The Superficial Supervisor
What am I? Willem often asked himself this question.
A long, long time ago, he lived in an orphanage, where he met his master. The master raised him and taught him everything he needed to know in order to survive. The master also happened to be fundamentally a horrible person. Normally, as the manager of the orphanage, he should have acted as a replacement for the children’s parents. However, he completely neglected that responsibility, leaving Willem, who was only a little older than the other kids, to take on the role of ‘Father’.
The master would often get drunk and take every opportunity to tell made up stories about how he used to be a Regal Brave. While he was relatively strong, skilled with swords, and strangely knowledgeable, the children all agreed that he looked more like a bad guy than a hero.
Willem could think of many other examples, but if he started counting all of the master’s vices he would never stop. Whistling inappropriately at random girls in town, making little kids read odd books, not shaving his wild facial hair no matter how much others told him to — never being home at the most important moments. The list went on and on. So the young Willem vowed to never become an adult like that.
Among the master’s many sayings, this one stuck with Willem the most: “Take care of women. Men cannot escape from them. Also take care of children. Adults cannot win against them. Against a girl, prepare yourself. No matter what we do, we are no match for them.” When the master told Willem this, he didn’t pay much attention. He didn’t want to think about such bothersome things. But unfortunately, along with many of the master’s other teachings, it became part of his guiding principles.
Thanks to that, others sometimes suspected Willem of being into little girls — but he preferred to not think about those times.
Not having to do anything was not only an even more accurate description of Willem’s job than he thought, but also more painful than he imagined. Come to think of it, for the past six months he had always been pressed for time, running from one low paying job to the next. From early in the morning until late at night, or sometimes until early the next morning, he worked until he could work no more. As for sleep, his only choice was to sneak in a few hours whenever he happened to be free, regardless of the time of day.
So getting a good night’s sleep in a soft bed and waking up to the sun’s warm rays just by themselves were incomparable comforts for Willem. But he had a difficult time adjusting to his new situation of not having various tasks looming over him 24/7. His mind, taking advantage of this freedom, brought back memories he would rather forget and lingered on thoughts he would rather not think about.
Willem was also still not totally comfortable in his new home, the so-called “warehouse”. In total, about thirty children lived in the facility, all of them girls, with ages ranging from seven to fifteen. Moreover, they all had vivid, almost transparent brightly colored hair. The palette of colors seemed almost otherworldly, like something out of an abstract painting, but for some reason the girls’ hair didn’t feel unnatural to Willem, perhaps because the colors were not dyed on.
None of the girls had much experience with adults, especially with men, so almost all of them remained wary of Willem or even outright avoided him. He figured that the bunch who burst into his room on the first day must have been an exception. Well, he couldn’t blame the girls. They had been raised in their own little world, completely isolated within the warehouse. It was only natural that a sudden intruder, and a strange looking, large one at that, not receive a warm welcome.
Walking through the hallways, he always sensed a few presences hidden in the shadows. But whenever he turned around, he could only spot the backs of small children running for their lives. After a while, Willem began to feel guilty just getting out of his room and walking anywhere.
Of course, even if he just holed up in his room all day, there was nothing to do. He had no notable hobbies, and working out didn’t have much meaning anymore since he no longer fought. Willem didn’t mind sitting by the window and just staring outside once in a while, but wasting away the next few months like that didn’t seem very appealing.
He decided to change things up a bit by visiting the nearest town. It consisted of around a hundred stone buildings lined up on a gentle slope surrounded by the countryside, forming an idyllic setting drastically different in feel from the gloomy 28th Island.
As he walked down the streets, Willem noticed that none of the passersby seemed to take a special attitude toward him, despite him not wearing a robe or hood to cover his markless features. He decided to grab some lunch at a nearby restaurant and ask the owner about that.
“Hmm… well I guess we don’t really mind around here.” The young man, with a head like that of a chestnut colored dog’s, explained to Willem while shaking a frying pan around. “Talking behind people’s backs just because they look like bad guys from centuries ago… no point in doing that. If you want to, you can gossip about the guys doing bad things right now.
“Well, I guess in some places there are so many bad guys around that people just give up and target the markless. Since they’ve been discriminated against for generations past, it’s easier that way. Don’t even have to think about it. Us out here though, living peacefully and carefree, don’t want any of that.”
I see… that’s how it is around here.
“Also… you may not know since you’re not from around here, but there’s someone that lives nearby. A markless thousands of times more terrifying than any Emnetwyte of the past. Anyone who sees that smile will forget about history and just be grateful that they’re even alive.”
… I see.
Half listening to the chef’s talk while absentmindedly waiting for his food, Willem suddenly heard a voice from behind.
“Hm? Oh, it’s you…”
A familiar face walked over. The girl with the clear sky blue hair.
“Hey, Kutori… and…”
Two other girls followed behind, both about the same age as Kutori. All together, they were the three oldest of the children living in the warehouse, although that wasn’t saying much.
“Oooh, the handsome man everyone’s been talking about lately!” A girl with faded gold hair came running up and stuck her face right in front of Willem’s. “Also, only greeting Kutori by name? Since when did you guys become so close, hmm?”
“Cut it out.”
“Fiiinee.” She drew back in response to Kutori’s cold voice.
“It’s not like there’s anything between us… I just happened to meet him earlier than the others, so I got a chance to tell him my name… that’s all.”
“Hmm… well if you say so.”
“It’s the truth.”
“Okay, okay. Well then, Second Enchanted Weapons Technician, it would be great if you could remember our names as well… this noisy girl right here is Aiseia, and that –.” She turned around and pointed at the third girl, sitting at a table in the corner with a blank face. “The one minding her own business over there is Nephren. Pleased to meet ya.”
“Well that was a creative introduction… I’m guessing you already know my name?”
“Of course! Also, your favorite food is spicy meat, you aren’t too picky but Reptrace lunch boxes are no go, you like kindhearted older girls… right?”
“Wait, Aiseia… I didn’t hear about any of this.” Kutori, apparently not informed by the little girls from the avalanche, looked at Aiseia suspiciously.
“Hehehe… those who control the information control the island. A little spying can go a long way, ya know…”
Energetically going back and forth at each other, the pair moved over to where Nephren sat.
“What’s this all about? You’re acquaintances with the young ladies from the warehouse?” The dog headed Lucantrobos came by to deliver Willem’s lunch: a baked potato, assorted vegetables, thick strips of bacon, a small piece of bread, and lastly a cup of soup.
“Yeah… recently moved into that warehouse for my job.”
“Hmm? That warehouse… living in….” For some reason, all the chestnut color began to drain from the cook’s face. “AHHH!!” With terrific speed, the young man drew back and stuck his body against the wall, limbs trembling. “S-Sorry please don’t kill me please don’t eat me I have a family to take care of!”
An unexpected reaction, but Willem could see where the misunderstanding might have sprung from.
“I’m not a troll, you know…”
“I’m still in debt from this restaurant so I probably don’t taste good and — eh? What’d you just say?”
The Lucantrobos stopped his flailing motions for a second and blinked.
“I said I’m not a troll… I know it’s hard to tell the difference between markless races, but I’m not going to eat you or anything, so calm down…”
“B-But, surely you must be the same race if you live under the same roof as that ‘Red Stomach’.”
“Wait… have people from this town been eaten before?” Watching the young man’s terrified face, Willem thought of a possibility he really didn’t want to consider. If it were true… that would be no good, to say the least. While the different islands of Regul Aire foster varying cultures, they are all tied together under common laws. And according to those laws, the murder of any intelligent life form constitutes a serious crime, even for hungry trolls.
“Well… no… but….” The young man’s dog ears drooped. “Until just recently, there was a shady Orc organization around here. Named ‘Black Fur’… well anyways this organization –”
“Ah, that’s enough… I can see where this story is going.”
Willem figured that the Black something or other organization did something to the girls, then Naigrat went to obliterate them and was witnessed laughing maniacally while covered in blood. Not surprising really… she would definitely do something like that. But, well… Naigrat helped Willem out in the past, was one of his few acquaintances, and was now his coworker, so he figured he should try to back her up.
“Naigrat doesn’t just go around eating people for no reason. She might be misunderstood… or rather feared because of moments like those, but normally she’s a nice lady. That is, if you ignore her impatience or short temper or how she always talks about eating people… well anyway, there’s nothing really to be afraid of.”
In general, when she smiles and asks “can I eat you?”, 90% of the time it’s a joke… a rather dark joke. But you know she doesn’t actually intend to eat you, so there’s no reason to be scared. Willem preferred to not think about the remaining 10%.
“Wow… you’re amazing.” For some reason, the cook stared at Willem with a great amount of respect in his eyes.
The strongest weapon. Throughout history, no matter the time nor place, that has been the woman. Well, it’s obvious if you think about it. Girls are the fastest and easiest way to raise the morale of soldiers, a fact that has been true since ancient days.
The vanity of men cannot be underestimated. On the battlefield, amidst the chaos and repeated life or death struggles, soldiers throw away visions of victory, dreams of glory, their dignity… but until their last breath they refuse to give up on one thing: they cannot look bad in front of a girl. Just that simple motive will instill the greatest vitality into a broken soldier waiting for his death.
The best armies knew that effect well and made sure to always mix a few women in with the savages on the battlefield. The supply unit or medic team worked fine, but positions closer to the front lines always had more of an impact. A female knight, deftly wielding her sword, running through the battlefield. A peerless female Brave chosen by her Kaliyon. A thaumaturgist hiding powerful arcane magic within her delicate body.
If someone like that was rumored to be on some battlefield somewhere, the idiot soldiers would cheer right up. Even stories of such people in long past battles or stories that hardly contained anything believable could add a pinch of hope to the dreariest of situations.
Willem knew one girl who was praised as a hero and revered as a legend among soldiers. Needless to say, she was strong, but her strength tended to be exaggerated by the guys. Hearing tales of her valorous deeds spread across the battlefield, she would simply laugh it off.
You shouldn’t have to think too hard. It’s exactly as I said. We are the weapons you’re talking about.
Those words replayed through Willem’s head. It seemed like the young girls laughing and playing here in the warehouse differed from those other women. Of course, a hero created for the sole purpose of raising soldiers’ morale needed to be more famous, which would also require her to be a more popular race, not a markless. Also, to put it simply, she would need to be appealing to the filthy, lustful hearts of men.
So something felt wrong about these girls, who were not only kept secret from the public but also way too young to fulfill the second point. Something about their situation clearly differed from those of the girl warriors that Willem used to know. In any case, whatever the true nature of the secret weapons or the young girls was, he had no need to be concerned. As a superficial supervisor, he simply needed to hang out around the warehouse without causing any trouble.
— At least, that’s what Willem tried to convince himself of. After about three days, though, his patience reached its limit. The combination of seeing the little girls scared and knowing that the source of their fear was none other than himself pushed him over the edge.
“Hm? Ah, okay… that’s fine with me, I guess…”
“Thanks a lot.”
Willem requested to help out with dinner that day and borrowed a corner of the kitchen. Eggs, sugar, milk, and cream. A small pile of berries. A chicken bone to extract gelatin from. Having assembled any useful looking ingredients on the counter, Willem recalled the steps of his signature ‘popular with little kids and easy to make dessert’ recipe.
Time to get to work. He donned his personal apron and lighted the crystal stove. His ears picked up the whispers of little spies crowded in the shadows, peering in at the kitchen.
“What in the world is he trying to do?”
Here in the warehouse, going into the kitchen when you’re not on meal duty is strictly prohibited, so peeking inside from afar is the best you can do. Bearing the weight of many staring little eyes on the back of his neck, Willem continued his work. Over the past few days, he had come to the conclusion that the girls’ tastes differed little from his own. Obviously, differences in gender and age can bring about some contrasting preferences, but the disconnect due to racial, and consequently physiological, differences is far more severe.
In the past, Willem once went out to eat with a Borgle friend (well… it was Grick). That experience scarred him for life. When Willem said something tasted delicious, Grick would complain that it tasted like hell, and when Grick said something tasted delicious, to Willem it tasted like a nightmare.
They should have just given up there, but Grick insisted that they find something suitable to both their tastes at all costs. And from that point on, the day became worse than hell or any nightmare. It ended with both of them desperately gulping down water to wash out their mouths, tears streaming down their faces, while practically screaming “delicious! delicious!”.
Anyway, Willem figured that the girls’ tastes couldn’t be too different, seeing how they were able to sit in the same dining hall and eat the same food. He called over the girl on meal duty to have her sample his work. She glared at the caramel filled spoon as if she had found an alien by the roadside or something, but eventually summoned up enough courage, shut both eyes tightly, and put the spoon in her mouth. After a few seconds of dead silence, the girl slowly opened her eyes and mumbled, “It’s delicious!” Silent cheers rose up from the onlooking spies.
In the end, it turned out alright. The girls who ordered the ‘special dessert’ stuck onto the corner of the menu at the last minute all had about the same reaction. They carried the first spoonful to their mouths looking like they were prepared to die. After a brief pause, the cafeteria would be filled with sparkling pairs of eyes.
Willem, now taking his turn to hide in the shadows and spy on the girls, struck a victorious pose outside the dining hall. As expected, a little sugar was all he needed to capture the stomachs of children.
“… what are you doing?”
Naigrat’s disapproving voice came from behind.
“I got this recipe straight from my master. Hate to admit it, but he had a lot of influence over kids… this being proof. Back in the day, I fell victim to that dessert countless times.”
“Uh, not that. Even if you decide to do more work, you won’t get paid any more, you know?”
“I don’t care about that.” Willem scratched his face. “I felt bad seeing how they were all scared of me. If those girls are the weapons, then as their manager I don’t think I should be putting unnecessary stress on them. So this is… how to put it…”
He struggled to find the right words. He couldn’t even be sure that the sounds coming out of his mouth made any sense. But Willem had something he needed to say.
“It’s not like I’m trying to spoil them or anything. It’s just… if my being here has been a negative so far, I’m just trying to bring it back to zero. After all, it’s my ‘job’ to have no influence on anything whatsoever, isn’t it?”
“Well, if you say so… I don’t really mind.” Naigrat narrowed her eyes. “But… you said that strangely fast, it sounded like a forced excuse, and you looked like you were trying so hard to fool yourself it was embarrassing just to watch…. If you truly meant what you said, however, then you’ll hear no complaints from me.”
She saw straight through him.
“Sorry please don’t ask further please I beg you.”
“When I first met you, I thought you were a more apathetic and cynical person.”
“Ah… well….” Willem had thought that too. He had once decided to live as that type of character, staying isolated from the people and events around him. So he himself was surprised at his actions just now. “I lost myself for a moment… from now on, I’ll be more careful.”
“I mean, it’s not really a bad thing… as long as those kids are happy, nothing else matters. Also.…”
“You smell even more delicious with that sugar scent all over.”
“From now on, I’ll really be more careful…”
Willem made a mental note to always take a shower after being in the kitchen.