The Brave One and the Successors
What am I? Willem thought to himself. No longer a Brave, he had no reason to protect this new world nor did he have the power to do that anyway. So right now, his only purpose in life was to be this fake weapons manager, an empty position with no responsibilities other than to simply be present. He could disappear at anytime. No one would notice or care or be hurt. He had become a ghost.
— Ten minutes later, in the clinic.
“Why are you here?”
That was the first thing that came out of Kutori’s mouth after she regained consciousness.
“Is there something wrong with staying beside a sick person?”
“I’m not sick,” she snapped with an unpleasant look on her face, although Willem could see her faintly blushing.
“Did you know? The ancient Braves that you guys are imitating had many special illnesses that, if caught during a mission, needed to be treated right away. At the very top of that list was Acute Venom Poisoning, what you’re suffering from right now.”
“Sometimes, your jokes make no sense.” Kutori looked away, still in a sour mood.
It definitely wasn’t a joke, but if she won’t believe it, then oh well.
“C’mon, face this way. I can’t swap out the towel on your forehead like that.”
“I don’t need it.”
“That’s not something the patient decides. Come on.”
“I’m fine. This is nothing. If I just rest a little it’ll go away.”
“Don’t be stupid.” He lightly touched her forehead. “You have to properly treat Venom Poisoning every time, or else it’ll become a regular thing. If you keep taking that attitude towards it, you’ll soon pass your limit.”
“Look at you, talking like you’re an expert.”
“I am an expert. Enchanted Weapons Technician is my job, after all.”
Kutori’s eyes turned the other way for a second time, as if saying, what the heck is this guy talking about? In the first place, Enchanted Weapons Technicians build and maintain spell powered machines used on the battlefield, just like their name implies. The rank of Second Technician carries authority and responsibility equal to that of a superior military officer. And of course, a high amount of education, training, and experience is necessary to climb up to that position. But obviously, Willem didn’t have any of that. The title that he bore, simply for show, carried absolutely no power with it — this was common knowledge among the fairies as well.
“I’m your manager. I think I have the right to be worried about you.”
“It’s not like… it doesn’t matter if you’re the manager or not, I don’t need anyone worrying about me.”
Kutori still refused to face Willem, so he couldn’t see her expression. Although, judging from her bright red ears, her fever probably hadn’t settled down yet.
“I don’t even care about this ‘limit’ or whatever you’re talking about. There’s not much time left anyways.”
“Time? What do you mean?”
“Hey, I want to ask you something,” Kutori responded, ignoring the question.
“If… this is a hypothetical question, okay? If I were to die in five days, would you be a little nicer to me?”
“… huh?” Willem failed to grasp what she meant.
“This is just a what if, so answer. Would you listen to my last wishes and stuff?”
“Wait. Where’d that five days come from? I need to know a little more about what’s going on, or else I can’t answer the question.”
“Five days from now, on the 15th Floating Island. A Teimerre will attack.”
“The 17 Beasts cannot fly. That’s the only reason Regul Aire can go on floating. But the Teimerre, the 6th Beast, can carry out an attack while staying on the ground itself. It has two special abilities: splitting and rapid growth. The main body can stay on land and split off tens of thousands of little parts of itself, then send them flying in the wind. If one of those pieces happens to fall on a floating island, it can rapidly grow, reproduce, and the entire island will be destroyed in about six hours.”
“Of course, Regul Aire has ways to fight it. Something with a presence as large as a Beast’s will definitely be detected by our alarm system before reaching an island. The more powerful the fragment, the sooner we can sense it. That gives us just enough time to prepare defenses. And that’s how Regul Aire has been deflecting Teimerre attacks for the past hundreds of years.”
“About half a year ago, an especially large fragment was detected. Going by predictions of its strength, all of the regular armed forces available at the landing site will not stand a chance against it. But, a fairy with a Dug Weapon, on the other hand…”
“… can defeat it in exchange for her life… is that right?”
“That’s exactly right. Seniolis and I should be able to stop it with a self explosion attack. I guess we’re lucky.”
Kutori, hiding under the blankets, shrugged her shoulders. Only a single sacrifice was needed. If they had been short even a little firepower, a second fairy would have been lost as well — most likely either Aiseia or Nephren.
“Remember, this is all a hypothetical situation.” Slowly, she finally turned to face Willem, a playful smile spreading across face. But her eyes alone showed no signs of cheer. “Well? If that were to happen, would you listen to my last wishes?”
“… depends on what they are.”
“Well… for example… ah….” Kutori fumbled for words. “… if I asked for a kiss or something. What would you do?”
Her too, huh?
Going by the worthless books the fairy girls liked to read, they had gotten to the part where Willem was supposed to be all flustered or feel really embarrassed or something, but he refused to play along. In a voice that almost sounded like a groan, he responded, “You have five days to live, and that’s what you ask for?”
“I-Is that bad?”
Willem made a ring with the thumb and middle finger of his right hand. Then, putting a little strength into his middle finger, he flicked Kutori’s forehead.
“A kid shouldn’t be talking about such grown up things. It’s because all you read is romance novels.”
“N-No, I read a lot of other things too!”
It seems like she didn’t deny the accusation that she had been reading romance novels. Because of her fever, or maybe because she was actually getting agitated, the words coming out of her mouth started to sound less coherent. Also, she didn’t seem aware of it herself.
“A-Anyway, I wanted to make some memories… what’s wrong with that?” She grasped a silver brooch tightly near her chest. “If you were going to die… you at least wouldn’t want to disappear, right? You would want to be remembered by someone. To have a connection with someone.” Slowly, but surely, tears began to well up in her eyes. “How could anything be wrong with that…”
“That’s not what I’m saying. If anything’s wrong, it’s that you’re being too hasty.” Willem touched his hand gently to her forehead. Still hot. “I’m saying that you shouldn’t be so desperate that you’re willing to do that with anyone just for the sake of doing it. Rushing something like that never leads to anything good.”
“It doesn’t matter! It’s not like I have time to worry–”
“Also, if you’re going to cry, let it all out while someone’s beside you. Crying by yourself is only for experienced masters that can tell when they’re going to stop crying. I can’t recommend it for beginners.”
“Shut up. If you’re not going to kiss me, be quiet. Also, I’m not crying.”
“I can tell from your voice, you know?”
“Not crying,” she insisted stubbornly once more.
— What was I? Willem thought to himself. He decided to reconfirm: the shell of a hero who had lost everything he wanted to protect. A shell, of course, does not have any wishes, for it is dead.
“… geez.” He scratched his head. “Lie on your stomach for a second.”
“Can’t hear anything.” Kutori plugged her ears with her fingers and faced the other way.
“Come on, just do it.”
“Well, if you won’t listen…”
Willem grabbed Kutori’s shoulder and forcibly turned her around to face him again. Then, leaning in close, he lightly pressed his lips against her forehead.
Kutori’s entire body stiffened, as if her brain had reflexively halted all activity in response to the shock. She couldn’t fully process what had just happened to her forehead. All she knew was that some surprise had caused her body to stop moving. The sensation that she should have felt on her forehead hardly reached her brain.
“Will you listen now? Lie face down.”
“Eh. Wait. What just happened?”
Growing impatient, Willem again grabbed Kutori by the shoulder and turned her face down on the bed.
“I’m going to get rid of your fever. Just to be safe, keep your mouth closed.”
“M-mouth? Eh? What?”
He placed his hand gently on her back and checked the condition of her muscles and blood flow with his fingers. One characteristic symptom of Venom poisoning is the lowered functioning of body tissues that contain the built up Venom. The body’s immune system sometimes mistakes this for some kind of illness and creates a fever in response. A careful inspection can reveal the problematic places where Venom might be lingering.
“Here… and here…”
He gave a hard push with his fingertips.
During Willem’s long career as a Quasi Brave, it wasn’t too rare of an occurrence for himself or a comrade to suffer from Venom poisoning. When that happened in the middle of a battle, they needed a quick and easy way to lessen the symptoms as much as possible. Especially during long campaigns, preventing burn out from fighting carried significant importance, so one time he grabbed an army medic and learned this technique.
“Ow! It hurts there!”
“It’s because the leftover Venom is making your muscles all stiff. If I can undo it, you’ll feel better.”
“Even though you say that, it still — ah! That tickl — ah!”
“Try to stay still.”
“Like I said, it’s not as easy as it — ah!”
The main trick was to press down on ten specific spots, situated symmetrically about the spine, in order. Restoration of a healthy blood flow helped wash away the stagnant Venom. To draw a comparison, the treatment gave a sensation similar to a muscle loosening massage. Actually, besides stimulating those specific acupuncture points beforehand, the two processes hardly differed at all.
Search for a spot with accumulated Venom, then apply pressure. Look for another point, rinse and repeat. After a good ten minutes, Willem let go of Kutori’s back. The treatment had done enough, and now the body would naturally clean up any remaining Venom as the muscles and blood flow regained their strength.
“Alright, should be fine now.” He put the blanket back over Kutori, who looked a little dazed and exhausted from the barrage of stimulation. “Just get some more rest. After another night’s sleep, you should be almost fully recovered.”
“Ohkyay….” Not fully conscious, she mumbled an inarticulate response.
If left alone, Kutori would probably just fall asleep sooner or later. Willem figured she would be fine and exited the clinic.
What am I? Willem thought to himself, but he got sick of it and quickly stopped. He had other things he needed to think about at the moment.
Paper. Paper. Paper.
That was the first thing he saw as he entered the room. The next thing he saw, and the next, and the next, were all paper too. Puzzled, he took a step back to check the bronze plate beside the door. The words carved into it unmistakably read ‘Reference Room’.
He stepped back into the room, which appeared much narrower than it should have due to the heaps of paper scattered about everywhere. Moreover, the papers within these stacks seemed to cover quite a wide variety of topics. A request for the fixing of a toilet here in the fairy warehouse, a guide on communication with other races during a battle with the 17 Beasts, a receipt for a large order of carrots and potatoes, a report from a night patrol mission, and a cutout from a girls magazine all piled on top of each other.
The tick, tick, tick of the clock on the wall seemed to blare loudly throughout the mess of a room.
He carefully entered the room, navigating through the hilly terrain covering the floor, and headed for the desk. Putting aside the stack of papers occupying the chair, Willem sat down and looked around the room once more.
He crossed his arms and thought about how to go about cleaning up the place. After some consideration, he reached the conclusion that, no matter how long he thought about it, he would never reach a conclusion. Putting that decision off for the time being, Willem grabbed a piece of paper out from the bottom of a nearby mountain. It turned out to be an equipment inspection report from over ten years ago. So this room contained at least a decade of worthless history. He felt a little like an archaeologist.
Well, sitting around like that any longer would just be a waste of time. Reaching out to a nearby tower, he had decided to start off by classifying the menagerie of papers, when he noticed someone standing by the door. A girl with gray hair stared intently into the room with an unreadable look in her eyes.
Willem waited a bit, figuring that she must have come to pick up some document or something, but she didn’t budge. She simply continued to stare into the room as if she were a statue.
“Do you need something Nephren?”
“Not really,” she responded immediately in an indifferent tone, then turned around and just walked away.
“… I wonder what’s up with her.”
Shrugging his shoulders, Willem got back to work. He wanted to know something. And that something most likely lay somewhere at the bottom of this vast sea of paper.
The clock on the wall rang twelve times in succession, signaling the beginning of a new day. He had only just finished organizing the bundles of paper piled up on the desk. An all-nighter was beginning to look inevitable, and whether or not working hard until morning would yield any useful results was also questionable.
“… I’m tired.”
Hearing a rumble from his stomach, Willem realized that he had completely forgotten about food. He had been running without any nutritional refueling for almost half a day, since he last ate around noon.
If he had noticed at least a little earlier, he might have been able to order a light meal at the cafeteria. Well, regretting that now didn’t help fill his stomach at all. For the time being, he put his head down on the desk and closed his eyes. He could deal with an empty stomach, but continuing to ignore his fatigue would only degrade his concentration ability. A little rest would give him enough energy to resume work.
Suddenly, right before he lost consciousness, the scent of coffee drifted by his nose. His ears picked up the soft clank of a mug being placed on top of the desk. Refreshments? Oh, well I guess I did leave the door open.
He was about to thank Naigrat when a head of gray hair entered his field of view. A pair of charcoal eyes stared blankly at nothing in particular.
“You can call me Ren.”
“Okay. Thanks, Ren.”
Looking back at the desk again, he noticed that a plate, with a simple sandwich on top, had also been placed beside the coffee.
“You don’t have to thank me for this,” she said as she surveyed the room. “I just got a little curious, so I came to look. What are you doing?”
“Hmm… I’m trying to investigate something, I guess.”
“In this place?”
“Yep. Treasure boxes are always hidden deep inside underground labyrinths, right? To find something valuable, you need to put in some hard work.”
Willem took a sip of the coffee. “It’s sweet.” He could feel the massive amount of dissolved sugar on his tongue.
“I thought it would be good since you’re tired. Do you not like it sweet?”
“Oh no, this is my favorite.”
To the surprise of Nephren, he proceeded to chug the rest of the coffee and devour the sandwich, which consisted of grilled pigeon meat, slightly wilted lettuce, and somewhat dry bread. There might have been a bit too much mustard, but the extra flavor helped restore some vitality to his exhausted body.
“Ahh….” He let out a satisfied sigh as he felt the small nutritional boost do its work.
“So?” Nephren closed in on him with her expressionless face and asked, “What are you looking for this late?”
“Well… I guess there’s no point in hiding it. I’m looking for you guys’ battle records.”
“Hm?” Confused, she tilted her head slightly. “Why?”
“I’m an outsider, a fake technician, and out of this generation. There’s too much I don’t know. Asking Naigrat is always an option, but since she’s not a soldier, her information will be from a different viewpoint. The best way, then, is to check the army’s data with my own eyes.”
“Don’t think too much of it. I just want to know some stuff.”
“Okay.” Nephren nodded. “Is there anything you want me to do?”
“Are you willing to help? Then, I need any documents related to the frequency of Teimerre appearances and records from battles in the past ten years detailing timing, resources spent, and final losses. Also, if possible, I want records about the repair and maintenance of Kali — Dug Weapons. For example, documents that tell what they tried, what they were aiming for, and what actually resulted.”
“Hm. Very specific.”
“I’ll do all the detailed checking. If you could just gather anything that might look relevant, it would be a big help.”
Now that his stomach had been taken care of, it was time to get back to work. Willem rolled up his sleeves, and, a moment later, Nephren followed suit. The two started paddling through the great ocean of papers filling the room. As the night went on, however, they began to drown.
Morning came. Waking up at her usual time, Kutori Nota Seniolis sluggishly dragged herself out of bed and looked around, noticing that she didn’t seem to be in her own room. After recognizing her surroundings as the clinic room, she tried hard to remember what happened last night, stumped as to why she had been sleeping in this place.
When she finally recalled the events with Willem the night before, her head instantly came to a boil. The fever had weakened her. She had lost her proper sense of judgement. She wouldn’t have done or said those things in her normal state of mind. Many excuses popped into her head, but none of them would undo what had already been done.
If I were to die in five days, would you be a little nicer to me?
“Ahhh why did I say that!?”
Kutori did a backwards dive back into the bed she just got out of and flailed about violently, ignoring the resultant loud creaking noises.
… if I asked for a kiss or something. What would you do?
She squeezed the pillow with all her strength and pummeled it with her fists and threw it against the wall. Why did she say those things? She had no idea. Well, it’s true that she didn’t exactly hate him, she thought fairly highly of him, and if she had to say then she probably leaned more towards the like side, but liking someone as a person and liking someone in that way are completely separate things and you shouldn’t mix them but she couldn’t blame the fact that he’s been on her mind a lot lately all on the fever and — ahh! She couldn’t bear thinking about it any longer.
On top of that, about halfway through the scene her memory became a little hazy. She felt like something happened after that… he said he was going to get rid of her fever or something–.
“Kutoriii, feeling better!?”
“Ah!” A voice suddenly came flying out of nowhere, so she reflexively panicked and hid underneath the covers. “Oh, I’m doing okay.”
“Ah, um… I heard that you were very tired when you came home yesterday, but are you fine now? Can you eat properly and stuff?”
Judging by the voices and movements, Kutori guessed that two people had dropped by for a visit.
“Collon and… Lakish?”
Slowly, she peeked out from within the bed and confirmed her guesses. All she needed to see to be certain were those flashy, bright pink and orange heads of hair.
“Hm? Your face is red,” the pink haired Collon pointed out.
“A-Ah, is it? Are you sure it’s not just the lighting?” Kutori avoided eye contact.
“But it looks like your body is fine. Whenever you guys come back from fighting it always looks really bad, so I’m glad you’re all better today,” said the orange haired Lakish.
Now that she mentioned it, Kutori noticed that her body felt unusually light. Last night, she had passed out due to her overuse of Venom during the battle that took place earlier. Every time it got that bad in the past, the next morning a heavy fatigue would plague her. Getting off of the bed, she tried jumping up and down a little and discovered that she felt no fatigue at all. In fact, she felt great, as if she had been cured by some kind of magic spell.
“It’s true, I feel really light.”
“Just gotta have a fighting spirit and a little bravery!”
It’s probably not that kind of problem, Kutori thought to herself.
“You just noticed now?”
“Ah, well….” She wondered what happened differently this time. Could it be that — her head started to boil again so she refrained from remembering the details — weird message? “… oh, do you guys know where he is?”
“He?” Lakish looked puzzled for a second, but then seemed to understand. “If you’re talking about Willem, I last saw him in the reference room.”
“The reference room… the place where we stuff all the stacks of paper?”
What could he possibly be doing in there? It was literally just a chaotic mess of paper, much less a place actually suitable for any kind of research. As far as Kutori knew, the fairies only ever went there to hide when skipping cleaning duty, since no one would think to check there.
“He was with Nephren.”
Lakish scolded her for leaking unnecessary information, but Collon didn’t seem to mind. “They were sleeping together on the sofa.” In fact, she continued and made things even worse.
“I remembered something I have to do, so I’m going to head out. Thanks for checking on me. As you can see, I’m all better now, so don’t worry.”
“Ah, okay. But….” Lakish cautiously looked up at Kutori. “Don’t be too harsh… okay?”
“What are you talking about?”
Kutori laughed and exited the clinic.
It was a good thing they excavated the sofa while working last night. Willem sat up, with an asleep Nephren still resting her head on his knees.
“Well… I guess we did find some things,” he muttered softly so as to avoid waking up his assistant.
In his hands, he held about a dozen scraps of paper. While it wasn’t the amount he had hoped for, and some unexpected items had gotten mixed in, Willem had still been able to find out a decent fraction of what he wanted to know.
He skimmed over one piece of paper which described the nature of fairies. According to it, the word fairy itself could refer to a number of different species: fire spirits that deceived lost travelers in forests, children with wings surrounded by a glowing aura of light, small people that only grew up to an average man’s knees. All of the different fairy types seemed to be elusive and mischievous. They also used some kind of strange magic and tended to live in forests. Lastly, in many cases, they held special interest in humans, preferring to play their pranks on them.
The description seemed to fit pretty well with the fairies that Willem knew. However, he felt a little uneasy. He was curious as to why the fairies as a race, who hardly differed from regular Emnetwyte girls except for the bright hair colors, got the name Leprechauns. But he decided to put that issue aside for later, considering all the other things he needed to know.
A lot can happen in five hundred years… Willem thought as he continued reading.
One paper laid out the basic theory of necromancy. It started by assuming the existence of the soul and went on to enumerate other occult beliefs. For example, the soul starts out pure white but gets colored by the surrounding environment as life proceeds. As a result, the soul takes more time to mature than the flesh. Even though a child may have a perfectly fine body, his soul will still be very different in structure than that of an adult.
So if one loses his body before his soul has been fully colored by the world, in a way he will die before he is finished being born. The souls who meet this contradiction somehow ignore the world’s rules, by which they should head towards the afterlife (if such a place exists), and instead continue to wander aimlessly among the living.
Those existences are called fairies. Lost souls that passed away at an age so young they couldn’t recognize their own death. Because of this, their behavior imitates that of babies or young children. Guided by their curiosity, not knowing good from evil, sometimes innocent and sometimes cruel, they continue their mischief.
“But they will never have a place in this world… “
Willem glanced at the young girl still sleeping on his knees, then returned his eyes to the document. The remaining section of the article made him feel queasy. To put it simply, it described a concrete method to artificially birth fairies for the purpose of utilizing them. Once it started talking about a sacrifice or something of the sort, he stopped reading. He wasn’t particularly interested in learning necromancy.
Another document recounted a skirmish that took place five years ago. A fairy, unknown to Willem, had carried the Kaliyon named Insania into battle. She had fought three bodies of ‘The 6th Beast’ almost to the point where her Venom went berserk, but somehow lived and returned home. Willem quickly flipped through the pages of the document, which had many similar accounts. Occasionally he spotted mentions of ‘the opening of the gate to the fairy homeland’, which most likely alluded to deliberate self explosion by overuse of Venom.
Strictly speaking, fairies, including the subtype Leprechauns, were not living. They counted as a type of ghost. Consequently, they did not technically count as soldiers despite fighting with the army. Even if a fairy fell during battle, she would not be included in the official death toll.
“So that’s why they’re treated as weapons, not soldiers…” Willem muttered and gently patted the gray hair on top of his knee. He heard a small groan and thought he had woken Nephren, but soon her quiet snoring returned.
What am I? Willem thought to himself. Surely, any answer that he could find would be a lie. Yet he still felt that he needed to decide. Right here, right now, who was he? A shell without any place to belong in this age? An anachronism of a Quasi Brave who lost everything and had his dreams broken? A fake technician idly spending his days just to make money? Or maybe…
A single ray of light slipped in from the window. Rain clouds still covered the sky, but the morning sun found a tiny crack to peek through. Willem squinted his eyes at the sudden change in brightness. Gazing beyond the light, for a second he thought he saw a familiar figure.
“… I wanted to quickly pay off this debt and go there too….” He chuckled.
“Shut up… quit complaining, hurry up and do all you can do,” the figure from beyond the light seemed to respond.
Ah, damn it. That bastard. He has no idea what I’ve been going through these past six months.
“… Willem?” called a voice from on top of his knees.
“Ah, are you awake? Thanks for your help, I found a bunch of stuff.”
“Hm. I didn’t do anything you need to thank me for.” She rolled over to look at him. “You looked like you would shrivel up if I left you alone, so I just helped out a little.”
“But still, thank you,” Willem said as he patted her gray hair again. Nephren looked slightly annoyed, but didn’t swat away his hand. “Alright, we should get up. Looks like we have a guest.”
As soon as he said that, he heard a surprised yelp coming from the half opened doorway. The door creaked open, revealing a sleepy and for some reason grumpy Kutori.
“… um, good morning.”
“Morning. How are you feeling?”
“Huh? Oh, um… really good, actually.”
“I’m glad… I realized that I’ve never tried that on a kid before. Was a bit worried I might have overdone it, but….” Kutori seemed to be taken aback at the mention of last night’s massage. “Also… you came at the perfect time. I need to check something. Ren, get up. It’s already morning.” He took Nephren’s head off his knees and put it on the sofa, then stood up. “Kutori, come with me for a little morning exercise.”
Sometime during their talk, the fickle sky had decided to clear up.
Kutori stood in the middle of the field that the little kids used to play ball games. Nearby, she saw Willem doing some warm ups in flexible looking clothes. And then next to her, Nephren held out a long, thin bundle of cloth, which unmistakably contained a Dug Weapon. She looked at Nephren and the package, then accepted it.
She knew this touch very well. Taking off the cloth wrapping would reveal the familiar silver blade. The Dug Weapon with the highest magic resonance efficiency in all of Regul Aire, Seniolis. Why was she being handed this now?
“Kutori. Do you like the little ones around here?”
“The reason you’re prepared to die… is it to protect their future?”
“That… it doesn’t really matter.”
Willem was mostly right, but at the moment she didn’t feel like honestly admitting it. The whirlpool of emotions that she had trudged through to get to this point wasn’t so simple that it could be summed up with a couple words. Also, she didn’t want to recognize the fact that she used those kids as an excuse to justify her own death.
“Ah… I see.”
Willem took the cloth off of the bundle he held, revealing a mass produced model of Dug Weapon. A few others of the same kind had been excavated so far, but they were usually considered inferior to the unique swords such as Kutori’s.
“I want to see if the rumors are true. Come at me!”
Kutori questioned her ears for a second. Armed with a Dug Weapon, she could be considered one of the strongest fighting forces in all of Regul Aire. In other words, very strong. Not even a Reptrace fully armed with gunpowder weapons could reach her level.
“Do you understand? Just because you have a Dug Weapon too doesn’t mean you’re anywhere near equal. Only we have the power to activate those weapons.”
“Hmm, are you sure about that? Give it a try. You never know what might happen.”
“This isn’t a joke. Do you want to turn into minced meat?”
“That wouldn’t be very fun… although Naigrat would probably like that. Anyways, no need to worry. Hurry up and show me what you’ve got.”
“… well, if you say so.”
Now that she thought about it, Kutori realized that this wasn’t the first time Willem had said some nonsensical things. Also, she needed to inquire about Willem and Nephren’s little nap together. Intimidating him with her fighting prowess before bringing up those questions wasn’t such a bad idea.
Sensing its user enter a battle stance, Seniolis emitted a low groaning sound. The numerous faint cracks running along the blade widened into fissures, out of which poured a faint light, the manifestation of Venom. The composition and inner workings of Dug Weapons were not well understood by the army. However, they knew that the swords seemed to grow in power proportionally to how much Venom the user poured in; if a Leprechaun went all out, even a Teimerre wouldn’t be able to withstand the force. And that was all they needed to know.
“You’re asking for it… so don’t regret it afterwards.”
Her enhanced concentration ability completely transformed her field of view. Color disappeared from her surroundings, and her actions seemed to happen in slow motion, as if she were moving through water. She needed to cover about a twenty step distance, but in her current condition just two steps would suffice. The force of her steps would likely create small holes in the ground, but right now she didn’t have time to care about that.
Willem still looked unprepared. It would be a total surprise attack. She locked her aim on the mass produced Dug Weapon held loosely at the tip of his right arm. If she could send that thing flying, it would be game over before either of them could injure each other.
The distance between them closed rapidly. Willem’s right arm entered the range of Seniolis. No one could follow a Leprechaun moving at this speed, including, of course, Willem. He wouldn’t have a chance to evade or counter the attack.
— Kutori was cut.
… eh? A blade bit into her from the left and continued diagonally up to her right shoulder, smashing a few ribs as it went. The silver tip of the blade ripped her lungs apart and, lastly, sunk into her heart. Her heightened senses allowed her to accurately grasp the condition of her wounds. Scarlet blood began to spurt out, drawing out a vivid arc against the blue sky in the background. She could feel death drawing close.
Why… this can’t be… how…. Brief thoughts popped into her head sporadically, only to disappear a moment later. She had prepared herself for death, but hadn’t expected it here. The approaching nothingness frightened her. Her eyes saw only the deep blue sky, rolling on forever and ever.
Kutori’s back hit the ground, causing her lungs to emit a shriek like a crushed cat’s.
With both arms and legs spread out widely, she lay on the ground, staring up at the sky. She remained in that dazed state for a few seconds, just waiting for her impending death. But eventually, she noticed that something was off. Cautiously moving her arm, she patted her side, where the blade had first struck. There was no wound. No blood was gushing out either. No pain. Not a shred of evidence of the immense violence just carried out against her remained.
“What… just happened?”
She sat up slowly. Seniolis, which she had apparently dropped at some point, rolled about on the ground beside her.
“You guys misunderstand the fundamentals of the Kaliyon.”
Kutori panicked and turned around at the sound of Willem’s voice. The black haired young man stood there lazily with absolutely no signs of distress.
“It doesn’t change strength in response to how much Venom the user has. Can you imagine if the swords forged to help the overwhelmingly weak, almost Venomless Emnetwyte defeat the overwhelmingly strong Elves and Dragons just raised the weaklings’ power a teeny bit?”
Willem started blabbering on and on about something. Kutori suddenly felt very irritated at him, but she didn’t exactly know why. Something inside her head just seemed to tell her that she couldn’t listen to his speech anymore.
She focused. Again, her field of view started to transform. Lunging out, Kutori snatched Seniolis off the ground and, keeping her body low, headed toward Willem for an attack. She didn’t see the attack that just hit her, but she figured it must have been some counter technique that utilized her own momentum against her. Kutori, blinded by the advantage of being able to activate her Dug Weapon and thereby obtaining accelerated senses, hadn’t even considered such a possibility before. Willem had struck precisely in that blind spot brought about by her negligence. The fake death she saw was also not simply a delusion, but rather the real future that Kutori would have met if Willem followed through. She had no choice but to admit that, for some strange reason, he had some skill with a sword.
However, Kutori refused to acknowledge other things. She could not reject the way of fighting with Dug Weapons used by the fairies that she had clung to for so long. Right now, her body moved with more ease than normal. To her chagrin, Willem’s massage might have played a part in that, but she was thankful nonetheless. Fueled by Venom, she sprinted in two strides a distance that normally would have been about ten steps long. Coming to a sudden stop just out of the range of Willem’s weapon, Kutori purposefully waited for a split second to throw off his timing, then leaped into the air. The silver blade in her right hand aimed for his shoulder, but the real attack would be a kick with her left leg straight into his side. If it landed, the kick, enhanced by Venom, would likely knock Willem out. But she had to go that far, or else he wouldn’t understand.
A moment’s doubt popped into her head, but she immediately tossed it out. This time, she could see Willem’s movements. With a relaxed motion, he raised his sword and parried the incoming blow from Seniolis. This threw Kutori off for a fraction of a second, giving Willem the opportunity to drive his left hand right into her side.
The dynamics of the situation turned chaotic. Kutori’s body twisted and turned while flying off through the air.
Once again, the cloudless autumn sky filled her view. However, at least this time she didn’t seem to be dying yet. She reached out with her left arm and forcibly braked her body using her fingers. The five fingernails digging into the dirt felt like they would rupture, but Kutori was able to stabilize her posture.
“Wow… nice recovery.”
Willem’s astonished voice only annoyed her more. She was the astonished one here.
“… how did you?” Kutori asked, her voice shaking with frustration.
“Hm? Which one?” Willem responded nonchalantly.
It seemed like he could tell that she had multiple questions in store for him. Kutori, having lost the motivation to try any more surprise attacks, strolled up to him and casually took a swing with Seniolis. Willem calmly held up his own sword to block the strike. She could see light pouring out from the cracks of his blade.
“No matter how hard I push my spell vision, I don’t see any traces of Venom coming from your body. But that sword is definitely activated. What kind of rule violation is this?”
“I was in the middle of explaining that when you decided to try and kill me…. The Kaliyon is designed to utilize the power of anyone that its blade touches, not the user’s. The stronger the opponent, the more powerful the sword becomes. That’s why it could be used to kill the Dragons and the gods. This time, my Percival in a sense copied all that Venom you ignited to activate Seniolis. Now then…”
Kutori felt something run down her spine. An attack was coming. Her body instinctively threw itself backwards with all its strength while accelerating her senses and draining the color from her vision. After her lightning fast evasion, she lost her balance and ended up on the ground.
She couldn’t tell whether or not that was the right move, for Willem had not actually moved an inch. He remained in the same posture, idly holding his sword out, with an expression of slight admiration being the only thing that changed.
“Your body and thoughts seem to move well. The Venom must be doing its job. Also, you have good perception. Although you could improve on your strategy, that’s not really necessary for the type of fighting that you do. On top of that, you still have the option of going berserk, huh? … I see. It’s no surprise that you’ve been able to fight your way through until now.”
Willem threw down the sword in his right hand. Kutori, still wary of any more tricks, stood up and knit her brows, but he just kept talking.
“I’m relieved. You are strong, and you still have room for growth. So… that’s why… you need to come home.” By the end, Willem’s voice had become almost a whisper.
His body wobbled slightly before collapsing to the ground face up, knocking up a cloud of dust. Kutori still didn’t let her guard down. She carefully watched his sword lying on the ground, his two legs poking out at her, his arms opened widely as if to embrace the sky, his lifeless eyes staring up… lifeless?
As soon as Kutori noticed something amiss, Nephren walked up to check his heartbeat and pulse.
“Ah.” She didn’t sound very surprised.
“W-What happened?” Kutori asked, still remaining alert. She had just been startled by Willem over and over again, so she couldn’t falter now. Or at least that’s what she told herself as she continued to hold onto Seniolis.
“He’s almost dead,” Nephren said with a sigh.