He departed for town early in the morning to do some ingredient shopping. His loot included a hefty amount of flour, butter, eggs, milk, and sugar. Small quantities of honey, nuts, and dried fruits were also stuffed in the bag.
Willem walked through the great forest of the 68th Island, his beaten stone path illuminated by the sunlight pouring through the treetops. Various weeds grew out from even the tiniest cracks in the paving. The dilapidated road definitely didn’t make for pleasant walking, but at least it was virtually impossible to get lost if he just followed it.
“Um um, is that bag too heavy?” Lakish asked worriedly as she walked beside him.
“Don’t underestimate adults. This is nothing,” Willem replied and readjusted his grip on the giant lump in his arms. “Should I carry you as well while I’m at it?”
“Ah um I think I’ll pass.” She waved her hands back and forth in denial of his offer. “I’m used to this road… from work.”
The girls, or fairies, are officially secret weapons owned by the army. Accordingly, they don’t exactly have a ton of freedom. If they’re not on any kind of mission, they don’t even have permission to leave the 68th Island. Well, if they use their own wings to fly to the neighboring island then no one’s going to actually say anything. But anyways, that also means they basically have no restrictions as long as they remain on the 68th Island.
“How long have you been working part time at that bakery?”
“Uh almost half a year now. At first I just messed up on everything, but now I even get compliments from my boss sometimes.”
If Willem remembered correctly, the owner of that bakery in town was a not so friendly middle aged beast man. Whether it was his natural face or not Willem didn’t know, but he always seemed to be in a sour mood. In other words, he definitely didn’t seem like the type to be handing out compliments.
“He said things like he wants me to help run the store during the day, not just help make bread in the morning, and that he wishes I would be his kid. Stuff like that.”
“… um, Willem? Is something wrong? Your face is scary.”
Willem was perfectly calm. Absolutely nothing was troubling him. Of course, he didn’t bother to even attempt such obvious lies. Anyways, he made a mental note to pay that bakery another visit sometime.
“Well it’s great that they allowed you to get the job. Usually soldiers aren’t allowed to have side jobs, you know?”
Strictly speaking, they are weapons, not soldiers. And also, an army that allowed its soldiers to have side jobs probably never existed at all. But then again, Willem himself was kind of like a part time soldier, so he couldn’t really talk.
“The big army man… the manager before you was against it apparently, but Naigrat convinced him.”
“Ah, I see.”
On paper, the girls are owned by the army, but in reality they’re more like private assets owned by the Orlandri Trading Company. The manager sent by the army is no more than a superficial supervisor; all the real managing is done by the one from Orlandri. In other words, Naigrat had all the real power in that situation. So if she wanted to let Lakish work, then the army manager wouldn’t have really been able to stop that, even if he was against it for some reason.
“Ah… you’re from the army too. Do you think it shouldn’t be allowed?”
“You know, us working and earning money like normal people even though we’re just weapons.”
“Oh, that.” Given that he was a member of the army, or at least that’s what his title said, it would make sense for Willem to share that previous manager’s opinion. “I don’t see anything wrong with it. If a kid finds something they want to do, then it’s an adult’s job to at least not get in the way, if they’re not gonna support it. As long as you’re not giving out top secrets or selling precious equipment on the black market or something, I won’t stop you.”
“Really!?” Lakish’s face visibly brightened. “Um, Willem, I love you. Us fairies don’t have actual parents so I wouldn’t know, but if I did have a father, I think I would want him to be someone like you.”
Love, huh. This time, Willem could accept those words for what they were and genuinely be happy. “Well, I do try to act like you guys’ parent the best I can.”
“Really? Ehehe.” Lakish laughed cheerfully, and Willem joined in. “Oh, but then we need a mother too… I love Naigrat too, but I think for you Kutori would be…”
As always when the little ones began saying something terrifying, Willem pretended he didn’t hear.
Naigrat wore an oversized white doctor’s gown over her usual apron.
“I got it at school when I got my cooking and medical licenses,” she explained.
Willem was a little surprised. Well, it made sense though. Cooking and medicine were two skills necessary to take care of the fairies here. If Naigrat wasn’t as talented as she was in both of those areas, she wouldn’t have been able to manage this place all by herself for so long.
“Alright. I’ve got my gown and everything, this is going to be a real deal physical examination.” Just as Naigrat promised, it was the real deal. Starting with a thorough palpation, she went on to shine light in Kutori’s eyes, check her eye movements, give her special examination medicine, and take a little blood. “If I took a bite I think I could find out a lot more…” She even joked while she was at it.
“Hmmm…” Naigrat read data, scribbled it down, then moved on to the next set of numbers. As she repeated that process, her expression changed into one of surprise and bewilderment.
“Am I suffering from some kind of deadly disease or something?” asked Kutori.
“Nnn no, not that. Not that, but…”
When the examination was finally over, Naigrat buried her head in her hands and collapsed face down on the desk.
“… what’s wrong?” Kutori asked again.
“The purified silver test turned out negative,” Naigrat said, slowly sitting up.
“– Um, what does that mean?” Kutori timidly pursued further explanation.
She had heard before that silver has the power to drive away evil. That it can ward away the Vampires or sever the inexhaustible life force of the Trolls. The list of such legends goes on and on, but in the end, they are just that: legends. Superstitions.
Real silver is nothing but a fragile metal. However, it turns black in response to toxins or miasma, which makes it valuable as a tool to detect those dangerous substances. It is said that the rich use heavy and hard to use silver utensils because they fear assassination by poison. But what did all that have to do with Kutori right now?
“Purified silver is silver modified with special ashes, and instead of the usual toxins it changes color in response to twisted death. In other words, it’s used to sense Ghosts or Ghouls or other creatures of that nature.”
“Ghosts…” Kutori mumbled. She thought for a bit. “Um… so what does that mean?” Then, the conclusion jumped into her head. She gulped and asked one last time. “… could it really mean that…”
“Yes. Of course, I have no idea why, but just going by the results that’s the only plausible conclusion.” Naigrat lightly shook the test tube in her hand. The silver contents shook about. “As you know, Leprechauns are a type of Ghost. So when I mixed your blood with this silver, it should have turned black immediately. The lack of a reaction can only mean one thing.”
Naigrat’s logic was simple, which meant there was no room for counterargument.
“In other words, you are no longer a Leprechaun.”
“… hold up. This makes no sense. Usually, you’re born a certain race and you stay that way until you die, right? You can’t just wake up one day and say ‘I’m going to stop being a troll’ and go get it changed.”
“I’m curious as to why you chose Trolls as the example, but yes that is usually the case.”
“Like I said, I don’t know why. That’s just what the test results tell us. We won’t know anything further until we get you checked out by a specialist.”
The Dug Weapons, or Kaliyon, are extraordinary weapons only usable by the long extinct Emnetwyte. However, the Leprechauns, while only a substitute, can still wield the ancient swords as if they were Emnetwyte. That’s the entire reason why the fairies were placed in this warehouse as secret anti-Beast weapons.
“That’s right. You shouldn’t touch a Dug Weapon again. We don’t know what’ll happen. … I’m not just trying to scare you. If someone of a race very different than the Emnetwyte touches a Dug Weapon, their life could be in danger, you know that right?”
Of course, Kutori knew. That’s why almost all of the Reptrace soldiers never even attempted to approach the fairies. Only a handful had the guts to get as close as Limeskin did.
“You’re still a markless, so you probably aren’t that far from the Emnetwyte, but we shouldn’t draw conclusions based on appearances alone.”
Kutori knew. Even if it was just a small chance, she couldn’t risk unnecessarily exposing herself to danger.
It was in her name. Kutori Nota Seniolis. If she could never wield her sword again, she would just become powerless and worthless Kutori.
“… if I can’t use Dug Weapons, then I’m no longer fit to be a fairy soldier.”
“That’s right,” Naigrat said as she added on something to the end of her scribbles.
“If I’m no longer a fairy soldier, then I can’t be here anymore.”
“Ah… I guess you could look at it that way.” The Troll woman frowned. “But stay here. We can do something about the official documents, and it’s not like you have a reason why you really want to get out of here, right?”
“Don’t say you have nothing to do anymore. There’s no room for boredom in the life of a woman with hopes and dreams. Remember that.” Naigrat wagged her finger at Kutori. “You survived. You’re home now. You need to treasure that while you can.”
“But what does that even mean…”
“Let’s see. Maybe you should start training to be a bride.”
“I’m serious. Willem’s contract ends in three months. Since the job was originally meaningless and the technicians didn’t even stay here in the first place, there aren’t any rules or anything for extending the contract. But if he left, it would be a huge loss to us.”
Kutori knew. She knew, but…
“Of course, knowing him, if we all asked him to stay he probably would. But that’s not enough. We need something stronger, something that’ll let him really feel like this is his home. Do you get what I’m saying?”
Kutori was beginning to lose her.
“If you want to let your cattle graze freely, you first need to discipline them so that they return to their pens at the end of the day, right?”
The metaphor was a bit unrelatable for Kutori.
“Besides, it would be a waste for the lineage of the last Emnetwyte in the world to end after just one generation, wouldn’t it? Putting aside his use as food for now, it would be nice if he could have a wife, start a family, and leave behind some descendants, right?”
Wait a second… things were starting to get weird.
“To be honest, I was thinking maybe I could try to do–”
The chair that Kutori had been sitting in fell to the ground with a crash. Her face was burning hot. Naigrat’s expression of surprise slowly turned into a teasing smile.
“No? Why not?”
Based on a previous report, Willem had a preference for kind and reliable women a little older than him. Unfortunately, those were conditions that Kutori couldn’t fulfill no matter what. And moreover, Naigrat fit them perfectly.
“… because I don’t have a chance.”
“You really think so? I’m not so sure about that.” Naigrat shrugged. “Well then you better work hard to grab him. Or else I or another girl will.” She laughed.
Ahh, Kutori thought. So this is the kindness of an adult woman.
Kutori felt as if Naigrat had just shown her everything she lacked.
After breakfast, when all the littles ones moved out to the grounds for training, Willem set up camp in the kitchen. He put on an apron over his army uniform, wrapped a bandana around his head, and laid out the heap of ingredients he bought in town this morning on the counter. And then, he got to work.
The way Willem saw it, the most valuable quality on the battlefield is a good imagination. What, specifically, does victory entail? What events will lead up to and follow it? What conditions need to be met to make them happen? Only those who can piece all that together in their heads can actually make their desired future a reality.
Willem was well experienced in these matters, being a seasoned veteran himself. For example, this is what he predicted. All the little ones in the warehouse would want to eat the butter cake, even if he tried to explain that it was a reward for Kutori’s coming home. On top of that, it wasn’t in Kutori’s personality to be able to eat the cake all by herself while all the little ones watched. She would definitely try to share it. To conclude, in order to get Kutori to eat the necessary amount of butter cake, Willem needed to prepare at least some for everyone else.
Now, it was time to see the results.
The exhausted little girls coming into the cafeteria after training let out screams of excitement like a pack of wild animals. Before their eyes lay a giant, freshly baked butter cake sitting on the table, emitting a sweet aroma which filled the room. It was enough to knock all the sensibility right out of the girls. Their eyes glowed like wild beasts’, and drool nearly spilled out of their mouths. Right as the newly transformed hunger monsters were about to pounce…
“Don’t forget your manners, okay everybody?” the true hunger monster, or rather Naigrat, said with a smile.
The girls all quietly sat down, waited patiently until everyone’s slices were delivered, did their usual pre-meal prayer, then carried their forks to their mouths. All at the same time, their eyes began to sparkle.
The first round was, as expected, a major success. But Willem had no time to relish his victory. Next was a focus fire round on Kutori. He looked around, only to discover that the key piece to his mission, the blue haired girl herself, was missing.
“If you’re looking for Kutori, she’s probably in her room,” Nephren told him as she stuffed her face and emitted sparkle out of her eyes.
“Why? I’m pretty sure I told her to come…”
“You know, she tends to act pretentious at the weirdest times.” Aiseia turned around and joined in on the conversation.
Willem remembered something he heard sometime ago. Apparently, whenever Kutori Nota Seniolis ate at the fairy warehouse’s cafeteria, she never ordered dessert. But she definitely didn’t have a burning hatred for sweet things. Tiat once explained that it was because Kutori was an adult. For some reason, Tiat said it proudly, like she was talking about herself, but anyways according to her only children stuff their faces with desserts, while adults calmly decline them. Willem thought that view on things was more childlike than enjoying a dessert, but he kept quiet.
As the oldest fairy soldier in the warehouse, Kutori desperately tried to appear as grown up and reliable as she could to her younger siblings. No other fairy had ever witnessed Kutori eat a sweet treat before. Willem thought that was entirely like Kutori.
“Well no big problem. All ya gotta do is personally deliver some cake to her room and then spend some sweet sweet time together.”
“Don’t make it sound weird.” He lightly poked Aiseia’s forehead.
Ten minutes later, in Kutori’s room.
“So? Why was the main star Kutori the only one not present in the cafeteria?”
“Um… well you know, I don’t really want others seeing me eat this…”
“And why not?”
“It’s so childish, isn’t it? And also, apparently I look really embarrassing when I eat that kind of thing, so as the oldest fairy around here, I don’t want to show that to everyone.”
A reason Willem already knew, and an answer he could easily have predicted. He let out a great big sigh.
“Just saying, caring so much about those things is what’s really childish.”
As Kutori shot up furiously, Willem placed a piece of cake on her desk.
A sweet fragrance began to diffuse through the room.
The anger disappeared from Kutori’s eyes, and she fell back down into her chair.
“Shall I prepare some tea as well, princess?” Trying to hold back a laugh, Willem grabbed a sliver with his fork.
“… butter cake?”
“Yep.” He didn’t know why she had to ask, but he nodded anyway.
“… did you put nuts in it?”
“I thought it would give it a nice flavor and texture.”
Kutori was examining the cake from every angle.
“… it looks delicious.”
“… I can eat this, right?”
“Obviously. Who do you think I made it for?”
She stared at it some more. Then, she lightly jabbed it with the tip of her fork. Digging in, she carved out a piece just big enough for one bite. With trembling hands, she slowly raised it up.
Finally, she steeled her resolve, and slid it into her mouth.
Okay, okay. I’ll make you eat so much cake you get heartburn.
She remembered the promise they exchanged that night.
Finally, it had been fulfilled.
And on top of that, she had accomplished something Willem never got the chance to do. She had lived through the battle and returned home to where she belonged. She got to hear ‘welcome back’ from the person that had waited for her.
Kutori chewed for a while, then swallowed with a small gulp.
“It tastes like butter cake.”
“That’s because it is butter cake,” Willem said with a shrug.
A large droplet fell onto Kutori’s knee.
“It’s kind of late to be saying this… I know… but I really… I really made it home.”
Ten days had already passed since Kutori and the other two returned to the warehouse. If you count the time since the end of the battle, it had already been over two weeks.
But only now was she really beginning to realize that fact.
Willem never got to see the battlefield on the 15th Floating Island. He could only guess how much she went through to protect their promise.
“You must have worked hard.” He felt like an idiot, not able to find anything better to say than that.
“I did… I really did…” The tears spilling out of Kutori’s eyes began to dampen her sleeves. “I’m sorry… I can’t even taste it anymore. I think it tastes good, but my head’s full with other things right now…”
Sitting next to the quietly sobbing Kutori, Willem thought. If he were in her position, what would he have done? In other words, even though it would never in a million years happen, if he was somehow able to protect his promise with Almaria, what would have happened? If he was able to protect the things he wanted to protect, return home to the place he wanted to return home to, and stuff his face with the daughter’s killer butter cake as a reward, what would he have done?
Willem figured he probably would have just cried uncontrollably. He would have brought a merciless storm of hugs and kisses down upon all the children in the orphanage. They would say it hurts or call him creepy, but he would have still refused to let them go.
“There’s seconds, so don’t hold back, alright?”
“I know… I know, but I can’t…”
She hadn’t eaten very much since her second bite. Well, that was understandable. Willem chuckled and placed his palm gently on Kutori’s head.
This time, she didn’t tell him to not treat her like a child.
“I already said it yesterday, and it’s kinda late, but… welcome back, Kutori.”
“Ah…” The fork slipped out of her fingers. She slowly raised her head while sniffling countless times. Her deep blue eyes were blurred with her overflowing tears. “I’m home.”
Kutori’s forehead fell against Willem’s stomach. He could feel the warmth of her tears through his army uniform.
“I finally said it.”
“Mhm. And I finally heard it.” He lightly patted the back of her head.
As Kutori clung onto Willem and bawled, her body trembled so violently that Willem suspected it was due to something more than just happiness.