Chapter 4, Part 1
The thing Chaika held was certainly very strange.
You could even go as far to say that the piece of flesh looked demonic. It was the disembodied left hand of a human.
To be honest, the thing floating inside the transparent cylinder more closely resembled a spider with legs extending from its body in all directions. The hand was somewhere in between being an open palm and a clenched fist. It looked like it had been right in the middle of trying to grab something and was frozen there.
“This is your ‘important thing?'” Tohru said what immediately came to his mind.
She had gone out of her way to employ and pay them, and they had crept into the mansion and in the end come face to face with the count himself (though that had just been the consequence), and for all that this was the object she had been trying to obtain? Tohru hadn’t had much to go on, but he had figured that it at least had to be some kind of treasure or work of art.
“Yes.” Chaika gave an enthusiastic nod.
Then it seemed there was no doubt. Chaika lowered the coffin that had been on her back, opened it up, and placed the cylinder inside on the left near the middle, in other words, exactly where a left hand would go if a body had been lying in there. Then she tied it secure with a piece of string.
“This was what you brought the coffin for, huh?”
“Yes.” Chaika nodded again.
Her expression showed no traces of uncertainty or doubt, only true elation.
“What in the hell are you going to use that for? Actually, maybe I should first ask, is that hand from a genuine dead human body?”
“And if it is someone’s actual hand, then whose?”
A small smile appeared on her lips.
Akari tilted her head at her name being called as well.
“Grateful. All that’s left, payment.”
Rummaging around in her coffin, Chaika grabbed a few coins and held them out to Tohru and Akari. They were silver coins, and that wasn’t all…they were Bohdan coins, which were in circulation primarily in the countries up north. Silver had always been quite common, so it was the type of currency that could be easily used anywhere in the continent.
Tohru was shocked.
Sure, they weren’t in the middle of their journey or anything, but he certainly didn’t imagine that he would be given his pay on the way back home, out here in the open, so suddenly.
“What I mean to say is, are you…?”
Chaika kept smiling and held out the coins, silent and still.
Tohru understood what she was trying to convey through that behavior.
She doesn’t want anything to do with us anymore.
When he thought about it, he realized that that was probably the reason why the details on the job had been so scant.
He didn’t know anything about her circumstances, but to Chaika, Tohru and Akari were probably just temporary hires, nothing more than passing acquaintances…no more, no less.
Most likely because of the unicorn battle, Tohru had just unconsciously harbored feelings of camaraderie and affinity.
From the start, he had been a stranger.
Therefore, once the job was done of course they would part ways. It was just that simple.
He didn’t know if there were other things she was looking for, or, if so, where they were, but if she wanted them she would most certainly have to leave Del Solant.
Once more, Chaika held out the coins in both her hands.
As if to say, What’s wrong? Hurry up and take them!
But for a brief moment, Tohru hesitated to do so.
He could feel Akari’s questioning gaze next to him, but even so he didn’t take the money.
Once he took it, that would be the end of their relationship.
It should have been the end.
Tohru and Akari’s reactions were almost simultaneous.
Akari had been a little faster, which reminded Tohru all too well that his period of inactivity and lack of regular training really had taken its toll. At any rate, Tohru had pushed Chaika out of the way, and Akari had grabbed her from behind and pulled her backwards.
This sudden action had caused Chaika to drop the coins she was holding, which bounced as they hit the road.
There was a noise like very thin, very flat objects rushing past, and…
With a sharp noise, one of those objects had pierced through a coin.
The petite Chaika had just about been sent flying by Tohru’s push, so when Akari had caught her she had to take a step backward, and, continuing to go with that momentum, had leapt into the shadows of a nearby building, dragging Chaika along with her.
All this had happened within the span of a moment.
With his swords at the ready, Tohru kicked off the ground and also took cover, leaping into the shadow of a large garbage bin.
A voice that sounded half-panicked, half-annoyed came from the road.
“Gillette-sama, I know it’s unbecoming, but—”
It was the voice of a young man…and what sounded like a young girl.
As the darkness gradually parted, out came the figures of three people.
“They’re saboteurs, so they probably won’t want to talk it out normally.”
Tohru knitted his brows. He didn’t know who these people were, but they sure seemed to know that he was a saboteur. Of course, he doubted they had seen how Tohru and Akari had responded to the attack…they had known beforehand. That needle had unquestionably been thrown with pure killing intent. Tohru and Akari wouldn’t have reacted the way they did otherwise.
“Who in the hell…?”
For better or for worse, both Tohru and Akari were completely separated from each other.
What’s more, Chaika’s coffin was still lying right there in the road. Tohru saw from his position that Akari was trying to hold down Chaika, who was kicking and struggling. She seemed to be quite bothered by leaving the coffin there.
Tohru quickly communicated to Akari through sign language.
Saboteurs had many special techniques for being able to communicate and understand one another. From chaotic battlefields to silent enemy camps, they had to have a way to communicate effectively in any situation.
Take Chaika and run. I’ll meet you on the back hill. Tell Chaika that I’ll grab her coffin.
Understood, Nii-sama. I’ll take Chaika and run, and meet up with you on the back hill. You’ll take care of the coffin.
With that successfully communicated, Tohru took a smoke bomb out of his handbag. He would use it to create a diversion.
If he struck it on something, it would ignite and smoke would come pouring out. However, if it was thrown hard enough it would explode, emitting a flash of light and a bang. He held it in both hands and threw it in the direction of the approaching three.
There was a dull explosion and a white flash that lit up the night, and the dark scenery temporarily dispersed. Anyone whose eyes had been adjusted to the darkness would be blinded all the same.
Carrying Chaika, Akari dashed off at lightning speed.
At the same time, Tohru kicked off and leapt toward the coffin that had been left behind.
He grabbed the coffin’s handle, hoisted it up on his back, and kicked off the ground again. He didn’t forget to throw his last smoke bomb against the ground to make doubly sure he was clear.
The smoke bomb didn’t explode.
During that instant, someone, most likely one of the three, had skewered it with their sword.Since the bomb received an attack like that, it hadn’t exploded.
In other words…
He glared at the man who had approached him in an instant.
Quite an opponent.
It was a blond-haired, blue eyed young man.
This was probably the guy that had raised such a bewildered tone of voice toward his comrade.
But he hadn’t been affected by the light from the smoke bomb, nor the smoke that came from it. Furthermore, Tohru felt that he had closed the distance between them in a mere moment with his sword, and the attack had been sharp enough to pierce right through the smoke bomb as if there had been no impact at all.
Someone with half-baked techniques couldn’t do that.
The young man addressed the on-guard Tohru easily.
He didn’t seem to have any intention of boasting about what he did. On the contrary, he seemed awfully reserved. That stab that he had executed just now was probably nothing but a normal attack to him.
“What is your relationship with that silver-haired girl that was here just now?”
“Vivi, my subordinate here, told me that you are a saboteur. If by chance your relationship is purely employee and employer, it’d be best to not get involved with her any further. It’s for your own good.”
Tohru’s eyes narrowed.
This guy…was probably being completely genuine.
He didn’t seem to be harboring any ill will or harmful intent toward Tohru. Those words hadn’t had even a hint of provocation or insult in them. In fact, they seemed more like well-intentioned advice.
His stature and skill might have given the slight impression that he would look down on Tohru, yet he could feel that the man’s expression was cool and calm. He had a face that looked confident about what he had to do, and what he had to do to achieve it.
“You’re the ones that raided Count Abarth’s mansion, aren’t you?”
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not chastising you for it. Though by no means will I praise you for it either. All I’m saying is that you should just entrust us with the coffin and get out of here. If you do so, we will not pursue you. The only things we need are the girl, and what’s inside that coffin.”
“You mean the Gundo?”
“Did you not see what that girl took from Count Abarth’s mansion?”
The young man tilted his head.
It seemed like he wasn’t talking about Chaika’s Gundo. After all, as far as Tohru could tell, that Gundo was a relic of the past. He had a feeling that they wanted something more than just to collect antiques.
So that meant…
“What are you talking about?”
Tohru played dumb.
He decided that here it would be better to let this good-intentioned intruder do the talking.
“What the hell is in there?”
The young man stayed silent.
So that meant he couldn’t say? Tohru highly doubted that he didn’t know.
Suddenly, with a movement that felt like it had to be nearly weightless, a single girl stepped up to the young man’s left.
She had a small build, so she only came up to the young man’s shoulders. She looked to be about the same age as Chaika—in other words, she couldn’t be any older than in her middle teens. She had an especially cute face.
However, her dark-grey eyes flashed with the sharpness of a blade.
Judging from how the conversation had gone up until now, this girl was probably the one who had thrown the needles with killing intent just a bit ago.
It would have been different if the needles had bounced off the coins, but they had pierced right through them…that was definitely an incredible display of skill.
“It’s a wasted effort to try and talk with a saboteur. When they open their mouths it’s all deception and trickery,” said the girl, who was probably Vivi.
The last one of the three, another young man, had stepped up to his right.
This man had a low, rusty voice, wide shoulders, and was gigantic…about a head taller than a typical young man, in fact. Compared to the petite Vivi, this guy was like a boulder. Just at a glance he looked grim. He gave off the feeling that his footsteps would resound with every step he walked, and that just by walking he was disturbing the atmosphere around him. He had his arms crossed, and that gesture alone was wholly intimidating.
And what’s more, on his back was a large sword.
The same type of weapon as Tohru’s.
“The values a cavalier holds and the values a saboteur holds are almost completely opposite. Negotiations won’t work on—”
“Give me a break,” Tohru groaned. “That sounds real rich coming from a mercenary and an assassin.”
Vivi and the giant only flinched a bit at that.
But most likely, Tohru had been right on the mark.
This “Gillette-sama” in the center was no doubt a cavalier.
This girl named Vivi on the left was an assassin.
And this guy on the right, whose name he didn’t know, had to be a mercenary.
Clearly they were from many different walks of life, but what could have brought them all together?
“Nikolai, Vivi. Whoever he is, our main goal is the girl. He’s just a hired hand who got roped into this without knowing the circumstances.”
Tohru was put off by the words of this cavalier Gillette.
What the hell was that? It was like he was looking down on him.
Though he hadn’t chosen his words to specifically make fun of him, either. Most likely, this guy was as genuine as he appeared to be. He probably didn’t even realize he was looking down on Tohru. If he’d been brought up as a cavalier and a noble, looking down upon people who weren’t nobility was probably just something that came naturally to him.
Moreover, there was that thing he had said, “a hired hand who got roped into this without knowing the circumstances.”
Tohru stole a glance at the coins lying on the ground.
Indeed. Truthfully, the cavalier Gillette was correct. He was just someone whom she happened to pass by. Merely a hired hand. The job was over, which meant their relationship was, too. Chaika’s behavior clearly indicated to Tohru that she wanted no more out of him.
But having that pointed out to him by a complete stranger…really ticked him off.
Sure,where battles were concerned, a saboteur would not hesitate to execute inhumane, cold-blooded tactics, even though they understood that what they were doing wasn’t exactly moral. If necessary, they would take hostages. They would attack from behind under the cover of darkness. They would tell lies like it was nothing. They would trick their targets into walking into traps they set up beforehand. On the battlefield, cavaliers and soldiers played the lead roles, where they fought for just causes. There was no way they would resort to such cowardly and cruel tactics…those sorts of dirty deeds were all left up to the saboteurs.
He had wanted to accomplish something.
Back in that stormy world ravaged by war, he hadn’t wanted to be a mere weakling who died being led around the nose. He felt like a life where one didn’t have something to live and die for couldn’t be called a “life” at all.
Back then, when he was young.
Back when she had died.
Tohru had been—
“You are a saboteur, right?”
“So what if I am?”
The cavalier’s question was asked as if trying to confirm it, and Tohru responded with a scowl.
At any rate, this was a bad situation.
He was out of smoke bombs with which to escape, and furthermore the coffin he was carrying made it impossible to do so anyway. Perhaps he could just ditch the coffin and the severed hand inside—maybe that way he’d be able to make a run for it…but…
Even though she wasn’t good enough with words to articulate it.
Even though she had no one to depend on.
Despite all that, without any hesitation, she had still desired that hand. She had done the best she could, inching closer to her goal one step at a time. It was quite likely that she knew the danger she was putting herself in. In the first place, it was amazing that this girl who didn’t even have the basics of combat down even managed to survive this long all by herself. Even though it was the post-war period, no, precisely because the world was in a post-war period, there was no shortage of night burglars and wannabe-soldier bandits. Perhaps the girl had faced many more hardships that he wasn’t aware of.
Even so, he wasn’t letting his feelings take over or anything.
But…if this was the thing she wanted so earnestly…
Then I can’t just leave it behind.
He was aware how strange this way of thinking was for a saboteur such as himself. The reason his superiors never let him participate in his first battle probably wasn’t because he lacked the ability. It was more likely that they had seen in him that side of his personality.
“I hear that saboteurs are pragmatists, through and through. Whether you do or don’t still call that girl your master, I don’t think you’re obligated to protect that thing. I am a cavalier, but it’s precisely because I am one that I’d like to avoid meaningless conflict.”
“Why, thank you very much,” Tohru snapped back to the cavalier’s calm words.
He was being made fun of.
Basically, Gillette was saying “you should just bend your knee to me since you can’t win. Looking at it logically, you should realize that handing over the coffin and leaving is the right thing to do here.”
I still can’t use “Iron-Blood Transformation” for a while.
Not even two hours had passed since the raid on the count’s mansion. If he didn’t wait at least half a day, using it would be risky in all sorts of ways.
Can I even beat these three in this situation?
It would be extremely difficult.
So what could he do?
“Now, hand over the coffin,” the cavalier Gillette said.
Think, Tohru Acura. Think.
While urging himself on, Tohru grasped the handles of the coffin tightly.