Chapter 1, Part 4
Walking with his unsheathed hatchet in hand, Tohru muttered to himself.
“Ah, damn it, this is such a pain. Thinking about it all now, this is gonna be some workout, isn’t it? Screw this. Did I not say ‘those who work, lose?’ God damn it, what a pain. I wonder if someone’s dropped money somewhere. That’d speed things up a bit.”
He spat out disgusting remarks worthy of a useless human being.
Of course, being penniless was no grounds for becoming a petty thief.
Before Tohru’s eyes was a panorama of a mountain forest ripe with vegetation.
Del Solant was one of the average fortified towns. It was surrounded by a mountain on three sides which made trade less convenient, but it also made the town easier to defend and by extension harder to invade. The reason the war dragged on so long was because of the ongoing conflict between the governing lords. As a result, many of the towns had undergone fortification, but now that the war was over most of these resilient fort-like features only made the town harder to get in and out of.
At any rate—just outside of Del Solant, there was an enormous mountain region.
The fresh vegetation and wild animals were plentiful here, but a hiking novice would probably find it a bit steep for their liking. For that reason, only professionals like hunters and lumberjacks typically ventured out to this place.
Tohru had figured this spot would be good for capturing mice or rabbits, or picking wild plants.
“Damn that Akari.”
Some shrub leaves he had hacked off with his hatchet whirled up in the air—and fluttered to the ground. He grabbed one leaf fluttering in front of his face and stuck it in the corner of his mouth, grumbling all the while.
“What’s she expecting out of me after all this time, anyway?”
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, you’d think Akari would have given up on him by now—but she was still finding various ways to light a fire under his rear.
She had also been the one to register Tohru’s name into the Del Solant guild.
She had registered herself as well, but a surplus of hired hands didn’t necessarily guarantee work. To make matters worse, there was the aforementioned fact that Akari was curiously naive when it came to society and never noticed that she was getting the crappy jobs pushed onto her. Her income was barely enough to scrape by.
If you thought about it, all fort towns were largely autonomous, not just Del Solant. There was no way any job considered “good” was going to trickle down to the refugees—all the more so if you were considered a newcomer.
“As for her, her looks are good enough; why doesn’t she just hook up with some decent guy? She’d never have to worry about food again.”
And she’d never have to concern herself with her useless brother again either.
Tohru felt like he’d be happier on his own anyway. When it got to the point that he couldn’t go any longer without a meal, he’d could just forage through the mountains like he was doing now. Of course, without any bread, cheese, butter, salt or pepper, eating plants for every meal would get old fast.
But, he’d deal with that when it came to it.
“In the first place, even though we’re ‘siblings’, originally we were strangers…honestly, why now?”
Tohru made his way through the mountain forest as he continued to grumble to himself.
As aforementioned, this area was so uninhabited that 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, but for an amateur it could be quite dangerous.
Suddenly, Tohru stopped.
A sound had reached his ears.
“What was that…?”
He held his breath, pricked up his ears and listened. He heard the noise again—it sounded like something rustling in the bushes. It seemed to be gradually approaching him.
Something was moving, hidden within the bushes.
Looking closer, he saw that in addition to the noise, the brush was quivering.
By taking note of the size of the swaying section of brush, he surmised the size of the thing hidden within.
It looked to be about the size of a human–or larger.
In an instant he eyeballed the distance between him and the creature: about 15 meters(1). Even in a mountain forest where the footing was unsure, an animal would easily be able to cover that distance in an instant.
Tohru prepared himself.
If it was a deer or a boar, he thought he might hunt it. If it was a bear or a wolf, it’d be in his best interests to let it go.
And if in the worst case, it was a Feyra…well, he would think about that when the time came.
Giving up might be a solid option at that point.
It’s probably not a Feyra, though, he thought calmly.
Thud. Thud. He heard a noise that couldn’t possibly belong to an animal.
Tohru searched through his memories, trying to find a noise to compare it to. It sounded artificial and hard, maybe like a rock clunking against a wooden box? At the very least, it wasn’t an animal approaching, and there was no insect alive that would ever make that sound.
Listening closer—he could hear a noise like something being dragged.
What the hell is that?
It couldn’t be a hunter or lumberjack.
Suddenly, a face popped out from the brush.
As Tohru stared at it, a crease formed between his eyebrows.
Its presence here was like an anomaly, or just plain weird. Anyway, however you phrase it, it was certainly not what he was expecting to see.
To get straight to the point, it was…a human girl.
She looked to be in the ballpark of about fourteen or fifteen.
She was cute, and had lovely, refined features.
The dim mountain forest had become darker now due to the approaching midday, and the remaining vestiges of sunlight filtering through the trees tinged her long, silver hair, making it glisten. Affixed to her head were white hair ornaments, and her large violet eyes blinked rapidly in surprise as she looked around to survey her surroundings. In some respects, she looked like a small animal.
At any rate, she was not an aggressive, ferocious beast.
Actually, just from a glimpse at that frail body covered by dark clothing, she looked more like the prey.
It was curious enough that this petite girl was wandering aimlessly through the mountainside all by herself, but this had gone beyond “curious” and into “just plain weird.” Her outfit was mostly dark, but it also had various decorative cloths and personal accessories attached to it. It was in no way suitable for mountain climbing. It looked like broken twigs and remnants of shrubbery were stuck all over her as well.
Of course, she didn’t have a hatchet to cut through the undergrowth or any kind of walking stick.
Most hikers through this area were at least fairly experienced, whereas this girl looked like she was on a downtown stroll or belonged at some aristocrat’s ball.
Dressed like that, she could easily encounter some kind of mishap.
She was taking the mountain lightly. With that getup, Tohru couldn’t imagine anything else.
Even though it had only been an instant, he had mistaken the small girl for a large animal. This was primarily because of the thing she was carrying—he thought it was part of some creature’s body. For some reason she was carrying something cumbersome on her back—a large dark red case, which was probably why the brush had moved so much.
No, it wasn’t just 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. There was a leather belt around it, allowing her to carry it on her back as she walked. Carrying it like this would normally cause it to suffer scrapes or even break, but it seemed to be quite sturdy. The surface was entirely free of scratches and blemishes.
But just what was the deal here?
Even if the coffin were completely empty, it should have been 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? But it had a lamp installed on the side…
A coffin would probably be safer to sleep in than some poorly-stitched sleeping bag, though…
Completely dumbfounded, Tohru rose from the brush as well and called out to her.
“That thing. What are you doing with that?”
The girl jumped in surprise and turned her head in Tohru’s direction.
Her violet eyes were large to begin with, but when she saw him they opened even wider.
“What the hell are you doing out here in the mountains, you…”
In a sense, he could ask himself the same question–
But he was forced to stop mid-sentence.
With a rough noise, the girl and the coffin sunk back into the bushes.
At this unexpected reaction Tohru jolted forward and called out to her, but he then saw and heard a trail of rustling brush move away from him in a flash. It appeared that she had fled—and in quite the hurry, too.
But a mountain forest was different from a town in that it was much easier to get lost in.
Even maintaining a straight path was difficult. There were many hardships to be found when one was not used to mountain-hiking: it wasn’t uncommon for amateurs to lose their way while trying to avoid various obstacles, and unwittingly go around in circles as a result.
And in fact—
Squinting, Tohru observed the girl hunkered down in the bushes. She kept moving in one direction until he heard a “thump” and a short yelp 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. Then she moved to the side, and so on and so on until she finally ended up right back at her original position in front of Tohru.
Her face, wearing an expression like Is it safe now?, had popped out of the brush once more. 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.
Flapping her arms and legs in panic, she looked to her left and right, and then once more in front of her.
Then after she had panicked for a bit, she became still all of a sudden and spoke.
” ‘A’ “?
The girl pointed at the puzzled Tohru with such force it seemed there should have been a snapping sound, an accusatory glare on her face.
“Attack? Who’s attacking? Who’s being attacked?”
It wasn’t like Tohru didn’t understand what she was trying to say, but he went ahead and asked anyway.
After pointing at Tohru, she pointed to herself.
How could one put this… maybe it was just him, but all her actions seemed somewhat high-and-mighty. For a first meeting with someone, it was like she didn’t hold anything back. On the other hand, though, she seemed she was on high alert.
Tohru stared at the girl with half-lidded eyes.
The girl glared at Tohru with upturned eyes.
The tension in the air between the two was clearly one-sided.
“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, but I don’t have a job at present.”
The girl knitted her brows as she stared at Tohru’s face.
“Like I said, I don’t have an occupation.”
Tohru heaved a sigh.
Sure, he would catch small animals on occasion. But you couldn’t call that “professionally hunting.”
“Food became an issue, so…I’m out here gathering wild plants.”
Truth be told, it sounded pathetic even to himself…but if that was enough to get him down, it wouldn’t have gotten to the point where Akari had to come calling 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 there’s no such thing as a wealthy freeter, but…being called poor over and over again really is irritating.”
He said this with a sigh.
While Tohru felt some resistance at being called a pauper by a complete stranger, it was true that he was poor to the point where he didn’t even have money for the day’s breakfast. However, this girl didn’t look like she was scorning or berating him—it was more like he was some rare object that gave her great pleasure to look at.
“Pauper. Understand. Pauper.”
She nodded her head again and again.
Who is this girl?
It was almost like even though she knew the word “pauper” and its definition, she had never actually seen one in person before.
“Forget about me, let’s talk about you. Y-O-U. What are you doing here?” He glanced over her shoulder at the dark red coffin thing she was carrying. “And what’s that coffin-looking thing on your back? To begin with—don’t you know that even the locals tend to avoid this place?”
Once the girl turned her head and glanced at the coffin she was carrying on her back, her eyes widened.
Panicked, she unstrapped herself from the coffin and pushed it down into the bushes, then stood in front of it—was she trying to keep it hidden? Again with upturned eyes, she returned Tohru’s gaze and spoke.
“Well, yeah, of course I can see it,” Tohru replied in disbelief.
It was larger than the girl herself. It’d be impossible to not see it.
“Did not see.”
“You. Didn’t see. This.”
“…Oh, ok, I…guess…” Tohru said while scratching his cheek.
Then, right in front of him—
“I didn’t think…I’d meet anyone…here in the mountains…Thought it was…a good idea…”
She mumbled under her breath.
This time, it wasn’t the official language of the continent. It sounded like Laeke, used primarily up north. Tohru had been thinking it was weird that her dialogue thus far had all been broken speech, but that appeared to be because she was from the north. She wasn’t at all accustomed to the official language, and it was obvious just from listening that she was more fluent in Laeke.
“Are you some kind of 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 overall it was difficult to get to Del Solant, there was a road passing through a valley that horse-drawn carriages often used. Unless the girl’s circumstances really were that dire, she wouldn’t need to be dragging such a large piece of luggage out on a path that could barely be called one.
“Disrespectful! Impolite! Rude!”
She glared at him, pointing once more.
Incidentally, she had returned to using the official language of the continent. It wasn’t like his Laeke was bad, but it was as he thought: she was still 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 parse out her Laeke.
Once again, the girl glared at him with upturned eyes.
Her face drooped. Fear, anxiety, irritation, wariness…many different emotions appeared upon the girl’s face in succession. Her eyes were like a stray cat’s 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 with a shrug.
Until just a few years ago, war had been raging on the continent. Killing was a given. Stealing was a given. No small number of people had been born and raised with those values. 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. Even the delineation of what was and wasn’t a crime was still fuzzy. Though Tohru himself had no intention of becoming a criminal, he didn’t really think it was that strange for there to be one on the run.
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, and had no idea what this place was like.
From what he could gather from her wardrobe, it was likely as aforementioned—she had no experience whatsoever in hiking mountains. She looked like an uppity cloistered girl who knew nothing of the world.
“You…do you have some business in Del Solant?”
“Affirmative,” the girl said.
“And how long have you been hiking this mountain?”
This was bad.
Tohru sized the girl up for a while, from head to toe.
“Got any money?”
“Mun-ny? Ah, ‘money’?”
The girl blinked her violet 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!”
Tohru smacked away the hand that was pointing straight at him so brazenly.
“Mu. Highway robber. Not?”
“I’m not, I swear!”
“Why do you want me to be some kind of outlaw?”
She crossed her arms and tilted her head.
Does this girl want to be attacked or something? he thought.
“Breakfast for two. That’s your navigation fee.”
With a puzzled expression, the girl stared at Tohru intently.
To this senseless girl Tohru said rudely,
“You want to get to Del Solant without being seen, right? I don’t know your deal or anything, but keep going as you are, and you won’t even make it there in 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.”
After all, a bit ago she had managed to go around in circles even when running from Tohru. She had probably been intending to go straight through the mountain, but got turned around along the way. Regardless of whether or not there was a clear path…the mountain’s vegetation was so dense that it was easy to lose track of what direction you were in.
“You should’ve realized!” Tohru shouted to the girl, whose eyes were as wide as saucers.
“I’ll lead the way if you treat me to breakfast. Oh, and my sister too.”
She folded her arms, her brows furrowed.
Well, after a person you met in the middle of a mountain all of a sudden started demanding “navigation fees” and “breakfast”, of course she would be nonplussed.
“I told you before, didn’t I? I don’t have a job. It’s not like I’m proud of it, but I don’t even have breakfast money to—”
That was as far as he got.
Moruzerun, Moruzerun, Erumun.
He heard a bizarre noise.
No—that was wrong. It wasn’t a noise.
It was a voice.
A gloomy and cryptic voice speaking incomprehensible, bizarre words—the low voice of a person.
Seburun, Wamurun, Tourun.
Shunerun, Horun, Yarun.
The girl blinked in surprise.
Tohru threw himself on top of the girl.
They both happened simultaneously.
The girl let out a tiny scream at this sudden development.
As he pushed the girl’s petite body to the ground—Tohru felt something graze his back with intense force.
“Shit…!” Tohru groaned. “Man…this sucks!”
Without asking for permission, Tohru wrapped his arms around her torso—and kicked off the ground. If they had stayed put like that, they would have been killed for sure. There was a strong possibility that they could also be killed while running, though.
“—Wait, what the hell!?” Tohru shouted unconsciously. Something was off. Her body was strangely heavy—or rather, it was like something was weighing on it from behind. Once he turned around, he saw that she was gripping onto the leather belt around the coffin, and the dark coffin was dragging along behind him, clunking as it went.
Even under normal circumstances, the footing on this mountain was unstable, so keeping his balance while carrying her was especially tough, not to mention dragging the coffin along with it, which made running impossible.
“Just get rid of this thing already!”
The girl immediately replied.
Because he was behind her, Tohru could only see her flailing legs, her rear, and her back, so he couldn’t see her expression. If he had to take a guess, however, it was likely one of irritation.
“Oh, shit!?” yelled Tohru.
A large, dark shadow flew over him.
It smashed through various trees and branches, repeatedly drawing arcs in its flight path, until at least landing right next to the fleeing Tohru and the girl—
“I knew it…it’s a Feyra…!”
It was…a strange thing resembling a horse.
It jumped about nimbly between the trees, had a strange dark protuberance on its forehead, and carnivorous tusks protruded from 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 more agile than a squirrel or even a monkey, and could move on a three-dimensional plane.
This unicorn was a carnivore and skilled hunter with the shape of a horse.
Tohru groaned in irritation.
A Feyra out in the mountains—to try and outrun this creature would be the height of foolishness. Not to mention the literal baggage he was carrying made it impossible to run anyway.
“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 beyond the treetops and determined the angle—he used this to derive his current location.
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 suddenly became clear.
Just as he had remembered and predicted.
“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 noise.
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.