Chapter 2, Part 3
When he opened his eyes the next morning, his sister’s face was so close to him that he could feel her breath.
It was the same situation as the other day.
And it should also be said that the iron hammer was again eating into his pillow in the same fashion.
“…Ugh,” Tohru mumbled. “What the hell are you playing at?”
“You say ‘what am I playing at’, but…”
Akari tilted her head.
The hammer remained sunk into Tohru’s pillow.
“It’s the same as yesterday. I’m here to wake you up.”
“That’s why I’d like to hear why you’re using the same method as yesterday.”
“Because this is the same situation as yesterday.”
Tohru was at a loss for words.
Sure, thanks to Chaika they had obtained breakfast for yesterday—well, it was basically lunch. But when you thought about it that was only for one day, and since he wasn’t working they were still penniless. Or rather, what little day-to-day income Akari did earn from working at various stores in the neighborhood had all gone to last night’s dinner.
They had both used “Iron-Blood Transformation.” So for not only lunch but also dinner, they ate many times more than a normal human would. As a result, the money that had originally been intended to last them for three more days was spent on a single dinner.
The situation was indeed the same as yesterday morning’s.
“…I haven’t even recovered from my injuries yet.”
“But you can still do simple jobs, no?”
“I thought I told you, I’m not planning to make this “working” thing a habit,” Tohru said with a groan. “Besides, you’re not doing all you can do either. Find some suitable guy and marry him already. If you learn how to fake a smile it’ll probably be all right. And even if you still haven’t had sex, you’ve learned a few techniques and such—”
“But what if the man I married didn’t do any work either? It’d end up the same way.”
“Well, yeah, I guess…”
Tohru didn’t like to brag, but there weren’t many men like him. The postwar period was a “period of chaos”, so to speak, and though everyone was still getting by it was an era of desperation. People like Tohru who said things like “If I work, I lose” in this era would have to be either very eccentric or very stupid.
Basically, it would be like saying “Well, it’s okay if I die.”
“In any case…”
“I’m almost at my limit.”
“The limit of my patience.”
In the next instant—
Tohru leapt from the bed.
Akari had thrust her hand forward with vicious speed.
She wasn’t playing around this time. If Tohru hadn’t seriously tried to avoid it, her right hand would most certainly have pierced right through his stomach and out his back.
When he had jumped, Tohru had kicked off of the wall with an unnecessary amount of force, then kicked off the ceiling and landed on the floor. It was a pretty run-down house, so that caused a chorus of creaking and groaning, as if it was protesting being treated so cruelly.
“I think I said it already.”
As she said it, Akari raised up.
“If dear brother refuses to work, then I’d rather he be stuffed.”
“…Seriously?” Tohru groaned.
Akari took out her hammer, but instead of swinging it around like yesterday, she pointed it straight at him. There wasn’t any hint of it being just a meaningless bluff. She was intending to kill.
Well, I guess she has a point, Tohru thought despairingly.
As she had said, she had reached the point where her patience had run out. Naturally—after enduring day after day of him lying around the house doing nothing with no future prospects to speak of–rather than having to call that kind of existence “family”, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for her to think that erasing it once and for all and starting afresh would be a better option.
The war had ended, and not much time had elapsed since then.
A human’s life was a trivial thing. The registers for the residents of the town were not kept up, much less those of the refugees. They had no clue who was where. It was for this reason that Tohru and Akari were able to blend in with the commoners so innocently.
At any rate—
Without warning, Akari’s hammer went flying towards him.
Tohru avoided it—just barely. The attack grazed his head as it passed him, and it went right through a wall that had already looked like it was on its last legs.
Rolling to the floor, he grabbed the belt that was lying on the bed with his swords inside and jumped, evading a second attack. When their eyes met each other once more, Akari had already returned to her original position.
There existed a sword-drawing technique called iai where one sheathed their sword after cutting down their opponent, and this was much the same thing.
If its user was tired, a hammer would have no strength. A hammer was different from an edged weapon in that a when a hammer wasn’t moving, it had no destructive force. So in order to use consecutive attacks, either centrifugal force from swinging it around or something like iai, which allowed for the constant acceleration of a single strike, was necessary.
I’m not good against these hammer techniques…
While thinking that, Tohru slowly stepped back, and, checking if there was some sort of blind spot, equipped the two swords to his waist.
Then, leaping through a hole in the destroyed wall, he made it outside.
Akari followed him.
Perhaps it was due to the noise from the wall being destroyed or something else, but he could see heads poking out of their houses. However, there wasn’t anyone capricious enough to want to intervene. Faced with Akari’s serious killing intent, no commoner would entertain the notion of jumping into the fight.
“…If you’re joking, it’s time to knock it off,” Tohru said as if delivering an ultimatum. “It isn’t funny anymore.”
“I have never joked even once in my entire life.”
“Wait, is that really true?”
There were all sorts of things he could have said about that, but he decided to leave it be for now.
“…No choice, then.”
Tohru prepared himself, gripping the hilts of his swords. As he squeezed them, the etchings on his palm and the etchings on the swords’ hilts became linked. At the same time, he flicked back the snap fastener on their guards and drew them out.
The feeling in his hands…no, his legs, had changed in an instant.
Tohru’s favored double blades might not have had a name, but they weren’t just any old blades. They were comblades, which were often used by soldiers on the battlefield. Its hilt and blade were set up so that its user could activate it by using the “key” of the seal on his hand.
In that moment…the comblades literally became a part of Tohru.
When used, they felt completely natural. Even though he was gripping swords to kill the enemy, it was as if they were merely an extension of his hands. As he was now, Tohru could get a read on the feeling of the wind and temperature of the swords like his own skin. He even felt that his arms had extended to resemble swords; there was no longer any sensation of “holding” them.
“—I am steel.”
Tohru and Akari both muttered it simultaneously.
“Steel knows no fear. Steel knows no doubt. When faced with my enemy, I hesitate not. I am a weapon to destroy them.”
The hidden technique, “Iron-Blood Transformation.”
With the chanting of the keywords, both saboteurs’ bodies underwent the optimum changes for them to become weapons.
Tohru became one with the comblades, meaning in that moment he existed only for the purpose of wielding them. He was a part of them. His body had become the comblades.
A blade didn’t feel.
A blade wasn’t frightened.
With those keywords, his only purpose now was to destroy any and every enemy without hesitation.
In the next moment, Tohru and Akari both simultaneously kicked off of the ground.
However, they didn’t leap at each other; they were merely gauging each other’s agility. A careless leap into the air could lead to being scooped up by an attack from the ground. It didn’t matter how much “Iron-Blood Transformation” they used—there would be no way of avoiding an attack like that while in midair. At the very most, one could change their stance by using their limbs, but they wouldn’t be able to avoid an attack aimed at their center of gravity.
Tapping noises hit the ground.
Metal screeched on metal, again and again.
The two saboteurs dropped their upper bodies and ran, almost crawling along the ground. When they met each other, they kicked off the ground mightily, putting all their power into their stretched muscles before releasing.
He was just barely able to avoid her attack.
The hammer had flown towards him from the left, and by crossing his swords he was able to block it. Of course, if he had tried to block the pointed part of the hammer, his blades would have been done for, so Tohru had aimed for the grip of the hammer. When there was centripetal acceleration the hammer’s destructive force was at its strongest using its pointed end, so basically, the closer the part was to the user, the weaker it was.
But, that also meant that a rather dangerous opening could be created. A normal human would use the opportunity to pull back and gain some distance, but then they would fall prey to the hammer. Furthermore, the hammer would just continue to attack by accelerating in a circle. Deliberately entering her space was the only correct option.
Tohru showed no sign of fear or hesitation in his transformed state.
The optimal retooling of his body for battle had even killed his instinct for fear.
However, Akari was the same way.
At once, she drew her hammer back.
Due to that movement, the swords that had been grinding against the hammer’s grip were pulled away, and he lost his balance. At the same time, using the recoil from pulling the hammer back, she rotated her body instead of her hammer and gracefully outstretched her legs, sending them, like another hammer, towards Tohru’s undefended right and forehead.
There was iron in various places in both Tohru and Akari’s boots. Fundamentally it was for self-defense, but when that much force was added they could be used as a weapon. Of course, that kick had the weight of her entire body put into it, so if it had been a direct hit Tohru’s skull would have caved in—after all, the forehead was the thinnest layer between the cranium.
But, with no regard to his own balance, he invaded Akari’s space once more, barreling into her.
He was able to avoid the toe of her boot colliding with his forehead, but her knee smashed into his cheek, and both of them rolled onto the floor, becoming entangled.
He immediately pushed Akari aside, rolled away, and sprang up using the force of the roll.
He glanced at her, and saw that she was also getting up.
She’s strong, Tohru thought unconcernedly.
They had had plenty of skirmishes back in the village of Acura, but up until now they had never fought seriously.
Her ability is on par with mine. So muscle and endurance alone won’t cut it…
He had shirked his training for a whole year, so his abilities had diminished somewhat. Akari, however, seemed to be even better than before. Not to mention…
Did my wound open up again? he thought, as if it was somebody else’s problem.
Akari had done a more proper job of sewing up the wound on Tohru’s back, but it hadn’t had the time to heal completely yet. In everyday life there was usually no danger of straining spinal muscles, but all the leaping and bounding he was doing now was taking its toll.
Even in stamina, Tohru had no chance of victory against Akari.
It’ll be a sudden death match then.
Preparing his swords, Tohru came to a decision.
If there was one advantage to be had, it was the difference in their weapons. Akari’s weapon excelled in destructive power, but its attack patterns were limited. For its rotation to be effective, all of its movements had to be large and pronounced.
Tohru’s weapons, on the other hand, could thrust as well as slash, but far and away their most important advantage over the hammer was that they were light, making them easily maneuverable. Also, since he had two of them, the number of skills he had at his disposal doubled.
If he could make use of that difference, he might be able to turn the tables.
Tohru exhaled, then entered the fray.
Kicking off the ground, he glided toward Akari. He put up his left sword like a shield and tightened the right sword under his arm.
Akari’s hammer flew towards him.
A sweeping diagonal strike from the ground, meant to scoop up its opponent.
His reach with his left arm was too short,so it was hard to judge an attack that had come from the right. If he used his right sword to defend, Akari would only have to bend her body backwards, fine-tuned her trajectory, and execute a horizontal strike. He wouldn’t be able to handle it. Therefore…
He immediately crossed his swords, and used them to block as he had before. But this time, he was late in crossing the left sword with the right one. There was no way a half-assed method of guarding like that was going to stop the force of the hammer, so with a shrill sound, the two swords were knocked high into the air.
Akari’s gaze went straight to the swords in an instant.
But the hammer kept on its path, undisturbed, straight towards Tohru’s side. If it turned out to be a direct hit here, a vital organ like his kidneys or something could be destroyed. It probably wouldn’t be instant death, but a few days later it would definitely prove fatal.
Tohru reached out.
For the hammer itself.
Akari opened her eyes wide in surprise.
Tohru and Akari had both been taught how to catch a blade between their hands. However, that was a technique meant for a sword, not a hammer. A hammer’s centrifugal force was much too great, so Tohru catching a hammer between his bare hands was completely out of the question. If he did a poor job of it, the hammer would slip right through his hands and score a direct hit. And even if he did manage to stop the attack, his arm joints would be damaged and he wouldn’t be able to deal with the next attack at all.
Tohru just caught the hammer. Well, just for clarity’s sake, when he grabbed hold of it he had jumped backwards in the same direction the hammer was traveling. After the hammer had already bounced off the swords and had its momentum reduced somewhat, the pointed end of the hammer was much easier to take hold of.
So Tohru didn’t end up stopping the attack, but since he had jumped to match it, the force the hammer had was close to zero, relatively speaking. In fact, because he had done so, Tohru’s own body weight was acting as a momentum killer.
Letting out a short breath, Akari let go of the hammer.
In this situation, continuing to hold it would be more disadvantageous.
But—it was already too late.
She and the hammer thrust forward into the air, but Tohru twisted his body and hooked his leg into Akari’s long hair.
He pulled his leg downward and dragged Akari down to the floor.
With the hammer now in his possession, Tohru switched the hand holding it and thrust it forward at Akari’s temporal lobe.
Tohru glared at his sister, who was crawling around on the ground as if entangled.
The hammer was Akari’s favored weapon, just as small swords were Tohru’s. Akari was the only one that could wield it with maximum efficiency, but no matter who wielded it, its weight and the sharpness of its pointed end remained unchanged. If Tohru felt like doing so, a blow to Akari’s temple would definitely kill her.
“I’ll ask you again. Are you serious about fighting like this?”
“…Of course I’m serious.”
Akari said without any trace of timidity.
“OK, that’ll be enough!”
A sound like someone clapping their hands together reached Tohru’s ears.
Tohru stepped away from Akari and threw the hammer to the ground. He turned to face where the sound was coming from.
Two people he recognized stood next to each other.
One of them was—
Tohru briefly chanted the keywords that released him from his “Iron-Blood Transformation” state, and ended his battle.
There, standing in front of him, was an elderly man.
Small and thin, the man looked neurotic. He belonged to the guild. Tohru had seen him before when he had been dragged by Akari to join, so he recognized him. He was pretty sure his surname was Barton. His first name, he didn’t remember.
“Enough, enough. Well now, I’m surprised. I didn’t think you’d be able to stop yourself after going that fast—”
“What’s going on?” Tohru asked as he furrowed his brows.
“Never mind. Tohru, I am a representative of the guild here, and I must inform you that we are considering your expulsion,” Barton said. “You see, people who are only a name on a list lose credence within the guild.”
He was basically saying that people like Tohru who registered for the guild but didn’t take any jobs were like dead weight.
Well, it was a completely respectable idea.
Even Tohru had no reason to raise any objections.
“So, if you turn down this last mission, your expulsion will be imminent. However, this mission might be a tough one…”
“Ah, well, all I heard from the client was that it’s a difficult job, or rather I should say its terms are strict. So we thought it’d be best to check to see if you had the ability to do it.”
“…Wait, for starters, there should be all kinds of registered people in the guild,” Tohru said, frowning. “Putting aside my talents, there should be plenty of others who—”
“No. The truth is, the client specified you as the first candidate of choice.”
Barton indicated the figure beside him.
It was a petite girl with silver hair.
It was Chaika.
“And so—well, actually, we wanted to ascertain what sort of abilities you had. So we asked your sister here for some help.”
Tohru got up, turned around, and glared at his sister.
But of course she was not in the least bit intimidated, and returned his gaze coolly.
“Were you not serious?”
“Of course I was. I am always serious.”
Akari clenched her fist tightly and nodded.
“This may have been a farce, but me wanting to stuff you is no falsehood!”
“Don’t say that so matter-of-factly!” Tohru shouted, and then let out a long sigh. “Ah, shit. Guess I gotta work, then.”
He had never thought about taking any path other than a saboteur’s.
And he thought the same way even now.
He just wouldn’t be good with anything else.
Is she offering me work?
Tohru turned to look at Chaika.
With a big nod, Chaika said—
“Employment. Employment. You both, capable.”
Looking triumphant for some reason, Chaika pointed at both Tohru and Akari.
“Akari too? Wait, what in the world kind of job is it?”
Barton and the others in the guild probably didn’t know from the powers they displayed that Tohru and Akari were saboteurs.
But Chaika knew Tohru was one.
And while people like saboteurs were godsends when it came to war, they were useless in this era of peace. Their skill in battle was high, but there were many kinds of battle abilities. A saboteur’s brand of deception was limited in where it could be used. For instance, in the case of a guard at a shop or the guards to the city, strength would be more desirable. Guarding a rich person was the same—they would prefer a group of people that were trained in proper, refined martial arts.
To be blunt, saboteurs were the handymen of the battlefield, specializing in winning battles by using anything and everything that was at their disposal. They weren’t known for wiping large swaths of people out, but they were known for using less-than-savory ways to get their jobs done, which often made them hated.
“Discussion,” Chaika said with another large nod.
“Well then, it looks like you have a lot to talk about. I’ll be off, then,” Barton said, looking satisfied. He walked out, leaving Tohru and the others behind. It didn’t seem to matter to him exactly where they were going; for better or worse, this man’s work was simply finding the right people and dispatching them. Most likely he had already received his monetary compensation from Chaika.
Chaika tilted her head slightly, and then spoke.
That was a rather vague thing.
Perhaps she also felt something from yesterday’s events.
Walking a tightrope between life and death.
In that moment, he had felt a since of fulfillment—and also…
Akari’s urging voice came back to him.
Tohru made a sour face and—
“Okay, okay, I get it. By specifying me and Akari, that must mean you don’t want someone like a cleaning lady or a farmer, right?”
“Want, saboteurs,” she said clearly.