Chapter 1, Part 2
The warring period had been long and arduous.
After spanning over 300 years, it stood to reason that it had affected everyone’s sense of values.
It became natural for people to live their entire life in the midst of war.
And of course, every aspect of daily life had been built around war.
Those called “saboteurs” were extreme examples of this.
They were the handymen of the battlefield, so to speak—the despised denizens of war that crawled around in the darkness. They were the sort to take on the dirty jobs straightforward soldiers and cavaliers balked at. They weren’t choosy about the methods they used to achieve their goal. Though they were insulted and disparaged, called “cowards” and “bastards,” they felt no shame. And because of that, they were able to take on jobs shrouded in shadow.
Assassination. Agitation. Dirty tricks. Sneak attacks.
When legitimate and straightforward tactics wouldn’t cut it, it was the saboteurs’ time to shine.
And when the requests started coming in hot, the production had to increase.
Before long, saboteurs no longer developed their individual talents on their own. Instead, they were raised in settlements called “villages,” where they were raised and then shipped out. This was necessary in order to produce saboteurs with higher aptitude.
Many different schools of saboteur activity were established. In accordance with the wishes of the higher-ups, each village raised a handful of saboteurs and then sent them to battles taking place all over the continent. They were merely being used as disposable pawns to begin with, so there were more than a few times where saboteurs from the same camp were sent to fight each other on opposing sides. Saboteurs were not given the ability to think freely. The higher-ups could attach saboteurs to any side they wished…on this point alone, the higher-ups had been rather flexible.
One could say they were keeping the balance of supply and demand.
However…that long era of war had come to an end.
The world was now in a period of peace, and the disparaging opinion that saboteurs were “cowardly and heartless lapdogs of war” became mostly ubiquitous. The higher-ups had probably been afraid of the saboteurs’ power, and this was most likely their way of keeping them in check. Saboteurs could use their power to incite violent riots, after all. The countries using them like cattle knew all too well what they were capable of.
At any rate, once the era of peace arrived, saboteurs lost their place in the world. Even worse, the higher-ups quickly changed their tune and had almost every single village destroyed.
The majority of saboteurs were forced to flee.
Tohru Acura was one of those saboteurs.
Actually, he was more like a saboteur hatchling.
The war had ended before he’d had a chance to leave the village and head to the battlefield.
Those battle techniques he’d been honing since the day he was born had been rendered practically useless.
Saboteurs were now no better than stray dogs abandoned by their masters.
There was no merit to their existence. What had once been called “indispensable” was now “trash.” Saboteurs had been increasing in number, but now people were wary of their number increasing.
As for Tohru…he just rotted away.
Why was he alive?
What was his purpose?
It was all stupid to him—he wasted away the days meaninglessly, not lifting a finger to work.
And then, Tohru met the girl named Chaika Trabant.
He’d learned a few things from the experiences he’d shared with her so far.
Chaika was trying to gather her father’s remains, which had been divided into several parts.
Her father was the emperor of the Gaz Empire, who was said to be at the heart of all the wars.
Various organizations, backed by their countries, were trying to capture the princess Chaika.
And there were probably also those that wanted to revive the Gaz Empire and throw the world back into war by putting up Chaika as the successor.
…A few things, indeed.
Tohru took it as a golden opportunity.
War was just perfect for him. An era of war was a thousand times more preferable to an era of peace he had no place in. If he stayed by Chaika’s side, there would be confrontations and battles. He’d be able to use his techniques he’d honed, and he could leave the days of rotting the days away and accomplishing nothing.
So Tohru decided to work under Chaika.
He felt a finger poke and prod his back.
He didn’t even need to turn around to know it was Chaika.
“Plans. From here on.”
“Yeah, we definitely need to have a meetin’ to figure out where we’re headed,” Frederica chimed in.
Incidentally, Tohru could see at the edge of his vision that Frederica had already changed into her blond-haired, red-eyed little girl form instead of staying in Chaika’s.
This girl Frederica could definitely give Chaika a run for her money in terms of cuteness…but her demeanor was exactly the opposite. In contrast to the almost inorganic, doll-like air Chaika had, Frederica was somewhat animated, or rather, lively and playful, like a small animal that had taken on the form of a girl.
By the way, apparently the shapeshifting Frederica herself didn’t have a “true form,” but this form was the one that she showed to Tohru and the others the most. Her dragoon form was lumbering and it made a lot of commotion, so it was a pain…hence this form.
“We’ll talk after we get out of the bath,” Tohru said to the girls, his back still turned towards them.
Currently, he was leaning on the edge of the hot spring, facing outward.
Chaika and Frederica were soaking in the hot spring together.
The girls themselves were rather nonchalant, or rather, uncaring about the whole thing, so there was probably no need for Tohru to avert his gaze, however—if things really went south, he might actually get a nosebleed, and if that happened he felt it wouldn’t be a situation he’d just be able to explain away. Therefore, Tohru doggedly continued to face the opposite direction.
“Then wanna get out?”
“What about you, Tohru? Not gettin’ out yet? You’ve been in here all this time,” Frederica said innocently.
Tohru stayed silent.
He’d get out immediately—if he could, that is.
This spring’s water was murky, so for now he could pretend nothing was up as long as he kept his lower half submerged.
“Chaika, you guys…” Frederica continued on, perhaps not knowing how to interpret Tohru’s silence. “You’re searching for Gaz’s remains, huh?”
She seemed determined to continue the conversation. Chaika behind her nodded. “Affirmative.”
“Why’s that? I mean sure, I’ve heard Emperor Gaz’s remains are a decent source of magic power, but there’re loads of other magic sources you could use, right?”
Behind him, Tohru didn’t hear Chaika say anything.
Ah, right, we haven’t told Frederica about Chaika’s background yet.
Essentially, lifeforms possessing an above-standard level of intelligence accumulated magic in their body just from the sheer act of living. A creature could use magic within their body just as it was, but in a human’s case, the magical energy within was used as a mere spark. Most of the actual magic used to execute spells came from items called “magic sources.”
In other words, the remains of intelligent beings.
The most basic use for them was to fossilize the remains, most often Feyra, and use them for magic fuel—however, provided the right steps were taken one could also make a magic source out of them.
For one such as Arthur Gaz who was said to have lived over three hundred years and was famously regarded as a great wizard, the fact that those remains could be used as a magic source was not up for debate.
Conversely, though, that meant they could be substituted for something else.
For example, take monetary value. If the item was something one was so attached to that it never left their side, it’d be a valuable that no amount of jewels or gems could replace…but if was just “something of equal monetary value” one wanted, it would only be valued at that amount regardless of the money piled up.
In terms of the amount of magic power, there was no reason to especially go after Emperor Gaz’s remains.
“Frederica.” Tohru spoke, still stubbornly turned away from the girls. “Let me ask you something. What are your feelings towards the emperor Arthur Gaz?”
“Do you feel the same as the allied forces did and consider him the root of all evil?”
“…Dunno.” Frederica’s tone was carefree, as if she’d been asked about her favorite color or food. “I only went with what Dominica wanted. Yeah, I was there for the battle at the empire’s capital, but I didn’t really think anything of it, y’know? Dominica aside, I didn’t get to go inside the castle, so I didn’t even see his face.”
Tohru let out a short breath.
He had reason to beat around the bush when it came to Chaika’s motives and background. He still didn’t know how Frederica felt. When she heard, it wouldn’t be strange at all for her to turn on them just like that. Therefore, it was best to divulge as little information as possible—
—was what Tohru was thinking, but then…
“Arthur Gaz, father.”
Chaika just went out and admitted it herself.
Tohru breathed a sigh.
Chaika really had no sense of caution toward this Feyra named Frederica. But then again, she wasn’t Frederica’s day-in, day-out target like he was, and they were both girls about the same age in appearance at least, so perhaps a lack of caution here was natural.
Of course, Frederica looked a bit taken aback at this confession.
“Chaika’s real name is Chaika Gaz,” Tohru said. After all, there was no point in denying it now. With another sigh, he continued. “This isn’t an issue of it being a magic source. Chaika just wants to give her father a proper burial and pay her respects.”
“Respects,” Frederica repeated, rolling it around on her tongue like it was a foreign word she’d heard for the first time. “Ah, respects, respects…huh. Oh, okay. Gotcha.”
After muttering for a bit like she was chewing on the word itself, Frederica nodded.
“Humans are kinda clingy, huh?”
“So you say, but aren’t you the same?”
“Huh? Oh—y’mean the Dominica thing?” Frederica’s voice had a hint of confusion mixed in.
This Feyra-girl had been in a pact with Dominica Scoda—and in an effort to fulfill Dominica’s wishes after her death, had assumed Dominica’s form and challenged Tohru’s group to a fight. It had sure seemed to Tohru that this action was her way of paying her respects to Dominica, but…
“Mm…that’s a bit different.”
“Different? How is it different?”
“That’s not really paying respects,” Frederica said flatly. “Me ‘n Dominica were like one entity. Her wishes were my wishes. So I just wanted to give those wishes form. That’s all.”
“Isn’t that basically paying respects?”
“Did Emperor Gaz tell her to do that? Like, ‘gather my remains for me, ‘k?’ or something?”
Of course, Tohru didn’t have the full picture, so he didn’t know.
“And you’re not in a pact with her or anything like we were, right?” Frederica said. “Humans tell lies, betray others, yadda yadda, so if you’re not connected by a pact you never know what others’re actually thinking.”
“Well, that might be true, but…”
Actually, Chaika’s memories from before and after the capital’s fall were supposed to have been hazy. He didn’t know the reason, but it seemed that she didn’t even remember how she had escaped the capital.
So even if Emperor Gaz had ordered Chaika to gather the remains, she wouldn’t have remembered it.
In other words, gathering the remains hadn’t been a dying wish or anything.
Chaika was only gathering them because she wanted to.
I see. To Frederica, “paying respects” must be nothing more than self-fulfillment.
He could see how one could look at it that way.
The dead don’t grieve, after all.
The act of shelving or forgetting the dead was only sad for those that were still living. It could even be said that feeling “sadness” was a one-sided act, just a projection of emotions onto those already passed on.
“Don’t tell me…that was the only reason you fought with me?” Frederica said in an astonished tone. “You risked your life just for that?”
“What do you mean, ‘just for that?’” Tohru said, narrowing his eyes. “Even if it’s not important to anyone else, it’s important to Chaika—”
“Uh, no, that’s not what I mean,” Frederica said, circling over to Tohru’s side. “I mean you. Tohru.”
“Me?” Tohru asked, trying his best to avert his eyes from Frederica’s nakedness.
“Why are you tryin’ to gather Emperor Gaz’s remains?” she said.
“Well—for me, I suppose there’s no particular meaning…I guess.”
They were the remains of a complete stranger. No more, no less.
If Tohru was a wizard, he might be interested in them as a magic source, as the remains of a great sage, or perhaps some other reason. But—
“I just want to see Chaika’s dream realized.”
“Why?” Frederica followed up with her next question. It was clear from her tone she wasn’t trying to interrogate him. She genuinely seemed curious. “You haven’t made a pact with Chaika, and it’s no skin off your nose if she doesn’t achieve her goal, right?”
By “pact,” Frederica was probably referring to a dragoon cavalier’s pact.
Chaika’s agreement with Tohru had been purely informal. It hadn’t been acknowledged on paper, and there was no tangible evidence it had ever been made—unlike a dragoon cavalier’s pact which required the exchange of a body part.
Put crudely, it was nothing more than an oral agreement.
“Well, it would make sense if you were a couple, though.”
“Like, for instance, if she was carrying your child or somethin’, I’d totally get it.”
“Now wait just a minute…”
“‘Cause like, isn’t that natural for living creatures?” Frederica said coolly to the nonplussed Tohru. “You live, and then you leave behind your seed. That’s basic stuff—if you had that kind of motive, you wouldn’t hear any complaints from me. Tohru, it seems to me that you really don’t understand your own kind.”
Up till now he had lived as a saboteur.
Born and raised for the sake of battle, in order to die in battle—that was his place in the world as a saboteur.
But the wars up and ended one day, and everything that Tohru was was denied.
Everything he was had no purpose. Everything he was was completely useless.
“I…I wanted to fight,” Tohru muttered.
“Y’mean like Dominica did?”
“No. I didn’t want to fight because I wanted to die. I wanted to fight and actually gain something in the process. All the more if I’m going to die anyway. That’s the only way I know how to live. It wasn’t something I was taught.”
“That’s why when I heard Chaika’s story, I wanted to come along,” Tohru said with a small smile. The daughter of the man at the root of all the wars, trying to gather his remains. The political successor to the Gaz Empire’s throne. In the worst case, we could potentially throw the world right back into war once more. And bring back the saboteurs’ place in the world the process.”
“Ah, I see.” As she peeked at Tohru from the side, she blinked her crimson eyes. “But Tohru, if I remember correctly you said somethin’ like your motive was the same as the person who was dear to you, right?”
“…You sure do have a good memory,” Tohru said as he scrunched up his face.
True, back when they were eating dinner in Dominica’s mansion, Tohru had said something like that.
Chaika and Akari had taken it the wrong way. Come to think of it, he had later explained to the two girls what he had actually meant, but he had yet to explain it to Frederica.
“Well, yeah. So what’dja mean by that?”
“All I meant was that Chaika was the one who gave me another opportunity to have a goal, a purpose to fight for after I had lost sight of my own. So, I’m grateful to her.”
“Hmm…well, okay, I get that.”
“Do you really?”
Perhaps because Frederica wasn’t a human, it seemed there were more than a few instances where her train of thought didn’t exactly gel with others. She might say she “got” it, but there was a good possibility she was actually misunderstanding.
“But lemme ask a more basic question, then,” Frederica said, turning to face behind Tohru—in other words, where Chaika was. “Chaika…are you really Emperor Gaz’s daughter?”
Chaika let out a sudden yelp of surprise.
It seemed she hadn’t expected to be asked a question that was essentially doubting her entire premise. It was like asking someone “who are you really?”
“What do you mean?” Tohru asked Frederica in shock.
If Chaika wasn’t Emperor Gaz’s daughter, then who was she?
Come to think of it, the girl herself had not introduced herself as such at the beginning. He had only learned of Chaika’s background through the group that was chasing her. They’d said she was Emperor Gaz’s daughter, and that she needed to be reined in because she was dangerous.
If Chaika was actually deceiving Tohru, one would think she’d have introduced herself as “Chaika Gaz” from the outset.
“I mean, c’mon. Don’t you think it’s a bit strange for a daughter of Emperor Gaz to have not only survived the collapse of the empire, but to be loitering around here of all places?” Frederica said, tilting her head.
As previously stated, Chaika had no memories of what happened before or after the capital’s destruction.
How did she escape the capital? Was she even in the capital in the first place? Chaika had no idea…at least, that’s what she’d told him.
“Are you saying Chaika’s lying?”
“It could be that she isn’t aware of it herself, y’know.”
Tohru was at a loss for words there.
What if Chaika’s memory loss wasn’t just a coincidence, but a way to smooth over the inconvenient parts that didn’t fit? What if she’d simply had the wrong idea from the start, deceiving not only Tohru and Akari but herself as well?
“You don’t have any proof that she is really Gaz’s daughter, do you?”
True, he had none.
Behind him, he could sense Chaika’s confusion.
She probably hadn’t dreamed that the issue would come up now after all this time. If what Frederica was saying was true and Chaika really did deceive herself with her own assumption, she too must be feeling like the floor was falling out from under her right now.
“Tohru, on what basis are you trusting Chaika, anyway?”
Tohru couldn’t give an instant reply.
To be honest…to Tohru the question of her being Emperor Gaz’s daughter or not wasn’t the issue. It was that Chaika’s mission, what she wanted to accomplish, was in turn supposed to give Tohru a purpose again. That was why he had cooperated with her in the first place.
That was all it was.
“Well, perhaps it’s a human thing to turn a blind eye to the fog in front of you, or something,” staring at the silent Tohru and Chaika with a strange grin on her face, as if to say, really, what’s you guys’s problem? “Yeah, the way you humans think really is interesting.”
“What a half-assed conclusion…” Tohru muttered, dumbfounded.
Just when the vagueness was finally starting to dissipate, she had sealed up the whole thing with the single word “interesting”…Tohru could sense the inevitable lump of stress forming in his throat.
He let out a small sigh, and then—
“By the way, Nii-sama.”
He quickly glanced up—and saw Akari in front of him.
“Would you mind telling me what’s going on here?”
A beautiful girl with long, piercing eyes.
Normally she’d have her long, black hair in a ponytail (because according to her, it was a pain to have it cling to her all the time), but here she had the removed the string, letting her hair down naturally. This actually served to sharpen her unreserved beauty, like a blade honed down to its finest point.
This wasn’t the sort of beauty that invited comparison with Chaika’s. It was much a simpler, almost primal “allure.” Her muscles were even, neither too strong or too lean, as if they were made to be on display.
As was probably the case for most creatures, the times where her beauty shone the brightest were not when she was standing still, but those moments when she was leaping and dashing with all her might, stretching her body to her full potential.
Akari was a saboteur, and Tohru’s sister.
Though she shared Tohru’s black eyes, truthfully they were not related by blood.
In the Acura village, there had been many children who had either been abandoned or come from farm villages so poor their parents had been unable to raise them—by all rights, children that should have been “weeded out.” The village had purchased these children and raised them as their own. Because the village’s income was directly related to the number of talented individuals on hand, the village took in the children as so-called “stock-replenishment.”
As a result, it wasn’t unusual within the village to see “brothers” and “sisters” that weren’t actually blood-related. After living in the same village studying the same techniques, the children ended up forming familial bonds. However, as these saboteurs were often sent to opposing camps, a natural divide would eventually arise between them. Therefore, these were “familial bonds” that could be completely severed if need be.
Tohru sat there in the hot spring, frozen to the spot.
Like Frederica and Chaika, Akari was also completely naked, as if she was intending to take a dip herself. At least for the time being, though, her long hair was covering her breasts and the towel in her hand was covering the other part, so not everything was visible.
“I’m quite interested in hearing what Nii-sama was up to while I was slaving away at the incendiaries, poisons, and antidotes. For both of us, mind you.”
Now that she mentioned it, her hair did look a bit dirty. Sulfuric powder or some other medicine had probably gotten in her hair from using the mortar and pestle. They were the kind of medicines that would damage the hair if not washed out immediately, so it made sense that she’d come to the bath afterwards.
“…Uh…just…you know…taking a bath…”
“Oh, really? True, you are definitely in the bath.”
Akari gave a big nod.
“With two naked little girls.”
He couldn’t argue with that. It was true.
One was a girl with a chest so flat it was almost concave, and the other was a Feyra pretending to be a girl, but, well, Tohru realized arguing that point would be fruitless.
“I absolutely did not do anything lewd with them,” Tohru said, deciding to look down at himself for now.
To tell the truth, Tohru had seen Akari’s naked body plenty of times ever since they were children, so there was no real need to show modesty. However, perhaps because there were two girls with paltry bodies right next to him, Akari’s supple body now appeared all the more alluring.
“I see.” Her expression did not waver one bit.
Her face showed no hint of doubt or relief.
Though she certainly was beautiful, this girl was always stone-faced. Even letting loose a laugh here or there would probably increase her charm factor…but for some reason, she showed no emotion whatsoever. For that reason, even Tohru who had been with her for so long often had trouble figuring out what she was thinking.
“Then why are you averting your eyes?”
“I’m telling you, I didn’t—ah, don’t crouch down!” Tohru shouted at his sister, who had squatted down to try and get a peek at his face—it took a tremendous amount of effort to keep his gaze where it was.
“Anyway, I didn’t do anything bad! I said I didn’t, so there!”
Still crouched down, Akari sighed flatly.
“That’s a letdown.”
“Just what were you expecting!?” Tohru smacked the water.
“Since it’s you, Nii-sama, I thought for sure you would do more than just stand there and watch foolishly…”
“Just what kind of degenerate is the me inside your head, anyway!?”
“That’s something that can’t be expressed in a mere few words.” Akari’s mouth became unusually firm. “If you really want to know, it’ll probably take the whole night to explain properly.”
“I don’t want to hear it!”
“You ask, and yet you don’t want to hear the answer? That makes no sense, Nii-sama,” she said, and then immediately afterwards struck her palm with her fist as if she’d just realized something. Because her facial expressions were scarce, she had to make up for it with theatrical, blatantly transparent gestures like these…but that was beside the point. “No…this is the so-called ‘playing hard-to-get’ technique, isn’t it? You start off being unreasonable and irrational and then suddenly get all sweet afterwards, creating a character gap with which you ensnare the opponent. That sort of secret technique, huh…”
“Where’s the ‘secret’ in that?”
“…that’s my Nii-sama, all right.”
“I’m not thrilled about being praised for a ‘secret technique’ that takes no skill.”
“And you need to stop latching onto only weird words!” he shouted to Chaika behind him—but then he sighed.
Watching him merrily…
“Yup, definitely interesting.”
Frederica gave that assessment with a meaningless grin.