First-class equivalent soldier Lakish had deserted.
It needed to be handled carefully. While deserters were generally punished in public as an example to other soldiers, the circumstances of fairy soldiers were different. They weren’t allowed off military grounds for the simple reason that their existences alone constituted great danger. Only under the supervision of the military were they recognized as humanoids possessing a certain set of privileges. To do so otherwise and risk exposing their unique capabilities to the public was unthinkable.
Consequently, mobilizing all available troops for a mass search was also out of the question. The desertion of a first-class equivalent soldier would have to be handled with the same care as that of a private first-class.
The atmosphere in the division commander’s office was tense. Everyone present shared similar expressions of confusion or impatience; Tiat, Collon, Panival, Aiseia, and the First Officer – the Armado in command of the entire 5th Division. Their gazes were fixed upon Feodor.
“…Did you just say you’re going?” Panival asked. “That sounds awfully like you’re going alone.”
“That’s what I mean. I’m going, alone. That’s probably the best option we’ve got right now.”
She shook her long purple hair. “Lakish’s probably holed up somewhere in the city. On top of not knowing where to look for her, it’s been some time since she ran away. No matter how you look at it, one person won’t be enough.”
“You’re not wrong, but I’m still not taking you all with me.”
Collon’s shoulders shook. Panival glanced at her, then looked back at Feodor. “Why not?”
“Going off what we just discussed, right now Lakish isn’t friendly towards you girls, is she? We aren’t aiming to fight, so I want to avoid anything that might set her off.”
Panival grumbled in irritation, falling silent.
“Having said that,” Feodor went on, “sending the other troops is out of the question too. After all, we won’t be able to explain anything to them, and we’re only sending out enough people to search for someone equivalent to a first-class soldier besides. If it went badly, we’d end up spooking Lakish and have nothing to show for it.”
“That might be so,” Tiat interjected from the corner of the room, her arms crossed and her back against the wall. “But even then, what’re you going to do by yourself? Won’t you just fumble around blindly and find nothing?”
“Honestly, there’s a fair chance of that happening,” Feodor admitted. “But at the least, I won’t be blind. I’ve lived here for a while. There’s eyes and ears I can make use of.”
“Hm…” The Armado First Officer nodded lightly, like he always did. “She might use force to resist. Are you certain you can deal with this on your own? Would it not be better to bring along someone who can negotiate with the deserter?”
“Well, that’s just it.” Feodor looked the First Officer in the eye, deliberately keeping his expression neutral. “If I’m alone, I can deal with her one way or another.”
Even though he might’ve suffered an embarrassing defeat before, he wasn’t bluffing groundlessly. Taking her by surprise, or making use of drugs… if he had enough time to prepare, there were innumerable ways to make up for their difference in strength.
“…I see,” the First Officer replied in an equally neutral tone. “Speaking from the position of a commander, I don’t mind if you do things your own way. But you’d better get results.”
“Understood.” Feodor straightened up and bowed. “Well then, I, Fourth Officer Feodor Jessman, will now accept this tracking mission… is what I’d like to say, but first I want to confirm something.”
“No, not you, First Officer.” Feodor looked straight past him, meeting the eyes of a single woman, who’d had her hands over her face and remained silent until now. As if following his gaze, everyone’s attention turned to her. “Second Officer Aiseia.”
Her expression was ashen, and she looked as if she’d aged rapidly since he’d last seen her. It was a reasonable reaction, given the situation.
“When we talked before, you told me a fairy who’s fallen into a coma due to encroachment wouldn’t wake up again.”
Aiseia nodded feebly. “…That’s right.”
“In that case, I’d like to know if you have an explanation for this mysterious, unprecedented case involving first-class equivalent soldier Lakish?”
“If I said I did… it’d be a lotta easier, huh?” She forced out a harsh laugh, her normally vivid expression broken. “But nope, I told you the truth. They’re basically the same as corpses. Actually… once, just once, a fairy has gone to sleep and woken up again. It’s not as if this has never happened before.”
If you took her words at surface value, they’d give you hope. Maybe, maybe… sweet expectations would rise within you uncontrollably. However, Aiseia’s face remained thoroughly cold and her voice gloomy.
“We fairies are like spirits given substance. If the spirit shatters, then we stop moving and soon disappear. Looking at it from another angle – if the spirit retains its shape somehow, the body might be able to start moving again.”
The key word, somehow, hung in the air.
“Her spirit is already long gone. It’s like a broken window, with cracks all over and pieces missing. But… if those cracks and gaps were filled by memories and emotions from her past life… then her body might recover to the point where it looks like she’s come back to life.”
“That means…” Feodor swallowed hard. “Lakish’s body… is being moved by another person’s spirit. Is that right?”
“Yup. I’ve gotta say, it’s nice to meet kiddos like ya who pick things up so easily. Makes explaining this a lotta more straightforward, don’tcha think?” Aiseia laughed hollowly. “‘Course, we can’t just say this new person is someone’s resurrected past life. The dead are the dead; they once experienced losing everything. The chances of a personality surviving death untouched and springing right back to life are… well, one in a million. I’ve only heard of it happen once before.”
She raised a finger. “From what Panival said, Lakish’s so unstable she doesn’t even know who she herself is. That means she’s probably got two persons’ worth of memories and emotions mixed together inside of her.”
Feodor gave it some thought, ruminating over Aiseia’s words. Aiseia, who was like an older sister to Lakish and the others, who knew them best. He felt nauseous. “So that… that thing is some sort of fusion using Lakish’s spirit as an ingredient?”
“…Nyahaha.” Aiseia’s expression was so deeply warped by grief that she couldn’t even preserve her thin veneer of composure anymore. Only her lips barely kept their instinctive smile.
She didn’t deny it, so that’s probably right. Feodor somehow subdued the rising urge to vomit in his chest.
Aiseia visibly fought to get control over herself again. “We all know our various instabilities mean we could collapse at any time. Lakish and her past life can only maintain their fused existence while their fractured spirits are properly stuck together . If that balance’s disrupted even slightly, then–”
A small thud came from behind Feodor. He looked to see Panival supporting Collon, the latter having nearly fainted. “A-Ah, sorry, sorry…” Panival said with false cheerfulness. “May we leave first? It looks like you’ll be talking about boring things for a while, so the rest of us’d like to get some fresh air.”
“Ah, yes, you must be tired.” The First Officer waved a hand idly. “You can go rest for now.”
“Thank you.” Panival bowed to him as best as she could while moving Collon onto her shoulders, then left the room. Feodor saw them off without speaking, then went to leave as well.
Feodor stopped. Tiat’s head had unconsciously lowered as the discussion continued, but now she raised it again.
“Um, so… if you see Lakish… or well, the girl who looks like Lakish now, um, er, ah… I’m not sure how to say this…”
She probably didn’t know what she herself was saying. It was rare to see the normally blunt girl be at a loss for words.
“Eh? You do?” She looked genuinely surprised.
“I’m probably thinking what you are. ‘If you find her…’ well, I’m not sure how to put it either, but… ‘do what you can.’”
A vague platitude without any substance. What am I saying?
“You got it.”
“Yeah. I know.” He felt surprised himself.
Tiat nodded, somewhat annoyed. “I’ll leave it to you.”
“…Yeah.” Not knowing how to reply, he nodded slightly. “Well then! I, Fourth Officer Feodor Jessman, will now begin the search for the deserter!”
“Yeah, get to it!”
With the First Officer’s words sending him off, Feodor left the division commander’s office.
It’d started to rain.
Having “borrowed” someone’s cheap umbrella from the stand in the entranceway, Feodor shouldered a duffel bag as he looked out at the darkened city.
In truth, even if he searched for that girl without resorting to unusual means, it wasn’t as if he had no confidence in his ability to find her. After all, she was only wearing a hospital gown and nothing else, not even shoes. Factoring in how blindingly conspicuous she was, he doubted she could’ve gotten particularly far.
In short, the search radius wasn’t too large. While normally the labyrinthine streets would give any fugitive an advantage, this area in particular was like a second home to Feodor. My days of sneaking out to buy food were all leading up to this moment!… that’s a lie.
Of course, if she’d ignited Venom and flown away, all his preparations would be for nothing at all. Even then, her radiant illusory wings would definitely stand out. If that was the case, it might even be easier to follow her than if she’d escaped on foot. On the other hand, Lyell was turning into a ghost town quickly enough that he wouldn’t be guaranteed to find eyewitnesses. Still, Feodor thought he had a fair chance of being victorious.
Soon after he’d entered the city, he started feeling a strange sensation.
What is this?
To his eyes, ears, and nose, everything looked, heard, and smelt normal. But something deep within Feodor, something not belonging to his five senses, gave him a peculiar confidence.
It was a suspicious thing to be guided by, but he didn’t go against the sensation as he walked. After going some ways up the main street, he made a right turn past the gear shop. Continuing onwards, he entered the third hydraulic gate, made a left turn and headed upwards. Panting with exertion, he traversed an uneven back alley that took some effort to climb and descend. Eventually he ended up in the second southeast area, the Memorial District.
He found her.
An orange-haired, white-gowned girl.
She was sitting with her back to the wall, hugging her knees. Overhead was a small overhang that ensured the rain wouldn’t fall directly on her head. However, it seemed she’d been unavoidably soaked long before arriving at that spot.. Her drenched hospital gown stuck tightly to her skin, and looked uncomfortable to wear. Looking at the state she was in, the word “lonely” inevitably came to mind.
Feodor hesistated, then called out to her. “…You’re not cold?”
The girl had already noticed him. Without a hint of shock, she slowly raised her downcast gaze.
Her voice was faint enough to be nearly drowned out by the rain. Feodor was struck by a strange sense of unfamiliarity as he saw her face. Her features matched perfectly the girl he’d known well, Lakish Nyx Seniolis. At the same time, she wore an expression he’d never seen before. Her characteristically warm and gentle aura had vanished, replaced by a biting chill not unlike ice, or perhaps steel. He’d been looking for a fluffy stuffed animal, only to find a carved marble sculpture. That was the kind of unease filling him.
Fragments of Lakish’s spirit and the remnants of her past life, melted and mixed together, forming this amalgamated personality.
Feodor took off his glasses and put them in his breast pocket. “Were you planning on going somewhere?” he asked.
“Anywhere’s fine, isn’t it?” she spat in an utterly un-Lakish-like way. “So I’m here.”
He slowly approached the girl, then held out his umbrella over her. She met his eyes for an instant, then looked away.
“Sorry for earlier.”
“When we were fighting before. My head was all messed up until just now. I wanted to grab a nice coat like yours, so I could run away easier. Not… my finest moment.”
“…Ah, I see.”
He understood why. Her hospital gown wasn’t exactly durable, not to mention how eye-catching it was. Escaping while wearing what amounted to merely a thin sheet was nothing but reckless. It was a sound decision to try and cover herself with a coat first.
Those things running through his mind, Feodor’s gaze fell to the girl’s body. Her gown had ripped in a few places, through which bare skin peeked. Even knowing now wasn’t the time, he couldn’t help but have his eyes wander. Mentally reminding himself a few times that he wasn’t interested in markless girls, not in the slightest, he grit his teeth as he turned away.
The girl glanced at him again. Her expression hadn’t changed, so he couldn’t tell what she might be thinking. She’d better not get the wrong idea.
Feodor took off his coat and dropped it over her shoulders.
“Excuse me for a moment.” He bent down and touched her pale feet.
“H-hang on, what are y–?”
“You fairies don’t have particularly strong bodies, you know… ah, see? Just like I thought, you’re in terrible condition.”
Her soles were badly torn up; she’d probably been running barefoot all this time. Fairies might not mind pain much, but leaving wounds untreated was a different matter. If left alone, they’d start to fester. At least, that’s how it went for most forms of life Feodor was familiar with.
He reached into his duffel bag and pulled out a bottle of water, along with disinfectant and a clean cloth.
“What… are you doing?”
“Can’t you tell? It’s first aid. This’ll hurt a bit, so just bear with it.”
Feodor washed her cuts with the water. Her body quivered slightly, a small shriek escaping her mouth. Following that, he patted on the disinfectant and wrapped the wounds in cloth, fixing the bandage in place.
“This should do for now.” He stood up. The girl looked upwards from her seated position, blinking in confusion. “W…Why…?”
“Don’t give me that. There’s no way I could leave you alone like that.”
“…Oh. So that’s why.” Her expression became one of both comprehension and loneliness. “I get it. Let’s go.”
“Huh? Go where?”
“That place from before. The… Winged Guard’s base, right?”
“You’re going back?”
“It’s not like I want to, you know! But if I don’t, you’ll be in trouble, right?” She looked at her shoulder. On Feodor’s coat there was his insignia, representing his rank and affiliation as a Fourth Officer of the Winged Guard. “Maybe you’ll think this sounds strange, but there’s something wrong with me. I’ve forgotten so much… my name, the reason why I’m here… I remember I hate the Winged Guard, but I’ve forgotten why.”
Bit by bit, a self-mocking tone entered her voice. She chuckled, laughing at her own expense.
“Oh, there’s something else. I remember I can trust you.”
Feodor’s heart clenched painfully. That’s wrong, you’re making a mistake, he almost said.
“That’s all I have. I’m empty. I can’t do anything, and I have nowhere to go. That’s why… I didn’t want someone like me to make trouble for you.”
“…You fairies, I swear.” Feodor shook his head. “You really are all the same.”
“You put yourself last and only care about other people.”
Feodor extended his hand to take hers, then suddenly lifted her up and put her on his back, ignoring her oddly cute shrieks and struggling.
“It’s partially our fault too. We’re so unreliable you just can’t leave us alone, aren’t we?”
Feodor still heard protesting, but her resistance fell away. It should be fine to go like this. He carefully bent down to pick up the umbrella that’d fallen onto the ground and raised it up to the girl. “Sorry, but hold this.”
Underneath an umbrella and carrying on his back the girl who now wore his uniform, Feodor trudged through the city of cold rain, doing his best to ignore things like the breath on his ears or the warmth on his back.
This isn’t the time to get distracted, Feodor, he thought. Get a hold of yourself, moron. Do this properly. Stay strong!
“…This town’s weird,” the girl grumbled in a whisper. “We’re walking on metal, and the streets are all so disorganized.
“You’re not wrong.” There wasn’t any way to excuse it.
The 38th Floating Island, home to the city of Lyell. Born as a mining town, developed into a manufacturing center, and brought to the brink of ruin by the Croyance’s advent. A ghost town made not of dirt, wood, and stone, but rather metal, screws, springs, and electricity. By Regul Aire’s standards, it certainly couldn’t be described as a conventional city.
“Plus, the walls spit out steam all of a sudden.”
“Ah, yeah, that’d surprise anyone not used to it. Did you get hit?”
“I dodged it… even if I fell on my butt,” the girl said awkwardly. You don’t have to say anything if you’re embarrassed…
Abruptly the grip on his shoulders tightened. “Hold up.”
“The street’s getting narrow. If you’re going to the main road, wouldn’t you go the other way?”
“This is the way I meant to go.”
He could almost sense her bewilderment. “Weren’t we going back to the Winged Guard?”
“You didn’t want to go back, did you?”
“No, I didn’t, but… wouldn’t this get you in trouble?”
“It’ll be fine if I just say I couldn’t find you.” Feodor shrugged. “In other words, as long as they don’t figure out I let you go on purpose, it won’t be a problem.”
“Then aren’t you screwed if they find out?!” She put more power into her grip. “Seriously, you don’t need to put yourself in danger–”
“I don’t want you to be sacrificed,” Feodor interrupted. “Honestly, I’ve got no idea how I should treat you, the way you are right now. Maybe it’d be better to treat you like a dangerous existence and arrest you, or just save myself the trouble and kill you on the spot.”
Leprechauns are a dangerous existence. A shard of affection is all it takes for them to turn into willing, disposable bombs. Feodor understood that well by now. They could bring forth massive destruction with just a momentary emotional outburst. What’s more, the girl he was carrying right now held a fundamentally incomplete spirit. Lakish and that other person’s memories and fragments had been forcibly mashed together to create something that only resembled the person she’d once been in form. In other words, she was a powder keg that might go off at any time.
Another reason to worry was that this girl was using Lakish’s body, meaning the resultant explosion would most likely be exceptionally destructive even for a Leprechaun. Given how close he was to her, if her Venom spiraled out of control then Feodor himself would be completely erased along with everything surrounding them.
“In that case, then–!”
He shook his head. “If I don’t know what the best choice to make is, I’ll just do whatever I want to. Right now, I want to prioritize your happiness.”
The girl fell silent.
“It might be a bit late to ask this, but what’s your name?”
“…Feodor. Feodor Jessman.”
Feodor, she murmured, turning over the name in her mouth. She’d meant to talk to herself, probably, but her lips were so close to Feodor’s ears that he faintly heard his name mixed into her breaths. His heart jolted, and a fog of agitation started to float through his brain.
“What–” he started, as if trying to cut through all of his inappropriate ideas, “what should I call you?”
After a short pause, the girl chuckled lightly. “What a weird thing to ask,” she said teasingly. “You’re someone I knew… rather, someone I was close to, aren’t you? Shouldn’t you know my name already?”
“That’s… I suppose so.”
“So that… that thing is some sort of fusion using Lakish’s spirit as an ingredient?”
Remembering the words he’d spluttered out at Aiseia only a few hours earlier, Feodor closed his eyes. He had to keep that in mind. Even if her form hadn’t changed, even if her voice was the same, even if the heat and softness he felt on his back was exactly how he remembered it to be, the truth was that Lakish Nyx Seniolis no longer existed.
“Wh–?!” his breath hitched.
“…That was what you called me. Those fairies from before also called me the same way. In other words, that was my name to you. Is that right?”
“Ah… ahh… uh…”
Feodor swallowed hard, preparing himself. Preparing for what? He didn’t know.
“That’s right,” he said flatly without nodding, keeping his eyes fixed straight ahead.
She’s not Lakish Nyx Seniolis anymore. The girl who had that name, the pure, honest, sensitive girl who treasured her friends and was treasured by them in turn, the girl who was like an older sister to Apple, Marshmallow, Tiat, Collon, and Panival, who looked after them when they were causing trouble, was nowhere to be found. He knew that, but even though he knew it…
“Your name is Lakish. You’re a mature fairy soldier, and one of my subordinates.”
“Fairy…” she murmured, as if making sure she knew what it meant. “That’s… right. That’s right. I’m… a fairy.”
“Remember now, do you?”
“Yeah, but I’d actually have preferred not to.”
The girl hesitated. “…I don’t remember too much, but I think… I hated things called fairies. Disposable weapons thrown away without being able to know what they’ve saved. Even now, I feel disgusted by them.”
Feodor inadvertently chuckled.
“What’s so funny?” the girl asked sourly.
“No, it’s nothing,” Feodor shook his head. “I just felt a bit happy.”
“Really? I didn’t think I was saying anything all that pleasant, though?”
“That’s not it, it’s more how you said it. To think there’s a fairy that thinks that way. I thought I was alone in feeling like that, so finding someone else who thinks the same way I do is reassuring. Yeah, you’ve given me some courage.”
The sound of the rain seemed to grow louder. It was as if the area beneath the umbrella was cut off from the rest of the world; an isolated space for just the two of them.
“…Feodor, are you a strange person?”
“Hey you, it’s not as if I didn’t know that, but hearing it from you really hurts.”
They’d probably walked about five hundred meters until reaching their destination: a shop nestled on the corner of a relatively large street one block over. A brand-new sign outside indicated it was a furniture store.
Feodor pushed open the door, immediately drawing the attention of a bored-looking Orc lazily dusting the merchandise. Even if they were of different races, he could tell those eyes were full of suspicion. Really, it was a natural reaction; he’d just walked in drenched from the rain, carrying a young markless girl with torn clothing. Anyone could see they had troublesome circumstances written all over them.
“Sorry, we’re closed for the day.”
“I know, I know, but I have an urgent order. I need extra-large glass tables carved in the Collinadiluche style, a half-dozen of them.”
“Wha…?” the orc’s mouth fell open in what might’ve been a surprised expression. “…We haven’t got that many in stock, so you’ll have to wait about two months.”
“That’s unfortunate, because I’m in a hurry. Could you get it done within forty days at least?”
“Sure, just let me confirm it with the manager. Please wait over there.” The Orc pointed to an adjoining room, then disappeared deeper into the store.
“What was all that about?” the girl asked as Feodor entered the room and finally let her down from his aching back. “Glass tables?”
He poked his head outside to make sure there weren’t any other customers in the store or shadows lurking in the street, then drew close to her ear. “Calling for the manager was a code. This store deals in… business, shall we say, that differs from what the sign says.”
“Let’s just say it’s the sort of place that only deals with VIPs. They share confidentiality with their clients, and as long as it doesn’t break their code they’re willing to accommodate most requests. They won’t pry into their clients’ circumstances, either, so even someone like you, in your situation, will…”
The girl pinched his thigh, hard.
“Wait, ouch, ouch! You–”
“Hey. Call me by my name, okay?” Her voice had turned chilly and quiet.
Feodor remembered something he’d heard before; for fairies, their names were extremely important, especially the names other people gave them – in other words, calling someone else by that name was taboo. Is it really fine to give this girl Lakish’s name? Feodor still found himself hesitating, fussing over this sort of thing even though they’d already gone this far.
“Please. I don’t want to lose myself again.”
“…Got it.” he nodded firmly. “Lakish, we can discuss your circumstances here. Not just where you’ll stay tonight, but also what you’re planning to do afterwards.”
A sunny smile appeared on her face, one that seemed to have risen up from the inner depths of her heart. “Okay!”
Incidentally, Orcs were disliked in a different way than most markless. There were many reasons for that, one being how tremendously ugly they were – even taking into account the heavily varied standards for beauty throughout Regul Aire. They also had an exceedingly strong sense of community and unity within their own race, to the point of excluding other races. Perhaps due to their short lifespans, they also disregarded spirituality and put their faith in material desires. As a result, they had developed a peculiar set of values unappealing to any other race.
In short, their entire race was selfish. Long-term planning was a foreign concept to them, because they didn’t live that long to begin with. They rejected the accumulation of knowledge and trust, conducting themselves without considering how others saw them or what trouble they gave people around them.
With their large numbers and in their typical overbearing style, they’d spread through many cities, accumulating wealth and creating communities made up solely of their brethren. One couldn’t speak of the economies of most islands without also talking about the Orcs.
The official explanation for the destruction of the economic powerhouse formerly known as the Elpis Mercantile Federation was that the military had acted on their own. But Feodor knew the truth. The ones who’d warped the army’s plans out of selfish greed – who’d thrust Elpis down the path to irreversible tragedy – were none other than Orc traders. They were the enemy; despised foes that had snatched away his older brother-in-law, his family, his hometown, everyone and everything else he’d held dear.
Five minutes later in the reception room, Feodor and Lakish had borrowed towels and wiped themselves dry however much they could before sitting down on the soft sofa.
“So you’re Feodor Jessman, our comrade-in-arms?”
Something sat at the other end of the table, a mass of jewelry that somehow spoke fluent Continental. It wore a velvet coat embroidered with gold thread and a heavy-looking necklace bedecked with gigantic rutile and iolite gemstones. Its fat fingers were each garnished with multiple thick golden rings, set with large and gaudy gemstones.
A close observation revealed a lump of fat adorned with glittering gems. An even closer observation, close enough to make one nauseous, would reveal that ball of fat to actually be a slightly plump male Orc.
“I’d heard you were markless, but you’re much younger than I had expected.” The mass of jewelry revealed to be a fat Orc tilted his head slightly.
“I knew my age would seem unusual, which is why I’ve used intermediaries to contact you until now,” Feodor said, suppressing his mixed feelings. “Are you the one they call Giggir Mozag?”
Giggir – as far as Feodor knew – wasn’t one of the traders involved in the Elpis Incident. Consequently, he wasn’t responsible for the death of his loved ones. Although he understood that, it still took everything he had to maintain his composure in front of an Orc trader. He readjusted his glasses, fixing in place his calm expression.
“Yes, exactly so.” The Orc decorated with an amount of jewelry that could only be described as utterly obnoxious – Giggir Mozag, the representative of Spessartine Trading – slowly nodded his head, which resembled a pig’s crushed-in face. “As your visit was rather abrupt, I was unable to prepare a body double. These fellows may be accompanying us, but please, pay them no mind at all.”
Robust, black-suited beast-people stood at each end of the table, some behind Giggir and the rest behind Feodor. He glanced at them inquisitively. “You’ve got a lot of bodyguards. Did something happen?”
“Ahh, former Elpis traders have been dying recently. The rumor is that the assassin’s a markless, so you can understand my precautions.”
“Oh?” Well, that isn’t too surprising. It’s never a shock to see Orcs making enemies, no matter how many of them or where they’re from. Feodor shook his head. “I don’t mind, it’s not as if we’re that close anyway. Each of us keeping constant vigilance works out perfectly.”
“Thank you for understanding.” Giggir’s neck rolls jiggled as he nodded enthusiastically.
“Anyway,” Feodor cleared his throat. “Reintroducing ourselves would be strange, so I’ll skip the pleasantries. Apologies for the sudden visit, but a lot of things have changed recently.”
In contrast to his rough and vulgar appearance, intelligence glimmered in the depths of Giggir’s calm, beady eyes. Is there something I’m not getting because of the differences between our races? Hiding his confusion, Feodor feigned calm as he continued. “I have two requests today. First, could you look after this girl for a while?”
The Orc’s gaze settled on the girl – Lakish – seated next to Feodor. She raised her shoulders nervously. “What? Me?”
“A female markless?” his snout wrinkled in slight distaste.
“Naturally, having her utmost safety in mind and giving her decent treatment. Is there a problem with that?”
“No, no. But may I inquire as to your reasons?”
“She’s one of the Winged Guard’s ultimate trump cards. It seems she was born in special circumstances, and somehow she’s able to activate ancient superweapons that have never been used before.”
It wasn’t a lie, but Feodor also took care to not reveal more information than necessary. What he had to do right now was attract the Orc’s attention and make him recognize the value in her protection.
“W-Wha–” Lakish whirled on him in shock as Giggir nodded appreciatively. “What’re you saying so suddenly?!”
The existence of Leprechauns was a highly classified military secret. It wasn’t something to expose so easily. Feodor knew that already, but…
“These weapons can deal decisive blows to the Beasts. They’ve already proven themselves in battle. And – this is the important part – their effectiveness against the Croyance was proven just a few days ago.”
“Hang on! Just hang on a minute!”
“Oho…” the Orc surveyed Lakish with newfound interest.
“This one was forcibly conscripted into the military and transported to this island due to her unique talent. Not too long ago, she escaped from the base, whereupon I secured her. This goes without saying, but obtaining her cooperation is vital.”
“I see, I see…”
“H-Hey, don’t just move on, dammit!” Lakish shot Feodor a glare as she sprang up to tower over him. “I deserve an explanation!”
Feodor coughed awkwardly. “Aaaannnd… I’d like to move on now, so let’s take care of all that later.”
“Don’t you try to deceive me, Feodor,” she hissed dangerously. “Tell me what you’re trying to use me for. I’ll go along with it, but I’d like to know what I’m involved in.”
“Even if you say that…”
He glanced at Giggir, who shrugged at him as to say you’re on your own here. “…To put it simply, this Orc is one of my collaborators. He approves of the plan that I’m intending to carry out… No, rather, he’s recognized some value in my plan and has been sponsoring me all this time.”
“Har!” Giggir laughed, his shoulders ponderously swaying. “You saying it like that makes our relationship seem so pleasant, doesn’t it?”
“And what do you want to do?” Lakish pressed.
“I want to stop the Winged Guard’s monopoly on the anti-Beast weapons. One of my plans is to steal you – and the others – from them.”
“…Huh?” She blinked, surprised.
“I won’t let you guys be used and disposed of like convenient tools. I’ll be the ones protecting all of you.”
She fell back onto the sofa with a fwoop, sinking deeply into it in a daze as if her energy had suddenly been snatched away. “Yeah, that’s… that’s true…”
Giggir tried poorly to stifle his sniggers, acting like he was watching a particularly amusing show. Feodor sighed. “In any case, this girl is a deserter from the Winged Guard. In addition to that, due to some incidents, she’s lost part of her memories. There’s limits to how well I can hide her, so I’d like to keep her safe with someone I can trust. That’s one reason why I dropped by so suddenly.”
“I see. What was the second reason?”
“I’d like you to prepare a tool that can quietly break a wooden box.” Feodor quickly went through the specifications: he wanted to remove what was in the box brought into the Winged Guard base the other day, the one big enough for an average adult markless to fit into.
“Hmm? Are you planning to change careers to be a thief?”
“Something like that. I’m aiming for Confidential Warehouse Zero. The infiltration route’s already been scouted out.”
“…Warehouse Zero? Say that again?”
“Confidential Warehouse Zero.”
“The so-called Pickle Barrel, is it?”
“You’re well-informed. That’s the one.”
The Orc massaged his temple with a pudgy finger. “…As always, you come up with some crazy ideas.”
“That’s because my goal’s the craziest of them all.”
Oinking sounds came from Giggir’s throat as his piggish face creased into a smile. An Orc’s happy face was something that’d keep appearing in your worst nightmares once you’d seen it. “You’re not wrong! So what’s in the box, then?”
“I’m unsure. Extremely few people know what’s inside, and I don’t have enough clues to speak my theories with confidence.”
“But it’s worth taking the risk to enter the Barrel and steal it when you don’t even know what it is?”
“…It is. If my theory is correct… it’s something that can serve as the trigger.”
Giggir let out a deep breath. As if he’d just remembered it existed, he grabbed the cup of black tea in front of him and downed it in one tremendous gulp. “So it’s finally going to begin. How delightful, how very delightful! Oh, we must see to the other preparations quickly!”
They shared a suppressed cackle.
“I don’t get what all that was about, but I can tell it was nothing good,” Lakish muttered dryly, her eyes half-closed.
“Correct!” Feodor bared his teeth at her in a grin. “You are now being used for an evil plan!”
“Yup, seems like it. Well, whatever.” She might’ve as well as yawned for how little interest she seemed to have.
“Okay, hold on. I know it’s weird for me to ask you this now, but are you really fine with that?”
“Even if it’s nothing good, it’s important to you, right?” She gave him a slightly mocking smirk. “I mean, you’re practically throwing everything you’ve got into this whole thing.”
That was unmistakably a beguiling, wicked smile. An expression that’d never have been seen on the original Lakish, who was sincere to a worrisome degree.
Lakish Nyx Seniolis was truly, irrecoverably, gone.
Feodor would never again see her gentle, invigorating smile.
As he realized that, he felt a strong stinging pain deep within his heart.
Prev -> Chapter 2 Part 4: Glimmering Eyes
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