Footsteps of the End
Some rather unusual guests came to the fairy warehouse: one Orc wearing a fresh suit and a few brawny beast men, most likely his bodyguards.
“… may I ask who you gentlemen are?”
“My apologies. Here.”
Naigrat accepted the business card handed to her, took one glance at it, and tightened her expression. “Let’s talk outside.”
“Oh? May we not come inside? I hear that currently you are the only manager of this warehouse. There is no one who could overhear us, correct?”
“We will talk outside,” Naigrat repeated firmly. She flung her outdoors coat over her shoulders and stepped out of the foyer, past the Orc man sagging his shoulders. “We will walk to town. That is fine with you, correct?”
“Of course, if you have any recommendations.”
“There aren’t many choices out here in the countryside.” With a calm face, Naigrat began walking, and the men followed after her.
“… this is suspicious!” Collon, sitting at the very top of a tree growing by the side of the warehouse, said as she watched them go, using her right hand as a visor.
“This is the first time I’ve seen Naigrat make that face,” Panival muttered, sitting about halfway up the tree with her back against the trunk.
“They don’t seem so important that Naigrat would have to act so formal like that.”
“Hm. I feel like it’s something else.”
Collon and Panival both tilted their heads in confusion.
“Come down, you two… this tree is dangerous so no climbing it, that’s what our seniors said, isn’t it?” Lakish, clinging onto a fat branch much farther down, pleaded as she looked up to the pair.
“Being born as a woman, I aim high!” Collon pointed to the sky and struck a probably meaningless pose.
“To us fairies, maintaining agility is very important. This is one part of our special training.” Panival nonchalantly strung together some nonsense.
“That’s not the problem… if someone finds us we’ll get scolded.”
“That would be unfavorable. If that happens, let’s leave Lakish behind and run.”
“Yes, we’ll leave the clean up to you!”
“So mean…” Lakish responded, half crying and half laughing.
“Hey, you two!!” Noft’s bellowing came from a second floor window. “No tree climbing until you’re actually scared of falling! How long have we been telling you that!?”
“I told you guys,” Lakish said, almost crying now.
“In order to know fear, we must climb!” Collon declared with her chest puffed out, completely unphased.
“Naigrat just went out with some guests.” Panival forcefully changed the subject in the same nonchalant voice.
“… guests? Who? Noft asked.
“Never seen them before. Naigrat had a rather calm, serious face, something unusual for her.”
“Calm and serious?” Noft, knitting her brow, turned around towards the center of the room she stood in. “What do you think, Lan?”
“I didn’t see her face, so I can’t say anything.”
“True, but doesn’t it make you remember anything unpleasant?”
It happened around seven or eight years ago. Perhaps Collon and the others didn’t remember, or maybe they never even knew about it, but Noft and Lantolq remembered it clearly.
At the time, there was a criminal organization of Orcs. Then, one night, it suddenly vanished. Neither Noft nor Lantolq knew concretely what happened. They were taught that children need to sleep at night, and they didn’t have the courage to oppose that. If they delved deep into their faint memories of that night, they could manage to recall that the faraway howling of beasts was louder than usual, nothing more.
The next day, the way the residents of the island looked at Naigrat changed completely. Instead of viewing her as a dear neighbor, they treated her as a feral predator. Exactly what happened to cause such a drastic transformation, Noft and Lantolq didn’t know, and they didn’t really want to know either.
Lantolq snapped shut the book she had been reading and sighed. “As long as history doesn’t repeat itself, I’m sure things will be fine.”
Downtown, in the usual restaurant. No other customers were in sight.
After bringing everyone their ordered drinks, the waiter, shivering violently, retreated back behind the counter.
“To put it simply,” the Orc said, leaning forward with a smile on his face. “Miss Naigrat. We came here to steal you.”
“… is that so,” Naigrat answered quietly and took a sip of tea. Bitter and horrible. Resisting the urge to spit it all out, she returned her cup to the table.
“I looked into your background. I was very surprised. The number of qualifications you obtained at academy at such a young age, your grades… you’re first rate personnel, no doubt about it. But Orlandri is wasting such a precious resource in this place out in the middle of nowhere.”
“… thank you.”
Ah, that’s right, Naigrat remembered. The path she once set out on was somewhat of an elite course. Obtain a few useful looking qualifications, land a job at a big trading company, steadily gain eminence, make money, meet a wonderful person… She once dreamed about such a dazzling life, and even realized it halfway. However, she got caught up in a little authority struggle within the company and, as a result, got sent to a meaningless position in the borderlands. After that, her mood became a bit unstable from the shock at the sudden derailment of her previously stable life. The kids in the warehouse at the time must have been scared of me, she thought with a slight tinge of nostalgia.
“We are different. Needless to say, we plan to give you treatment befitting of your abilities.”
“Well thank you. But, why me?”
“Being as wise as you are, I’m sure you can guess. We particularly highly value your skills and experience raising the dangerous Leprechauns, the ultimate weapons of the Winged Guard and Orlandri.”
Naigrat focused her willpower to suppress her hand, which threatened to lash out on its own any moment.
“After seeing the barracks with my own eyes, my honest impression is… what could Orlandri be thinking? It looked almost like a run down barn. To me, it seems that Orlandri and the Winged Guard, despite entrusting their very lives all to the Leprechauns, hardly allocate any funds to them at all.”
“I’m sure they have their own circumstances up there,” Naigrat answered calmly.
Of course, Naigrat knew those circumstances very well. However, she had no intention of explaining the details to the men in front of her. Besides, they probably already looked into it themselves. There was no need to chat about it.
“Yes, exactly as you say.” The Orc nodded happily a few times. “And due to those circumstances, they will soon abandon their monopoly on the Leprechauns. The time when organizations other than the Winged Guard can obtain those powerful weapons is almost upon us. The company which raises the highest quality Leprechauns will lead that new age.” He spread out his hands, continuing on energetically. “We, the Elpis Mercantile Federation, will take that seat from Orlandri. You are necessary for that. We are prepared to welcome you with first class treatment.”
“You praise me too much. Thank you,” Naigrat answered casually, no friendly smile on her face. “By the way, if I were to decline this offer, what do you plan to do?”
“Well, hypothetically speaking, of course…” The Orc stroked his chin. The beast men sitting to his left and right stood up roughly. “They are skilled at getting women to obey a wish. However, I personally am not fond of that method. Please do not make a foolish decision.”
“Oh?” Naigrat glanced at the beast men — then, for the first time during their talk, smiled. “My apologies. I can’t stand people whose flesh don’t look very tasty.”
In the blink of an eye, the Orc’s face turned dead serious. At his orders, one of the beast men began to move. He kicked over the table, then, stretching out his right arm, swollen like a fat puppy, grabbed Naigrat’s neck. Holding that position, he gradually tightened his grip.
From behind the counter, the waiter let out a high pitched scream.
“Ah, how rude of us.” The Orc turned towards the counter and shrugged. “I’m afraid this may get a little noisy. We will repay the cost of any broken tables and chairs at double the price.”
“How generous of you,” Naigrat remarked.
“Important business gets appropriate funds. Those who refuse to part with spare change will never obtain larger wealth. We are different than Orlan… dri?”
Naigrat’s face remained calm as ever. The Orc finally noticed that. That couldn’t be possible. How could a delicate markless remain calm while being strangled with the strength of a beast person? Her breathing should have stopped, and she shouldn’t have been able to speak. The Orc’s dumbfounded stare shouted those objections.
“Why so surprised? You investigated my profile, did you not? You should have known that I’m a Troll.”
“W-Well, yes, but…”
“Did you not know what kind of race the Trolls are? Did you figure they couldn’t be scary since most of the markless have weak body types?” Naigrat couldn’t tell if the Orc’s stupefied face was confirming or denying. “I thought it was a rather well known fact. We’re just a teeny bit tougher and stronger than the others. If you’re really trying to recruit someone, you should properly study up, okay?”
With a cheerful smile, Naigrat laid her hand on the arm of the beast man gripping her neck. Her finger gradually sunk into that mass of steel like muscle. The beast man let out a scream.
“… oh, you said you were going to pay for everything that breaks in double, right?”
“Eh? Ah… eh?”
“In that case, I can rest assured.” Naigrat turned towards the counter, at the violently shivering waiter. Fortunately, he knew very well what kind of race Trolls are, so Naigrat figured he would understand. “Tell the owner, when the new restaurant is finished, I’ll come to celebrate.”
Confusion showed in the Orc’s eyes. What do you mean by ‘new restaurant’? they seemed to ask. However, that question never got put into words, nor did the necessity for that arise. The answer unfolded right in front of his eyes.
Thud. The Troll lightly swung her arm. It didn’t seem like she put much power into the motion, but one of the beast men went airborne, colliding into another man standing beside him before flying off together. A few of the sturdy, thick wooden tables collapsed and shattered as if fragile glass sculptures.
With feral howls, the other beast men jumped onto the Troll. Their minds now realized that the person in front of them was not some frightened woman, but a terrifying monster. Judging that she couldn’t possibly beat them all in terms of pure strength, they grabbed her arms and tried to pin her against the floor. If they accomplished that, she wouldn’t be able to break out with pure strength alone.
“Oh, how passionate.” The Troll swung her arm again.
Another beast man went flying, this time straight up into the ceiling, head first. Their difference in physique. Their difference in level of martial training. All those elements which usually produce drastic differences upon the battlefield seemed to be of no use to the men.
“A-Ah…” The Orc went limp and fell to the floor.
Looking at that figure, the Troll let out a kind, gentle, and terrifyingly charming laugh.
A scream. A yell. A breaking sound. A smashing sound. Another scream.
And just like that, on that day, a restaurant disappeared off the face of the 68th Floating Island.
“I heard the report.” The Reptrace’s face seen from across the communication crystal was as hard to read as ever, but it looked somewhat disgusted. “Looks like you really made a mess.”
“It was their fault,” Naigrat replied nonchalantly. “They treated our precious children like tools. That deserves ten thousand deaths. Oh, also, a bunch of large men tried to make a woman do their bidding by force. If you think about it, that deserves a little punishment too, doesn’t it?”
“Only you would think of that order.” Limeskin snorted. “Anyway, there is something I must tell you, and something I must ask of you.”
“… huh?” Naigrat frowned. “If you have something to say, I’ll listen now, and if your request is something I can do, then I’ll do it.”
“We have a pest.”
Pest? … are we being eavesdropped on? Our conversation over this communication crystal? By who? How?
The crystal they were talking over existed for the specific purpose of facilitating important contact between the army and the trading company. If others could easily listen in on it, it would be an entirely pointless object. Was eavesdropping really possible? If so, by what means could it be done? Naigrat couldn’t see any signs of panic on Limeskin’s face (probably). In other words, just being eavesdropped on by itself didn’t present any danger to them.
Then, Naigrat understood. Ah, that’s what he meant. As she thought, their line of communication couldn’t be easily externally spied upon. The answer, then, was simple: someone else was listening internally. The ‘pest’ belonged to the Winged Guard, and was standing right next to Limeskin. The Winged Guard was by no means one large hivemind. Especially when it came to the Leprechauns, opinions were split. Even among his comrades in the same organization, there were those who couldn’t be considered Limeskin’s allies.
“Is it something we can leave alone?” Naigrat asked.
“I do not know. This decision cannot be wrong. That’s why I want to ask you.”
“Understood.” Naigrat gulped. “You can say anything. It’s okay if you make it hard to understand.” Even she, after knowing him for so long, still struggled to understand Limeskin’s peculiar way of expression. But if they could utilize that, they might be able to get past the eavesdropper.
“Come to Collinadiluche.”
“Huh?” Now of all times, he stated his request in extremely simple terms.
“Yes. Also, bring all fully grown fairy soldiers capable of battle with you.”
“W-Wait a second. Those kids too? For what reason?”
“… I do not have a plan. I leave that to you.”
The fairies were weapons owned by the army and Orlandri. Even though the possibility of that situation soon changing existed, that was their current status. The fully grown fairy soldiers in particular served as keystones of the military force protecting Regul Aire. They couldn’t just casually be brought around everywhere. There needed to be a proper reason, usually orders within a military operation.
If Naigrat, an employee of Orlandri, left the island with Aiseia and the others without permission, that would give some of the guys in the Winged Guard another argument to make against the fairy warehouse. In the long term, it would no doubt only shorten the lifetime of the warehouse.
“I will be waiting there as well.”
… ah, I see.
Of course, Limeskin knew that the move would produce unfavorable results in the long run. Him knowing that and still insisting on Naigrat to go meet him could only mean that he judged that it was necessary. Could the imminent situation be that tense? Was there already no need to think about the long term? Naigrat didn’t want to believe that.
“Understood. I’ll do what I can.” Asking for more detailed information now would be pointless. She decided to wait until they met in person. “… we finally don’t need to talk about battles anymore, but it seems we can’t have a cheerful conversation.” She threw in a little complaint before cutting the transmission.
“When the enemy in front of their eyes disappears, people search for their next enemy among their neighbors…” Surprisingly, a complaint came back in return. “Most likely, everyone knows without realizing it: peace is the most terrifying disaster of all.”
Now, Naigrat was left with quite a difficult problem. Bring along every fully grown fairy soldier with a sword… which meant Aiseia Myse Valgalis, Lantolq Itsuri Historia, and Tiat Shiba Ignareo. Noft was a fully grown fairy soldier, but, her affiliated Dug Weapon Desperatio having been lost, she no longer held a specialized sword. Naigrat didn’t feel safe just leaving the small ones on their own, so maybe it would be a good idea to leave the older Noft with them… she didn’t feel particularly safe about counting Noft as an elder either, but she decided to avert her eyes from that fact.
With that decided, all Naigrat needed to think about was the excuse. She needed some kind of justification to bring the entire reserve of strength protecting Regul Aire off to Collinadiluche, no matter how forced it sounded.
Deep in thought, she strolled down the hallway. What about shopping? No, that won’t do. What kind of shopping would require a trip from the 68th Island all the way to the 11th? If I was told to do my shopping somewhere closer, I wouldn’t have a good response.
Okay, what about sightseeing? Collinadiluche is one of Regul Aire’s most spectacular ancient cities. There are plenty of unique landmarks there. That would be impossible to do at any other island… but I guess permission for a vacation isn’t going to go through.
What else is there? Apply for a mock battle with the soldiers stationed in Collinadiluche? No, I wouldn’t be able to use that excuse until after the request actually got accepted. Try forcing a mock battle first and get permission later? No, that would just lead to war.
Agh. What to do…
As she racked her mind for ideas, Naigrat wandered into the kitchen and poured herself some tea. It turned out rather sour, maybe because she had been half lost in thought while she made it, but, well, it was better than what she drank earlier in the day. Deciding to calm herself down for the time being, she began to take a sip, when she heard a voice.
“U-Um, is now a good time?” An orange haired little fairy, Lakish, stood beside her.
“… ah, sorry. I’m just thinking about something.”
“Oh… ok, sorry.” Lakish’s shoulders drooped. “I’ll come back later.”
“Aaah, wait a second. Sorry. I messed up my priorities.” The guilty feeling welling up inside of her accelerated Naigrat’s mouth. “Putting you guys second won’t do… what’s wrong?”
“Ah, is it okay?”
“Of course. What is it this time? Did Collon break another window or something?”
“No, this time it’s about me.”
That’s unusual, Naigrat thought. The young fairies were, as a general rule, all innocent and straightforward, simply energetic and nothing more. Lakish, however, was one of the few exceptions. She stood by the others as they ran wild and took on the role of controlling them… ignoring whether or not she actually succeeded in doing so, she at least tried to control them. Naigrat couldn’t recall a time when Lakish came to report something about herself.
“What happened? Did you break a plant pot or something?”
“No, um, it’s not something like that.” After mumbling evasively, Lakish seemed to steel her resolve. “I had a dream.”
“… hm?” For a moment, Naigrat didn’t understand what she meant.
“I had it while I was napping earlier. I was in this really dark place, surrounded by all sorts of lights. Those lights were like books… I could read them, and… ah, I can’t explain it very well.”
Umm, oh. “Could it be that ‘special dream’?”
“Ah, yes!” Lakish’s speech became a little more energetic. “There’s no doubt about it. When I woke up, I knew immediately. That’s what it was.”
When the young fairies grew to a certain age, without fail, they had a certain dream. In it, they went to places they had never been before, saw sights they had never seen before, and talked with people they had never met before. That kind of dream. Yet inside that illusory world, they felt a strange and strong sense of reality. And the moment they woke up, for no apparent reason, they became convinced: the dream was special, and in it they had connected with something very important. That dream signaled the end of their youthful days and the beginning of the path to becoming a fully grown fairy.
A young one had the special dream. What did they have to do next? Treatment. In order for her to become a fully grown fairy soldier, they needed to take data and fidget with her body.
And in order to accomplish that, Lakish needed to be brought to the treatment facility in Collinadiluche. Accompanying her was, obviously, related to Naigrat’s duty as the manager of the fairy warehouse. In other words, she now had a justification.
“That’s it!” Overcome with emotion, Naigrat leaped forward and embraced Lakish.
Of course, a full strength embrace would end up snapping Lakish’s body in half, so Naigrat hugged her gently, as if touching a marshmallow, but firmly enough to not let her prey escape. The ultimate hug, a skill which Naigrat had acquired after much blood, sweat, and tears.
“Lakish, you really are a thoughtful girl! I love you!”
“Eh? Eh? Eh?” Lakish fell into deep confusion.