Chapter 2, Part 2
Gillette Corps, the division of Kleeman led by the cavalier Alberic Gillette, was in essence formed to investigate, confront, and if necessary eliminate any and all occurrences that might be detrimental to the advancement of postwar reconstruction efforts.
The group was comprised of six members: the leader Alberic Gillette; his right-hand man, the giant mercenary Nikolay Autotor; the wizards Mattheus Callaway and Zita Brusasco; assassin Vivi Holopainen, and Leonardo Stola, who was a bit of an outlier. He wasn’t a cavalier, mercenary, wizard, or assassin. If you asked any of the members of Gillette Corps what category Leonardo belonged to, they would have to reply with “Leonardo’s just Leonardo.”
There was no one like Leonardo Stola, for better or for worse.
No sooner than Alberic had completed his daily set of sword swings, he heard a voice. It was almost as if the owner of that voice had been waiting for him to finish before speaking up.
It was evening. Gillette Corps’ April-model vehicle was parked in an small open space just off the road; they were taking a quick break. Everyone else was inside the vehicle. Zita was most likely resting, having had the task of driving the vehicle all this time, while Mattheus and Vivi were probably getting dinner ready. Nikolay was likely to be tending to his own wounds. Though their vehicle was state-of-the-art, it still shook quite a bit while it was in motion. Dressing and redressing wounds, as well as cooking, required precise movements that would be difficult to pull off if the vehicle wasn’t parked.
“Ah, Leonardo, is it?”
Sliding his sword back into his sheath, Alberic replied to him, but he knew better than to try and search around for him. If Leonardo felt like it, Alberic could search for the rest of his life and still never be able to find him. That was his special talent, and the number one reason why he was inducted into the corps.
“Yo.” Instantly and without even a peep, the figure of a small boy appeared next to Alberic. His body looked dainty and fragile, almost like that of a woman. He had no sense of stoutness; it was the kind of body that looked like it never even excreted sweat. Sticking out from his shorts were a pair of thin, feminine-looking legs. Yet this body structure was nothing abnormal; he had deliberately kept his body down to the minimum limit of muscle so he wouldn’t stand out. Thanks to that, he wasn’t too useful in actual combat situations, but in terms of speed and stealth, he ran circles around Vivi the assassin.
But the most prominent feature of this boy’s appearance was not his femininity. It was definitely either the beastlike ears protruding from his head, or the tail poking out from his shorts.
He was a beast person, part of the race known as “demihumans.”
Naturally, their race was not an established one. These people had originally been human. Thanks to magic, their bodies had been “restructured.” They were the product of a goal to replace human capabilities with animalistic ones, increasing agility, stealth, strength, numbers, and so on. This breakthrough, of course, came from the land of the “Taboo Emperor,” the Gaz Empire, the leading power in the development of magic tech.
Yet Leonardo was not created in the Empire. The tech that the Gaz Empire developed was actually poorly regulated and ended up leaking outside to the rest of the world. From the bits and pieces of info the other countries were able to glean, they started their own research in magic tech, which led to new developments. This included research into creating demihumans.
With the advancement of this research came a number of experiments, from which many demihumans were created. At any rate, it was an age where ridiculous deeds could be glossed over if it was “for the sake of winning the war.” Alberic had heard that some truly inhuman things had taken place during those experiments. Apparently they were making modifications to Leonardo even while he was still in his mother’s womb, and so by the time he was born he already had his ears and tail.
And then came the war’s end. Basically, the countries that had birthed these “experimental weapons” now had the issue of where to put them all to deal with. Leonardo, too, had been haphazardly tossed into Gillette Corps by the higher-ups without much thought.
“I finally caught up with you guys.”
“Sorry about that,” Alberic said. They exchanged wry smiles.
Within Gillette Corps, Mattheus and Leonardo were assigned different roles than the rest of them, like scouting ahead of the party or gathering information from a different angle. This time Alberic had tasked him with delivering their written report to Kleeman, as well as retrieving any new information they had ready. It would be simpler to communicate with them by voice through the use of magic, but…when it came to paper documents they were forced to use the postal system.
While the rest of Gillette Corps had been running around town visiting all the dealers, Leonardo had remained in Del Solant on standby to receive the new documents.
“How’d it go?”
”Oh, you know, it went. On my way to you guys I took a look at it too.” Leonardo shrugged. “The page is so blank it’s scary.”
“…I figured as much.” Alberic heaved a sigh.
Of course, this was not the first time Alberic had looked at information pertaining to Chaika Gaz. He had been given some briefing back when he had first been given the task to pursue her . But it had only included her name and distinguishing characteristics like her silver hair, violet eyes, and the fact that she carried around a coffin.
To begin with, most of the information pertaining to the Gaz Empire, from secret documents to citizen registries, was lost during its capital’s subjugation. Truthfully, the fact that the “Taboo Emperor” had a daughter named Chaika Gaz was virtually unknown, nor was there any hint of who birthed her.
“To be honest, I’m not interested in her background, but—”
There were several mysterious points regarding her that had come up in his conversation with Zita.
Just how old was she?
How did she survive for these past five years?
And how did she escape the Empire in the first place?
Because the world was now in the wake of an era of chaos, there were a surplus of unexplainable points. So Alberic thought that maybe by putting in another information request, he could gain some insight into the circumstances surrounding her. Gillette Corps wasn’t the only group after her, after all, so he’d expected some new information to have come to light by now. But…
“It’s just too strange. I just can’t shake the feeling that we’re missing something important.”
Perhaps they were overlooking something critical, Zita had said. Alberic got the feeling that assessment was accurate.
“Or perhaps,” Leonardo offered, “you’re just looking at this problem from the wrong angle.”
“…Huh?” That caused Alberic to blink, surprised. He looked back at him.
“If you would have the opinion of a lowly demihuman, that is…”
“I’ve told you over and over again. Your social standing is no concern of mine,” Alberic asserted.
This was quite unusual for someone of his pedigree, but Alberic didn’t subscribe to the idea of discrimination based on social class. It was actually because of this way of thinking that Alberic was given the “honor” of being shipped off to a meager organization like Kleeman in the first place, but he had no regrets.
“I’m a demihuman regardless,” Leonardo insisted. Yet this time, his tone was not self-deprecating. “So even though our eyes are the same…” he pointed to his eyes, “I can see things in a different light from you. Like, light isn’t dark for me. The only way I can experience actual darkness is to close my eyes.”
Leonardo had night vision. In addition, his hearing radius was much larger than a normal human’s. He was able to distinguish sounds that were too quiet, or too loud, for the rest of Gillette Corps to hear. It was as if the world he perceived was a different world entirely.
“For example, even if we were looking at the same thing, the way we see things are different, so it would look to me like a completely different object. And from my perspective and position, what you’ve said also takes on a new meaning…”
Having said that much, Leonardo regarded Alberic doubtfully, tilting his head.
Alberic gave a big nod, and motioned for him to continue. “I see. Go on.”
“For instance…and this is just a hunch, but…what if we took the fact that we haven’t been able to dredge up any information regarding Chaika Gaz for over four years now, and that most of her circumstances remain unknown…and looked at it from the opposite side?”
“Like, what if she never existed in the first place?” Leonardo said in an almost singsong voice.
“What do you…”
“Did the ‘Taboo Emperor’ really have a daughter?”
Yes. That was indeed a question that had come up frequently among those of Kleeman.
Chaika Gaz. Emperor Gaz’s daughter, whose existence had only been recognized after the war had ended. What if the girl’s existence itself was a mere fabrication?
“Real or not aside, Emperor Gaz was a monster that was said to have lived for over three hundred years, right? Do you really think he would have felt it necessary to birth offspring?”
Chaika Gaz never existed?
Then why was that girl pretending to be her?
What motive did she have to pose as the Taboo Emperor’s daughter?
“Could be anything,” Leonardo said with a shrug. “Like, maybe she was a pawn that the Gaz Empire’s loyalists created so they could have easy access to the throne?”
That wasn’t impossible.
Reviving an empire was no easy task, least of all an empire presided over by a demon like Arthur Gaz. Their fearsome leader no more, his sphere of influence fell apart. His followers would never reconvene without his authority.
And so, it was necessary to have a successor. One with the weight of their predecessor’s name.
If Leonardo’s hunch was actually correct, that meant the Kleeman organization was just wasting their time with all these fakes. They were being strung along.
Truthfully, Kleeman already had a number of “Chaika Gaz”s in their custody. But if the original was a fake to begin with, a “false princess”, so to speak, then an endless number of fakes could be created.
Perhaps the loyalists already had many “Chaika Gaz”s prepared somewhere, and they just sent them out when it was convenient for them, using them at their leisure. After all, these were people from the same empire that created demihumans; it probably wouldn’t be so hard for them to make a bunch of copies. They could take some unidentified war orphans and modify them to be body doubles.
“…It couldn’t be.”
If Leonardo and Alberic’s suspicions were on the mark, then this was a matter of human lives and individual personalities being toyed with. Alberic’s brows creased.
“We cannot allow this.”
“Wait, Gillette-sama, remember. This is all just speculation of mine!” Leonardo waved his hands in panic. “We don’t have any actual proof.”
But, if it were true, it would explain the current circumstances quite well.
Perhaps even the Chaika Gaz that Gillette Corps were chasing right now thought that she was the real one, but was in actuality a mere sacrifice.
“At any rate, we need to catch up with them to confirm for ourselves. That’s our priority.”
“Well…as uninteresting of a conclusion that is, you’re right,” Leonardo said with a shrug.
Ratison was a comparatively small town.
The so-called “throne” of this area’s lord was located here, which was to say it was their principal residence—yet at the same time, it wasn’t.
The former was true because during the war, this location had provided the most protection and the defenses were the most sturdy. Due to that it was the ideal place for the lord’s subjects to gather, and so its scale had grown in many respects. Roads, walls, and other fortifications were easiest to install here.
This territory’s lord had taken up residence in many other areas, however, and this town had now become a shadow of its former self.
“Still, this town’s awfully lively,” Tohru muttered, leaning against the side frame of the Svetrana. They were in the market’s parking lot, which was a feature of most towns. There were carriages of various shapes and sizes, both horse and oxen-drawn, as well as other vehicles, parked around them. Tohru could tell that merchants from all around the country must have come here. The town appeared to be a hotbed of commerce.
“Or…well, something just seems off to me. What, though?” Tohru said, scanning the area.
“Mui?” Beside him, Chaika tilted her head.
“No, it’s the town as a whole. It’s like everything’s all over the place. It really feels like there’s barely any order at all…so….Ugh, this is so hard to explain. How should I put it…?”
After groping for an answer for a while, he pointed in the direction of the market.
“There. Look at that building.”
“Yeah. Look around it. See how there’s no management or anything? Normally, in commerce situations there would be—well, in the first place, there would be people regulating the flow, like a gate or something. So where are the lord’s tax collectors? There should be some around at least. Transportation taxes, commerce taxes, they’re always really strict about that stuff. It’s unheard of for the lord to go all laissez-faire.”
They had indeed paid a fee to enter the town, but it was ridiculously cheap, and those dispatched from the market to collect the fee had been mere ordinary townsfolk.
In normal cases, taxes collected like this would be easy to evade. Of course, the merchants definitely tried to, making it necessary for those on the lord’s side to really tighten up regulation, sending officials to collect directly.
And yet, there were none of the sort.
It was almost as if the lord just didn’t want to interfere.
“Hey, are you really absolutely clueless about society?”
“Noble. Recluse.” For some reason, she displayed an expression of pride and puffed out her chest.
“I mean, you are a princess, right?”
“But…how the hell did you survive up until now?”
“Personal virtue.” She pointed to herself.
“Well, I think anyone would agree with that.”
Regardless of their intent, she hadn’t involved herself with any bandits, thieves, or swindlers.
“How did you escape from the capital during all that chaos in the first place?”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“Outside empire, from beginning.”
From the beginning? Oh, you mean you just happened to be out at the time of the attack?”
“Yes.” Chaika gave a big nod.
It made sense. Now it was easy to see how Chaika was still alive today. At the very least, it was much easier to imagine Chaika just hiding out and secluding herself rather than making her escape from the allied forces surrounding the capital.
“All by yourself, huh?”
“…Yes.” Her expression was just the slightest bit clouded over as she nodded. She was incredibly easy to read. His brows furrowed, Tohru pressed her further:
“You didn’t have anyone at all with you?”
“Alone, from beginning. Before aware.”
She was alone from the start? Before she knew it?
Now, what did that mean?
Tohru peered right into her white face.
“Don’t tell me…you lost your memories?”
“…Affirmative.” Chaika nodded.
After Tohru questioned her further and in more detail, he was able to determine that she could only remember up until about a year ago. The only memories before that time she had were her memories of living in the castle back when the Empire was still prosperous. Because those several years in between were a complete blank for her, she apparently had no timeframe of when her memories before that gap had actually taken place.
“For keeping silent, apologize.” She looked ashamed. “No good time, explain.”
In other words, if she had mentioned from the outset that she was missing part of her memories, Tohru and Akari would have reason to be even more suspicious. Such an admission would decrease her credibility further. She simply had not found a good opportunity to mention it.
“Well, after all this, it’d be a little late for me to raise any objections.” Tohru scratched his cheek. “Still, that’s a pain.”
“Yes…” Chaika agreed.
What in the world could have caused Chaika to lose her memories, though?
Could it be related to watching her father die right in front of her?
Come to think of it, the count back at Del Solant had mentioned that she was “supposed to be dead.” And that man was one of the heroes that had witnessed Arthur Gaz’s demise firsthand. That would mean he must have seen Chaika there. She would have to have been in the castle during the capital’s subjugation.
She may have lost her memories as the result of some sort of fear, or shock, or trauma…if she did see the very moment Arthur Gaz was killed.
“But…” Chaika suddenly muttered. “Before I realized. Over already. Father…dead.”
Tohru now felt like he somehow understood why Chaika was so adamant on retrieving her father’s remains and giving him a proper burial.
Even putting aside whether she was there when it happened, the current amnesiac Chaika must have only heard about her father’s death through rumor mills.
“My father’s dead.”
“My home is gone.”
“The war ended already.”
Having only heard about the events that took place within the gap in her memory, it would be impossible to accept. Having your future decided all at once, without your consent—Tohru knew that anger all too well.
The remains of her father, Arthur Gaz. By collecting them all and burying them, she was probably also wanting to put that several-year-long gap to rest at last. Then, at last, she could move forward.
“Oh, no, it’s nothing.”
As Chaika looked up at him with a curious expression, Tohru’s gaze turned to the market.
At that moment, Akari came into view, returning from taking care of the parking formalities. In order to shop for food and supplies and the like, they had to park the vehicle somewhere.
“Thanks for that,” he said to her. “How’d it go?”
“No problem. The parking fee was cheap.”
“Yeah, the fee to enter the town was cheap too.”
“About that…” Akari tilted her head a bit. “I heard something pretty interesting.”
“Apparently, this territory’s lord couldn’t care less about this town. They’ve basically abandoned it.”
“Couldn’t care less?” Tohru frowned.
“They especially don’t bother with collecting taxes.”
What the hell?
“For better or worse, they just don’t interfere in anything. Apparently they’ve left the upkeep of this town to an autonomous neighborhood council. Thanks to that, almost no taxes are collected, and everyone flocks to this town for commerce as a result.”
“A free-market town, huh? But…”
Making a town “free-market” was essentially a political maneuver that eliminated tax collection in favor of opening up trade so that information about other countries could be gained more efficiently. However, truthfully due to the possibility of spies and emissaries and such, it was no easy feat to completely eliminate admission restrictions. Of course, even if the lord wasn’t interfering directly, there was usually someone under him diligently on watch, acting as his eyes and ears.
Yet Tohru couldn’t see any surveillance anywhere in this market.
“It’s not a political maneuver here; the lord simply just doesn’t care,” Akari repeated. “I know a bit of the reason, too.”
“It seems that the lord was away for a long while, and after the war, took up a new post away from the heart of the territory.”
Apparently with the lord not being interested in ruling, the neighborhood council took over just as they had before, and were able to manage their town again.
“Rumor also has it that this lord massacred a large number of villagers in her previous territory. Her name…is Dominica Scoda.”
Tohru and Chaika exchanged glances. If Guy’s information was to be believed, she was one of the heroes.
It wasn’t unusual for a lord to take new land as war reparations here in the postwar era. But for a lord to murder a bunch of villagers from her old grounds, that was a story that would make anyone uneasy.
“Nii-sama.” Akari narrowed her eyes. “Don’t stare at me needlessly. Once I get pregnant it’ll be too late.”
“I’m not getting anyone pregnant!” Tohru yelled. He crossed his arms. “But, well, that certainly is an interesting story.”
Setting the village massacre aside for a bit, what if the reason she wasn’t interested in ruling, and by extension wasn’t interested in taxes, was because she already possessed more than enough “wealth?”
For instance, what if it was because she had one of Gaz’s remains, an incomparable source of magic power?
“Anyway, I asked around about where this lord lives now. It’s just as you said that boy Guy said: a mansion in the forest. It should take about half a day to get there by vehicle.”
Tohru and Chaika looked at each other.
“What to do?”
“I can’t guarantee that it’s not a trap…”
Guy’s information appeared to be accurate so far, but on the other hand he hadn’t mentioned anything to him about Dominica Scoda’s rumored “killing spree.”
Maybe that meant it was merely a rumor.
But at any rate…
“Just standing around here thinking about it won’t get us anywhere.” Tohru lifted himself up from the vehicle’s side frame. “We’re done getting our food and supplies, so let’s get out of here. We have a murderous lord to persuade.”