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 tightly.
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 with his entire being. 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 that 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!”
The man sobbed for a while 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 a switch that completely changed his personality had been flipped.
“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 in this terrain. 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 had expected some setbacks when taking on this task, so I borrowed some “eyes and ears.” 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, as if he had transformed into 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.
Though they had fought together, originally she and Tohru had been nothing more than coincidental passing acquaintances.
Tohru guided the lost Chaika to Del Solant. Chaika 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 since the Feyra wasn’t targeting either of them specifically.
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 an indispensable tool, practically 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?”
“Nii-sama, don’t misunderstand.”
Akari shook 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 wasn’t until a little later that he became aware of a certain change within him.
* * *
With a dull yet powerful 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 amongst the common folk. However, it was still rare to see commoners with vehicles; mostly just the “upper crust” had them, like nobles, royalty and wealthy merchants. In the long run, vehicles were far more convenient and cheaper than carriages drawn by horses and oxen in terms of maintenance, but the vehicles themselves were also incredibly expensive. As a result, the number of people who could afford one was extremely limited.
And so, this vehicle stood out quite a bit–not to mention that it was painted a pure white and heading down a country road, which made it all the more conspicuous.
As various horse and oxen-driven carriages passed by, all the coachmen’s and passengers’ eyes went wide, turning their heads and following it with their eyes until it was out of sight.
“…We really shouldn’t be traveling in broad daylight.”
Inside the vehicle, a young person spoke with a sigh.
This model of vehicle, named “April”, was quite spacious and large. However, anyone passing by it could guess just from its outward appearance that there was more to it than just being roomy. It looked like a small mobile home, and,with the exception of the coachman’s cabin from where the April model was controlled, 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 person was currently 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 and their expressions 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, but on the other hand, no matter how you looked at it,the youths 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 that girl. If we let her out of our sight again here, who knows when we’ll be able to catch her,” said a person sitting across from the youths, shrugging his shoulders.
He was 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’, huh…”
“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.”
“Well, that’s true.”
The middle-aged man turned his head towards the direction of the coachman’s cabin.
“Zita, about how long until we arrive in Del Solant?”
“Should be another half hour,” said the voice of a young girl from the coachman’s cabin.
“…So she says. The problem is what happens after that, huh?”
“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 isn’t something we can accomplish 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, the same as they ever were.
In one of the wooden boxes that had been piled up in an abandoned house, amongst some tools used for maintenance, they were there, almost as if waiting to be picked up once again.
Frowning, Tohru took them out of the box.
They were—two small swords that could be attached to a leather belt.
They weren’t as long as longswords or as short as shortswords. Perhaps one could say they looked to be somewhere in the middle, or perhaps that 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, Tohru 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 a necessary measure to keep living as an ordinary commoner.
Tohru 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, as though they’d never been inactive 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 ever since he had drifted to Del Solant it had been his weapon of choice.
“Could this be fate or something?” Tohru muttered.
Exactly why he had chosen now to pick up these weapons again wasn’t too clear, even to him. 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 that sort of thing.
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 used for ceremonial or work purposes, as long as peace continued to thrive in Del Solant he had no opportunity to use them.
Well, it was true that normally this wasn’t a place for Akari to use her iron hammer either, and she rarely took it out of the house.
Tohru undid his girdle without unsheathing the swords.
He was about to put his once-favored weapon back in the box—
His hand stopped.
He stared at the blades for a while and then, dexterously attaching them to his shoulders with his leather belt and stretching his hand out, picked repair tools up out of the box. He grabbed powder that kept up a sword’s durability, oil, a wooden hammer to remove rivets, and various other things. He bundled all of it up and inserted them in the leather bag on his belt.
With these items in his possession, Tohru went to the next room, where he arranged his swords and the repair tools on top of an old table that had been left alone there for quite some time.
Like she was just casually passing through, Akari’s voice came from the door that was still open.
“Huh? Oh. Well…”
Tohru fumbled his words for a bit, and then heaved a sigh.
“Well, you know.”
Akari entered the room proper, and she stared at the swords beside Tohru.
It wasn’t like he had a specific goal in mind for using them again.
“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.
“Doing anything else, huh…is this something I want to do, then?”
There could no longer be anything like that.
The battlefield was the only place where a saboteur thrived.
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 had met in a chance encounter 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.
It wasn’t just using the “Iron-Blood Transformation.”
Having come that close to falling into the ravine of death, throwing away all unnecessary thoughts, and pushing himself to the limits of what he was able to do, a feeling had been created inside him.
“Well, it’s fine.”
What was fine?
Tohru wasn’t sure himself, but nonetheless he began maintenance on the small swords.