4. A Conclusion
The morning greeted him, all alone, after a dreamless night. His body was in peak condition, but the same could not be said for his mood.
“… I can’t seem to calm down.” With his back laid against the soft bed, Willem let out a long, groaning sigh. It was probably this bed’s fault that he couldn’t get his mind off unpleasant things. The mattress was unusually high and fluffy, which caused his back to sink rather deeply, adding to his discomfort. The high ceiling with an intimidating engraving of a Dragon on it didn’t help either.
A napping room for commanders, Winged Guard Headquarters, Collinadiluche. Well, ‘napping room’ wasn’t very fitting as it had the necessary size and utilities for a full fledged guest room. Although Willem had not, of course, received any formal training as an officer or performed any great deeds on the battlefield, he had obtained the remarkable title of Second Enchanted Weapons Technician through a special (sketchy) process. After showing his ID, along with Naigrat’s letter of introduction, he was directed to this room for the duration of his ‘mission’.
Second Weapons Technician… it’s a pretty big deal, I guess. He had only just begun to realize this obvious fact. Usually, to become a ‘big deal’ requires a fitting reason: talent, money, or connections. Without any of those, chances of being promoted to such a rank are slim, if not nonexistent. And this room that he now slept in was made for those exceptional few who fulfilled those conditions.
In the first place, it was still a mystery to him how Grick landed him this position as Second Weapons Technician. Considering that they hadn’t run into any trouble this whole time, it seemed unlikely that he accomplished it with a little faking or alteration of a few documents. At any rate, there was no doubt that Willem’s current position and authority did not match up at all with his actual worth, which made him feel like he was cheating all these legit soldiers trying to do their job seriously, which only further inhibited his ability to calm down.
“I guess I’ll go for a walk or something…”
Tiat wouldn’t be done until evening, so he had a good amount of free time. Thinking back, the whole reason he came to this faraway island in the first place was because he had too much free time, which had been causing his mind to linger on undesirable thoughts. So that provided even more reason to stop lazing around in his room. After all, he was in the so called ‘stew pot of romance and legends’, so the least he could do was take a look around the city.
“I’ll probably end up being dragged along everywhere by Tiat before we go home anyway…” After all, she did seem to be really looking forward to their sightseeing walk, so it would be a shame if they ended up wasting time getting lost. On top of that, dragging a despondent Tiat back to the 68th Island would probably be a real pain. Considering all this, it wouldn’t hurt him to take a look at all the big attractions beforehand to figure things out. Breaking out into a soft chuckle at the thought of those sparkling eyes, Willem began to feel a little better already.
He noticed as soon as he stepped out into the hallway near the front entrance: the townscape spreading out beyond the window had begun to turn gray. In other words, it was raining.
“Why does it have to start raining now…”
In one corner of the hallway, a large bucket sat underneath a leaky part of the roof, collecting drops of the rain which had so kindly decided to fall. While the building looked deceivingly sturdy from the outside, it of course had many years of history behind it and was beginning to break down a bit here and there. A couple Borgles wearing army uniforms had gathered and were discussing the whereabouts of wooden boards and hammers.
“Well, I’m sure the rain adds its own special charm to the old capital… probably.” As for an umbrella, there had to be one lying around somewhere in the Winged Guard Headquarters, and if not, he could always just go to a nearby store.
Lost in his thoughts while staring up at the sky, Willem’s reaction came a bit late. He almost collided head on with a girl who had just burst into the foyer. And in the lag before his brain could process the situation, the reactions carved into his system over the years sprung into action. Interpreting the girl’s movements as an enemy advance, his body had slid out from in front of her eyes and into a blind spot with a minimal amount of motion. He set his aim on the neck of the girl, who looked like she was about to collapse, raised his hand, and brought it down–
Right before making contact, his mind finally gained control and suppressed the violent tendencies of his reflexes. “Oops.” Sheathing his hand sword, he curled his arm around the girl’s back, propping her up but also causing her to emit a small yelp.
“That’s dangerous! Don’t I always tell you to look forward when you run… or not.” Out of habit, his mouth had entered scolding mode. Realizing that the person in front of him wasn’t a little fairy, Willem cut off his words and let out a laugh. He helped her stand up and backed away a few steps.
The young lady was of the Lucantrobos race. She bore a tall nose on her wolf-like face and had a thin coating of soft white fur over her skin, except at both ears, which were covered by fur the color of lightly burnt straw. Judging by her finely tailored silk dress, she must have been from a well off family. Why in the world was a little princess like this sprinting into an army facility in the middle of the rain? She didn’t look like a soldier, but she obviously must have had some connection since the guards let her past the gate.
With a face that said she still had no idea what the heck just happened, the girl politely bowed her head. The elegant gesture made her seem even more out of place.
“Running without looking ahead is dangerous, you know? Especially in an army facility, you don’t know where dangerous things could be lying around.”
“Ah, I’m very sorry.”
Nodding at the once again bowing girl, Willem said a quick “well then, I’m off” and promptly walked away. He didn’t want any sort of trouble, especially anything that involved women or children. You can’t even run away. Giving up after being asked for help by a woman or a child is just… you don’t do it. That thinking was probably — no, most definitely — the master’s fault. The worthless teachings of that damn old man had become part of his flesh and blood.
So if he ever sniffed out the beginnings of trouble, running away before anyone asked him for help seemed to be the best option. People would always tell him that was a twisted way of thinking or that his kindness was lacking, but he had long since been aware of those things. Anyone who can’t properly control their heart must seem twisted or lacking to others, so he wasn’t in the wrong. Running away was a fine choice.
“Um, excuse me!”
In the end, though, he couldn’t run away. With his back still facing the girl, he turned around only with his head. “What? If it’s because I touched you I’m not apologizing for that.”
“No, the responsibility for that matter lies with me, so I will sheath my blade with regards to that.”
“I see… good to see you pick up on things fast… wait, blade?”
Ignoring Willem’s question, the young lady went on. “I have something I would like to ask of First Officer Limeskin. May I request an audience?”
He had heard the name before: the giant Reptrace man with milky white scales, the very one who led the fairies off to the battlefield, and Second Enchanted Weapons Technician William Kumesh’s direct superior, according to the documents. But, now…
“If you’re talking about that oversized lizard, he’s in the middle of a battle far, far away.” More specifically, he had taken Kutori and the others off to the 15th Island, where apparently a Teimerre had landed and needed to be dealt with. And still, there had been no word about the results of that battle. No wait, what he said wasn’t entirely correct. In general, floating islands which are close together in number are also close together in physical distance. Since they were on the 11th Island, the 15th couldn’t be more than about a two hour shaky airship journey away. So his ‘far, far away’ may have been a bit of an exaggeration — but there was no need to correct such a small detail.
“And when will he return?”
“No idea. In fact, I want to know that myself…” He really, truly did. “Something about some restrictive barrier blocking all communications. Any news can only come after the battle’s over, apparently. It sure does keep the suspense high…”
“I see…” The Lucantrobos’ shoulders sagged, and her ears drooped. Her expression couldn’t have been easier to read.
“Well, if you have some business you can try grabbing one of the other soldiers over there,” he said, indicating a Borgle who just happened to be passing by.
Suddenly, he heard a commotion. Everything and everyone throughout the entire building seemed to break out in hurried movements all at once. Soldiers came running in from somewhere, grabbed other soldiers and talked in hushed voices, then ran off again, all in the blink of an eye. Just by watching, Willem could easily infer that there had been some kind of change in the situation. And his intuition told him that this change was not a good one.
“W-What is it?” The young beast lady shrunk back in confusion.
Paying no attention to her, Willem spotted an Orc trying to run by and grabbed him by the neck. “What happened?” he inquired plain and simple.
“T-That’s classified information. This information is not permitted to be spread except through set contact routes.”
“I commend you for carrying out your work so faithfully, but…” He stole a glance at the orc’s badge — as he thought, an ordinary soldier. Willem pointed out the rank insignia sewn onto his own army uniform. “Second Enchanted Weapons Technician Willem Kumesh. The responsibility of managing Dug Weapons and Lep — the soldiers that wield them lies with me. Naturally, I also have the authority to hear any information concerning a battle in which they are involved.” That was all a lie. Willem actually had no idea how much authority came with his position. He didn’t have much interest in the answer either, so he had never bothered to look into it. Pushing through with this bluff was worth a try, though. “I’ll ask once again: what happened?” Willem put a stronger tone in his words and drew his face closer.
The orc, seemingly intimidated by Willem’s guise, shivered and gave in. “There has been contact from the 1st Fleet. About the results of the battle on the 15th Floating Island.”
Willem’s breathing immediately came to a halt. Contact from the 1st Fleet. Results of the battle on the 15th Island. What he had wanted to know for so long. Who was winning, when would it end, were the girls still safe — everything that had been kept hidden until now under that restrictive barrier. He never got the chance to find out even one piece of information. Never got the chance to test his determination. Until now.
In the end, how did the girls turn out?
“We, in the battle with the Teimerre, –”
There was no need to listen until the end: the orc’s expression told it all.
Willem laughed. His heart was already becoming a jumbled, sloppy mess. He didn’t know how to face that result, the result which he had supposedly prepared himself for, the conclusion that he had been so determined to accept. All he could do was curl the ends of his lips into a frail, helpless smile, and listen to those words.
“– were defeated.”
Willem’s field of view turned pitch black. All strength left his knees, and he crumpled to the ground.
“A-Are you okay!?” The young Lucantrobos lady ran over, but he couldn’t even gather the will to lift his head, much less grasp the hand she held out to him.
Are you stupid? Somewhere in his mind, another Willem was disgusted at him. It shouldn’t have been something to be surprised about. Nothing to act so shocked about. After all, their chances of winning were just a little above five percent — he had uttered those words himself. With a probability like that, of course he should have understood that the girls would most likely lose.
“Ha ha ha…” His mouth still twisted into the shape of a smile, Willem found that a laugh escaped his throat surprisingly easily. But nothing else besides that laugh came out.
“… I think we should send some kind of contact soon.”
“True that. I bet a certain someone’s heart is about to explode from waiting too long.”
“Circumstances are circumstances. I will allow the use of a communication crystal.”
“See? Even the First Officer agrees.”
“But… if you use a communication crystal, they can see your appearance from the other side, right?”
“Well yeah, that’s what they’re for. Problem?”
“B-But I’m all covered in dirt, and these clothes aren’t cute, and my hair’s all messed up!”
“Who cares? You’re fine just like that. Besides, you two are a little past that point in your relationship, aren’t ya?”
“But… you know…”
“You haven’t seen each other for a long time?”
“Yeah, that. I feel like I need to prepare myself…”
A familiar voice. It drew closer, along with a few pairs of footsteps. He raised his head and looked in that direction.
“Hmm… seeing a young maiden in love up close is… how to put it… kind of a pain.” A girl with light brown hair shook her head from side to side, going on about something.
“No, it’s not that! This is… just like… the minimum expected manners.” A girl with sky blue hair refuted, her irritation clearly showing in her voice.
“Hmm… it’s like where did that Kutori who made up her mind so strongly just yesterday go, or like it’s a little late to be worrying about those things. I guess it’s true that when a usually serious girl falls in love she can get out of control, huh?”
“Mm.” A girl with darkish gray hair gave a small nod of agreement.
“You’re both siding against me!?” Sky blue hair let out a cry of anguish.
The three of them all looked exhausted: messy hair, faces covered in dirt and dust, plain hemp clothing. Not exactly flattering appearances. And one more thing: as far as Willem could tell, they, all three, were alive. Without any noticeable wounds. Moving. Talking.
“Ah–” Aiseia noticed first.
“Hm–” Nephren cocked her head.
“Eh–” Kutori turned around to look, then froze.
His pitch black field of vision was dyed pure white this time. He still couldn’t see anything, but his body understood where to go and what he should do. There was no need to bend his knees. No need to gather strength. Doing those would only be an unnecessary waste of time. Running like that, pushing one’s body forward with the strength of the legs, like how the bodies of animals were originally made to do, always led to a slower start. Willem simply contorted his entire body and crashed ahead, as if sliding across the ground.
Long ago, in the age when the Emnetwyte fought against those who held more power than themselves, there was a demand for the ability to sprint at superhuman speeds. Born in the far reaches of the north, refined in the battlefields of the west, then finally crystallized, the technique bore the official name of Demolishing Nightingale Dash. Even among the Adventurers and Quasi Braves, only a small handful could use it proficiently. But once mastered, it could be used to deceive even the keen eyes of the elves.
In short, a man who had just been kneeling on the ground limp suddenly dashed forward at a speed undetectable to the eye without any preparation or warm up. And then…
In the next instant, he was embracing Kutori, who had just been quite some distance away, with all his strength.
“W-Wait! Ow! It hurts! I can’t breathe! This is embarrassing! I’m covered in dirt and scratches and I haven’t taken a bath and everyone’s looking — are you listening!?” Kutori herself probably didn’t really understand what she was saying, and, of course, the screams of protest went in one of Willem’s ears and straight out the other.
“… Where did this guy pop out from?” Aiseia looked up at the giant Reptrace man standing beside her, First Officer Limeskin, and asked, but he simply shrugged his shoulders in place of answering.
“I told you we should have sent some contact earlier…” Nephren muttered.
“Well yeah, but did you really expect him to be this broken?”
“You know, he’s more of the type that likes to play it cool or act more stern or isn’t honest with himself… so the mismatch in their personalities is kinda cute and all…” Aiseia twirled her finger around in the air. “So you know, he would lightly pat her head and just say ‘good job’ or something, and then Kutori would be like ‘don’t you have more to say!?’ or something. I was expecting that kind of reunion.”
“Willem’s always been like this.” Looking at the flustered Kutori from the side, Nephren explained in an unconcerned tone. “Hard working, direct, not really seeing what’s going on around him. He wouldn’t stop moving until he finally broke, and if he did stop he wouldn’t be able to move again until he was fixed. You can’t take your eyes off him.”
“Ahh… I sort of get it, but then again I sort of don’t…” Aiseia shook her head. “What do you think about all this, Kutori?”
“Stop having a pleasant little chat and help me! That’s what I think about this!!” Her complaint almost sounded like a scream.
“But, I think you should let him hug you until he’s satisfied.”
“No! Before that, either my spine will break, I’ll suffocate, or I’ll die from the embarrassment!”
“If you can talk that much, I don’t think we need to worry about suffocating, hm?”
Nephren let out a small sigh and tugged lightly on Willem’s sleeves. Then, standing on her tiptoes, she drew her mouth close to his ear and whispered, “It’s okay. We’re all here. We won’t disappear anymore.” It seemed to work. Slowly but surely, reason began to return to Willem’s eyes.
“Mm.” In response to her name being called out, Nephren nodded slightly.
“Yo,” she responded with a wave.
“And then…” Willem looked down into his arms. “Kutori.”
“Whatever just hurry up and let go of me… this is really getting embarrassing!”
After looking around and grasping the situation, he mumbled “my bad”, then loosened his arms. Kutori, who had silently slipped out of his embrace and backed up a few steps, stared at Willem with a bright red face.
“A real mess, huh?” Aiseia laughed teasingly,
“Mm,” Nephren gave a resigned nod,
And Willem’s sobs rang out loud and clear.