Chapter 1, Part 2
As he walked along the road, he felt countless sharp gazes pierce into him like needles.
For someone like Tohru who had a keen sensitivity to this sort of thing, there was no greater displeasure. However, on top of being a newcomer to this town, he was also aware he was a conspicuous anomaly. He was in no position to complain.
A sigh escaped him.
Shabby houses to the left. Shabby houses to the right. Clusters of shabby houses as far as the eye could see. Were it not for the people visible inside, these old filthy buildings lined up one after another could have easily been mistaken for abandoned. Fissures had formed in the walls and the paint had peeled away—and that was in the best case. Other buildings were clearly leaning to one side, and some had cloths drenched in oil stretched across their collapsed ceilings to protect against strong wind and rain. It was dangerous no matter how you looked at it…though you couldn’t say they weren’t being resourceful.
However, the atmosphere here was by no means degenerate.
It definitely wasn’t elegant or refined, either, but—even if it did smell like dirt and mud, the atmosphere along the road was teeming with energy, what one could call “life itself.”
The black markets would often set up shop in this particular area.
For that reason, the foot traffic here was much heavier than normal. In anticipation of that, men and women alike could be seen at stalls you couldn’t really call “shops”, peddling odds and ends that anyone would hesitate to call “merchandise” atop wooden boxes, including the day’s garbage, edible wild plants, and animal flesh of unknown origin. Children in shabby clothing were running around the adults, shouting and laughing. To help dispose of extra food scraps, each residence owned pet pigs; they were also running along the road, oinking and making noise as they went.
Nations had collapsed.
Towns had been burned down.
Friends and family alike had met their end.
Yet even so….if the people here wanted to live, they had to move on. As long as they didn’t fall into the depths of despair and end up taking their own life, they continued to survive, even if they had to sip from the mud and chew on tree roots to do so. This was a place for the strong-willed with nowhere else to call home. Disorderly and confusing, perhaps, but no one could dispute that these people were brimming with life.
For this reason, someone like Tohru definitely stood out.
He always looked gloomy, had no ambition, and dragged along an air of melancholy as he walked.
Tohru was sauntering through the refugee district on the south side of the regional town Del Solant.
Fortunately—well, whether or not you could actually call it a good thing was up for debate, but thanks to the war lasting so long, there were plenty of abandoned buildings and the like for people to move into. People who’d lost their homes to war had drifted here from other regions and nations, and it was common to see them refurbish the buildings here to a livable state.
Though veteran residents of this town weren’t exactly thrilled with the presence of drifters, they didn’t actively ostracize them either. With the long-overdue rise of something resembling peace, there came a sense of mutual aid among the commoners that went beyond social status.
This was a period of post-war disorder.
Most of the nations were struggling to reform their infrastructures, and lords, nobles and knights alike had their hands full. The lives of common folk were outside their area of concern. Since they didn’t have the support of the upper class, the lower classes had to stick together in order to preserve their own futures, and that was evident regardless of the town or street.
Tohru and Akari’s shabby home was also on a block within this refugee disrict.
After they’d been chased off from the clan they’d been born and raised in, they wandered around for about half a year before drifting into the refugee district that had naturally formed in a corner of Del Solant.
The two of them lived by themselves.
They had no idea where their parents or relatives were.
Not long after the end of the war, the whole clan had scattered—–they didn’t even know whether they were dead or alive. Well, when their family had left the clan village they’d taken most of their possessions with them, and they were a brash bunch in all sorts of ways. They were likely still alive and kicking somewhere, just like these refugees.
“Oh, if it isn’t Tohru.”
An old lady sitting on a roadside bench and weaving a wicker basket noticed Tohru and called out to him. He’d forgotten her name—but he recognized her face. He should have come across it quite a few times since coming to live here. She was that lady that liked to meddle in other people’s affairs. From mediating matrimonial disputes to helping out with simple jobs, she seemed to use her wealth of life experience to micromanage the lives of her neighbors.
“Fancy seeing you outside.”
“I suppose,” Tohru responded noncommittally.
On the whole, he could guess what her next remark would be.
“Don’t leave all the work to young Akari, Tohru. You need to do your share too.”
That’s none of your business—Tohru gulped down those words before they emerged from his throat.
Though he knew it looked bad to not do any work, it was also true that Akari was currently putting food on the table for him. However, Akari was strangely ignorant in the ways of the world, so her earnings were meager at best. It also didn’t help that they were mixed in with a bunch of refugees, making it difficult to find a decent job. That was the reason procuring this morning’s meal had become such an issue…
“Maybe one day, if I feel like it.”
With a light wave of his hand, he passed the old lady by.
Tohru was unemployed.
What’s more, he wasn’t currently in between jobs, nor was he training in preparation to find himself more work. He was registered at the town guild as a mere formality…but he hadn’t once accepted any jobs.
Summing it all up, he was a penniless bum that made no conscious effort to better himself—the textbook example of a worthless human being.
And so, his sister threatening to clobber him with her hammer first thing in the morning was a natural outcome—well, maybe going that far was a bit much, but there were probably few out there who would blame her. However, for Tohru, whose life was now on the chopping block, it was intolerable.
“’Working’…huh,” he muttered cynically, more to himself rather than intending for anyone to hear. Making sure his trusty hatchet was still on his waist, he set out for the south gate of Del Solant at the edge of the refugee district.