Chapter 4: The Limited War
This atmosphere’s way too heavy, Tohru thought. Having stared at his lap for a while now, he raised his gaze.
It was just after he had announced their true intentions to Dominica in the dining room.
After grabbing all the necessary items from the Svetrana parked out front, Tohru, Akari and Chaika had returned to their room. Dominica had said that they would have to “pry it from her dead body,” so there were no two ways about it—they would have to fight a dragoon cavalier. If they were frugal with their methods here, there was no way they’d come out on top. They would need to get their equipment into tip-top shape; it was of course necessary to take stock of everyone’s abilities before coming up with a plan.
But all that aside…
His eyes inevitably met hers—Chaika’s.
The girl quickly looked away, choosing instead to engross herself in the maintenance of her Gundo, disassembled and lined up in pieces before her…however, he could tell her heart wasn’t in it, or rather, it was somewhere else. Tohru knew next to nothing about the design of Gundo, but he was pretty sure there wasn’t any point to attaching and removing the same part, over and over again.
Well, I can’t blame her, though.
Tohru heaved a sigh.
The one time Tohru gave Chaika the authority to make the final decision, he had gone ahead and decided to set up a battle with Dominica without Chaika’s consent…was probably how it looked to Chaika. Of course she would feel betrayed.
Of course, his decision had been for her benefit. He’d determined that if things went on the way they had been Chaika would never reach a decision, so he’d taken it upon himself to play the role of the villain…but he didn’t expect Chaika to understand that much.
When all was said and done, Chaika was just a little girl.
Not only that, but she had been a bona fide princess until the Gaz Empire collapsed. Expecting her to see through to the intentions of a mere commoner was asking too much. She was a completely different breed from a saboteur like Tohru or Akari, for whom it was customary to not only read someone’s thoughts, but also guide them in the most favorable direction befitting their own circumstances.
“Mui!?” Her body jolted when he called her name.
Ever so timidly, she raised her head once more—and with violet, upturned eyes, she looked back at Tohru. “Nervous” wasn’t the word for it—she looked more like a wild animal on high alert.
It kind of…made Tohru feel a twinge of pain, as well. There was no need to be so on guard, was there?
Of course, playing the bad guy didn’t bother him in the least. Such was the fate of a saboteur.
However, if this misunderstanding continued, it would affect their performance in all sorts of ways when it came time to fight.
The opponent was a dragoon cavalier—not one that Tohru and Akari could face by themselves. They absolutely needed magic support…and for that reason, they had to come to a mutual understanding, or at least dispel the current misunderstanding, before things got worse.
And then, as usual, we have the issue of Akari.
Tohru stole a glance at the edge of the room.
Akari was facing the wall, sprawled out on the floor like a corpse.
She had been like this ever since they got back to the room.
He couldn’t see her expression since she was facing away from him, but he guessed she was probably pouting. In exchange for being expressionless, every once in awhile she would behave in a way that was incredibly easy to understand, or rather, immature.
Tohru had no idea what had pissed her off so much, but he knew if he didn’t resolve this as well, it would be equally bad.
“Sorry for going ahead and saying things of my own accord, but…”
“…?” Chaika, looking surprised for some reason, blinked at Tohru. “D…Denied.” She shook her head at last.
A tinge of scarlet appeared on her white face, as if something had agitated her.
That must be her angry face, Tohru thought, and he felt a tad bit dejected.
“But…well, it was necessary.”
“Nece…ssary?” Chaika parroted, increasingly tightening her guard.
Steeling himself, Tohru slowly spoke his next words in a remonstrating tone.
You were thinking, I don’t want to have to fight Dominica, weren’t you?”
A dumbfounded expression suddenly appeared on her face.
“I have to get the remains, but I also don’t want to fight Dominica, because she’s a good person. But I’m also unsure about stealing them from her and escaping. Therefore, how about we just be honest and ask her if she’ll give them to us? Well, perhaps, but if she refuses we won’t be able to sneak attack her, and that would make gathering the remains even harder. Something along those lines, right?”
Tohru paused there to check Chaika’s reaction. Of course, she had both eyes wide open in blank amazement. Almost like his words had been completely contrary to her expectations. What had she been expecting him to say? Well, it looked like she had lowered her guard for now, though. Determining as such, Tohru continued on.
“Even if we had had infinite time to spare, you would’ve probably never been able to come to a decision.”
“Hesitation is a perfectly natural, human response. But Gillette’s group could still be on our tail. Time was of the essence. So I went ahead and made an executive decision. It wasn’t like I was trying to slight you, ok?”
She stayed silent. What did that mean? Also, her eyes were as wide as saucers now.
She let out a long breath all of a sudden.
That was not the reaction Tohru had expected.
“What’s wrong? Aren’t you mad that I overwrote your judgement?” Tohru asked, his brows furrowing.
“D…denied!” Chaika shook her head, flustered.
“Then what gives? Why are you looking at me so hatefully?”
“Hate, reproach, denied.”
After shaking her head again to complement her denial, Chaika hung her head. Her white cheeks were becoming scarlet.
“Then what the hell is it? I have no idea…”
The voice came from behind him suddenly. This time it was Tohru’s turn to give a start.
Akari should have still been lying on the floor like a corpse—and yet at some point, she had gotten directly behind him.
“W-What?” Tohru asked, looking over his shoulder at Akari.
A heat wave of vigor, like an intent to kill, was emanating from her whole being for some reason. What in the hell could have gotten her this riled up? Tohru wondered.
“I’d like to confirm something with you.”
“Huh? Oh, if it’s about our plan, you should have said so—”
Akari half-lidded eyes bored into Tohru’s.
Actually, it was less “boring into” and more a merciless “drilling right through his head out to the other end.” It was a terrifying stare—one that would doubtlessly cause a child to run away screaming with tears down their face.
“Then, what is it?”
“An important person, huh. Someone very dear…” Akari bent forward suddenly, and as a reflexive response, Tohru shrank back. It was clear who was the dominant one here. Then, still glaring, Akari posed her next question solemnly, as if she were inquiring about something as deep as the meaning of life itself.
“Nii-sama, do you perhaps prefer flat chests?”
“What the hell are you saying!?”
Righting himself once more, Tohru screamed at Akari.
But his expressionless sister just went on as if unaffected.
“‘What am I saying,’ you ask, but isn’t it obvious? I’m talking about my brother’s sexual preferences.”
“And why the hell does something so pointless matter!?”
“Wrong.” Akari declared definitively. Her expressions were always few and far between, but right now she seemed strangely gung-ho…or rather, the presence radiating from her was strong enough for Tohru to recoil on impulse. “It certainly does matter. It’s absolutely vital information.”
“I…I don’t really have a preference when it comes to chest size, okay?”
“So even a stumpy-waisted, beanpole of a girl is enough to hit your strike zone?” Akari looked in Chaika’s direction.
“…Like I said, I really don’t get what you’re talking about!”
“And I told you, I’m talking about your sexual preferences.”
“I don’t have any one all-encompassing, “sure-thing” fetish, all right?” Getting the feeling that they would get nowhere if he didn’t give an earnest reply, he reluctantly answered. “I guess it’s like…I kind of just respond to everything normally, in moderation…or something.”
“Hm.” Arms crossed, Akari tilted her head, and seemed to be mulling over his words for a bit.
“…I don’t get it.”
“I don’t get you,” Tohru said.
“Then I’ll phrase it like this…what do you consider dear to you?”
“Like I said—” He began to retort, but then he stopped himself.
At long last, he had realized what Akari was getting at.
“Of course I’ll wait, Nii-sama. If it means bringing your true fetishes to light, I’ll wait until the decay of the Earth.”
“That’s too long to wait!”
After throwing out that retort, Tohru scratched his cheek and continued.
“I mean, that’s not the point. By “what’s most dear to you, you meant who, surely.”
“Who’s Shirley? Another one of your floozies?”
“I didn’t mean Shirley, as in the name!” (1)
Well, when one mentions “someone dear,” the first thing most people would think of would be a lover.
However, that was obviously not what Tohru meant.
“Well, I mean,” Tohru cleared his throat, then gave a perfunctory glance to Chaika who, as always, looked lost. “Chaika—she gave me a purpose. Me, someone who was sitting on my ass all day just rotting away, not putting my skills to any use. A true failure of a saboteur. And so, I feel like I owe her a debt of gratitude. That’s all.”
“Tohru…” Chaika muttered his name, dumbfounded. She must have not been aware of it herself. In fact, she looked completely astonished.
“Love confession?” she finally asked, tilting her head.
“Not you too! You two need to pay attention to when people are talking!” Tohru yelled.
Why was it that the girls around him always misinterpreted everything that was said?
Were all teenage girls like that, perhaps? Back in the Acura village there were young female saboteurs other than Akari, of course, but Akari had had such a strong impression on him that he could barely remember any of the other girls. She had always been by his side, after all.
“Anyway.” Letting out a breath, Tohru continued. “We’re up against a dragoon cavalier. Though we haven’t seen the dragon yet, we know Dominica can use its power. Even if the dragon isn’t with her, she herself has the qualities of one. We arranged a meeting beforehand, but however much that may raise our morale, she’s still not an opponent we can win against in a fair fight, I think.”
Chaika audibly gulped.
The conversation having made it this far, the girl now had no choice but to put on a serious face. After all, this was now a discussion that would determine the fate of the battle, and quite possibly their lives. Any dissent in their intentions or awareness at this point would result in a swift death. Even Chaika should have been able to understand that.
So, let’s come up with a strategy.”
They laid all the techniques at their disposal, as well as all their individual ideas and opinions, on the table.
And they came up with a plan that, if all went perfectly, would give them about a fifty-fifty chance of victory.
Chaika spoke, tilting her head suddenly.
“About that—misunderstand. Possible. Consider.”
“Huh? Misunderstood?” Tohru raised his eyebrows at Chaika’s unexpected comment. “You mean I misunderstood something?”
“Dragon, here—most likely.”
Chaika looked all around the room.
“…What do you mean by that?”
“Dragoon magic, body, can alter. Transformation magic.”
“Yeah, so I’ve heard.”
A dragoon possessed magic that allowed it to alter its own body.
But Tohru and Akari had not witnessed that magic for real—or rather, the only time they’d seen it was when Dominica had used it upon entering the mansion. As for the dragon itself, they had seen them in drawings before, but never in real life.
Other types of dragons, mostly those belonging to the lizard species (altogether called mini-dragons), existed in many different varieties on the continent of Verbist.
But in the same way that orthrus were clearly different from regular dogs or wolves, it was the point of contention of magic that separated a dragoon from a mini-dragon. A dragoon could even be said to be the “final form” of a dragon.
Not to mention…they possessed intelligence rivaling that of a human, and could even manipulate their “armor” as a weapon. In that sense, there certainly was a fine line drawn between their kind and other dragons.
“If…” Chaika began, sticking up her index finger. “If size can change, is possible.”
“Size? You mean that a dragoon’s magic can probably not only change their appearance, but their size as well?”
“Yes. Could be large, could be small.”
Chaika gave a nod as if to say you got it.
“…I see, so that’s how it is, huh.” Tohru groaned.
To be honest, he hadn’t even thought about that.
Tohru had assumed somewhat subconsciously from names like “dragoon” and “dragoon cavalier” that it would at least be large enough to ride—perhaps even double the size of a horse. Not only that, veteran saboteurs that had actually witnessed the dragoon and its cavalier in person had even told him as much…
However, when you thought about it, there was no concrete evidence that a dragoon’s transformation was limited to a fixed size. If they so willed it, they could probably shrink to a size small enough to fit in the palm of a hand.
“Could that be the reason behind the sparse information on dragoons and dragoon cavaliers…?”
To each nation’s military forces, the information they had about dragoons and dragoon cavaliers was considered a “secret weapon” of sorts, so there were many aspects that were highly classified. However, once guerilla warfare was deemed necessary and they tossed the dragoons into the fray, where they would “appear in unexpected places” in front of their comrades, it would have probably become evident that they could change their size.
For instance, the dragoon cavalier could hide their dragoon in a handbag or small container until it was time to fight, and then by using magic it could return to its original size while on the battlefield, or something. Such possibilities meant that the dragoon—or rather, the dragoon cavalier—was able to optimize both mobility and secrecy. A surprise attack from a bunch like that and no enemy would be able to cope.
“So the dragoon might be concealed somewhere in this mansion, you mean,” Tohru said.
In other words, they also had to fear a possible surprise attack from Dominica’s dragoon.
“One possibility. Other is…”
She made a circle with her index finger.
As if to indicate the entire area around them.
“Entire mansion, is dragoon.”
“…What?” said Tohru, puzzled at first, but then—
Having realized what she meant, he surveyed his surroundings once more, visibly creeped out.
Yes. She was right—it was possible.
If they could shrink, that meant they could most likely grow as well.
And to what degree could they transform their body? Would the base skeleton be left, or could they alter that too?
Tohru’s group didn’t know the limits of a dragoon’s magic.
From the name “dragoon (2)”, they had gone ahead and assumed that it was a being at least capable of altering its skin, but if it was possible for them to change size, then perhaps they weren’t even assuming a dragon-like form to begin with.
“Could it be that right now, we’re in the dragoon’s—”
Inside the dragoon’s stomach.
Tohru, suddenly realizing that the comfy bed he had been so grateful to sleep on might have actually been a piece of the dragoon’s entrails, grimaced.
In the next instant, Akari swung the sharp end of her hammer down at the floor.
Thud! A dull sound resonated as the floorboards bent backwards.
Unconsciously, Tohru unsheathed his blades and assumed a stance.
Chaika too was clearly surprised, having frozen in the middle of getting up, her rear still in the air.
“W…what the hell was that for, dumbass!?”
“If this mansion really is part of the dragoon, I wanted to see if it’d react if I damaged the floor or wall,” Akari said matter-of-factly. “But it seems like that didn’t happen.”
“Man, that was sudden. My heart practically leapt out of my chest,” Tohru said, staring at the dent Akari had made in the floor. There was no blood leaking from it or anything, so Tohru couldn’t see it as anything but a simple wooden floor.
For the time being, he didn’t see any gastric juices seeping out from anywhere, coming to digest.
“Your heart leapt out of your chest? You mean like doki-doki?”
“Well, yeah, I suppose.”
“I see. That reminds me: way back in psychology class there was a “suspension bridge” phenomenon we talked about, wasn’t there? If your heart continues to go doki-doki like that, it’s possible that I may be able to manipulate your feelings, Nii-sama.”
“You just told me about it, so I doubt it’ll work.” Tohru said.
As mentioned previously, saboteurs had to make use of incitement and schemes, and as a means to that end they were also drilled in human psychology—or rather, how to manipulate someone’s feelings. The “suspension bridge” technique Akari mentioned was one such phenomenon. It posited that when a male and a female were in a precarious, unstable situation, like a suspension bridge, and their heartbeats increased due to sudden fear or excitement of said situation, they would mistake the cause of the heightened heartbeat for romantic or sexual feelings.
The effect wasn’t very long-lasting, but if you were to create a situation where that was sure to happen, you could certainly “bind” your opponent for a bit. Basically, it was taught as a possible means of seduction that would serve well in trying to cajole a “man on the inside.”
“I’d thought it was used only for instances in which you’d need to get information from the enemy, but this was quite the blind spot. They do say that ‘to seduce your enemies, you must first seduce your allies’.”
“They do not.”
“From now on, Nii-sama, prepare yourself for surprise attacks in the morning and evening.”
“I’d die of a heart attack first!”
As he yelled, Tohru punched the wall, his fist meeting the wood. The feeling in his hand confirmed to him that it was just a regular wall covered with wallpaper after all.
1. This was originally a play on words with aya, a word for “intent,” and Aya, a common Japanese female name. The joke doesn’t work in English so I changed it completely to one that does. The punchline of Akari mistaking the word for yet another possible girl in Tohru’s life remains intact.
2. Along with “armored,” one of the kanji in the word “dragoon” is “change.”