Chapter 3, Part 1
The light from the half-moon hanging in the night sky gently illuminated the town.
It was already quite late at night—there were no more pedestrians on the roads and most of the surrounding buildings’ lights had gone out for the night. However, around the center of town where the count’s estate sat the majority of buildings still had their lights on. Many of the nobles in this area were wealthy enough that, regardless of whether they used magic or fire to light their homes, they didn’t pay any mind to lighting costs.
This area of wealthy people looked as if it had been cut from somewhere completely different, and in this area stood a row of ten-foot-tall trees. Formally, yes, it was nothing more than a path lined with trees, but in actuality it was a wall that kept the nobles and common folk separated. It wasn’t like they were necessarily prohibited from moving between each other’s domains, but most people hesitated to cross the barrier simply because it was there. Intentionally crossing it for no reason meant that you were probably either an outsider or an individual with no sense of social awareness.
And so, right now…
“What an incredibly gaudy building.”
A young boy—no, a young man with a sour expression was currently atop of one of the trees. Even though he risked sustaining a grievous injury were he to fall from that height,he was standing on a narrow branch with his arms folded as though it were completely natural, without having to cling to the trunk at all.
He had an unreal sense of balance.
His clothes were dark in color. As for why he wasn’t in total pitch-black attire, it was part of his camouflage. With the dim light the moon and stars were currently giving out, wearing all black would create a human-shaped hole in the viewer’s vision and be much more conspicuous.
He scanned the countless rows of buildings, zeroing in on the center of the town—the center building, the mansion of the count Roberto Abarth.
It was called a “mansion”, but by nature it was a stronghold. Thanks to the long wars, every one of the nobles’ mansions had this function. The end of the warring period brought about various changes in their ornamentation, probably in order to reform to a more elegant appearance and seem less threatening at a glance. But because their basic foundation and structure were that of a stronghold, they were quite durable and complicated, and of course were heavily guarded. Holes had been drilled in the walls through which the guards could fire arrows and magic, and if you looked closer you could see that there were watchtowers and such on all four corners. Even now it was impossible to tell whether or not guards were stationed there day and night, but…
In his mind, Tohru created a rough blueprint of the place.
A saboteur’s training included something called “fort-capturing”, which was basically a technique used to capture strongholds. Of course, capturing an entire fortress alone was impossible, but going ahead of the main force,commencing destructive maneuvers, and making general preparations that would leave the enemy vulnerable were all part of the saboteur’s trade.
Tohru too had the ability to ascertain the inner structure of a building from things like outward appearance and location. Put simply, it was the same process a group of carpenters would follow in creating the blueprint of a building during a survey, except done mentally.
“Here…and here…That should probably be it,” he muttered, scratching his cheek while completing the blueprint in his head.
“Geez. I definitely didn’t think we’d be scheming around with the count as our opponent.”
“Are you hesitant to do this, Nii-sama?”
A voice came from under his feet.
“Who’s ‘hesitant’?” Tohru asked, continuing to focus on the mansion.
With agility that would put even a monkey to shame, a female figure began to scramble up the tree, moving her light body along the branches. Of course, it was none other than Akari Acura. She got to the other side of the tree trunk, stood on a branch opposite Tohru and turned towards him.
“No, of course you wouldn’t be. My cherished and respected Nii-sama wouldn’t hesitate to go up against anyone. My apologies. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“If it was Nii-sama, even if you had no weapon and you had absolutely nothing to protect your body—not a scrap of clothing, as naked as the day you were born—I’m sure that you still wouldn’t hesitate, even if you were facing off against a million troops.”
“…That’s just moronic, in all sorts of ways.”
In exactly what sort of premise would I be stark naked!? was the most pressing question he had. They had been raised as if they were real siblings, and yet Tohru had never been able to figure out what that girl was thinking at any given moment. She seemed to be angry for some reason, yet she continued to have no expression as she spoke.
“Ridiculous. You might be my Nii-sama, but I will not allow you to belittle my Nii-sama.”
“…Forgive me. You’re the real moron.”
“As long as you understand.”
“You’re okay with that?” Tohru groaned. But then, he cut that idiotic conversation short.
“Anyway, Akari. How does the west side look?”
“Not much different from over here. Well, it would be hard to use ‘fort-capturing’, but at any rate the count’s mansion is probably still packed with guards even though the war’s over. With the long war winning him accolades and such, it’s likely that this count also received medals of honor, and so he must be quite rich. That would probably give him the coin needed to hire some guards.”
“Is that so? This guy, winning accolades in wars?”
“Nii-sama, it really would be prudent for you to open up your ears a little more to the rumors of the world.”
“Well, sorry. I’m just a hikkikomori, after all,” Tohru said rather sulkily, though that kind of behavior was expected of him.
Truthfully, since crossing through Del Solant he had only ventured outside the house for the minimum amount of time necessary. Naturally, there was a difference in how the neighbors perceived him and how they perceived Akari, who made it a point to go outside the house and maintain her relationship with them. In fact, she seemed to be much closer to the organization of fellow refugees as a result.
“That may be, but even I’ve picked up a lot of random trivia about sex.”
“I wouldn’t brag about that—wait, if that were the case, shouldn’t you know more about that kind of thing?”
“No. I have an abundance of knowledge in lovemaking, but it is not grounded in any real experience.”
“Then what good is that?”
In terms of theory, my knowledge is flawless. If it were Nii-sama, I’m confident I could take you down with one shot.”
“That’s exactly the kind of thing you shouldn’t brag about.”
Tohru, with his eyes half-closed, sent a gaze full of disgust towards his sister, who had puffed her chest out when she had spoken.
But as expected, it didn’t seem to bother her at all. Changing the subject, she continued to speak.
“In the aforementioned wars, during the battle of the Gaz Empire, I heard that the current head of the family Roberto Abarth cut through the vanguard and stormed the emperor’s castle all by himself. Apparently there are many who even call him a ‘hero’.”
“So the count is a pretty swell fighter then, huh?” muttered Tohru.
A noble of Roberto’s stature would usually take along a sword when wearing formal attire, but that didn’t necessarily mean they could use it well. In that way they were quite different from cavaliers and the like—regardless of how successful their families were in their military exploits, in general very few of them actually went out on the front lines.
On the other hand, the nobles that actually did mix in with the front lines due to major battles often turned out to be quite the experts in military affairs and martial arts. Of course, those nobles were merely talented people appointed to positions like “attendant” and “close aide”, probably in case the people they were attended to were complete idiots.
“If that’s the case…then it’s as I thought.”
Tohru took a quick step forward.
It seemed like a casual movement, but of course with there being no branch and only empty sky, he continued to face directly below him as he started to fall. However, Tohru wasn’t panicked or troubled by this. Instead he extended his arms and grasped several branches on the way down, decreasing his velocity further each time. Then he landed on the base of the tree without making even a bit of noise.
In the next instant, Akari did the same thing and landed.
“This situation is more like we were hired to be Chaika’s support.”
“Seems that way, Nii-sama.”
While the two walked together, Akari spoke.
“This little girl—do you really think it’s okay to trust her?”
“You say ‘little girl’, but there’s not that big of a difference between you and her.”
“My chest is bigger.”
“Why don’t you talk normally about something for once?”
Tohru glared at her, eyes half-lidded.
“Besides, she’s our client, right? We have to trust her.”
“No, that’s not what I meant. I was referring to her skill as a wizard.”
“Ah, that. Come to think of it, you haven’t seen it, have you?” Tohru muttered.
Chaika’s magic skill—Tohru had seen it, and it was quite something. Of course, Tohru had no aptitude for magic so he didn’t understand the details, but…during the fight with the unicorn, the situation had required Chaika to use magic, and she had done it without messing up at all, even in such a dire situation. Tohru valued that above anything else.
She had said she had a diverse range of advanced spells, but that the odds of her failing due to mental instability were pretty high.
She had also said it was only a single simple spell, but that it was reliable in a number of different situations.
“I think it’s good enough.”
“Is that so?”
When he had decided that, he had done so consciously, and earnestly to boot.
When he had said it was “good enough”, he had probably done so with an unwavering heart.
For he who had no “core”, no idea how to spend his days, someone void of doubt like Chaika was blindingly dazzling to him.
“Anyway, that girl’s more than she appears to be.”
For some reason Akari nodded, as if understanding something.
“Things are sometimes larger than they initially appear, Nii-sama.”
“What are you referring to?”
“My chest, of course.”
“…You know, you’re a real idiot,” Tohru replied sharply.
“Huh? But if I were to undress, it’d be a pretty “big” deal, no?”
“I was talking about magical aptitude! Besides, aren’t you making this about yourself!?”
“Don’t get so angry, Nii-sama. It was merely a joke.”
“I can’t tell whether you’re joking or not!”
With that facial expression that didn’t change very much, it was particularly hard to tell.
Continuing with that kind of conversation that was par for the course for the pair, they headed back towards their house, where Chaika was waiting.