The Lost Girl and the Flying Lizard
… what am I doing?
Kutori Nota Seniolis ran. She dashed out of the warehouse, bolted through the thick forest, sprinted across the harbor, and when there was no more land for her to run on, she spread her wings and took to the skies.
She didn’t know why. But she felt like she had to. It was the only option in her mind. After that short mock battle with Willem, she generally understood what he had wanted to demonstrate. She made the mistake of understanding, and now she couldn’t bear it.
Comparing the normal firepower currently available to the army to the strength of the incoming Teimerre, chances of victory seemed slim. So the military wanted to temporarily increase its arsenal by preparing a sacrifice. That was the current situation in a nutshell. But this situation now had a better solution: permanently raise the base amount of firepower.
From the very beginning, they knew that the fairies weren’t drawing out the full potential of the Dug Weapons as wielded by the Emnetwyte. After all, being such ancient weapons, they must have degraded in quality at least a little since then. On top of that, due to the lack of a convenient user’s manual, they had to figure out how to work with the swords by trial and error. They also, of course, had to fool the swords’ confirmation systems by using the fairies as a dummy race, forcing them to activate.
So, obviously, if someone that actually knew how to use the weapons magically appeared, the situation would change drastically. They could recalculate. Change plans. Eliminate the sacrifices.
But that would be equivalent to admitting that their way of fighting up until now had been mistaken. It would mean that they had lost so much, sacrificed so many, all for nothing. It would belittle their resolve and determination, the results of a long and tormenting struggle to accept their grim fate, as worthless.
Six months ago, on that day when an attack from an especially large Teimerre had been predicted. That very moment, when it was announced that no effective strategy existed other than to make Leprechaun soldier Kutori Nota Seniolis go berserk.
“I was so scared…”
Of course, she didn’t want to die. After finding out that her time remaining was limited, a myriad of things she wanted to try, goals she wanted to accomplish, and dreams she wanted to come true popped into her head. She had cried and cried, then tried to act strong.
“I was finally able to accept it…”
A little over half a month ago, she decided that she would no longer cry. Yet now, she felt something welling up in her eyes. Damn it! No… I can’t. The more she tried to resist, the more she tried to act tough, the faster her bottled up emotions surged up and overflowed.
She shut her eyes tight and ceased to flap her wings, bringing her into freefall. The whistling of the wind roared in her ears. Directly below, a sea of white, thick clouds spread out. Perfect, she thought. If she flew through those clouds, her whole body would get soaked, concealing any evidence of tears. So she simply let herself fall, giving up the controls to gravity.
The clouds enveloped her. Clouds are basically patches of thick fog appearing in high places. Even though they look like cotton, they have no texture, and flying straight through one won’t make a splash or anything. It was merely a white nothingness of air that damped her entire body.
Oops, she thought. Kutori realized that she had forgotten something very important. It was autumn. Which meant winter was close. Which meant, if you soaked yourself, it got very very cold.
Flying through the air takes a lot of physical strength, for birds and fairies alike. Unfortunately for Kutori, piercing cold also tends to rapidly drain that strength. And to make things worse, no rocks that would make for a convenient resting place seemed to be floating around.
Somehow make it to the nearest island? Try to go back the way I came? Neither seemed particularly impossible, but the former didn’t seem very realistic if she wanted to go home any time soon. Then, turning back looked like the only option, but she hesitated to follow through.
What to do…. Plunging through the clouds head first, she racked her brain. Only that one conclusion popped into her head, but, not wanting to choose that for some reason, she kept forcing herself to think.
In the corner of her pure white field of view, a black shadow suddenly appeared.
— five minutes later.
The second floor of the Winged Guard patrol ship ‘Baroque Pot’. The small strategy room. Very small. Of course, as a strategy room, it needed a certain minimum amount of surface area to accompany an appropriate crowd. And, in the room currently were only two people, including Kutori. So why did it feel so narrow?
The answer was simple: the other one of the two happened to be a giant Reptrace whose height easily doubled Kutori’s. His width also looked to be about twice her’s, and his body weight and presence seemed to be about eight times larger. Drying her face with a borrowed towel, Kutori looked up at the Reptrace’s face.
“… sorry to intrude so suddenly, First Officer Limeskin. I saw you flying close by, so…”
“Worry not. The gate of respite is always open to honorable warriors,” the Reptrace replied as he placed a cup of medicinal tea on the table. She found the sight of the gigantic Reptrace delicately handling the tiny cup somewhat humorous.
Kutori took a sip, and, after burning her tongue, found out the drink was in fact very hot. And also very very bitter.
“However, I am curious as to why you were flying through a cloud in this season. Especially right before an important battle.”
“Ah….” She fumbled for words, debated with herself, thought deeply, then finally managed an answer. “About that battle… is it too late to say that I’m scared of dying?”
The Reptrace raised one eyebrow — or at least she felt he did. Of course, Reptrace don’t actually have eyebrows so it was just a feeling, but…
“Willem… the Second Enchanted Weapons Technician…”
Kutori knew. She knew that the Second Enchanted Weapons Technician Willem Kumesh living in the fairy warehouse was a soldier only on paper, an existence with nothing but an empty title. But, thinking about it differently, that meant he must look like a proper soldier just going by the army documents. And according to those documents, Willem’s direct superior was the giant Reptrace standing before her eyes, First Officer Limeskin.
“There is a way of fighting different from what we’ve been doing. I saw a little demonstration, and while I couldn’t tell what happened very well, I understood one thing clearly. That method of fighting had much better chances of victory and much higher efficiency than ours.”
Kutori looked down into the tea cup. “And I didn’t want to accept that. That my ‘sister’ was wrong… or that there’s no need to die… I didn’t want to believe it. So I decided to not listen to his words. I figured I didn’t have much time left anyway, so I would prove it on the battlefield. Prove that my ‘sister’ and the others were right. I thought I needed to protect their way of fighting. But…”
“You were afraid?”
She hesitated to nod. It might have been a Reptrace cultural thing or something, but Limeskin took the idea of being a soldier very seriously. She didn’t know all the details and such, but apparently she qualified as a soldier by his standards. If Kutori nodded here, he would most definitely lose respect for her. He would see her as one who lost all courage and threw away the right to carry the title of soldier. But in the end, she couldn’t bring herself to lie.
“… I see.” The Reptrace suddenly produced a scraping ceramic sound from his throat, which resounded loudly throughout the tiny room. “I see. It seems like I must apologize to that man. Our battlefields may be different, but he is without doubt a true warrior.”
He was laughing, which Kutori took a while to notice. “W-why? We’re the ones fighting aren’t we?”
“The battle with the Beasts is ours. But the thing he chose to challenge is the wind that flows through you.”
“The thing you call ‘determination’, or rather your ‘resignation’.”
Feeling blood rising to her head, Kutori drained the rest of the medicinal tea. Her body became so hot it felt like it would burn up from the inside. What could you possibly boil together to make this drink? Why did a Reptrace who can’t control his body temperature even make this? A few worthless questions popped into her head, but she pushed them into a corner of her head for the time being. Now was not the time to be worrying about such things.
“… I see.” Her heart felt a little lighter. Or maybe it was just a hole opening up, but there’s not much of a difference anyway. “I’m not fit to be a soldier… you knew that, didn’t you, First Officer. But you’re unexpectedly good at flattery… so I took you seriously.”
“What are you talking about? Any prideful scaled citizen can never tell a lie, just as the sun can never set in the north.”
“But I’m giving up now… you said that yourself.”
“Resignation and determination are essentially the same thing. They both refer to a decision to sacrifice something important in order to achieve a goal.”
“Isn’t determination… I don’t know… something more important than that?”
“The worth of all things is determined only by the price that you accept. If you are determined to cast away that which is important to you, then that must have value in and of itself. Of course, resigning to that same fate also carries the same value.”
“I don’t understand.”
“To be perplexed at the beauty of words, I must say, is not very fitting for a soldier,” he said with an uncanny cackling laugh.
“So… in the end, what should I do?”
“Do what you want.”
“… I’m asking you because I don’t know that. What is the correct course of action?”
“There is no such thing as correct on the battlefield. That is why a warrior must embrace the wind within his own heart. To obtain guidance on a path where there is none.”
“… First Officer.”
Things were getting bad. She could hardly understand a single word he said anymore. Until just a few moments ago, she might not have fully processed the conversation, but she could at least absorb it. Now, it seems like the Reptrace had gotten carried away with his enigmatic sayings. Kutori felt like he might have been saying something wise and profound, but it didn’t do her any good if she couldn’t understand.
“You said you want to protect the righteousness of your sister’s way of fighting?”
“Then before the battle you must find what exactly that righteousness is. We do not know much about the battles of you fairy soldiers. About the history that has piled up over the years, or about the feelings hidden in the shadows. So only you have the capacity to discover that righteousness.”
“… rather irresponsible, don’t you think?” She tried to include a hint of discontent in her voice, but…
“The wind carries no responsibilities.” He warded off her comment with an unconcerned face (probably).
Kutori sighed. She felt like giving up on a lot of things right about now.
“You might get angry… but I will admit something.”
“Truth is, I never wanted to become a warrior.”
The Reptrace burst out into his signature cackle. “I know. That is why you were able to become a superior warrior.”
… they didn’t seem to be on the same page. In a fit of annoyance, she gulped down a second cup of scorching medicinal tea.