Chapter 3, Part 3
It took half the day for them to gather all the tools necessary for the job.
When they had left the Acura village most of their tools had been in good condition, but the passage of time had been unkind to them. Some had fallen victim to moisture and others were either broken or corroded to the point of being unusable. None of their consumable items had been preserved either. They would have to re-acquire what they needed in Del Solant, and if that wasn’t possible then they had no choice but to buy the base materials and make repairs.
Tohru had gone on a bare-bones shopping trip with some money Chaika loaned him. When he got back,Chaika was opening up her strange coffin-like case. He watched her take her Gundo out, and begin to tinker with it.
“Welcome back,” she said, turning to look at Tohru.
It looked like Akari was busy setting up in another room. Saboteurs didn’t just use melee weapons— at times they would use poison, sleeping pills, or even strong acid that was often sealed away behind a lock. There weren’t many that sold those sorts of substances, however, so they were often forced to mix and compound them on their own.
Any errors made during the handling or mixing of the substances could have disastrous results. For that reason it was best to do all the alchemy in a different room, alone, as often as possible.
“Ah…I’m home,” Tohru said.
Chaika looked at him and tilted her head, probably because she realized Tohru had been watching her.
“Nah, it’s nothing. So anyway, what the hell is that coffin?”
At Tohru’s words, Chaika turned to look at the coffin that was now leaned against the wall.
“Or rather, what the hell are you? Wanting to steal something from the count’s mansion isn’t a normal desire—and besides, what’s the big idea behind you carrying that coffin everywhere you go?”
If she was only carrying a Gundo, that would make at least a bit more sense.
The coffin was too big to be used as a sleeping bag, and besides, a foldable cloth sleeping bag would be more than sufficient. Furthermore, the coffin appeared to be virtually empty.
“Coffin, is coffin,” Chaika said. “Vessel, for deceased.”
“Isn’t it empty, though?”
“For now,” Chaika replied, her facial expression not changing in the slightest.
She spoke as if the coffin was reserved for someone.
It probably wasn’t an enemy of some kind. If that were the case, there would be no point to mourn for them.
Yet it was also hard to imagine it being a close friend. If it were someone close to her, then one would think she would want them to keep on living. Now of course if they were already dead, then that was a different story…but if that were true, then it didn’t make any sense for the coffin to still be empty. Perhaps she had heard about her acquaintance’s death from afar? But then why did she take special care to carry the coffin with her?
Perhaps—this coffin was meant for someone who would eventually die.
For instance—perhaps Chaika herself?
“Who’s the coffin for, then? Someone who’s going to die? Or someone who’s already dead?”
Chaika merely shook her head.
It was quite ambiguous. Did that mean that she couldn’t say? That she didn’t know? Tohru was about to press her further when—
“Thing, I need to do.”
Chaika spoke, plainly.
“Something that you need to do…”
“Thing, I need to do. Mission. Duty. Objective. Absolutely must do. Even if, takes lifetime.”
She gave a sweet smile.
Tohru was at a loss for words.
Chaika didn’t doubt herself in the slightest.
This younger girl had already found a purpose in life, and was heading towards it of her own free will.
In comparison, what was he doing?
Up until this point, he had been denied his life as a saboteur…without even knowing if it was the right thing for him to do, he had continued to seclude himself in this rural town. Compared to Chaika, he looked downright pathetic.
Even though Tohru’s expression hadn’t changed, she had probably picked up on it.
She stopped tending to her Gundo, and worriedly peered into Tohru’s face.
The silver-haired girl said it quite out of the blue.
“Makes best of, all sorts of things.”
“Ah—you mean my saboteur skills, huh?”
“Goals, can choose. From many.”
He could see how some people could think that.
Saboteurs were people of the “anything-goes” mentality on the battlefield.
Hand-to-hand combat. Knowledge of how to mix chemical explosives. The ability to spread rumors. Not to mention knowing how to rile up people, how to construct strongholds, how to ration and store food—these skills and more were all part of the job. They were responsible for all the dirty jobs that soldiers and knights, who faced each other head-on, simply could not do.
To some people, all these skills would also probably seem quite useful for everyday life.
Even if becoming an expert in each of these things was out of the question, if he started seriously applying himself now it would be good enough. If a saboteur felt like it, he could become a hunter, a carpenter, a blacksmith, a merchant, or anything else, really. The potential for a multitude of skills meant that aiming for the top in any of them was probably impossible, but still, it was more than enough to sustain a living.
Without knowing why, Tohru felt compelled to tell her his story.
He had never spoken about this face-to-face with anyone; not even Akari. Though they were raised in the same village, so she had probably already picked up on it.
“…I want to leave behind some kind of proof that I lived.”
“Yeah. Being born, living, dying…I want some kind of meaning to all that.”
The village of Acura was a small village in the valley.
To be precise, it was actually a few small neighborhood villages that were collectively referred to as “the village of Acura.” At any rate, it wasn’t very open to the public.
Their only connection to the rest of the world was one narrow road, so it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it was a secluded village. But as one might expect, if they completely cut themselves off from everyone else, they wouldn’t be able to maintain their livelihood, and so in order to do their jobs properly they had to ensure they had a constant source of information and intelligence.
And so it became necessary to allow a certain group of merchants to enter the village on a fixed schedule as “acquaintances”.
The merchants showed up once a month. To the children of the Acura village who spent day after day in rigorous training, there were few greater pleasures. The merchants brought with them news of the outside world, and to Tohru and Akari, it was a wonderful world like something out of a dream. Whenever they had a break in their training, the children would gather around the merchants and ask them all sorts of things. In this group of merchants was a woman named Jasmine Orlo.
She was a traveling merchant by nature, having been born and raised in the group. That nature had been so ingrained into her mother that she actually ended up giving birth to her while on the road, in the caravan. She didn’t have any particular place she could call “home”; she was a nomad whose only home was the road. But, she seemed to be quite proud of that fact.
“It’s okay to just live life peacefully.”
She would say.
She would turn her attention to the young saboteurs-to-be, who innocently dreamed of being on the battlefield someday,playing an indispensable role in the fight.
“See all sorts of different places. Observe and experience all sorts of different things. By doing that, you will be satisfied.”
“But in that case, there would be nothing to leave,” said Tohru, who was very young at that time.
Jasmine’s view of life, her path to happiness—there was no way Tohru would agree with that.
“When I die, I won’t have left anything behind.”
“That’s not true,” said Jasmine with a smile. “I don’t need to fight on the battlefield to leave something behind. All the people I meet will remember the things I did. Perhaps—”
Her cheeks flushed slightly red, and she patted her stomach.
“When my child is born, that child will be proof that I lived. When that child has children, my grandchildren will be proof that I lived. That’s because…just like that, our lives are all connected.”
At the time, Tohru didn’t realize that she had fallen in love with another member of the same group she belonged to, nor that she was already carrying that person’s child.
And Tohru’s failure to realize that was only a depressing fact now.
Jasmine had probably been his first love.
Of course, looking back on this ten years later, it probably hadn’t been romantic love. It was more the type of pseudo-love a kid would harbor towards a parent or close adult friend of the opposite sex. Without being able to understand why, from the bottom of his heart Tohru had wanted to observe Jasmine’s happiness.
At any rate…
After that, the group Jasmine was traveling with only came to Acura village two more times; however, each time Jasmine’s stomach became even more inflated. Each time she and Tohru met, both she and her husband were having distant conversations about the baby on the way.
“On the third time they came to the Acura village…Jasmine died.”
Most likely, after that buildup with the bittersweet story of first love, she was hoping for a much more pleasant outcome. Suddenly Chaika looked startled at the words tumbling out of Tohru’s mouth.
“She was attacked. It was some bandits or something, ; I’m not really sure.”
The group of merchants had been annihilated.
Jasmine’s parents and her husband were both killed. Judging from the weapons that were used, it was probably a group that had defected from the military. Because they frequently traveled through remote regions, the merchant group had hired several bodyguards and were armed; despite this, they were outnumbered.
“Even now, I remember it like it was yesterday.”
He had seen it over and over again in his dreams.
From playing repeatedly in his head countless times, the memory had already taken root. Even if he wanted to forget it, he would never be able to.
The memory had been carved into his soul—that was his cross to bear.
* * *
Already, Jasmine had ceased being able to form words, and all that leaked out of her mouth were moans.
In fact, how she was still able to make any noise at all was a mystery—truly a marvel worth mentioning. Tohru knew that sometimes when humans were tenacious enough, the results could exceed reason or common sense, but even so there was a limit to that. The fact that Jasmine continued to cling to life even now was nothing short of a small miracle, because a spear was sticking out of her delicate body. She had been pierced in the center of her back, with only the spearhead poking out of her stomach.
It was more like she couldn’t die. Even though passing away would be much more comfortable, leaving this world was too much for her to bear.
Jasmine was cradling a tiny lump of cloth delicately in both hands.
Wrapped in the cloth was, unbelievably—
The most important thing to her—her baby.
Jasmine, who had been carrying a small life within her since the beginning of the new year, had finally given birth.
But—it was already too late.
Perhaps Jasmine hadn’t realized it.
Or, perhaps she had realized it, and simply chose to ignore it.
The baby had died before its mother had.
It was only natural. After all, babies died from the slightest things. Looking at the tragedy that had befallen Jasmine, there was no way the baby could have come out unscathed.
As if wishing for a miracle to save her dead child, she continued to hold the bundle reverently as she staggered.
As if to say, “at least save the child,” she faced Tohru, who stood there dumbstruck, and presented him with the baby, who was already cold to the touch.
Her lips trembled, and she could barely muster the energy to speak.
Jasmine had now used up everything she had.
Or perhaps, to put it better, this wounded girl had already run out of energy and died a while back, and by some strange occurrence she was being kept alive—like some kind of afterimage.
And so, just like that, all that remained were two dead bodies.
No, that’s not quite right. Even their corpses would sooner or later decay, fall apart, and eventually disappear.
That was what the end result was.
For good deeds. For valuable miracles.
Anything and everything would all return to zero.
That was all there was to it.
It was nothing more than a constant, everyday occurrence, and it held true everywhere in the world.
Living. Dying. Living. Dying.
Before him was just a meaningless, repetitive cycle.
You couldn’t leave anything behind by merely living.
There was no point to being born into this world.
That was why—