Chapter 2, Part 2
The man was standing in front of the Feyra’s corpse.
It looked like his entire body was covered in brown and green, but that might have just been the clothing he was wearing. At any rate, he blended into the scenery around him. His head had been shaved completely bald, and he had spread some sort of dye all over it to camouflage it in the same color as his clothes. If he closed his eyes, from a distance it would probably be difficult to recognize him as human.
His face contorted.
It was difficult to discern his expression because of all that paint, but in the next moment big tears started to flow down his face.
The man dropped to his knees, and clung to the Feyra’s corpse as if for dear life. Its remains had been bisected from head to rear as if filleted by an enormous knife. So much blood had poured out from its large, dark body and been absorbed into the ground that this magic-wielding monster who once had the potential to scare an entire nation seemed to be a whole size smaller.
“It must have hurt…You must have suffered so…ooh…oooh…poor thing, poor thing!”
For a while, the man sobbed on top of the Feyra’s dead body.
It was as if a member of his own family had been slaughtered.
“But, it’s inconceivable,” the man muttered in a composed tone, as if someone had flipped a switch that had caused his personality to do an about-face. “The unicorn was in this forest and on the offensive, and yet a wizard was able to defeat it. No matter how you look at it, the unicorn had the advantage here. Against a young girl wizard, carrying her luggage, no less, there should have been no contest.”
The man released himself from the unicorn’s corpse, stood up, and tilted his head.
“I’d borrowed some ‘eyes and ears’ in anticipation of setbacks, sure. But could I have overlooked something…?”
The man surveyed the area, and in the next moment, he once again dropped to the ground and roamed about on all fours like a beast.
Narrowing his eyes and sniffing around, he prowled around the Feyra’s corpse for a bit, and—
“Was there…someone else besides the target?”
The man’s eyes zeroed in on trampled leaves and snapped twigs.
That was most likely the limit of what normal human eyes could see, but—
“Footprints…other than the target’s…they appear to be those of an adult male…one set. Oho. Ohoho. It appears we have quite the skilled opponent. But what in the world kind of person was he? But wait, up until now that girl has always been by herself. Did she meet someone here? But then again…”
The man tilted his head.
“I see. As I thought, it seems that acting on my own was poor judgement. If the target had a partner, then certainly, it might have been too much for me to handle alone. Perhaps it would have been best to wait for Gillette-dono’s arrival after all…”
The man stood up and turned his head in a certain direction.
“At any rate, it’s a safe bet they’ve arrived at that town by now.”
The man continued to stare in that direction.
The direction—of the town of Del Solant.
* * *
At the entrance to the diner, Chaika parted ways with the siblings.
They had fought together, yes, but she and Tohru had only been coincidental passing acquaintances to begin with.
Tohru had guided the lost Chaika to Del Solant. Chaika had treated him to some food as a reward. With that, they didn’t owe each other anything else. As for the Feyra incident, it wasn’t like one of them saved the other one’s life since the Feyra hadn’t had a specific target.
Akari’s voice reached Tohru, and in a panic he turned around to face his sister.
“What is it?”
“Nothing. You keep turning around for some reason.”
Something was strange.
That girl named Chaika Trabant.
Tohru really didn’t know why, but there was still something on his mind.
“Does that girl really concern you that much?”
“Ah? Nah—well, I mean, I did think she was pretty strange.”
Akari let out a strange sigh that sounded forced.
Because she didn’t express herself very often, it was even more obvious that the sigh was fake. Ever since she’d lived in the village of Acura, she had always been bad at acting, which people had pointed out to her on many occasions. Incidentally, for saboteurs who used hindrance tactics to catch the enemy with their pants down, acting ability was vital enough to practically be another weapon at their disposal.
“Oh, just thinking about how my brother is a pervert that gets turned on by little girls.”
“That again, huh?”
“Oh, but don’t get me wrong,” Akari said with a shake of her head. “Even if you are a pervert, I will never stop cherishing and respecting you.”
“Your ‘respect and affection’ make no damn sense,” Tohru muttered while walking.
It would be a bit later before he’d realize something within him had changed.
* * *
With a dull but loud sound, a vehicle continued down the main road.
In these last few years, machines with engines that ran on magical energy had already become prevalent, even among commoners. However, it was still rare to see commoners with vehicles; mostly just the “upper crust” like nobility, royalty and wealthy merchants possessed them. In the long run, vehicles were far more convenient, easier to maintain and cheaper than carriages drawn by horses and oxen, but they were also incredibly expensive. As a result, only a small subset of people could afford one.
They were also quite conspicuous, not to mention that this one was painted a pure white and currently heading down a populated country road.
As it passed by various horse and oxen-driven carriages, it turned the heads of coachmen and passengers alike, who followed it with widened eyes until it was out of sight.
“…We really shouldn’t be traveling in broad daylight.”
Inside the vehicle, a young man spoke with a sigh.
This model of vehicle, named “April”, happened to be quite spacious. However, any passerby could tell from its outward appearance alone that there was more to it than its size; it looked like a small mobile home. Not including the coachman’s cabin from where the April was operated, there were four private rooms, two cargo holds, and a central cabin where all the members of the crew could meet and talk.
The young man was in that cabin. Aside from him, a number of young men and women were also sitting next to each other at a roundtable.
The color of their hair, eyes, and skin were all over the place, as if there was no sense of unity in the group.
They gave off the impression of a group of mercenaries at first, but the youths simply looked too elegant and refined for that. They looked like a bunch of aristocrats.
“According to the reports from our scout Mattheus, it has to be the girl. If we let her out of our sight again, who knows when we’ll be able to catch her,” said one of them with a shrug.
He was sitting across from the youths; a broad-shouldered, middle-aged man. He was clearly much older than the rest of them, yet he more or less humbled himself towards the young ones, so his social status and position probably didn’t matter here.
“Yet here we are, recklessly standing out.”
The middle-aged man gave a bitter smile.
The youth had a point.
If a large white vehicle continuously drove down a country road, of course it would catch the eyes of the public.
“So much for ‘secret mission.'”
“Well, it’s true that a vehicle meant for nobles driving down a country road will, as you say, draw the public eye. But they don’t know why we’re here, or even who we are.”
“More importantly…” The middle-aged man turned towards the coachman’s cabin. “Zita, about how long until we arrive in Del Solant?”
“Should be another half hour,” came the voice of a young girl.
“…So she says. The problem is what happens after that, I guess.”
“Have we been in touch with Count Abarth yet?” the voice apparently belonging to a young girl named Zita replied.
“More or less. Though I didn’t divulge the reason we’re here.”
“That’s just as well,” the middle-aged man muttered. “After all, this probably ain’t a goal we can achieve through normal means.” He made a face like he was chewing on something bitter.
* * *
Considering they had been neglected for quite a while, they were still where they had last been left, in the same condition.
In one of the wooden boxes that had been piled up in the house, they were there along with tools for their maintenance, almost as if waiting to be picked up once again
Tohru took them out of the box with a frown.
They were two small swords that could be attached to a leather belt.
They weren’t as long as longswords or short as shortswords, but somewhere in the middle; their size was such that they conveniently had the advantages of each.
Placing the two small blades, along with a girdle, on top of one of the nearby wooden boxes, he removed the thin gloves covering both his hands. In case he was seen by anyone other than Akari, he never removed these, even when entering the bath—it was necessary to keep living as a simple commoner. He examined the palms of his hands.
A design with complex markings had been etched onto both palms.
It was the same design as the one on the hilt of each sword.
Wrapping the girdle around his torso once again, he brought his hands near the swords’ hilts.
The swords fit naturally in his hands—it was like he’d never abandoned them for almost a whole year.
Lightly gripping them, he tested them out.
It didn’t feel uncomfortable or out-of-place at all.
Rather, he felt like the hatchet he’d used this morning had been much more unwieldy, even though it had been his weapon of choice ever since he first came to Del Solant.
“Could this be…fate or something?” Tohru muttered.
Exactly why he had chosen now to pick up them up again, he couldn’t say. Using them as a replacement for his broken hatchet wouldn’t work as an excuse. Living as an ordinary commoner, there was clearly no need for a weapon like this.
With Akari, she didn’t even blink at using her favored weapon for a bunch of different things, but because it was quite clear that Tohru’s two blades weren’t designed for ceremonial or work purposes, there were no opportunities to use them as long as Del Solant remained peaceful.
Though it was true that Akari rarely even took her own hammer out of the house, since she didn’t normally use it for work…
Tohru undid his girdle without unsheathing the swords.
He was about to put his once-favored weapon back in the box, but then—
His hand stopped.
He stared at the blades for a while, and then he expertly attached them to his leather belt and got the repair tools out of the box, grabbing some powder that kept up a sword’s durability, some oil, and a wooden hammer to remove rivets, among other things. Bundling them all up, he stuffed them in the leather bag on his belt.
Then Tohru went to the next room, where he arranged his swords and the repair tools on top of an old table that had been neglected for quite some time.
Akari’s voice came from the open door, as if was just passing by.
“Huh? Oh. This is…uh…”
Tohru fumbled his words for a bit, and then heaved a sigh.
“Well, you know.”
Akari entered the room proper and stared at the swords beside Tohru.
“Doing repairs, I see?”
It wasn’t like he had a specific reason for it.
“I’m not really doing anything else, I guess.”
He thought she would say, if that’s the case then shouldn’t you be doing some work? But for some reason, Akari didn’t say anything. She only gave a small nod, and promptly left the room.
“‘Not doing anything else,’ huh…is this something I want to do, then?”
No. There was nothing like that anymore.
A saboteur could only operate on a battlefield.
It was now a period of peace, and those kind of techniques, no matter if used with a saw, a kitchen knife, or an oddly-sized pair of small swords, no longer had any place.
What had happened earlier was nothing more than a trivial occurrence.
You couldn’t really even call it a “battle.”
The encounter with the Feyra in the mountains—he and the wizard girl had coincidentally met, and had killed a Feyra. That was all. It probably wasn’t going to happen again. And even if it did, he couldn’t guarantee that he’d have the same feelings then.
It wasn’t just using the “Iron-Blood Transformation.”
Having barely avoided death’s embrace, thrown away all unnecessary thoughts and pushed himself to the limits of his ability, a feeling taken root inside him.
“Well, I guess this is okay.”
What was okay?
Tohru wasn’t sure himself, but he began maintenance on the small swords nonetheless.