Chapter 1, Part 4
“…This sucks,” Tohru complained as he walked, gripping his unsheathed hatchet in one hand.
“Ah, damn it, this is such a pain. What I’m doing now is respectable work, right? Shit. I told her that those who work, lose. God damn it, what a pain. Why can’t money just fall down from somewhere? That’d be much faster.”
Tohru was so disgusted that he laid bare all the standard remarks of a worthless human being.
Of course, although it was true that they had no money, stealing was not an option.
Spread out before Tohru’s eyes was a deep mountain forest.
Del Solant was a normal fort town. Because it was surrounded by a mountain on three sides, it wasn’t very convenient for transport, but because of that it was hard to attack and easy to defend. The long period of war had created the need for many cities to be outfitted with fortresses and other defensive structures, though now that the wars had all ended simultaneously the large number of strongly fortified cities were merely obstacles that made an already rural area even more of a nuisance to travel to and from.
At any rate, just outside of Del Solant there existed an enormous mountain range.
This mountain region was full of fresh vegetation and wild animals, but if one that wasn’t used to hiking tried to push their way through here, they might find it a bit steep for their liking. Because of this, almost nobody, except professionals like hunters and lumberjacks, ventured out to this place.
Tohru had thought it would be a pretty good place to capture mice or rabbits or pick wild plants.
“Geez, that Akari.”
Leaves that he had hacked off from a shrub with his hatchet whirled up in the air and fluttered in front of his face. He grabbed one of them and put it in the corner of his mouth as he continued to grumble.
“After all this time, why is she expecting this from me now?”
It had already been a year since they had drifted to Del Solant.
After day after day of watching her older brother do absolutely nothing but laze around, it seemed like Akari should’ve given up on him by now, but she was still finding various ways to light a fire under his ass and make him work.
Akari had also been the one to register Tohru into Del Solant’s guild. She had registered herself as well, but because there were probably way too many people living there there wasn’t enough work to go around. To make matters worse, Akari, who knew nothing of the world and had come from some strange place, never noticed that she got the brunt of the crappy jobs forced onto her, so her income was barely enough to scrape by.
If you thought about it, not just Del Solant but all city strongholds prized self-sufficiency. Refugees just weren’t going to get a ton of sweet-sounding job offers–even more so if you were considered a newcomer.
“I mean, just look at her situation–her looks are good enough; she can easily just shack up with some guy that’s suitable for her and have him feed us.”
As if she would deem it necessary to concern herself with her useless brother then.
Tohru felt like he’d rather be given up on and let free, honestly–when hunger became an issue, he’d just go foraging through the mountains like this. Of course, without any bread, cheese, butter, salt, or pepper, he would get really tired of having to eat plants for every three meals. Well, if it came to that, there was no helping it.
“In the first place, even though we’re ‘brother and sister’ now, originally we were strangers…honestly, why now?”
Muttering things like that, Tohru made his way through the forest. Because not a lot of people came in here, even animal trails barely existed, let alone hardened, well-treaded footpaths. Tohru was used to this kind of thing so it was fine for him; however, for an amateur the results could have been disastrous.
Tohru stopped suddenly.
A sound coming from somewhere had caught his ears.
“What was that…?”
He held his breath, pricked up his ears, and listened. Once again, he heard a noise–it sounded like something rustling in the bushes. It seemed like it was gradually approaching him.
Something was hiding, moving in the bushes.
When he took a closer look, he noticed that in addition to the sound, the brush was quivering. He took note of exactly how much of the brush was swaying, and based on that had a pretty good idea of the size of the thing hidden within.
It looked to be about the size of a human–or something larger.
He immediately measured the distance between him and the creature: about 15 meters(1). An animal would easily be able to cover that distance in an instant, even with the bad footing of the mountain forest.
Tohru prepared himself.
If it was an animal like a deer or boar, he wanted to hunt it. If it was an animal like a bear or a wolf, he should probably let it go.
And if, by any chance, it was a Feyra…well, he would think about that when the time came.
Giving up might be a solid option at that point.
Well, it doesn’t seem like one of those.
He thought, not tense at all.
Thud. Thud. He heard a noise that couldn’t possibly belong to an animal.
Tohru searched through his memories to try and find a noise to compare it to. Maybe like a rock hitting a wooden box? Definitely something hard and artificial. At the very least, it wasn’t the sound of an animal’s footsteps, and it probably wasn’t the sound of an insect, either, and when he listened carefully, he could hear the sound of something being pulled.
What the hell is that?
It probably wasn’t a hunter or a lumberjack.
If it came to that…
Suddenly, something stuck up out of the bushes.
Tohru fixed his eyes upon it.
Something was way off. Or perhaps you could say it was just unnatural. Anyway, however you phrase it, it was clear that this being’s existence was completely unexpected.
To get straight to the point, it was……a human girl.
She looked to be about fourteen or fifteen.
She had lovely, refined features.
Since it was midday in the forest, the area was dim, and the faint sunlight that filtered through the trees glistened gently on her long, silver hair. Affixed to her head were white hair ornaments, and her large purple eyes blinked rapidly in surprise as she looked around to survey her surroundings. In some respects she looked like a small animal.
In any case, she wasn’t a ferocious wild beast. On the contrary–with her dark clothing and frail-looking stature, she looked more like someone that would be attacked here.
This petite girl was wandering aimlessly through the mountainside all by herself, curiously enough. However, this situation had gone beyond “curious” and into just plain weird. Although her one-piece outfit was mostly dark, it also had various decorative cloths and personal accessories attached to it–an outfit that was in no way suitable for mountain climbing. It looked like she had broken twigs and remnants of shrubbery stuck all over her body as well.
Of course, she didn’t have a hatchet to cut through the undergrowth, and she didn’t have any sort of a walking stick either.
Most hikers through this area had at least some degree of experience, whereas this girl looked like she was on a downtown stroll or belonged at some aristocrat’s ball.
If it wasn’t a disaster waiting to happen, it would be somewhat amusing.
It seemed likely that she had underestimated the mountain.
Even though it had only been an instant, he had mistaken the small girl for a large animal primarily because of the thing she was carrying–he thought it was part of a creature. For some reason she was carrying something cumbersome on her back–a large dark red case, which looked to be the cause of the brush moving so much.
No, it was something more than a “case”.
The fact that it was oblong was already telling–it was an octagonal shape stretched out. The only thing that Tohru could compare it to in his mind was a coffin. It just couldn’t be anything else.
Of course, the coffin-like object was big enough to fit a fully-grown adult inside, and as such was much larger than the girl herself. A leather belt was wrapped around it so she could carry it on her back while walking. Carrying it like this should have caused it to suffer scrapes or quite possibly cause it to break, but perhaps because it was quite durable, not a scratch or crack could be seen anywhere on it.
However, just what in the world was she trying to do?
Even if the coffin were completely empty, it should be quite heavy.
At the very least, a little girl like her had no business in the mountains. Did she intend to use the coffin as a sleeping bag? It even had some kind of lamp installed on its side.
Well, if you were to compare a coffin to a poorly-stitched sleeping bag, the former would probably be safer…
Tohru was in shock at this girl who had so naturally risen up out of the bushes, but he recovered and called out to her.
“You there. What are you doing?”
The girl jumped in surprise and turned her head in Tohru’s direction.
When she saw him, her already large purple eyes opened even wider.
“What the hell are you doing out here in the mountains?”
In a sense, he could ask himself the same question–
But before he could get an answer…
With a heavy, forceful noise, the girl and the coffin sunk back into the bushes.
Tohru jolted forward at this unexpected reaction, calling out to her. However, in the next instant, he saw a trail of rustling brush move quickly away from him. It appeared that she had fled. She had looked rather confused.
It was easier to get lost on a mountain than in a town.
Even going straight was difficult in this area. There were many hardships to be found when one was not used to mountain-hiking: it wasn’t uncommon to see amateurs losing their way while trying to avoid various obstacles and unwittingly going around in circles as a result.
While squinting, Tohru observed the girl hunkered down in the bushes. She kept moving in that direction–until he heard a “thump” and a little scream like “Gyaa!?” It looked like something had caused her to stop. She headed back in another direction, but then he heard another “thump” and a dull crash, and she stopped once more, moved to the side, then went back and forth until finally ending up returning to her original position in front of Tohru.
Is it okay now? The girl who had gotten herself stuck in the brush seemed to be saying. He wondered if she had finally learned her lesson. By now they were about two meters away from each other–if he took one or two steps and extended his hand, he could have easily reached her.
The girl’s face froze in surprise.
Because Tohru was used to dealing with the stony-faced Akari, he had to admit that seeing an expression like that was pretty amusing.
She flapped her arms and legs in panic. She looked left, she looked right, and then once more in front of her.
Then, after she had panicked for a bit, she stopped moving suddenly and spoke.
” ‘A’ “?
There was a sound like the snapping of a twig as the girl gave an accusatory glare and pointed at Tohru, his head tilted in wonderment.
“Attacker? Who’s attacking? Who’s being attacked?”
It wasn’t like Tohru didn’t understand what she was trying to say, but he deliberately asked anyway.
After pointing at Tohru, she pointed to herself.
How could one put this… all her actions seemed unusually proud. For a first meeting with someone, it was like she didn’t hold anything back. On the other hand, she was certainly wary of him, and looked ready to strike.
Tohru gazed at the girl with half-closed eyes.
The girl glared at Tohru with upturned eyes.
There was an air of one-sided tension between the two.
“You want me to attack you?”
The girl shook her head vigorously.
“If you’re asking if I’m one of those lone bandits prowling around, I’m not.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, but currently I don’t have an occupation.”
The girl knitted her brows as she stared at Tohru’s face.
“Like I said, I don’t have a job.”
Tohru heaved a sigh.
Sure, he would catch small animals on occasion. But you couldn’t call that “professionally hunting”.
“I eat wild plants in order to survive.”
Truth be told, even he thought saying so was pathetic, but if he were to get so easily depressed after all this time, Akari would surely come attacking with her hammer.
The girl gave a nod of assent as she said this.
For some reason, her facial expression then changed into a triumphant smile, and she thrust her index finger right at the tip of Tohru’s nose like she had come to some conclusion.
“Well, I guess it is true that I don’t have a job and I’m not wealthy, but…being called ‘beggar’ over and over again by everyone really is irritating.”
He said this with a sigh.
While it was just a bit strange to be called a beggar by someone else, it was true that he was poor to the point where he almost didn’t get to have breakfast. However, though this girl’s facial expression looked like she was laughing at him, it didn’t look completely like she was looking down on him either. Rather, she gave off the impression that Tohru was a rare sight that gave her great pleasure to look at.
“Beggar. Understand. Beggar.”
She nodded her head again and again.
Who is this girl?
It was almost like she knew the word “beggar” and its definition, but had never actually seen one in person before.
“Forget about me, let’s talk about you. Y-O-U. What are you doing here?”
As Tohru said this, he glanced over her shoulder at the dark red coffin-looking thing she was carrying.
“And what do you have there on your back? Is that a coffin? In the first place, don’t you know that even the locals rarely come here?”
The girl turned her head and glanced at the coffin she was carrying on her back, then widened her eyes.
She tried to take the coffin off and push it back into the bushes, then stood in front of it. It couldn’t be that she intended to keep it hidden by putting it on her back? Again with upturned eyes, she returned Tohru’s gaze and spoke.
“Well, yeah, of course I can see it,” Tohru replied in disbelief. In any case, it was so large compared to the girl herself that it’d be impossible to not see it.
“You. Didn’t see. This.”
“…Oh, ok, I…guess…” Tohru said while scratching his cheek.
To that, she said…
“I didn’t think…people would be here…in the mountains…Thought it was…a good idea…”
She mumbled under her breath.
This time, it wasn’t the official dialect of the continent. It sounded more like the Laeke dialect, used primarily up north. Tohru thought that most of her words thus far had resembled some weird broken speech, and it seemed like she was from up north. She wasn’t at all accustomed to the official dialect, and besides, Laeke speech was typically much more fluent and understandable.
“Are you a criminal or something?”
The girl seemed to be willing to go as far as to climb a mountain in order to not be seen, so that was the only thing that came to mind. Though the overall state of transportation in Del Solant’s area was terrible, there was a road passing through a valley that horse-drawn carriages could use. Unless the girl’s circumstances really were that dire, she wouldn’t have any need to go out of her way to drag such a large piece of luggage out on a path that could barely be called one.
“Disrespectful! Impolite! Rude!”
She glared at him and pointed her finger again as she said that.
By the way, she had returned to using the official dialect of the continent. Though he could just barely make out what she was saying, it was as he thought: she was much easier to understand when she used the common tongue.
“Then why are you so concerned about someone seeing you?”
The girl stayed silent, but looked like she was taken aback. It seemed like she hadn’t counted on Tohru being able to understand Laeke.
Once again, the girl glared at him with upturned eyes.
Then her face drooped. Fear, anxiety, irritation, wariness…many different human emotions were projected upon the girl’s face. She had the eyes of a stray cat that didn’t know whether to consider the other party an ally or an enemy.
“Well, it doesn’t matter. Even if you are a criminal or whatever, it’s no concern of mine,” said Tohru, shrugging his shoulders.
Until just a few years ago, war had been raging on the continent, so of course people would kill and things would be stolen. Quite a few of them had been born and raised with that sense of morality. Plus, because it was a period of postwar confusion, countries had been forced to reorganize the way they were run, and new laws were still in development. Actually, even the delineation of what was and wasn’t a crime had not yet been set in stone. Though Tohru himself had no intention of becoming a criminal, he didn’t really think it was strange, per se.
That’s right. He really didn’t think anything of it.
Tohru heaved a sigh.
Thanks to this brief exchange of dialogue, Tohru thought he at least had an idea, albeit a rough one, of what was going on.
This girl was an outsider–she had no idea what this place was like.
She had probably been passing through, as aforementioned, and had decided to wear that outfit while hiking the mountain because she was inexperienced and naive.
“You…do you have some business in Del Solant?”
“Affirmative,” the girl said.
“And how long have you been hiking this mountain?”
This was a bad situation.
Tohru sized the girl up for a while, from head to toe.
“Got a question.”
“Money. Do you have any?”
“Mun-ny? Ah, ‘money’?”
The girl blinked her purple eyes.
Then, with a look as though she finally understood, she gave a large nod and, if that wasn’t enough, she even clasped her hands together with a “pon” sound.
“Understand. Highway robbery!”
“Wait, who’s a highway robber? Don’t point at me!”
Looking triumphant, she pointed right at Tohru as she had said that.
“Mu. Highway robber. Not?”
“I’m not, I swear!”
“What makes you think I’m some kind of outlaw?”
She crossed her arms and tilted her head.
Really, why does she think I want to attack her?
Thinking this, Tohru sighed.
“Breakfast for two. That’s your fee.”
With a puzzled expression, the girl stared at Tohru intently.
Sensing she’d be a pretty useless companion, Tohru said in a rude tone of voice,
“You want to get to Del Solant without being seen, don’t you? You don’t know what kind of a situation you’re in for. If you continue on like you are, you won’t make it there even after struggling for a week.”
“You went through all the trouble of hiking this mountain and didn’t think to look at a map? If you had hiked the proper way, it wouldn’t have even taken you three days. It’s obvious that you’re completely lost.”
At any rate, just a bit ago she had been trying to run from Tohru, and had managed to go around in circles even when doing that. She had probably been intending to go straight when climbing this mountain, so it was likely that she had gotten completely turned around. To be perfectly clear, there was a road she could have taken, but anyway…this mountain had thick vegetation, and because of that there were a lot of places where it was difficult to tell which direction you were facing.
“You finally realized it!”
Tohru shouted this to the girl, whose eyes were as wide as saucers.
“I’ll be your guide if you give me some breakfast. Enough for both me and my sister.”
She scowled and folded her arms.
Well, after coming across someone so suddenly on this mountain, and then that someone demanding breakfast in exchange for offering guide services…of course she would be nonplussed.
“I’ll tell you this now. I don’t have a job. I don’t mean to brag, but money with which to buy breakfast is–
Moruzerun, Moruzerun, Erumun.
Suddenly, an incredibly bizarre noise could be heard.
No, that wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t a noise.
It was a voice, a deep, gloomy, and cryptic voice enumerating many different bizarre words.
Seburun, Wamurun, Tourun.
Shunerun, Horun, Yarun.
The girl blinked in surprise.
Tohru threw himself on top of the girl.
Both at the same time.
In accordance with this sudden development, the girl let out a tiny scream.
When he pushed the girl’s petite body to the ground, Tohru felt an intense aura sweep over his back.
“Dammit…!” Tohru groaned. “Screw this!”
Tohru wrapped his arms around her without her consent, and she started to kick the ground as he dragged her away. If he had stayed still, they would have been killed for sure. Even if they had tried to run, the possibility that they both would have been killed–was still quite high.
Tohru shouted reflexively. He realized something was off. The girl’s body was strangely heavy–it was more like she was dragging him back. He turned around and saw her grab onto the coffin. With a repeated clunking noise, the dark coffin followed along.
Even under normal circumstances, the footing on this mountain was unstable, so keeping his balance while pulling just her along was especially tough, not to mention the coffin he also had to drag. Moving quickly while doing this was even tougher.
“Just get rid of this thing already!”
The girl immediately replied.
Because he was pulling the girl from behind, Tohru could only see her legs being dragged noisily, her back, and her butt. He couldn’t see her expression…but if he had to take a guess, it was one of irritation.
“Oh, shit!?” yelled Tohru.
A large, dark shadow flew over him.
It smashed through various trees and branches, repeatedly drawing a circle with its flight path, until at least landing near Tohru and the girl, who were moving as quickly as they could–
“I knew it…it’s a Feyra…!”
It was…a horse-type thing, but different from a horse.
It jumped about nimbly between the trees, had a strange protuberance on its forehead the color of darkness, and was equipped with carnivorous tusks in its mouth. You could call it a horse, sure, but it was really a…
This horse-like thing was a wondrous living creature. Its hooves, its legs, and its body structure all resembled a horse, so it was specialized to gallop quickly over a wide, flat plain. At the very least, this thing had no business being here in this mountain forest full of obstacles.
But this very creature called a unicorn was a Feyra, and so simply calling it a “unicorn” didn’t fly. While it was similar to a horse in that it had a large build, it was as agile as a squirrel or monkey, and could move on a three-dimensional plane.
This unicorn that had the shape of a horse was also a carnivore and hunter by nature.
Tohru groaned in irritation.
A Feyra out in the mountains–to try and outrun this creature would be the height of foolishness. This was absolutely ridiculous–to say nothing of the girl and the coffin that he somehow was managing to hold on to.
“No way around it.”
There weren’t many options.
He’d been in these mountains often, so he had a pretty good idea of the geography. Looking up, Tohru noted the location of the sun between the tops of the trees, and used this to roughly derive where he currently was.
Tohru said to the girl he continued to embrace.
“I retract my previous statement. Hold onto that coffin for dear life.”
Moruzerun, Moruzerun, Erumun.
Seburun, Wamurun, Tourun.
Shunerun, Horun, Yarun.
They heard the voice again.
His field of vision that had been obscured by plants was now clear.
Just as he had remembered and foreseen.
“Hold your breath!!”
Tohru yelled as he kicked off the ground forcefully.
And in the next moment–
A dark path was engraved into the air with violent force.
The girl let out a moronic-sounding voice.
Tohru jumped off a cliff, and he, the girl, and the coffin all fell towards the marsh directly below them.
1. The original unit of conversion in the novel is “meltors”, but that doesn’t make sense to anyone and they seem to be the exact same thing.