The Improper Use of Love and Justice
They saw something called the Grave of the Perjurer. Supposedly, it was the grave of a legendary swindler who lived around two hundred years ago. For some reason, people who had once been tricked by him put together funds to place a tombstone by his grave which read ‘Here lies an honest man’.
Just about everyone was puzzled as to why they would do such a thing, which led to a wide variety of theories. In fact, there were so many theories that they created a small boom in Collinadiluche’s fiction market and nearly made up a genre of their own.
“Personally, I like the theory that he uttered words of true love right before his moment of death.”
“Hmm, I like the one where he was really working all along to expose the immorality and corruption of the aristocrats. That one’s sorta cool, don’t ya think?”
“The one where he angered an earth god and was cursed so that all his lies turn to truth was interesting.”
Wow. There really was quite a variety of theories. In the end, though, it was a piece of the past whose truth no one knew. Often, the story which is the most amusing or the most convenient for one party comes to become known as truth, regardless of its validity.
Everyone believes in the theory they want to believe in. If no conflicts arise, then there’s nothing wrong with that. The world will keep on spinning.
They saw something called the Lovers’ Staircase. This one was pretty self explanatory. The stage of a love story between a noble daughter running from a fate of arranged marriage and a lowly boy sustaining himself through thievery. They supposedly met when they bumped into each other on this very staircase and tumbled down.
At the top and bottom of the staircase were huge signs which effectively ruined the scenery. On them were the symbol of the city council and the warning message ‘No Rolling’.
Townspeople passing by giggled at Tiat, who let out a scream of despair as if the world was coming to an end. They probably heard similar remarks fairly often at this place. Willem pretended that he didn’t see Kutori sag her shoulders in disappointment.
“Hold on one sec, Mr. Technician.” Aiseia pulled on his sleeve. “You seem to be going about business as normal, but don’t ya think you could at least say some nice words or something to Kutori?” She looked over at the sulking blue haired girl, who refused to face their direction. “Well, right now she’s like that, but up until yesterday she was working really hard, ya know?”
“I know, I know. Dealing with girls in a bad mood has been a weak point of mine for a long time though.”
“I figured, but you’re the only one who can fix that bad mood.”
Willem ruffled Aiseia’s hair a bit. Surprised, she jumped up and let out a little yelp. “W-What are you doing all of a sudden?”
“Was just thinking you’re a good kid, caring for your friend first even though you also worked hard and must be tired yourself.”
“Who cares about me?! Right now we’re talking about Kutori!” Aiseia blushed faintly and knocked away his hand, an unusual reaction for her. He knew that she must not be used to receiving compliments or praise, but still she was always over the top like this.
— Again, an uneasy feeling crept up on the back of Willem’s neck. Their pursuers were starting to keep a little more distance between them than before, but seemed to be growing in number.
“I guess it’s about time we round them up, huh…”
“Eh? Whatcha talking about?”
Returning his hand to Aiseia’s fluffy head (and causing another yelp), Willem called out to Firu, who was leading the way ahead of them. “Hey, can I make a request for the next place? If there’s a sort of hidden spot where not many tourists go, I’d like to go there.”
“Is that a challenge to my guiding skills? Very well, I accept,” she responded with a fearless smile, her usual delicate princess look nowhere to be found.
“This is the Well of Wishes.” Firu pointed at a small clearing where six roads all intersected. In the middle sat a plain old ordinary well. “Now, it isn’t as famous as the Central Church or the Barley Plaza, but it has been used a few times in movies or stories, so I imagine anyone into those things will recognize it.”
Tiat nodded her head vigorously.
“Is it one of those things where you throw a coin in and your wish comes true? Those always pop in romances and fairy tales,” Aiseia asked as she peered into the well.
“Unfortunately, not everyone’s wishes come true. There is actually a spirit who resides in the well that can make wishes come true, but the ratio is said to be about one in every thousand or ten thousand people that throw a coin in.”
“Ah, when you mention the numbers it really loses its fairy tale magic.”
“However, you can throw as many coins in as you like. The more you put in, the higher your chances are, so some people come with bags of 20 Bradal coins.”
“… now all the romantic feeling is gone too.”
“There was a period of time when the well’s use was prohibited. That was around fifty years ago, during the ban on gambling. It was deemed to be too addictive for gamblers.”
“Alright, that’s enough. This is just getting more and more depressing…”
While Aiseia and Firu engaged in conversation, Tiat took out a small coin and threw it into the well. According to her, she didn’t particularly have a wish she wanted to come true; she just wanted to reenact those scenes in the movies she’d seen. Aiseia, who apparently didn’t listen to that, gave her cute, romance chasing Tiat a crushing hug. Off to the side, Nephren quietly copied her, taking out a coin and throwing it in with a splash.
They seemed to be short one person. Turning his head around, Willem soon found her. Kutori Nota Seniolis stood by herself a little ways away from the well.
“You don’t want to try too?” He walked over and took a seat on one of the wooden crates piled up beside her.
“No, I’m fine. Not really in the mood to make a wish,” she replied softly, still refusing to look at him.
“Really? That’s surprising… I thought you’d like this kind of thing.”
“Well, I don’t exactly hate it… I guess if I had to say I actually really like it, but…” she mumbled almost inaudibly. “I’m just not in the mood. It’s probably something that people do to reconfirm their determination when their goal is still out of reach. It hurts their wallet a bit, but that helps them remember how valuable their determination is. So people who’ve lost their goal or come within reach of it by themselves don’t get much out of it.” Her tone carried hints of loneliness and gentleness.
“Hey, are you really okay? You seem a bit off today.”
“Yes, I told you, I’m fine. Us girls just have days like this sometimes for no reason.”
Ah, that seemed like something normal Kutori would say. It gave Willem a little bit of comfort. And that comfort pushed him to say words that he might have originally kept to himself.
“… thank you.”
“Eh.” She seemed genuinely surprised.
“For the longest time, all I thought about was death. All I wanted to do was go meet those people that waited for my return home. But when I met you guys, I was able to change. I wanted a place to belong to again. In a way, you saved me. Because I met you, I had someone I could wait for too. And now that you’ve come back, well… I’m a little happier.”
“Eh.” She seemed genuinely creeped out.
“Hey don’t back away so quickly. Also don’t make that ‘what is this embarrassing creature’ face. I didn’t even say anything that weird…”
“Everything about it was weird, especially how you can say such embarrassing things with a straight face.”
“What do you want me to do? Say it with a big smile on my face?”
“No that’s not the problem… anyways.” Kutori smiled. That gentle, cheerful, yet fleeting expression made Willem’s heart skip a beat. “You put it in the most embarrassing way possible, but I’m glad you feel that way. Being able to make someone happy lets me think that life is worth living after all. Like I thought, I didn’t make a mistake when I chose who to fall in love with.”
— Woah there. Flustered, Willem turned his gaze away from Kutori’s face. This is bad. What is this girl. What is that smile. She’s still a kid, he reminded himself. He couldn’t sincerely accept her words of ‘love’. Doing that would only bring her unhappiness later on. Kutori’s words and expression held such unusual charm that Willem had to keep repeating those orders to himself in order to stay calm.
In that moment, Willem realized: she was confronting him head on with her true, honest feelings. That’s why her words had the power to move his heart. He could no longer brush it away as the silly first crush of a child or a temporary obsession.
“What’s with that reaction,” Kutori giggled softly.
Nothing, he started to say, then managed to swallow that lie before it left his mouth. “I’m embarrassed okay? Something wrong with that?”
“Haha no no, in fact it’s very good.” She laughed, louder this time.
For some reason, despite the broad smile, even now her face seemed like it was about to burst into tears. This is bad. Now we’re really moving into uncomfortable territory. Kutori, who was supposed to be a child in Willem’s mind, was beginning to be more and more like a woman. And of course, Willem had never been very good at dealing with women. He had absolutely no idea how to decipher the meaning behind each word and action. Even against relatively easy to read people like Naigrat he had trouble, so he had no chance against Kutori, who was obviously hiding something underneath that smile of hers.
Still, he couldn’t just stay silent. As Willem collected himself and began to make a proper response, a man’s voice cut him off.
“Sorry for interrupting your sightseeing tour, princesses.”
“Do you know him?” Tiat asked Firu.
“No, I do not recall seeing him before,” she responded, shaking her head.
“Yes, of course. This is our first meeting.” The man was a beast person with cat like features. He wore a suit (which didn’t look very good on him) and was accompanied by five other youngsters behind him. They were all beast people with not very high quality clothes, and each one had a brown handkerchief wrapped around his wrist.
“We’re surrounded,” Nephren murmured.
Firu looked around them in a panic. Groups of two or three beast people, all with the same handkerchief, had appeared in each of the roads leading to the little clearing where they stood. The six of them and the newcomers were the only ones in sight. It was as if the little section of town where they stood had been completely cut off and isolated from the rest of the city.
“Don’t worry, we would prefer to not get rough. Princess Firacolulivia, if you wish to see your filthy markless companions leave here safely, I suggest you accept our invitation.”
The cat man seemed to be trying to talk in a dramatic and pompous voice, but he was utterly failing. In the end, he just sounded like an unnatural clown.
“Who are you people?” Firu tried to speak boldly, but her uneasiness clearly showed in her shaking voice.
“Haha, I am not so important that my identity must be kept secret, but since you asked, I’ll keep you in suspen–”
“The Order of Annihilation Service History, right?” All eyes turned to focus on Willem. With all the attention on him, he bent down to pick up a few pebbles and began playing with them, throwing them up in the air and catching them. As he continued to juggle, he looked over and called out to Firu.
“Ah, yes, what is it?”
“You probably haven’t been outside by yourself much recently, am I right?”
“Eh? Y-Yes. My father ordered me to do so.”
“But today you needed to talk to that giant white lizard, so you left the house in secret, right?”
“Yes… but why do you–”
“To put it simply, this ‘knight order’ has been after you to use you in negotiations with the mayor. Well, more accurately, they’re going to sell you as someone that can be used in negotiations with the mayor to their sponsor.” A wave of commotion rippled through the beast people surrounding them. “You were just lucky that you didn’t get caught while you were on your way from home to the army headquarters, and these guys were lucky that they found you walking around with us.”
Tiat looked utterly confused, Nephren was expressionless as usual, Aiseia seemed to be following along like it was a detective novel or something, and Kutori sighed with a face that said ‘here he goes again’.
“Ever since we ate, I could feel us being watched. I could sense that they were quickly gathering reinforcements, so I requested you to take us to an unpopulated place. And just as I predicted, these guys showed up.”
“W-Wait a second. I do not understand. When you say it like that, it almost seems like you used–”
“That’s right. I used you as bait. Wanted to talk to these guys for a bit.”
At a loss for words, Firu stood still in shock.
“And what might you want to talk to us about?” the suit wearing leader interjected suspiciously. “I do not believe we have any business with you, friend.”
“The fine knights of this order don’t have the ability to see spell veins. Why don’t you show them a little of that Venom you’ve ignited?”
“Are you giving me permission to go all out?”
“No. Just give them a peek, nothing more.”
“Got it, Mr. Devil Technician.”
For a split second, a burst of light filled the area. Looking up, Willem saw a pair of radiant yellow wings spread out on the back of Aiseia, who stood there with her eyes closed. To be precise, they were merely illusions of wings, existing only as pure light, not tangible objects. But because they were merely illusions, even without kicking up a wind she could easily break free from the ground.
“Ah…” Firu, who probably hadn’t heard anything about Aiseia other than that she was somehow involved with the military, let out a sigh of surprise and admiration.
“… a Venom user, I see. Magic techniques to sprout wings are quite rare. So you want to show me that you could escape anytime, even when surrounded like this?”
From the brief tremor in the suit wearing beast man’s eyes, Willem guessed that they had prepared some sort of method to deal with the possibility of them escaping by air, most likely a gunpowder weapon. However, such a small and portable weapon would necessarily have weaker accuracy and range, meaning it would be hard for them to actually stop the fairies. Moreover, they couldn’t risk hurting Firu with a stray shot.
“Good to see you catch on quick.” Willem inferred that they wouldn’t attempt anything risky, and it seemed like his guess was right.
“If what you said was true, then you planned for all this to happen. It’s obvious that you would be prepared. But what do you want to talk about?”
“Well, nothing too important.” He paused for a second, then asked, “Do you guys like this town?”
A breeze blew by, scattering scraps of paper lying on the brick roads every which way. The howl of a beast sounded from somewhere far away.
Tiat, unable to comprehend the situation, gave up thinking about it and looked around. Nephren was holding her hand over her mouth and smiling slightly, quite an unusual sight. Aiseia, somewhat astounded, shook her head back and forth as she continued to float in the air. Kutori still refused to face them and muttered ‘maybe I did make a mistake when I chose who to fall in love with’. Well, maybe that was for the best. Firu’s originally wide eyes had become even wider, and meanwhile all the beast people fell silent, unable to respond.
“… what do you mean, all of a sudden?” asked the suit wearing leader.
A short pause.
“Of course we do.”
“Is that because it has four hundred years of history? Because it’s the largest city? Because its economy is prosperous? Because its food is good?”
“Such foolish questions you ask. What other answers could there be than yes to all of them? Collinadilluche is the jewel of the sky. Polished over its long years, with every virtue a city could have, it is the capital we live in with pride, so–”
“– Is that what your sponsor thinks?” Willem’s interjection completely silenced the man.
“How much do you know?”
“Actually I’ve pretty much just been guessing, but thanks to you I know a lot now.” Willem sighed. “In the first place, you guys’ actions are a mess. Threatening to assassinate the mayor at the ceremony was a stupid move. If your main goal was to negotiate, then there are better methods than assassination. If your main goal was to actually assassinate him, then of course you wouldn’t warn him beforehand. Even if your goal was to threaten the opposition by first warning then killing the mayor, you didn’t need to specify the place and time. Then why was the threat sent? Probably to satisfy the childlike desires of the aristocracy to show off and hog attention.”
Well, that was already obvious from a name like ‘The Order of Annihilation Service History’. Willem paused for a moment, but no one spoke. They were all waiting for him to continue.
“Judging by how you were able to gather this many people in the short time since you spotted us, your preparations and communications must be pretty good. Also, going after the mayor’s daughter was a practical move. It’s not hard to notice that she’s a bit naive and not as cautious as she should be.
The person who thought of the kidnapping must be different from the one who sent the threat. The opposite order would have obviously been more effective. The fact that the threat came before the kidnapping attempt means that doing them in the reverse order wasn’t possible for some reason. Most likely, the guys who were ordered to carry out an absurd assassination panicked and planned the kidnapping almost all on their own at the last minute.
Well, that’s what it looked like to me, and I guess I was right for the most part.” Willem finally stopped talking and nodded to himself a few times.
“… what do you want?” The suit wearing leader changed his tone of voice.
“If you wanted to crush us, there was no reason to say all that first. Now that you’ve revealed your cards, I assume you want to negotiate?”
“Glad you catch on fast.” Willem stood up from the wooden crate he had been sitting on. “I’ll get right to the point. Tell us your sponsor. It seems to me that you guys don’t particularly care about the mayor. You’re just mercenaries, following your sponsor’s orders. And you’re starting to get fed up at their unreasonable requests. I bet there are guys among you ready to quit already.”
A few of the beast people were visibly perturbed by Willem’s words. One of them slid his hand in a pocket and pulled out a gun. At lightning fast speed, he turned and locked his aim on Willem, but soon let out a scream and dropped the weapon. The pebble that had struck his hand fell to the ground and rolled around next to the gun.
“By the way, whether or not you all leave here unharmed depends on your own actions,” Willem said, still in a throwing stance. All he did was lightly toss a pebble, no magic involved. However, he had the element of surprise, which made it almost seem like a magic trick to anyone that wasn’t prepared. “Well, what’ll it be?”
After that, things got resolved rather quickly. The beast people gave in and revealed the name of the former aristocrat sponsoring them. They also said they had proof of some of his orders, so Willem told them to bring it directly to the mayor.
The crowd gathered in the little intersection was probably not the entirety of the order, but the loss of their leader and at least ten members meant that they wouldn’t be able to cause any big trouble for the time being. In particular, there was no more worry of an assassination attempt at the upcoming ceremony. They had successfully carried out Limeskin’s orders, but…
A loud slap landed on Willem’s cheek.
“I hate you,” a teary eyed Firu said. “I understand that what you did was for my sake, but I cannot forgive you for choosing that way of doing it.”
Well, I saw this coming, Willem thought. The princess was honest, diligent, and pure. Most likely, she unconsciously expected those qualities out of the people around her. The term ‘foul play’ had no place anywhere in her head. Needless to say, she would never even think of doing such a thing to anyone, but she would fall into a panic, unable to comprehend what had happened, whenever someone used such actions against her.
“When we first met, you even touched my stomach…”
“Do not tell me you are not aware! To the Lucantrobos, entrusting one’s stomach is equivalent to entrusting everything! It is a part which cannot be exposed so casually, even to family!”
How the heck am I supposed to know that!? What are you guys, actual dogs!? Even if Willem shouted that she probably wouldn’t believe him. He chuckled nervously and averted his eyes. So that’s why she mentioned something about sheathing her blade or whatever back then. Well, now he knew. He made a mental note to be more careful next time.
“Ah, well… sorry for a lot. I won’t ask you to forgive me, but at least accept my apology.”
“It is just as uncle said. You cannot be trusted or relied on.” Firu’s harsh words left Willem without a comeback. “Saying that made me feel a little better, so I will accept your apology. However, do not misunderstand. I still hate you.”
“Of course. That’s fine with me.” Willem nodded, then turned around. “Alright you guys, it’s time to head ho–” His voice quickly trailed off, leaving the last part barely audible. Stares colder than ice bore directly onto him.
“Sure, let’s go home,” Kutori said, her eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“Now I knew you were that kinda person, but that was like a whole new level, ya know?” Aiseia said, a dazzling smile somehow still on her face.
“Let’s go quick. Tickets for the airship will stop being sold soon.” Nephren’s usual indifferent tone felt just a tiny bit cold.
“There’s so many more places I wanted to see!” Tiat seemed to be angry at something different from everyone else.
They had their own styles, but the four of them all seemed to be irritated in some way.
“Why did you choose such a dangerous method?” asked Kutori as they headed back to the treatment facility to pick up their weapons.
“Hm?” Kutori’s mood must have improved if she was the one talking to him first.
“There must have been at least a few safer ways of doing it right? Rather than leading them out to an unpopulated place. Did you just want to show off?”
“No, it’s just I wasn’t too confident in myself. I might have turned out looking like a cool detective or whatever, but those were all just guesses based on past experience. I could only be sure of the details once I saw their reactions to my questions, so I needed to make a situation where we could have that talk.”
“Past experience… what kind of crazy life did you live to know about that kind of situation?”
“Well, back then was a pretty dangerous time. If you were a Quasi Brave, you’d be caught up in some kind of power struggle somewhere at least once a month. After doing that for a while, I could dodge a knife in my sleep and detect poisoned food just by intuition alone. The poison that the pros used hardly had any taste or smell, so you couldn’t just rely on your senses to pick it out.” Willem laughed cheerfully.
“… was that supposed to be funny?”
“Well it’s because I lived through it all. Of course if I died I wouldn’t be laughing.” Kutori made a sour face. Now that one was supposed to be a joke, but it looks like it flopped horribly. “I admit it wasn’t a very good plan. I figured you guys would notice something abnormal and ignite Venom, and you did, but you guys just came back from a long battle. I shouldn’t have made a plan which involved you guys using Venom. Tiat and Firu were there too. I promise I’m properly reflecting on my–”
Before he could finish, his words were cut off. Kutori had stopped walking. About two paces ahead, Willem also stopped and turned his head around.
“That wasn’t the problem,” she said in cold, blaming tone. “When I said it was a dangerous method, I didn’t mean for us. There wasn’t even any danger to us. You were in a battle stance ever since you sat down on that wooden crate.”
Ah. “What are you talking about? I was in full relax mode.”
“The first one you would take care of was the sheep headed beast man behind you on the right side. Open with a pebble throw, followed by a kick to the chest, then a dash to the two deer headed men nearby. Knock them unconscious, steal their knives, and throw them, disabling the remaining two in that group. That would take just less than a second. To take care of everyone would take a total of three seconds. Am I right?”
She saw through everything. She must have been observing Willem very closely, detecting even the slightest changes in his posture or gaze. Back then, he thought Kutori was just standing there oddly quietly, but she had been watching all that.
“I think you’re reading too much into things. Five people in one second and ten in three? Even I couldn’t do that.”
“Don’t lie. I know your fighting style and strength better than anyone in this world. Have you forgotten? You taught me it yourself.”
“… that’s right. You’re so good I forgot you were my student.”
Well, he only ‘taught’ her for a few days. And nearly half of that time was spent on drilling the correct way to treat the Kaliyon into her. As for techniques, all they really did was practice the basics. He quickly showed her a few of the special named techniques, but didn’t even tell her the names, much less the finer details. Who would have thought she’d improve so much just from that?
“The reason you had to lead them to an isolated place… maybe the reason you gave is half right, but it seems to me like half of it was a lie. I know you could have found a safer way, so–” Kutori gave Willem a sharp glare. “You wanted to fight, didn’t you?”
Ah. Now that she pointed it out, Willem first realized that possibility. Perhaps, subconsciously, he had wanted to fight. Wanted to let his violent tendencies run wild. Wanted to risk further beating up his already broken body. Wanted to take out his frustration from sending the girls off to battle while he sat uselessly safe at home on someone.
“I don’t know why, but stop. You don’t have to fight anymore. Your battle belongs to us now.”
“– I have nothing to say. You’ve really been watching me closely.”
“Obviously. I’m in love with you.”
“Come on, we’ll be late!” Up ahead, Tiat waved both hands about in the air.
After waving back, the two quickened their pace.