Chapter 2, Part 3
Apparently she was a cavalier who had participated in the Empire capital subjugation signaling the end of the war. As compensation for that battle, she had gained recognition from the military and the kingdom had bequeathed onto her several parcels of land, including Ratison.
Though her court rank as a cavalier was one of the lowest, in terms of the expanse of land she owned she stood toe-to-toe with barons and baronesses. That was all because of the major accolades she received for that battle.
“Dominica Scoda,” Akari said, “isn’t just a cavalier. She’s a dragoon cavalier.” They were now back on the road, inside the Svetrana.
Tohru frowned deeply. “A dragoon cavalier, huh…now that’s going to be dangerous.”
“Indeed,” Akari agreed.
“…Dangerous?” Chaika craned her head to look back at Tohru from the driver’s seat. She looked puzzled.
“There’s no word for them other than ‘dangerous’.” He sighed. That goody-two-shoes cavalier Alberic Gillette was certainly a threat, but he was nothing compared to the threat a dragoon cavalier posed. It was no exaggeration to say that this was the worst possible outcome.
“…” Chaika only blinked. There wasn’t even an ounce of fear or anxiety in her face. Almost as if…
“Now wait a minute, you can’t tell me you…” Tohru stared at her with half-lidded eyes. “Everyone knows about dragoon cavaliers.”
“…” She blinked again, and then… “…Tehe.” She stuck out her tongue and gave a laugh like she was trying to gloss it over.
“Don’t give me that ‘Tehe’ crap!” Tohru yelled, half-astounded and half-disgusted. “To be this ignorant of the world…aren’t you supposed to be a wizard!?”
“You at least know about Feyra, right?”
“Yes.” Chaika nodded.
“Well, there are these dragon-like things among them—hey, keep your eyes on the road, dammit!”
“Ah.” With an earnest nod, Chaika returned her attention to the road.
Tohru sighed and continued, staring right at her silver hair as he spoke.
“There are these dragon-like things among them called dragoons. It’s a monster that far and away outclasses all the others.”
Among the monsters known as “Feyra,” there were currently six confirmed types.
Orthrus. Cockatrice. Unicorn. Griffon. Kraken.
They could each use magic, but the level of magic they possessed differed. The magic capability of each varied by type. In other words, the fact that they could all use magic was the only common point among them. Tohru and Chaika beat a unicorn, sure, but were they to come across a kraken or dragoon, the same outcome would not be guaranteed. As a matter of fact, the dragoon was probably the most difficult opponent on the entire continent of Verbist, to the point where it wouldn’t be wrong to call it “near-invincible.”
“It’s sentient, its defense is basically impregnable, and it possesses magic allowing it to transform.”
A dragoon’s magic was capable of altering its own body. The reason they were called “dragoons” in the first place was due to the armor covering its body. (1) Their magic allowed them to harden their skin into something resembling armor. That armor boasted a level of durability that other creatures couldn’t hope to match. Swords, arrows, and low-grade magic couldn’t even make a dent in it. And what’s more, if they did somehow end up hurt, with their transformation magic they could seal up wounds or even heal broken bones, making it as if the injury never existed.
Not only were they nigh-impossible to wound, they could recover from any wound they did receive. That was the terror of the dragoon.
And that wasn’t all…
“Dragoon cavaliers are those who have made a pact with a dragoon.”
“Pact?” Tilting her head with uncertainty, she pointed at herself, and then Tohru.
“I told you, keep your eyes on the road. No, it’s not like what we have; ours is like a “pledge.” Kind of like an obligation.”
“…Pledge.” Chaika repeated it as if it was a new word she were encountering for the first time.
“The details are kept secret. I don’t know much about it either.”
“Tohru. World, ignorant.” She turned his previous words back at him.
“You’re the last person that should be saying that!” He sighed. “Well, anyway, our opponent this time is a dragoon cavalier, huh…”
A dragoon cavalier with a the pact of a dragoon more or less became “one” with the dragoon. Put simply, the dragoon cavalier’s humanity became forfeit, or at the very least was no longer able to be recognized as a human. They were likely the most powerful beings on Verbist; in terms of battle prowess, the strongest a mere cavalier could possibly get.
However, almost as if in equivalent exchange for their strength, dragoon cavaliers were often despised by purebred cavaliers and soldiers, who saw them as “heretics” and “monsters.”
“There’s no way we’ll just be able to steal it this time like in Del Solant.”
“Really more like ‘actually impossible’,” Tohru admitted.
Tohru didn’t like looking at battles in terms of who was “inferior or superior.” Taking into account that a person’s situation could change greatly depending on the circumstances, a scenario in which the conditions were exactly the same for both opponents was impossible. An opponent that wins one day won’t necessarily win the next day, and that applied to the other side as well…attaching labels like “inferior” and “superior” was an incredibly childish action to a saboteur like Tohru.
Saboteur pride was something that had to be earned.
But they weren’t choosy about their methods. They used anything and everything. Battle, too, was just one item in their toolbox. It was essential for a saboteur to refrain from viewing battle as an end-all solution: if there was an easier way, then it was actually preferable to avoid it entirely.
“It just occurred to me, but you do know of any way we might be able to get her to hand it over without confrontation?”
“…?” Chaika turned around, puzzled.
“Eyes on the road!”
“Got it.” She once again faced the road in a panic.
“Like for instance, something we could do before we resort to defeating her and taking it, or even simply stealing it. Something we could try before we try anything coercive. You do want those remains, right?”
“We saboteurs aren’t particular about how we accomplish our goals.” He smiled thinly. “To a saboteur, pride is trivial and disposable. If it gets in the way of the mission, we don’t need it. Because of that, a lot of people look down on us. Though I think I speak for all saboteurs when I say that the cavaliers and soldiers who seem to view war as the goal itself are more incomprehensible.”
“If you don’t fight fair and square, it’s a loss even if you win.” There were cavaliers out there that actually believed that. In other words, their priorities were switched. They were emphasizing the means over the goal, when it was the other way around for saboteurs.
“Anyway, we’re more flexible than those soldiers and cavaliers. For instance…” He thought of a quick example to demonstrate. “Let’s see…okay, let’s say you wanted to obtain a huge chandelier in the foyer of a lord’s mansion.”
“Okay.” Chaika’s silver hair swayed, which he took to mean that she was nodding..
“But it’s so big that you can’t carry it. You would be noticed for sure, and you can’t carry it by yourself in the first place. At first glance, it seems like an impossible task.”
“So what would you do?”
“…” Chaika tilted her head. He couldn’t see her expression from behind, but he knew it had to be one of absolute befuddlement.
“Chandelier, blow up?”
“Let’s not jump to extremes yet, okay? Come on.”
“Get noticed. Then, problem, none.”
“Ah, so create a diversion. I suppose that’s one way.” Tohru continued to smile wryly. “Oh, in case you were wondering, blowing up the chandelier isn’t gonna cut it. It’d be pointless.”
“In this case, one thing you could do is procure a bunch of smaller chandeliers.”
“I told you not to look over here.” He reached out, grabbed her head, and forcibly turned it towards the road. “I mean, you could make some money by stealing some smaller chandeliers and selling them, then use that money to buy the one you need.”
“…” She wiggled her body left and right. With Tohru holding her head she couldn’t nod, so this was how she was apparently expressing affirmation.
“In other words, when you restrict yourself to only thinking in terms of stealing it, you’re actually limiting your options. If your ultimate goal is to obtain something, you need to explore all the alternatives.”
For something fragile like a chandelier, it was a much safer bet to try to buy it legitimately rather than risk stealing it.
“Well, anyway,” he released his grip on Chaika’s head and looked out past the trees at the night sky spread out before him, “I really doubt just saying “please” will work,” he said in a low groan.
The town far behind them, they had already entered the depths of the forest where the countess was said to live. The vehicle shook violently; they had probably rolled over a rock hidden in the brush or even a thick tree trunk.
Of course, there was no one else here. There wasn’t even a road.
Svetrana was a vehicle designed for military use, so it would be able to go the distance even in a forest like this, but if they had one of the much better state-of-the-art vehicles that nobles used, there wouldn’t be so much turbulence, Tohru guessed. At this rate, they might just have to leave the Svetrana here and head there on foot…
As soon as Tohru thought that, it happened.
“I told you, eyes in front…” Chaika had once again turned around to face him, so he began to reprimand her again…but just then he noticed it. He hadn’t seen it like Chaika had from her driver’s seat, though. He had sensed a presence.
“…Dear brother,” Akari said in a serious tone. It seemed she had picked up on it as well.
“I know.” Getting up from the cargo hold, he made his way over to Chaika’s seat and looked through the glass windshield. There, in the dark, dreary cluster of trees, he spotted a bunch of lights swaying back and forth.
Eyes. The eyes of a beast. And that wasn’t all…
“Feyra,” Tohru said in a low voice.
It wasn’t just one or two of them either. From what Tohru could see, it looked like there could be around thirty of them.
Blue-white lightning crackled through the air, and he could see them hiding among the trees. This was most likely the Feyra releasing their magic due to being riled up…but thanks to that, he could clearly see the creatures that those eyes dotting the darkness belonged to.
Orthrus. It was quite the peculiar creature.
In terms of unique appearance, out of all six types it was about on par with the kraken. Its general body shape was almost exactly like that of a wolf, and just as its name implied it had two heads. (2) Incidentally, one of the two heads was the “master” and the other was the “slave.” In actuality the “slave” head was just a central conduit for magic, a nervous system with the sole purpose of focusing magic power. It had no eyes, mouth, or nose of its own, but on that smooth, featureless head blue-white markings resembling facial features were etched in, almost like a mask.
“If it was just one at a time, there’d be no cause for concern…” Tohru muttered, readying the comblades at his waist. Among all six types of Feyra, the orthrus was the least threatening…however, that only held true if you were facing just one of them. If things really went south, a group of orthrus could be just as dangerous as a single dragoon.
These Feyra emitted lightning to catch their prey. Once in a group they could use their lightning to trap their prey like a net, closing off any means of escape.
“Dear brother, there’s something I forgot to mention,” Akari said meaningfully. “There have been lots of casualties around this area, so the locals try not to go near it if they can help it.”
“You should’ve mentioned that earlier!” he yelled, but truthfully, their target resided in this forest so even if he had known beforehand, there would have been no way around it.
“No one mentioned anything about Feyra, though.”
“Doesn’t that just mean that all the witnesses were killed!?”
The logical explanation for the locals being unaware of dangers in the forest was that all those who came across them never returned. The only noticeable result would be the number of missing people increasing.
“Chaika, think we can bust through them?” Tohru whispered.
“Yeah, I know.”
A vehicle was different from a horse-drawn carriage in that it was primarily made of steel. And steel happened to be a conductor of electricity. If they received a blast of lightning during their attempt at breaking through the throng of orthrus, they would still get electrocuted even though they were inside the vehicle. No, actually, the vehicle was also a magical device, so it would be even worse for Chaika, whose nervous system was currently connected to it.
“I’ll count to five. During that time you’re going to accelerate as much as you can, then you’re going to disconnect yourself from the vehicle. Got it?”
A big piece of cloth or leather ought to shield it from the electricity. Plus the vehicle had enough mass that it would keep rolling and continue to get distance even after Chaika had disconnected.
“Y-Yes!” Instantly, the vehicle took off. At the same time, Tohru shot a look over to Akari. Akari nodded, stood up from her seat, and indicated her boots. The soles of Tohru and Akari’s boots were imbued with soft resin that muffled any sound they made, and they were impervious to electricity. As long as they were careful where they put their hands, they were probably going to be okay even if the vehicle got struck.
Now onto the next issue—
“One…two…three…four…five…okay, Chaika, disconnect!”
“Roger!” Chaika squeezed her eyes shut. Perhaps she was trying to shut off the flow of magic within her. Then she tugged on the connecting cord, unplugging it from her neck.
Chaika suddenly let out a sort-of-yelp, because Tohru had grabbed her from behind and was now embracing her. But that didn’t make him loosen his grip; he just whispered softly in her ear.
“Hold on tight.”
Unexpectedly, this seemed to calm her down immediately. Chaika sent a bright smile towards the nonplussed Tohru.
“This situation. When we first met, same.”
Indeed, when they had first met Tohru had embraced her just like this.
It was a genuine compliment. When Chaika looked up at him to meet his gaze and delivered that line without a trace of suspicion or fear, Tohru felt a strange sensation in his cheeks. He realized that they had involuntarily started burning.
While Tohru continued to think how honest-to-god embarrassing this was, he continued to hug Chaika there in the vehicle. And then…
He saw light-blue bolts flash, illuminating the sky dimly. The orthrus were throwing bolts around the Svetrana in order to trap it. Flashes of light leapt about, and sparks flew off various parts of the vehicle, including the area around the driver’s seat.
Covering his head with both arms, he tried to puzzle out when would be a good moment to unsheath his comblades from his waist.
Magic was not well-suited for close-quarters combat. Humans used it through Gundo, which were often bulky, long and required chants to activate, but Feyra didn’t use Gundo. They were, however, still required to chant, meaning that they couldn’t attack consecutively.
Which meant that once they released one attack, there would be a small interval of time before they would be able to release another.
“Akari, I’m leaving Chaika to you!” Tohru yelled, and leapt from the vehicle. Rather than forcibly trying to absorb the impact of his fall, he hit the ground rolling and unsheathed both blades.
“Hya!” With a quick intake of breath, he threw the blade in his right hand. Its aim true, it lodged itself right in the slave head of a nearby orthrus. The orthrus began to writhe in pain, emitting a howl not unlike a regular canine. The slave head was only the control center for its magic, so attack like that wouldn’t kill it; however, its nervous system was contained in that head so it had to have been in severe pain.
The orthrus convulsed like a fish out of water. Tohru had deliberately targeted the slave head not out of some sense of mercy or goodwill, but because he thought that if the orthrus saw their one of their brethren in pain, the rest might recoil a bit. Fighting them one at a time was much easier than taking on the whole pack. Just how many of them could he intimidate in the moments before they released a coordinated attack? That was the question that would determine his fate.
He readied his remaining blade in one hand, and with the other yanked on a thread, the end of which had been wrapped around the hilt of the blade he’d thrown. The blade was buried in the orthrus’s head, but even so he was able to successfully jerk it out. The blade leapt back into his hand, and he went on guard.
From the center of the Svetrana, whose remaining momentum had caused it to pass Tohru by,, Chaika’s head popped out. It appeared that Akari had wrapped her in a leather cloak. She was readying her coffin with quick, panicked movements—surely she couldn’t be aiming to protect Tohru with the Gundo inside?
“Just go! Don’t worry about me!” Tohru yelled angrily.
If it was just him he had to worry about, he was confident enough in his agility that he could escape. Plus. if she recklessly brought out her Gundo now, it would act as a sort of lightning rod. The orthrus’s attacks would be directed towards her instead. Then any point there was to disconnecting her from the vehicle in the first place would be rendered null and void.
“Don’t use your magic! Just go! I’ll be—”
I’ll be all right, was what he wanted to say.
Tohru stiffened in shock.
An orthrus’ magic chant. And what’s more, that was the very last part of it.
That was way too quick. Tohru had estimated it would have taken at least ten seconds for the orthrus to regain their composure and complete another chant, and yet…
No. Looking closer, there were definitely some orthrus that were still caught off guard. However…he also saw some that hadn’t been affected, continuing their chants.
“They got one up on me!” Tohru shouted in panic.
The throng of orthrus had already been one step ahead of Tohru. They had separated themselves into two groups: one attacked on the front lines, while the other hung back and started their chants as soon as the first group’s attacks had finished. Doing so, they were able to keep up a consecutive barrage of offense.
Returning both swords to their scabbards, he fastened the front of his cloak…and covered his head with both arms. He wasn’t sure how much good it would do, but it was better than no insulation at all.
He heard the sound, and before he knew it he was engulfed in a web of lightning.
The lightning coursing through his body, Tohru let out a scream. Saboteurs were supposed to keep a cool head at all times, whether in the middle of an assassination or even facing their own demise. That scream just now was an incredibly shameful display; however, the pain was so overwhelming that he was unable to just grin and bear it.
Every muscle in his body in spasms, he collapsed to the ground, twitching. He could no longer will himself to move. He tried to relax his convulsing body, but his brain wasn’t processing the commands.
The tables had been turned. Tohru lay there on the ground twitching, just like the orthrus whose head he had split open.
Tohru heard two distinct, panicked voices from the Svetrana, which was still in motion.
“Go…on…ahead…!” Tohru shouted with everything he had.
Because deep down in his hazy, pain-wracked consciousness, a possibility of victory still flickered.
The orthrus’ attacks were powerful, sure, but they weren’t fatal. That was because they used their magic to hunt; in other words, it was enough if they just immobilized their prey. After all, orthrus had a tendency to eat their prey alive, humans in particular. Which meant…
They’re going to come finish me off with their fangs…
He likely had a few seconds between then and now. If he could just endure the pain until then, in close-quarters combat he actually had a chance of winning. Take away their lightning, and the orthrus weren’t much different from your average dog.
Yet he couldn’t even issue an order to his convulsing body properly. He had intended to chant the keywords to unleash his hidden body fortification technique, “Iron-Blood Transformation,” yet his tongue and lips were unable to form the words. Not to mention, focusing was impossible. His life was literally hinging on how long it would take for his body to return to normal.
He could feel the hot breaths of the beasts closing in around him.
His vision clouded red with pain, he saw orthrus after orthrus after orthrus coming closer, swaying…
Shit. I’m going to be eaten alive.
There likely didn’t exist a cause of death more terrifying. Saboteurs weren’t a bunch to just roll over peacefully, so years ago Tohru had already accepted the possibility he might leave the world in a less-than-savory manner…but even so, just imagining the beasts tearing his insides apart made him want to retch.
Chills ran up his spine. He felt rank, steaming breath hit his face.
He saw the fangs leaping for his throat—
”Begone, you mutts.”
Without warning or preamble, it resounded out above Tohru and the orthrus….a calm, completely out-of-place female voice.
“Stay here, and I’ll leave all your corpses out to dry.”
Tohru tried to think through the severe pain. Who in the world? Certainly not Akari or Chaika. It was a completely different—
Suddenly, a shadow loomed over Tohru.
A dragon…!? That was his first thought.
It certainly resembled a dragon flying overhead with its wings spread out. But it was apparently just the shadow of a fluttering cloak.
The one that had leapt to Tohru’s aid, surprisingly without kicking up any humus and fallen leaves in the process, had the figure of a woman. Judging from her gleaming silver armor and long sword, she had to be either a cavalier, soldier, or swordsman.
He could only see her from the back, so he couldn’t see her face. But…
Even so, Tohru thought she was beautiful. Her figure from behind, as well as her posture, conveyed a beauty that was not artificial, but wholly natural. And yet she exuded majesty to the point that it was almost bewitching. It was a back that could incite fighting spirit into her followers on the front lines, the kind of back you could rely on. The exact opposite of a saboteur who made their way along the battlefield shrouded in darkness. Her long, wavy flaxen hair was adorned with small silver ornaments.
“Well? Will you attack, or stand down?” the woman asked.
In response, the Feyra…
He felt the orthrus’ presence begin to recede.
This woman had gotten a pack of feral monsters to disperse with nothing more than a simple threat. She didn’t even have to unsheathe her sword.
She’s the monster.
In truth, the aura coming from her whole being had communicated quite clearly to Tohru that she was no ordinary girl. It was so overpowering that if she were to regard Tohru as an enemy, the question wouldn’t be whether he could beat her, but whether he’d be able to escape in one piece.
Well, isn’t this ironic, Tohru thought amidst the throes of pain.
Female warriors of this caliber, with presences bordering on beastly, weren’t exactly a dime a dozen.
“Can you stand?” The woman finally turned around to look at Tohru. Her features were dim in the moonlight, but he was able to roughly make them out. Narrow blue eyes, a defined chin, and thin, pursed lips. Her outward appearance conveyed maturity and sagacity in much the same way that Akari’s did, yet this woman practically embodied the image of an adult woman’s charm. Her muscles, clearly defined even underneath her armor, and her voluptuous breasts and hips were definitely those of a woman that had fully blossomed.
“Did the citizens of Ratison not mention that this area was dangerous?” she asked, seemingly taken aback. A noncommittal tone, belying any hint of demanding gratitude or boasting about her strength. It was as if she viewed coming to the incapacitated Tohru’s rescue on the same level as reaching a hand out to a child that had tripped and fallen on the ground. To her, chasing off a pack of orthrus was likely as simple as that.
She had rescued Tohru from the brink of death. By all rights, he should have been deeply moved. However…
How in the hell are we going to take the remains from someone like this?
Despondent, Tohru stared at her dim, outstretched hand.
At the hand of this area’s countess, the dragoon cavalier Dominica Scoda.
That was their first encounter.
(1) In this novel, “Dragoon” uses the kanji for “armored.”\
(2) In this novel, “Orthrus” uses the kanji for “dual” and “head.”