Chapter 1, Part 3
The cramped space was surrounded by paper-thin film on three sides.
Alberic Gillette was sitting in a small seat that had been placed in that space.
A handsome, blond-haired, blue-eyed young man.
His cool, relaxing eyes and prominent nose gave off an elegant, refined impression. But it was not just his face: his mouth was tight and firm and his spine stood straight up, all coming together to form the image of “a good, honest, young nobleman.”
The seat he currently sat in was used when utilizing magic for communication purposes.
The three thin, white pieces of film were there to capture the voice of the sender, as well as emit the receiver’s voice as a sound. In other words, it was a Gundo designed for the express purpose of communication.
“He’s already regarded as a ‘hero’ in the kingdom of Koenigsegg, however…”
There were many ways to communicate using magic.
However, on board Gillette Corps’ mobile base, the “April”-model vehicle, they had opted to use the simplest method. The others were more complicated, required much larger Gundo, and on top of that also required a wizard specializing in the handling of such devices. For those reasons, they couldn’t really take any of the others with them.
Which meant that the magical devices Gillette Corps were using were not the kind that let them make contact at any time they pleased. The time had to be decided beforehand, and the receiver had to have the same setup on their side. If not, there would be no way to receive the transmission even if it was sent and it would simply dissipate.
Therefore, the transmission magic they were utilizing was to be activated at fixed periods of time.
“We have reason to believe that the wizard known as Simon Scania is one of the eight.”
The other person in the conversation, the one on the other end of the transmission, was none other than Konrad Steinmetz, head of the Kleeman organization—in other words, Alberic’s superior.
Of course, since this transmission was sound-only, so even if he slouched or acted sleepy the other side wouldn’t be able to tell, but Alberic sat straight up in his chair as if he were face-to-face with the man himself. At times like these, his straightforward, do-right nature as a young cavalier was exceedingly apparent.
“However…even Koenigsegg can’t get a grasp on his current whereabouts, it seems.”
“What do you mean?” Alberic cocked his head to the side slightly.
Behind him, his subordinates—assassin Vivi, second-in-command mercenary swordsman Nikolay, wizard Mattheus and special forces Leonardo—were all listening in on the conversation. However, Alberic sitting in the communication seat was the only one able to hear Konrad’s voice clearly, so those in the outside seats were only able to catch bits and pieces.
By the way, Alberic had one more subordinate…Zita, a girl who was more of a magic artisan than an actual wizard. She alone was directly next to Alberic on the other side of the thin film, controlling the transmission magic with her Gundo.
“The kingdom of Koenigsegg doesn’t know the location of their ‘hero?’”
When they said “hero” here, they were referring to the special unit of eight people that had gone ahead of the main forces to directly finish off Emperor Gaz at the battle for the capital, effectively ending the period of war. At the same time, though it wasn’t made known to the public, they were the owners of Arthur Gaz’s individual remains, which had been divided up among them as spoils of war.
Truthfully, the names of these eight individuals were not released to the public, either.
This was probably because doing so would interfere with the intentions of the respective countries; however, it was just a political maneuver, so naturally those involved with the armies and the inner workings of the countries knew their names.
With that in mind, what did it mean for a country to know nothing of their hero’s whereabouts?
“This man Simon Scania seems to have a thoroughly pessimistic outlook on life, or perhaps I should say he’s not what you would call a ‘people person.’ Apparently immediately after the war he absconded, and the national army couldn’t even trace his location.”
“Absconded? Officially speaking, wouldn’t that mean that he quit the army?”
“It seems so. Essentially, he went MIA.”
Alberic furrowed his brows.
Whether the world knew about him or not, he was a hero all the same. He had probably been treated pretty well while in the army—actually, they’d probably showered him with rank advancements and pay raises. So what reason would he have to defect from the army and flee to some unknown place?
“Apparently quite a few of those in the special forces units deployed to the emperor’s castle in were somewhat problematic individuals to begin with, the eight heroes included. However…”
To ensure Emperor Gaz’s execution was successful, a number of special forces units had been sent to raid the castle. The exact number was not publicly disclosed, of course, but the eight heroes were said to have made up one of those units.
The others were special commando units whose sole mission was the assassination of Arthur Gaz. Of course, in battle they were excellent, but it was said that their personalities left a lot to be desired.
This wouldn’t be a unit where you would find normal people anyway.
The Gaz Empire’s emperor, Arthur Gaz, the man who held many monikers.
To understand why so many labeled him a “monster,” one only need to point to his incredible battle prowess as an individual. It was said none could even hold a candle to him. A normal human challenging Arthur Gaz would have been tantamount to suicide—that was the sort of person the emperor had been.
Therefore, the people participating in this outlandish task either had to be eccentric enough to not reflect on their own lives, or be in some sort of circumstance that forced them to risk it all on the battlefield against unfavorable odds to gain military accolades. This was said to be another reason why the names of the eight heroes were ultimately not released publicly. Once it became known that many of the heroes lauded at the end of the war had personality problems, they had actually been deemed unfit for the public eye.
“This Simon Scania appears to be under suspicion of murder.”
“Did you say—murder?”
“It goes without saying, but it wasn’t on the battlefield. It was at his own home. He’s suspected of killing his own wife and friends. However, there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him, and he’s an incredibly skilled wizard to begin with, so he was able to head back to the front lines without getting captured by the military police—and then half a year later, he joined a commando unit.”
“…Now why would that be?”
Did he enlist in the commando unit to ensure his connection to the murder remained as vague as possible?
Was that why he had disappeared at the end of the war? Because he was afraid someone might reopen the case of the murder of his wife and friends? In the confusion of the war it would have been more than possible to cover it up, but in an era of peace a good amount of crimes would be out there for all to see.
“It seems we won’t know all the details unless we hear them from the man himself. At any rate, immediately after the war his whereabouts became unknown. And yet, after further investigation we received intel that Simon Scania was sighted in the town of Lademio.”
“The town of Lademio…”
Alberic stole a quick glance behind him, and the animal-eared boy Leonardo quickly produced a small, folded-up map and handed it over. On the road the April was currently traveling, it was the closest town over.
“We can be there as early as two days from now if we make haste.”
“Unfortunately, that information is from four years ago.”
Alberic sighed inaudibly enough to where Konrad wouldn’t hear.
That information was quite outdated, then.
“Of course, the possibility is strong that he’s moved on from there since then. For now, we suspect it might be best to follow this lead for any clues he may have left behind.”
Truthfully he didn’t expect much, but as he had no other useful information to go on, it seemed the only option right now was to head for Lademio. In the two months since their targets, Chaika Gaz and her supporters, had given them the slip, they’d just been loitering around in the general area with no orders which had only increased Alberic’s appetite for any sort of directive.
He didn’t think that Chaika Gaz’s information network could be any more extensive than Kleeman’s, but since her goal was to collect all the pieces of the remains, she might at some point come across the name “Simon Scania” or even the name “Lademio.” He was thinking that if they arrived first, perhaps they could set a trap there beforehand.
Suddenly, Alberic voiced a certain “concern” weighing on his heart.
“The other day, there was the dragoon cavalier Dominica Scoda, and before that there was the count Roberto Abarth…for people with the lifelong moniker of “hero”, something feels off.”
“…I agree,” Konrad muttered. “Even with their personalities less than amicable, it’s still quite curious.”
The count Roberto Abarth had shut himself up in his mansion, devoting himself solely to researching magical devices while leaving his territory in the lurch. He had abandoned nearly every duty he had as a count. Thanks to that, the town had seen an influx of refugees, and some serious problems regarding public order and tax collection had manifested.
As for Dominica Scoda—the other day, it was brought to light that she’d been dead for a number of years already.
For reasons unknown, she had settled into a home in the middle of a forest crawling with Feyra, and she too had abandoned her ruling obligations as a countess towards the territory that had been bestowed upon her. Apparently, she had breathed her last breath completely alone, no one the wiser.
“There’s been some talk among those that know of the circumstances, and some are starting to say it’s all a result of ‘Emperor Gaz’s curse.’”
Alberic was a bit taken aback.
There had apparently once been a time where one would hear words like “magic” and “curse” in the same breath, but nowadays they were completely different things. There was a hard line drawn between the two, no matter the country. That was because for the past several hundred years, the regulation and systemization of magic technology had been the cornerstone of the Gaz Empire.
Modern magic was widely acknowledged as technology with a defined system.
Curses, on the other hand, fell into the category of folk religions, or put more harshly, superstition.
To someone with a mind for magic technology, the fact that it wasn’t a realm for wizards or Gundo meant that no matter how many months or years passed it would continue to be ineffective, and it wasn’t like it contained some latent potential that would suddenly spring up. There was no reason to use it.
“Considering this is a man said to have lived three hundred years and capable of using magic previously deemed impossible for one individual to handle, as well as other crazy legends, it certainly makes sense for those sorts of rumors to crop up.”
There were many mysteries surrounding the man Arthur Gaz.
His reign had continued smoothly for two hundred years, leaving behind a host of outrageous anecdotes. Though Alberic didn’t think them all true, he knew the man must have been powerful enough to warrant those kinds of legends. Even after death, his seismic influence transcended consequence, so in that respect one could certainly call it a “curse.”
Then, Alberic suddenly thought of something.
“Perhaps the remains are causing them to go insane.”
“Now you’re saying stuff like that too?”
“No…not by a curse or anything.” At Konrad’s disgusted tone, Alberic replied with a wry smile.“In terms of monetary value and quality of magic they’re second to none, and on top of that they have historical value. Wouldn’t it make sense, then, that they simply lost their ability to think rationally after being exposed to that influence?”
When people came into the possession of something far exceeding normal value, they would tend to misuse it to their own detriment. This was the same concept. It didn’t even have to have some abnormal power—people were merely dazzled by the item’s value, making it easier to run astray. This too could be called a type of “curse.”
“Ah, so that’s what you mean. I see, that is possible.”
“Right. Not anything as superstitious as a curse, something more grounded in realism,” Alberic chuckled. “At any rate, I understand the situation with Simon Scania. Gillette Corps will henceforth head for the town of Lademio.”
“I wish you well. That’s all I have—scheduled correspondence #407, over.”
With those words, the transmission ended.
The blue magical energy enveloping the thin film disappeared, and under Zita’s control, it seeped back into the specialized magical device.
* * *
The windblown steam hung lazily in the air, tracing its own pattern in the evening sky.
Tohru was stretched out on top of the Svetrana above the cargo hold, observing the sky as it grew redder and dimmer.
Staying in the bath so long had made his body unnecessarily flushed, so he had figured some exposure to the gentle wind would help him cool off.
By the way, due to her small stature, Chaika had felt the dizzying effects of the bath much sooner than Tohru, and was now passed out inside the Svetrana. Frederica, as per usual, had just disappeared all of a sudden, and Akari had resumed her work on the medicines.
Tohru suddenly muttered these words.
To be able to trust someone—was probably a beautiful thing.
But coming from his mouth, it only sounded hollow and insincere.
Trust meant there was no doubt. Doubt was the act of debating whether to accept something as the truth or a lie.
“On what basis do you have to trust Chaika?”
Going over the question again in his head, he realized that he had no basis at all. Nothing concrete, anyway.
Tohru basically knew nothing about Chaika.
At least, he only knew of a small fraction of the myriad elements that made up the girl “Chaika,” not to mention the majority of it was all hearsay…he had no solid foundation. Getting right down to it, no contradictions had thus far presented themselves, so he had no reason to doubt her…that was the only reason.
Tohru didn’t think that Chaika would lie to him.
But that was only because he’d determined “she had no particular reason to lie to him and Akari.”
Perhaps there was some reason they weren’t aware of—like there actually was something to be gained, and Chaika herself didn’t know she was deceiving them. Chaika had lost a portion of her memories, so there was no way to tell what she was thinking during those times, nor what she may have been planning.
It could have been anything.
Simply “trusting” in someone was certainly a quandary, but “doubting” was just as complicated. That was why they were called “doubts.”
The day Tohru had met Chaika, he had fought with his life on the line for the first time.
Though battle techniques had been drilled into his body, that had been the first time he’d fought seriously, squeezing out every ounce of his strength with death lapping at his heels. He would never forget that sense of fulfillment he had that day.
This, he thought, was where he had changed.
There was no doubt that what happened that day had let him leave behind the stagnant, rotting daily life he’d led.
But, harsh though it may be, that and trusting Chaika unconditionally were completely unrelated.
If he hadn’t had Chaika with him that day but someone else instead, like say Akari, Tohru would have probably felt the same sense of fulfillment. It was the life-or-death battle against the Feyra that was the important part. Chaika’s presence had been replaceable.
When chicks hatch from their eggs, they recognize the first thing they see from their shell as their mother. Perhaps in a similar sense, Tohru had seen Chaika as someone special simply because she was the one next to him during that first experience of his.
If so, then it all boiled down to a mere misgiving.
Not to mention—
Akari’s circumstances were different from Tohru’s.
Akari wasn’t traveling along with Chaika. She was traveling along with Tohru who was traveling along with Chaika. She had no reason to view Chaika as anything special. She was simply tagging along because she was concerned about her unreliable brother.
Even if Tohru was risking his life only to be deceived by Chaika, well, it’d in some respects be a “reap what you sow” case.
But from the start, Akari had had no reason to risk her life for Chaika. Of course, it was true that on paper she was tagging along with Tohru as another of her bodyguards, but Akari was different from Tohru in that she could find a place to belong in the new era. While Tohru could only live as a saboteur, could only choose that way of life, Akari was not bound in such a way.
Wasn’t he actually pulling Akari into something ridiculously unreasonable?
As he was thinking about this…
“To think you’d call my name in such a heartrending way.” Akari’s face appeared in his vision from above. “Did something awaken inside you?”
“Don’t conceal your presence when approaching me!” Tohru instinctively yelled out, flying upright.
When did she get that close? Akari was sitting on the roof, a white apron over her usual garb. It seemed like she’d spotted Tohru in the middle of her mixing and came over to check on him.
“You’re always, always like this!”
This was not the first time Akari had startled Tohru by snuffing out her presence. As a matter of fact, it seemed to him like on a daily basis she was eagle-eyeing for any moment she could catch him off guard. Tohru had no idea what she found so amusing about it.
“Are you trying to give me a fatal heart attack or something!?”
“Ridiculous. Why would I need to do something like that?” She shook her head exaggeratedly as if to say, absolutely unthinkable.
Her expression was the same as ever, though, so the action was completely transparent.
“It’s long been decided that you’re going to die during sexual intercourse,” Akari explained as her she balled her hand up into a fist.
“Don’t just go deciding my own cause of death for me!” Tohru yelled. “Besides, isn’t the usual cause of death in that case a heart attack?”
“Considering your steel will and bottomless lust, I was thinking more along the lines of death by pure exhaustion.”
Just what type of person was the Tohru inside Akari’s head, anyway?
After breathing an everlong sigh—Tohru, like Akari, assumed a sitting position on the roof of the Svetrana.
“What is it, Nii-sama?”
Akari tilted her head at this prompt from Tohru.
Suddenly getting the feeling that it would be difficult to ask staring right at his sister’s face, he chose to look up once more at the evening sky.
“Why did you decide to come along on this journey, anyway?”
“…You’re asking me this now?” Akari said, as usual, expressionlessly. “Because Chaika hired me, is that not the case?”
“It is, but…”
“And you were the one that decided to be hired by Chaika, weren’t you?”
“That’s what I’m getting at. That was my decision—you didn’t have to come along.”
“…?” Akari tilted her head even further.
As if she didn’t understand Tohru’s words.
“I’m saying the reason I’m traveling with Chaika doesn’t extend to you. Frederica said this earlier, but there are a lot of uncertain—not to mention dangerous—parts about this journey.”
“You really are saying all this awfully late,” Akari said. Her tone of voice and expression were, of course, completely flat. Not even a hint of being shaken. With an air that Tohru had just told her something completely obvious, she continued.
“It’s not Chaika I chose to accompany. It was you.”
“If it’s going to be dangerous, that’s all the more reason I should stay by your side.”
“If my Nii-sama died in some place I didn’t know about…I just wouldn’t be able to handle it.”
Akari slowly shook her head.
She’d had an emotion deficiency since long ago, so there were many times where people would misunderstand her, even among her comrades., and Tohru often covered for her. Why he did so, he didn’t know. Perhaps it was just the bond between brother and sister.
Even if the familial bonds they had were nothing more than a convenient arrangement.
“If you died in a place I didn’t know about…”
Akari looked up at the sky with Tohru.
“…how would I be able to stuff you?”
“You’re still going with that bit?”
Tohru glared at his sister with half-lidded eyes.
And just when he thought Akari was actually saying something kind of moving.
“Though I may not look it, I am an earnest woman, after all.”
“That’s not something you say about yourself. And you’re using that word wrong.”
Akari tilted her head once more.
In the next moment—Tohru and Akari reacted at nearly the same time.
Tohru snatched up the two short sword comblades lying at his side, while Akari grabbed the hammer attached to her back. Since they were sitting on the roof of the Svetrana, their footing wasn’t secure enough for them to ready their weapons.
The two of them sensed it almost simultaneously.
A presence that up until now had not been there before suddenly flooded their backs. It was a different situation from earlier when Akari had snuck up on Tohru while concealing her presence—this one had appeared suddenly and without warning.
“Who are you?” Akari asked as she twisted around to look behind her.
Tohru did the same, and…
Narrowed his eyes.
The solitary slender figure of a boy was standing there.
Flaxen hair. Amber eyes. He looked to be about in his teens, age-wise—Tohru’s first impression upon meeting him had been that of a boy approaching manhood yet not quite there, with a delicacy almost androgynous.
Truthfully, he was handsome…but Tohru felt that something about him was off.
Something was missing. He was lacking something normal humans were endowed with by nature. However, Tohru couldn’t nail down exactly what it was. He reminded Tohru of an exquisitely-crafted puppet: though he looked exactly like a human, he was something different.
“Guy, is it?”
Motioning to Akari to not make any reckless movements, Tohru addressed him.
The first time they had met, Guy’s mysterious nature had caused Tohru to unconsciously go on the offense. It was reasonable to think Akari would do the same thing. If she did, it would probably end up in the same result.
“Ah, so you remember me. Good job.”
The boy replied in a tone that absolutely did not fit his appearance.
The words themselves were those of someone lightly looking down on someone else, almost haughty, yet the tone was dry and carried no trace of emotion. It was different from Akari, whose inner emotions did not show on her face: it was almost as if this boy had been empty from the start. His gestures and intonation were half-baked compared to Akari’s, making them seem noticeably hollow, like the feeling one gets upon viewing a bad play.
“Nii-sama, who is—”
“I told you about him before. He’s the one that gave us the information about the Svetrana and Dominica Scoda.”
He was, in a way, ten times more suspicious, no, tens of times more suspicious a character than Chaika.
His true identity was unclear, he hadn’t revealed his goal, and perhaps most fishy—his actions didn’t seem to be for his own benefit. All he had done was give Tohru’s group some information. It was possible that he was wanting Tohru’s group to dance to his tune towards some end of his, but Tohru had no idea what that end could possibly be.
“‘Guy,’ was it?” Standing up on the roof, Akari glared at Guy with narrowed eyes. “Let me give you one little warning.”
“I’m listening. What is it?”
“Nii-sama is not into guys.”
“What are you saying, you idiot!?” Tohru reflexively jumped up from his sitting position on the roof, removed his left hand from the sword’s hilt and sent a chop directly to the back of her sister’s head.
“Just getting the important things out of the way first—”
“Don’t just spout off incomprehensible crap like that.”
“Chaika and Frederica were already a handful. We don’t need any more characters aggravating Nii-sama’s lust any further. It would be problematic in all sorts of ways.”
“Is that the only thing important to you!?”
“Don’t be proud of that!”
After finishing his yelling—Tohru faced Guy once more.
That was to say, he turned his attention toward him once more. He hadn’t actually take his eyes off Guy since he’d seen him. Tohru felt uneasy at looking away, like the minute he averted his eyes something would come toward him.
He didn’t know what abilities the boy had. He didn’t know when or which way the boy would move.
In other words—Guy had the potential to kill both of them at any time.
“And? So what do you want?” Tohru decided to ask for the time being. “Got some more information for us?”
“Indeed. I’ve acquired some new information. Information concerning the whereabouts of the next ‘hero.’ It may be of interest to you.”
Just what sort of information network did this boy possess?
It couldn’t have been just him. That wasn’t the kind of information you get just by asking around. There had to be some sort of organization backing him.
“Simon Scania. His exact location is unknown, but the last place the man was sighted was the town of Lademio. If you go straight from here, you can get there in about three days by vehicle.”
“The town of Lademio—”
He’d never heard of it.
Probably a small remote town.
“The witness’s information is close to four years old now—no one has seen Simon Scania since. However, if you go to his last known location now, there may be some clues as to his whereabouts.”
Tohru glared right into Guy’s composed face.
It was true that his information concerning Dominica Scoda and the Svetrana had been right on the money. But even so, Tohru could not bring himself to trust this boy. To begin with, he wasn’t someone who could be judged on appearance. While he may have looked like a cooperative young boy on the surface, he got the feeling he had some hidden motive.
“You’ve known them all from the start, haven’t you?”
Tohru interrogated Guy with searching eyes.
“The locations of the remains.”
“…Of course not,” Guy said flatly with a shrug. “Not me, at least.”
“There probably is someone that knows. I’m just the messenger. I just know the details appropriate for the time. I’m not authorized to know the whole picture.”
At Guy’s beating-around-the-bush, Tohru could see Akari’s brow furrow from the corner of his eye.
As he thought, it seemed that she too found the boy suspicious. Just based on overall impression more than actual reasoning. It was hard to specifically say what was strange, though.
“I get the feeling we’re being strung along, and I don’t like it.”
“Is that so? Well, that’s fine.”
Guy just nodded at Tohru’s words. His response wasn’t laced with sarcasm or hatred. No emotion that easily identifiable was noticeable within the “void” that was this boy.
“Anger. Doubt. Scorn. Hate. Love. Laughter. Affection. Feel it all to your heart’s content. Those are all things you desire.”
His vague way of speech only made Tohru more irritated.
“You are free to doubt the information I’ve given you; however, if you do believe it, it’d be best to hurry. It seems the group chasing you tied to the Kleeman organization have obtained the same information.”
“What did you say?”
“Alberic Gillette, I think his name was?”
The image of the cavalier—and his deadly skills—passed through the back of his mind.
Born during the long war, he literally was a military prodigy. He had only had a short run-in with him, but it was enough to understand that he was no ordinary opponent.
In a one-on-one battle, Tohru didn’t know if he could win.
Not to mention Tohru’s group was outnumbered by Alberic’s group.
“Got it. We’ll keep it in mind.”
Of course, during this whole time, he had not taken his eyes off Guy for even a second. Ever since recognizing his presence, he had kept focused on him without so much as a blink.
Of course, Akari’s voice was laced with surprise.
He hadn’t taken his eyes off him for a second. Akari probably hadn’t either.
But despite that, Guy’s figure had disappeared from both their sights.
Without any warning, in a literal instant—as if he had never been there in the first place. Not even two pairs of eyes could distinguish any movement.
“What kind of trick was that?”
At present, he was not their enemy.
But, if one day he happened to turn on them, he would be an extremely dangerous individual.
Perhaps we should think of some kind of countermeasure against him, Tohru vaguely thought, and let out a breath he’d been holding without realizing it.