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ブライソンはタバコを一服吸い、目の前の景色に釘付けになった。かつてのワイオミング州の田舎町は、不毛の大地と化した。
財団は人々がここに希望を求めて都市から逃れるだろうと知っていたから、彼らはできる限りの方法でこの地をより毒の回った場所にしようとした。動物や果実も残っているものは既に汚染されており、食べるよりこちらが食べられる可能性が高い。 彼が肩を優しく叩かれた時、心はあの日へとさかのぼり始めた。

“タイラー、メッセージを受け取った”

彼を下の名前で呼んだのは彼の副司令官で、人類の生き残りのひとりであるコルーマンだ。タバコを脇にやり、彼へと視線を向けたが、一瞬男と認識するのが遅れた。彼は…とてもやつれて見えた。目の下には黒い袋がぶら下がり、額には包帯が巻かれている。「誰から?」

コルーマンは彼に小さな紙を渡した。 “L.S.”

紙に書かれた言葉はほんの数語だった。だが、ブライソンにとっては彼女が何を望むか読み取るには十分だった。 「時間です。図書館で会いましょう。」
コルーマンは近くの農家をちらりと見返し、今部下の隠れている場所を見た。ブライソンには、彼が何に不安を覚えているか説明することができた。彼は動揺したときに眉を顰める癖があるからだ。案の定、男は「こんな風に去るのは本当にいい考えか?」と尋ねてきた。

ブライソンは立ち上がると、紙切れをポケットにしまった。 彼は農家に戻る前に、田園地帯を最後にもう一度見返した。「知ったらやばい。さあ、行く時間だ。」

農家へ続く道はそれまで彼らが見つけてきた道と比べてかなり簡単に開けた。それと、財団が道にブービートラップを設置できていなかった。数週間前、彼らは財団の改ざんした方法によって2人の善良な男を失った。 彼らは建物に入るとすぐに閉め、彼らを何処へ送るかは神のみぞ知っていた。 彼と彼の部下は一人、また一人と光へ足を踏み入れ、彼らの安全と知る唯一の場所、図書館へ向かった。


L.S.は向こう側で彼らを待っていた。彼らのリーダーであるにもかかわらず、ブライソンは、彼らが本当にどちらかであろうと、彼または彼女の周りで快適に感じることはなかった。彼らのリーダーが持っていた何かは、遠い地平線上の誰かを見つめるように、ほとんど見えなくした。「うまくいってよかったです、ブライソン。あなたの分隊が犬ども1に壊滅させられたという噂が嘘とわかってよかったです。」

ブライソンは出席者に注意を向ける前に、手を素早く振った。彼らの中にあの小さな人々がいたか?「何人かの善良な男を失ったが、あの犬の話をするだけだと私たちを受け入れるには足りない。」Bryson gave their hand a quick shake, before turning his attention towards the others in attendance. Was there always this little people among their ranks? “Lost some good men, but talking dogs won’t be enough to do us in.”

L.S.は静かに頷き、ブライソンを通り過ぎて部屋の中央へ向かった。彼らの声は突然大きくなり、部屋の隅々まで響いた。「ご列席の皆様、私たちは今から始められると信じています。なぜ私がここに来たか、あなたたちは知っているでしょう。もちろん、図書館が私たちの現実から切り離されていることについて話しているのです。」

つぶやきやささやきが出席者の間で上がり続け、L.S.は木の床を杖で叩いた。「私たちが彼らに加わることを意味する。私たちの世界は、かつて救世主と名乗った者たちによって汚され、死につつある。私は図書館の評議会と話した。彼らは私たちを適した世界へ行くのを手伝ってくれるでしょう。」
Murmurs and whispers among the people present continued to rise until L.S. tapped their cane on the wooden floor. “I mean for us to join them. Our world is dying, tainted by the very people that once claimed to be its saviors. I have spoken with the Library’s council and they will help with relocating us to a suitable reality.”

ブライソンはこの時点で声を上げずにいられず、部屋の中央へ一歩踏み出した。彼の話している間、彼は他のメンバーだけでなく、案内人やページたちの視線も感じた。「あんたは俺たちに逃げてほしい。私たちは自分の家から逃げるぞ。」
Bryson couldn’t help but speak-up at this point, taking a step forward towards the center of the room. As he spoke, he could feel not only the other members’ stares upon him, but also the Docents’ and Pages’. “You want us to run away then. Run away from our home.

L.S.は彼らの顔が見えなかったが、ブライソンは彼らが眉をひそめていることを疑わなかった。「俺たちの家は死にかけている、タイラー。だが、俺たちはまだ死ぬ気はない。俺たちにできることはもう何もない。」
L.S. turned back towards Bryson and although he couldn't see their face, Bryson didn’t doubt that they were frowning. “Our home is dying, Tyler. I do not mean for us to die with it. There is no longer anything we can do.”

ブライソンは彼の内側から怒りが立ち上がるのを感じた。俺たちがここ数ヶ月間でやったのは無駄だったのか?俺はずっと友人や、家族や、部下が無駄に死んでいくのを見ていたのか?「なら、図書館の力を使ってみませんか?何もありませんが、かれらは-」
Bryson could feel anger rising up from inside of him. Was all they had done for the past several months been for nothing then? Had he watched friends, family, and subordinates die for nothing? “Then why not use the Library’s power?! Is there not something they-”

「あなた達の世界の問題に介入する義務はない」頭上の闇から声が響き渡った。彼は、長老の一人の巨大なムカデが、ルーン文字をその価値ある体の上に表し、上から降りてくるのを見た。ムカデは彼らの目の前で止まり、100ほどの人の目が彼へ向いた。「図書館はあらゆる放浪者の紛争に対し中立です。」
“It is not our duty to intervene in your world’s affairs,” boomed a voice from the darkness above them. He watched as one of the Library’s elders, a gigantic centipede bearing runes over it's expansive body, descended from above. It stopped just short of them, it’s hundred or so eyes turning towards him. “The Library is neutral in all conflicts of the Wanderers. I am sorry.”

ブライソンはこの時点で、怒りに震えていた。何故奴らは自身の生まれた世界である奴らの世界を簡単に捨てられるのだろうか。たくさんの現実があったが、これが奴らの現実だった。「俺はまだ去らない。まだ居残る。」
Bryson was practically trembling in anger at this point. How could they so easily abandon their world, the place where they had been born? There were countless realities, but this was their reality. “I’m not leaving. I’m staying.”

L.S.は頷き、悔やむような声で答えた。「そのことを聞いてごめんなさい、我が友よ。彼と共にこの世界に居残る方は、自由にそうしてください。」
L.S. nodded and replied in a regretful voice, “I am sorry to hear that, my friend. Any of you who wish to stay with him are free to do so.”

彼が後ろの部下へ振り返ったとき、恐怖を感じとった。彼らはきっと彼を見捨てるのだろう。違うか?彼はカミカゼ任務2を担い、さらに彼らはここで地獄からのチケットを受け取っていた。それにもかかわらず、コールマンを先頭に彼らは皆手を上げて立っていた。
「キャプテン、俺らはずっと一緒でやってきた。俺らは残りの道を行く。」
Bryson felt a tinge of fear as he turned to look back at his men. They would surely abandon him, would they not? He was on a suicide mission for sure, and here they were being offered a ticket out of that hell that awaited them on the other side of the Way. Despite these worries, they all stood with their hands raised, Coleman in the lead. He gave Bryson a smirk as he said, “We’ve been with you this long, Captain. We’ll go the rest of the way.”

全てが始まったときから初めて、彼は本当の幸せを感じた。
For the first time since it had all started, he felt truly happy.


Despite L.S. 's insistence that the Serpent’s Hand leave with the Library, they seemed more than willing to give any supplies they could spare to Bryson and his men. Finally, it came time for them to leave through the Way. Everyone was in attendance, including their leader. “I suppose there’s no chance of you reconsidering?”

Bryson shook their head, glancing back at his men who were all waiting for the word to leave. “Nah, sorry. I do have one last request, though.”

“Anything. You need only ask.”

Bryson had a small smirk as he asked, “Mind showing us your face? Not like we’ll get the chance to see it again.”

Telling by their body language, he assumed his request came as a bit of a surprise to their leader. Despite the apparent surprise, L.S. nodded and removed a ring from their finger for just a few moments, letting everyone see them as they truly were. Bryson couldn’t help but chuckle at the revelation. “Didn't see that one coming. Man, to think I even liked some of your movies. Catch you on the flip side, L.S.”

“May you find peace in the clearing at the end of your path, Tyler.”

Bryson walked confidently into the Way, ready for whatever awaited them on the other side.


Three Months Later

The meeting in the Library had felt like almost a lifetime ago, like a dream of a dream. Three months had passed since then and their numbers had dwindled. The Foundation’s fervor in destroying the human race had only increased as time went on and they kept churning out more and more horrors to crawl across this desiccated world. Now, his squad had found its way to central China. Around a month or so ago they were able to get into the Foundation’s info banks, if only for a few minutes or so. That was enough to find out they had plans to resurrect some sort of giant creature capable of wrecking untold havoc.

“Think this might be the last one,” Coleman said from behind him.

He turned his attention from the Foundation base in the valley back to the man. Coleman had a cigarette between two fingers of his remaining hand. The other had been taken in a skirmish with horsemen that’d been lying in wait for them. They had become a common sight at all the battlefields across the globe, either through Foundation involvement or happenstance. “Yea, I’m getting the same feeling. Besides that..when did you start smoking again?” Despite the dreary situation, a grin crept onto his face as he looked up to his old friend.

Coleman returned the grin with a smirk of his own and a shrug. “Thought the end of the world was a good enough time as any to start up again. The guys are all ready, all we need is your word and we can storm the place. Locke found a spell in one of his grimoires that will take us right into their containment room.”

Bryson nodded, setting aside the binoculars. “I’m ready. Let’s get this-”

He was cutoff as a deafening explosion erupted from the Foundation base below them. Both men peered down into the valley and Bryson immediately knew they had been too late. The monster the Foundation had in its custody was already resurrected and it had just burst through the front entrance to the base. Foundation soldiers seemed to be doing their best into wrangling or capturing it, but they were quickly being wiped out.

“Guess it’s our time to shine.” Coleman said, flicking his cigarette away.

He turned back towards the dozen or so men they still had. Although he hadn't looked into a mirror for god knows how long, he didn’t doubt that he looked much like they did, gaunt and half-dead. Despite that, they were all grinning and had their eyes locked onto him. Bryson felt much the same way that they probably did. This was going to be their last battle, one last hurrah for the human fucking race. Never much one for speeches, he just shouted, “Let’s give them hell, boys!”

A chorus of cheers and cries sounded off in response. Locke began to cast his spell and within moments they all found themselves relocated to outside the Foundation base, only a few hundred feet away from the rampaging monster that was doing its best to swat away the Foundation soldiers at its feet. Bryson could almost feel a sense of finality swelling up inside of him. They had done their part, saved who they could and killed what they could. He was idly aware of Coleman on his right, charging in alongside him towards the monster. He was chanting magic before he even knew it, as were the others. The creature reared its ugly head towards them, just now taking notice of the new enemies. It began to charge at them, forgetting all about the soldiers still desperately trying to control it.


Four Hours Later

The fight had moved from the valley and into a prairie still untouched by the Foundation’s poisons. He didn’t know who had gotten the last strike on the beast but it now lay face-down in the grass, dead. As for Bryson’s men, they were all gone. Bryson slowly dragged his way across the dirt towards Coleman’s corpse, which lay only a few feet from him. As he reached it, he realized Coleman was still breathing. Pulling the second-in-command’s head into his lap, he watched as his eyes slowly drifted open and hazily looked up towards him. “Hey, Tyler. We win?” he asked weakly, a smirk on his lips.

Bryson couldn’t help but chuckle, even though it hurt to do so. “Yea, we won. We got him.”

Coleman nodded, his hand sliding down towards the sizable hole in his gut. Bryson could see what was left of his innards and quickly turned his attention back to his face. Coleman still had that damn smirk as he said, “Bryson, I think I'm dying.”

All he could do was nod, as his throat had become tight and unyielding. He was idly aware of tears that were forming at the corner of his eyes.

Coleman opened his mouth to say something else but passed before he could form the words. It was only when Bryson went to close Coleman's eyes that he realized a large piece of shrapnel was embedded in his own abdomen. It looked like he wasn't coming out of this unscathed either. Looking out over the prairie, he did not feel any regret or sorrow though. His chapter had come to an end and he was at peace with himself. He never considered himself a god-fearing man, but he offered a silent prayer for somebody to save what remained of this world. That was, if it was still capable of being saved. As the sun began to rise, Tyler Bryson left for the clearing at the end of his path.

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