septima has been easy when it hasn’t been. But the fact is that people like me are still around after thousands of years. We’re still alive in this world, even if it’s cruel towards us. That has to count for something, right?”
“Y-Yes…” She nodded her head, even as her small shoulders trembled as she sniffled. Then she clung to him and buried her face into his chest. “You’re proof that Humanity has lived on somehow after thousands of years. Master’s dream hasn’t ended.”
He let her keep clinging to him until she finally got the crying out of her system and went back to floating upright. “Sorry about that. It was just a lot to process at once. But you’re here now, so I can follow my directive and aid you. Is there something you need at the moment?”
“I need a Glaive that you have locked in the safe. And a ship to return to the sky.”
That caused her to slightly frown. But thankfully not quite in the crushing guilt way that he had been expecting. Instead, it was more in a confused manner. “I can authorize the use of the Sabertooth to transport you with my administrative permissions, but the Smilodon was meant to be a mass transport vessel and requires dual permission to launch. The same goes for the Glaives, given that they were one of the most dangerous weapons from the beginning of the war. Besides, they were attuned to the original Adepts who were all defeated in the past and only someone with a compatible septimosome would be able to survive invoking it. They would be useless to you.”
“I know for a fact that there are compatible Adepts for them in the present,” Leon said. “But the only one I care about right now is the Azure Quill that’s meant to be used with the Azure Striker Septima.”
Now her expression shifted into one that was far more serious. “The former holder of the Azure Striker Septima perished thousands of years ago, after becoming a Septimal Being that discarded his flesh. And yet you claim there are others with that same Septima? How can that be?”
“The Royal Family of the Holfort Kingdom are known to be holders of the Azure Striker Septima,” Leon explained. It was considered the strongest Septima in the Kingdom, which was one of the reasons the Royal Family held the power it did. There were other reasons, such as the Royal Ship, but there was no point in bringing that up.
“Perhaps they are his descendants from before his transition into an incorporeal body?” she reasoned before shaking her head. “Even so, Master entrusted me with the Glaives for preservation if the knowledge derived from them could be of aid in my directives. I can’t just return it to the descendant of one of the enemies of Humanity.”
“That’s a problem for me then, since if I don’t offer that Glaive to them then I’ll probably be dead by the end of the year,” Leon said in turn.
“If you’re in trouble of some kind, you can stay here!” She seemed almost eager for him to do so as she leaned over until they were nearly face-to-face. “The Tower can sustain life within itself. I can promise that you’ll never want for anything, and you’ll be safe!”
He actually considered it for a moment. “Would that offer only extend to Minos?”
“Yes. My directives are to aid those who have no connection to the seventh layer of the Lifewave, such as yourself. If the Minos are such then I will aid them as my Master wished.”
“Then I can’t accept,” he said. “After all, even though I was born a Minos, the rest of my family are Adepts. Not powerful ones, but Adepts all the same. The reason I need the Glaive is so that I can remain with them.”
“What do you mean?”
He gave her the gist of his personal situation. He had been born as part of a family that held a barony, with his father being the baron overseeing the territory. Out of the family, he had been the only one born as a Minos. Normally that would have gotten him disowned if his parents had been scum like some of the other nobility, thanks to the way the Kingdom favored those with Septima, but his parents weren’t like that.
The problem was that he was born to his father’s mistress, while his main wife was related to a Viscount family. In her own words, having a Minos as a member of the family is a stain on their reputation. Time and again she had tried to get rid of him, and until recently his parents had done their best to appease her by offering her tributes and keeping him out of sight. But there was a severe wave of monster attacks this year and they had caused enough damage that his family couldn’t afford to appease her without neglecting their territory.
His father was a good man. Though his territory wasn’t well-off, he did his best to make sure that the people never went hungry. The times when the men from Zola’s family couldn’t be bothered to help with fending off the monsters in time, he would be one to take up arms to help. His armor and body had their fair share of scars, so to ask him to sacrifice the well-being of his people for the sake of his son was too much.
At the rate things were going he was going to be disowned and forced to split apart from his family. And in this society, where Septima was valued, finding a career to support himself afterward would be a nightmare. It wasn’t uncommon for Minos to have to resort to crime like becoming sky pirates, but more often they would have to enlist as a soldier and be sent off to foreign allies of the kingdom. All so they could die in the meatgrinder, while those who had valuable Septima remained safe.
However, Leon could get around that by receiving an ennoblement from the Royal Family. While those who normally held the rank of nobility aided the crown in the past, it was possible to earn or buy your way into it. The Offrey Family was one such example.
The problem was that receiving the ennoblement required that he do something that merited it, or had enough money to buy it, which he didn’t. However, a Glaive was an artifact that had been lost to history and impossible to reproduce (according to the item description). It was invaluable enough that offering them a compatible one would be more than enough to get him a title.
The A.I. processed the information before muttering. “So, you need it to remain with your family?”
“That’s right,” Leon answered. “I can’t say that I’m thrilled about the way the world works, but my mother and father put up with a lot to keep me by their side because they cared about me. To the point where it’s put them in financial straits and has had them looked down on by their peers. I’ve even seen times when my mother cried over the fact that she didn’t pass down her Septima, because she knew life would be hard for me. Most noble families wouldn’t have done that, so I can’t abandon them.”
While he didn’t want to be shipped off to die for no reason, Leon especially didn’t want everything they sacrificed for him to be for nothing. The reward for being a decent human being shouldn’t be only to lose everything after struggling so hard to hold onto it. Getting ennobled by the Royal Family would allow them to at least hold their heads up high that even the worst of their family had accomplished something.
“Master… entrusted me with the Glaives to prevent them from being misused, so to return one of the weapons of the Adepts of old to them would go against that. But… you need the Glaive to avoid being sent off to die and remain with your family. And you won’t remain in the Tower even if I guaranteed you wouldn’t want for anything else?”
“I’ve been away from home too long as is,” Leon stated. He already didn’t want to think about how much it cost his father to outfit the ship he had ridden on to get here. Especially not when he had promised his father that he would return with something to his name without explaining how he was going to obtain it. Without even asking what he had planned, his father had put his faith in him to come back alive whether he found something or not.
As she crossed her arms beneath her chest and her brows furrowed deep in thought for a long pause, he took the time to eat the… block on his plate. He couldn’t quite pick out the flavor, but it wasn’t bad. And the tea was pretty good as well.
Then her eyes snapped open, and she raised her arms in a cheer. “That’s it! I can’t give you the Glaive because of my directive, even if it would be to help you. But if I elevated you to Tower Administrator then you could change my directive to allow it. The Sabertooth and Smilodon and the other resources of the Tower would also be available.”
“What would that require?”
“Just a thorough examination to ensure your qualifications, since one of the requirements is that the Administrator has no connection to the seventh layer of the Lifewave,” she explained. “There’s room for tolerance on Guest permission to account for residents who might be connected up to the fourth layer, but the Admin has to be tied to the primordial layer alone. Once that’s verified, we would share dual authority over the Tower, including the ability to override my directive to aid you.”
Isn’t that giving someone you just met a little too much control? Leon privately wondered to himself. He didn’t know enough about how everything here worked, but being able to hand off the authority to someone else seemed like a risk. Then again, maybe it was a sign that whoever her Master was trusted her judgment when it came to whoever would succeed him.
“Ah, there is one thing,” she continued. “Since Master entrusted them to me with the future of Humanity in mind, I do have a condition: I want to accompany you outside the Tower.”
“Don’t you need to be here to manage everything?”
“Most of the systems can be automated even without direct supervision, but without a second administrator I couldn’t devote resources to explore beyond the vicinity of the Tower. And it’s not like I would be leaving the Tower itself, but I would instead be using a support unit as a proxy to accompany you in the same manner that I’m speaking to you now. That way I can gather data on the world’s current state and see for myself what remains of Master’s dream and how to help out Humans better!”
If it would get him the Glaive and the Smilodon, as she called it, he wouldn’t complain. Besides, Leon had noticed that she was still willing to help him get back to the upper world even before she came up with this idea. That meant she was willing to put up with being here all alone again for possibly thousands of more years if he refused, simply because it was how she could be helpful to him.
The thought of leaving a little girl willing to be that nice to him alone for that long wouldn’t sit right with him. “Fine. We’ll go with your idea.”
“Yay!” She cheered with a big smile even as the world around them began to shift around. The grass and flowers were fading away, along with the scent and the sky. Had it all been a hologram of some kind? “Come on! I’ll take you to my mainframe… um…”
Watching as she awkwardly fidgeted in place, he realized that she had been so eager to rush things along they hadn’t even introduced themselves to one another. “My name is Leon. Leon Fou Bartfort. And you?”
“Lola,” she said. “Nice to meet you, Leon.”