Chapter 1, Part 2
The interminably long period of war was over.
The empire at the center of the maelstrom, the Gaz Empire of the North, had crumbled, and with its demise came the end of the tumultuous era that had lasted for more than three generations.
“Taboo Emperor”, “Demon King”, “Immortal King”, “Great Sage”, “Incredible Emperor”, “Master Tactician”—though others gave him countless monikers, he called himself the most powerful wizard, the emperor of the Gaz Empire, Arthur Gaz. And yet, even a monstrous monarch like him had been subjugated. He had been completely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of resources that the allied forces of the surrounding countries had possessed. Unable to fight back, he had been captured, and it was said that his body had been destroyed in an explosion. As a result, the empire that had been under his iron-fisted rule had easily collapsed. Half of his retainers ended up dead while the other half escaped, scattering all over the continent of Verbist.
Shortly thereafter, the Gaz Empire’s land and assets were divided among the other countries, an act which included the confiscation of its magical technology. Additionally, the other countries were preoccupied with rebuilding their ruined economies and land, so none of them opted to start any more wars. Thus, an era of peace came about.
However, it wasn’t like there was a clear line between the two eras, as if there was war one day and peace the next. In particular, the period of chaos had been so long that it had completely transformed the way the people had lived; thus, when this era of peace rolled around, many of them put the cart before the horse, refusing to accept the fact that peace had come.
For instance, the countless workers that manufactured goods for the military.
For instance, the merchants that made a living trafficking soldiers of the occupying forces.
Or even the saboteurs of the Acura clan like Tohru and Akari, whose village produced humans capable of flourishing only in the midst of battle.
They were people whose very way of life revolved around war. They were completely useless in this era of peace. But even though they knew that, there was no way they could change their ways of life to fit the times. It had already been indelibly ingrained into their minds and bodies, so there was nothing for it.
They had been abandoned by the times.
And then…there was Chaika Trabant. Or, going by her true name, Chaika Gaz.
She was Arthur Gaz’s flesh and blood, and she, too, had no place in this new era, nor could she wish for one.
* * *
After a meager dinner, a discussion was held.
“Now, what are we going to do from here on out?” asked Tohru as he sat, scratching his back with a branch he had plucked from the enormous tree. Akari was sitting to his left, and Chaika was on the opposite side facing the two of them. Though they hadn’t lit a fire, he could see both of their faces in the moonlight.
To tell the truth, in the five days since they had left Del Solant, this was the first time they had had a chance to actually sit down and talk. Until now, there had been no good opportunity to do so, since they had been so preoccupied with trying to shake off their pursuers. They had continued to move throughout the day and night without rest. Tohru and Akari aside, Chaika had just about reached her limit of exhaustion.
“We need to figure out a general idea of where we’re going.”
Even though she was the one at the center of all this, Chaika had a blank expression on her face. It seemed like up until now, she had been searching for her father’s “keepsakes” with absolutely no plan, but…
“There’s no doubt those guys were adamant about capturing you. Do you even understand the situation we’re in? If you don’t, then no matter how hard we search for your father’s ‘keepsakes’ or how far we run away from that pain-in-the-ass trio, we won’t get anywhere.” Tohru gave her a scowl.
Chaika was being pursued as the daughter of the “Taboo Emperor,” Arthur Gaz. A motley crew of an assassin, a cavalier, and a mercenary had all come together to find any remnants of his empire—which included Chaika. Due to various circumstances, Tohru had wound up squaring off against them, and then ended up as one of Chaika’s bodyguards.
“…Understand.” Chaika nodded earnestly.
This girl…when she made expressions like that, she really did resemble a cute, pristine doll on the surface…but maybe that really was all there was to her. She was a wizard in name, sure, which was strange, but it wasn’t like there weren’t other wizards.
Which begged the question: at the very least, why did that bunch see her as a threat and go out of their way to chase her everywhere? Tohru couldn’t see her as a dangerous person. Of course, it was already apparent that there was a discrepancy between her appearance and her actual talent, and whether she was on the side of good or evil, there had to be some reason why she was being pursued.
“In the first place,” began Tohru, narrowing his eyes, “are you really that Arthur Gaz’s daughter?”
“Affirmative,” nodded Chaika. “Actual princess.” She puffed her meager chest out. It seemed that no matter what, this girl wasn’t going to feel any sense of tension towards her current situation.
“Yeah, you can be haughty all you want, but…”
“Respect, demand,” she issued, pointing to her face.
Though she was technically Tohru’s master, he was often rude to her…after all, she was clearly much younger than him. Though Chaika had suddenly announced herself as a princess, Tohru had never treated her as such, which was probably what unsatisfied her.
“So…what’s your ultimate goal, then?”
“Father’s remains, collect.” Her reply was immediate.
Yes. She was trying to collect her father’s remains—the remains of the “Demon King” Arthur Gaz.
Apparently, at the time of the battle where Arthur Gaz was captured, his body had been divided into pieces, and each of the heroes that participated in the final battle took a piece back with them.
This was a body where many powerful thoughts had resided for a long time, and as a result had become a source of magical power. This was the driving force behind magic. Normally, intelligent beings were fossilized, and those fossils were processed into magical wellsprings, generating a kind of fossil fuel. Thus, the remains of Arthur Gaz, the man ruling the leading power in magic advancement and said to possess the greatest mind in the entire country of Verbist, had the potential to be processed into a wellspring of magical power beyond compare. Also, there were quite a few times where the amount and quality of the magic used could increase the monetary value of an item exponentially.
In other words, the heroes who had directly finished off Emperor Gaz divided his body up among themselves as “treasure.”
Of course, this was not made public. Officially, it was proclaimed that the heroes’ battle had concluded with Gaz’s body being incinerated in an explosion, leaving nothing behind.
Those unfamiliar with the legend of Emperor Gaz might ask why the governing powers of the world went as far as to cover up the truth. One theory was that they may have simply been frightened by the man. He was the Demon King, after all, said to have possessed inhuman qualities.
At any rate…
“But it’s not like they’re going to just up and give them to us,” muttered Tohru as if it were a complete nuisance.
That was to say, each of the heroes had kept victory spoils for themselves that should have been seized and shared among the entire allied forces. There was no way that anyone would admit to owning one.
“To begin with, do we even know who has them?”
“…” Chaika just shook her head.
“Well, there’s our main problem right there.” Tohru felt a burden of exhaustion weighing down on his shoulders.
Even though it was said that the heroes were the ones who finished off Emperor Gaz directly, that didn’t mean that their identities had been revealed, and a word like “directly” could have many meanings—there could have been others that came into confrontation with Gaz in the same spot, like wizards supporting them from the side, or those that dealt with any retainers who may have tried to come to his aide.
On top of that, the allied forces were originally the ones to subjugate the Gaz Empire, meaning that there were also countries who, in regard to postwar land distribution, diluted the moniker “hero” by spreading around the idea that the knights of their armies were the real heroes. They made farfetched arguments like “because our knights are the real heroes, we should have the rights to the majority of the land.”
The general consensus was that the ones who fought directly with Emperor Gaz in the final battle were an eight-man special attack unit, but their names were not released, as doing so would throw a wrench into the allied countries’ plans. In the case of the count back at Del Solant, there may have been rumors that he was one of them, but there was no way for the average commoner to actually confirm whether it was true.
“However. Information, can acquire.”
“Huh? You know someone that can give us info? Who?”
“To you, a stranger.”
“…” Tohru raised his eyebrows at that.
Listening closely to Chaika’s story, apparently a mysterious person would just coincidentally appear in front of her on occasion to give her information on the owners of the remains.
But who in the world could that be? And what benefit could they possibly get out of disclosing that information?
“Are they one of those ‘people plotting to revive the Gaz Empire’ that that cavalier was talking about?”
The cavalier had mentioned something about there being people out there that wished to revive the Gaz Empire by naming a successor—in other words, people that wanted to put Chaika up on the throne as his daughter, but…
“?” Chaika just tilted her head.
She seemed to have no idea what he was talking about. Maybe she just hadn’t listened very closely to what the cavalier had said…but that was beside the point.
“It seems fishy to me,” Akari said, folding her arms.
Not only would that person have to be able to disclose things not known to the general public, but they would also have to know about Chaika’s lineage. That meant their information- gathering skills and mobility had to be top-notch.
But if someone like that did exist…then why on earth did Chaika act like she was going around looking for the remains all by herself?
As he saw it, the only way she had been able to even survive until now was that he and his sister were there. There was a very real possibility that she could have died on that mountain out in Del Solant, or perhaps been captured and killed by the cavalier’s group chasing her, apprehending her as a “dangerous existence.” If they really did want to revive the Gaz Empire by putting Chaika up as its successor, Tohru thought that was a pretty stupid plan.
“And what are you going to do after you collect the remains?”
He knew that her goal was to collect the remains of Arthur Gaz, but he didn’t know specifically why, nor did he know what she planned to do afterwards. Did she intend to revive the Empire after all? Or maybe take revenge against the people of the allied forces?
Or maybe even—
Chaika said it clearly and definitively.
“A…Ah. So that’s it, huh.” Tohru nodded, understanding at last.
It appeared that grandiose concepts like “empire”, “emperor” and “princess” had thrown him off, and he had merely read too much into both the gathering of the remains and what would happen afterwards. He figured there was some underlying plan behind it all.
Yet this girlwanted nothing more than to give her father a proper burial. It was a completely natural desire.
Titles like “Demon King” and “princess” didn’t matter to her. Because first and foremost, they were family.
But even so…
“But even if it’s only for something like that…there’s no way they’ll let us have them.”
As previously mentioned, the remains of Emperor Gaz were not only an incredibly powerful source of magical energy, but could also be viewed as a symbol of what the Gaz Empire had been. In other words, if someone was to gather all the pieces, they could be granted power worthy of becoming the Emperor’s successor—and they would be able to let the whole world know it, too.
At least, that was what had had that cavalier and his group shaking in their boots.
Though the Gaz Empire had been pronounced destroyed, it had been the major power ruling the north for several hundred years. There had to be millions of people left who would be interested in that kind of power, and there were undoubtedly those among them who still aimed for the revival of the Gaz Empire even today.
“Hey, do you…” Tohru began with an incredulous look on his face. “You don’t understand the insane scale of the mess we’re getting caught up in here, do you?”
It seemed that Chaika herself was completely unaware of it. It was just as she had said—the only goal she had was to “give her father a proper burial”, and she would not stray from her goal, no matter what. But that’s an awfully risky way of thinking, Tohru thought.
Brandishing such pure-hearted, genuine emotions made one an easy target of manipulation by others.
“Father’s remains, gather. That’s all. After that, my future…begin,” she said.
Come to think of it, she was saying something like that a few days ago, too. Something like, five years ago when her empire had fallen, time froze for her—and that, as long as she was stuck in the past, she wouldn’t be able to face the future.
Tohru knew the feeling.
Though it was a bit different for him…he, too, felt like he was bound by his past.
“Actually…come to think of it, why did the Gaz Empire fall, anyway?” Tohru asked, crossing his arms.
Truthfully, because Tohru had been training in the Acura village day after day, it was only after the war that he had ever departed. He had heard of general goings-on in the world by way of the occasional traveling merchant or villager returning home, but when it came to the detailed circumstances surrounding each country, he was completely lost.
“Good grief, Nii-sama, your complete ignorance of the world around you really is troubling.” Akari made an over-exaggerated shake of her head.
To compensate for her lack of facial expressions, she would often use blatantly obvious, overly pronounced hand and body gestures to make it clear what she was feeling. Even though Tohru was used to this behavior by now, it still irritated him.
“Well, excuse me.”
“But, that’s also kind of hot.” She gripped her fist tightly.
“Okay, now you can shut up,” Tohru groaned. “And by the way, you say I’m ignorant of the world, but aren’t you basically the same?”
Just like Tohru, Akari also shouldn’t have had any chance to leave the village before its demise. So, it stood to reason that she wouldn’t know anything Tohru didn’t. But…
“I’m a woman, though,” Akari said, thrusting out her chest. By the way, compared to Chaika’s, her chest was far and away more developed. On top of that, she was wearing tight-fitting clothes that accentuated the lines of her body, emphasizing that part of her even more. “And being a woman is a weapon in and of itself.”
“Back in Del Solant, while you were holed up in the house, lazing around day after day, I was utilizing my weapon to gather information around the area.”
“Wait, by “your weapon”, you mean that you…”
As saboteurs, Tohru and Akari were well-versed in underground operations—in other words, subversive activities like information acquisition and manipulation, assassination, riling up the enemy…things that the men on the front lines would never engage in. Though the two of them had never been in an actual battle, that was the way that they had been raised.
Thus, it stood to reason that female saboteurs were taught to use their body in other ways, like techniques for seducing high-ranking officials by dressing as a harlot, infiltrating their ranks in the process.
Akari’s body was the best out of all the other female saboteurs, but…Tohru had been under the strong impression that she’d always been engrossed in martial arts training when she had been with the men.
“When did you…?”
Somehow, he just couldn’t believe that the men of the village had taught her ways to gather information in the bedroom. But then again, she was a female saboteur, so it wouldn’t have been that unusual if they had.
“It’s exactly as you’re thinking—”
She announced it with absolutely no hint of bashfulness—actually, she seemed quite proud of it.
“I just heard about it in passing.”
“…You know, going around making people think that’s the way you gather info could be bad for your morals in all sorts of ways.”
“Hearing you say that gives me no greater pleasure.”
“It wasn’t a compliment!” yelled Tohru.
“But Nii-sama. You really shouldn’t underestimate the information network of the world’s women. There was no need to mingle with the men.”
“But it’s all gossip. No matter how much you have, if it’s not confirmed to be true, then what’s the point?”
“No, Nii-sama. It’s precisely because it’s dubious that it could be useful in large quantities. Accumulate enough gossip, and we start to get an outline of the bigger picture. You’ve learned that as well, have you not?”
…Well, it was true that there was no smoke without a fire.
No matter how baseless or half-baked the rumors were, they had to be based on some grain of truth, which meant that regardless of how distorted the truth had become, there had to be a common thread running through each bit of gossip. After the embellishments were pared down, some pretty worthwhile info could be obtained.
“Anyway…it seems that in general, Emperor Gaz was regarded as the root of all evil in Verbist, and he was overthrown,” said Akari.
“Come on, I know that much at least. What I don’t understand is why the Gaz Empire was the only one to fall. It was a period of war, so it should have been a free-for-all, right?”
“It seems that the very existence of the Gaz Empire was what kicked off the warring period in the first place.”
“Huh?” Tohru raised his eyebrows at that.
“After all, it was the development of magic that caused the war to escalate.”
“Ah, so it was because of large-scale magical advancements in communication and transportation and stuff?”
Magic could actually be used for a variety of things, both large-scale and small-scale. An individual could use it for something as basic as wielding a Gundo, whereas a group of people could use it for grander purposes, like making a huge fortress-like object float in the air, or communicating across distances that would normally require days of vehicular travel to traverse. Magic was actually a pretty big deal.
Taking that into account, the majority of modern magic was brought forth from the Gaz Empire. To be precise, before the Gaz Empire’s reign, magic was an impractical chore that required a great deal of time and effort to activate, but with Emperor Arthur Gaz in charge, some incredible developments in magical technology came about, like Gundo and related weaponry. It was for this reason that, along with his two fear-inducing nicknames of “Taboo Emperor” and “Demon King”, he was at the same time also lauded with such titles as “Genius Emperor” and “Great Sage.” Without the Gaz Empire’s magic tech, it was likely that the culture and civilization of the continent of Verbist would have been far less advanced.
“The enrichment of their communication and transportation ability naturally got each country thinking about expanding their territories. There simply hadn’t been a reason before to think about expansion without having the means for which to expand. Put another way, you could say that it was a matter of “one can only rule what one can reach.”
“…Well, I more or less get it now,” said Tohru, shrugging his shoulders. “But don’t you think that reasoning is a bit forced?”
Sure, the magic tech that the Gaz Empire had brought about had certainly played a part in fanning the flames of war, but he felt that definitively declaring the Gaz Empire the “root of all evil” was a bit much. After all, the allied forces had been the one to utilize that technology as an instrument of war. Tohru felt that the blood of the innocents was solely on their hands, since they were the ones wielding the weapons that killed them. Claiming the manufacturer was at fault for the misuse of the product was as ridiculous as blaming the blacksmith for the misuse of a sword.
“I agree, it is a bit much.” Akari nodded. “But, in a nutshell, that’s what society has come to believe.”
Regardless, it was highly unlikely that the cavalier and his group were pursuing Chaika out of affectation or merely on a whim. Those guys were dispatched because someone, somewhere, felt that she was a real threat.
“…So that’s the situation, huh.”
The circumstances of the fallen empire aside, though, the more pressing matter was currently the issue of guaranteeing their own safety.
“I wonder how far away we are from that dangerous bunch now.”
The image of the group in pursuit of Chaika, and, in particular, the young cavalier who had displayed such incredible skill, flashed through Tohru’s mind, and he heaved a gloomy sigh.