Editor: Lickymee, Nigel, Nate, PervySageChuck
The bandit youth pleaded for forgiveness.
He was prostrating on the ground as if in prayer. His face was covered in tears and snot, groveling for Rory to show mercy. He claimed that he had not committed any sins directly, that his hands were still clean. He had no choice but to resort to banditry in order to survive. He had reflected on his actions and turned over a new leaf, that he would work seriously and so on.
Rory sighed as she watched his pitiful appearance.
She averted her face in disgust as if she had seen something dirty. She felt that she was going to be tainted by his filth if she looked any longer.
There was one major condition when killing others. The way Rory saw it, there wasn’t any sin in killing people. The important thing was why; what was the intention and their attitude when doing so.
That was the teaching of the god Rory served.
What was wrong with thieves and bandits robbing others?
What sins did soldiers and executioners have for killing enemies and death row prisoners?
That was how she saw it.
The god Rory served didn’t differentiate between good and evil.
She tolerated all kinds of people, respecting the careers they chose in order to live, and respecting the path they had to travel. Therefore, a bandit just needed to act like a bandit.
If this man could look into Rory’s eyes proudly like a bandit, Rory would show him the appropriate respect. As an apostle of her god, she might even love him for that.
However, what was with this man’s attitude?
First of all, the excuse of saying his hands were still clean was unforgivable. The moment he became a bandit, he became a member of a group that relied on numbers and violence. It had nothing to do with him taking part directly or not.
And it was inexcusable to resort to banditry simply because of poverty. If he couldn’t get food, he should just lie down and die.
Those who lacked ability and didn’t have the luck to fill their stomachs could choose to live on as beggars. Rory liked and respected the tenacity of such people.
Stupid as a human, despicable as a man. There was no value in his existence. The man’s ugliness made the apostle of darkness twist her beautiful face into a scowl.
Rory issued her command coldly. He was to dig three graves.
The youth answered that he had no tools, but Rory replied that he had the pair of hands given to him by his parents. And so, the youth started digging graves in the wilderness.
Unlike sand pits or farmlands, digging a hole in the wild wasn’t easy. His fingernails peeled off and his skin was torn, but whenever the youth wanted to stop because of the pain, the giant halberd would slam into the ground, inches away from cutting off his fingers.
Driven by terror, the youth forgot all about the pain from the moment before, digging with all his might into the ground covered by rocks and grass.
Shortly after, he buried the father of the family.
Then the mother.
And lastly, the daughter.
When he started using his numb hands to cover the grave of the young girl with mud, the sun started rising, lighting up the surroundings.
The man did all that because that was the condition for him to be released. No, that was just what he believed. The man turned back to seek Rory’s opinion.
“Is, is this okay?”
With thirst, hunger, fatigue and the pain in his hands, the man who was about to faint saw it.
He saw the girl clasping her hands in prayer— the figure of Rory.
Kneeling down on one knee, she clasped her hand in devoted prayer. Basked in mysterious sunlight, she looked beautiful and noble, stealing the breath away from all who saw her.
Her dark flowing dress was like an attire for funerals, and her hair was black and long.
White porcelain skin.
Her lips, which looked as if they were painted scarlet with blood, formed a smile.
The girl stood up after finishing her prayer and lifted her halberd up high. She swung the symbol of her faith and her god’s love down at the man who didn’t even have time to turn around.
♦ ♦ ♦
The Elf who lived in Koan forest, Tuka, the eldest daughter of Hodor Ray Marceau, still thought she was dreaming.
With her eyes which were blurred as if they were covered by a veil, she could see humans rushing about.
Did something happen? Her mind wasn’t working properly, only allowing her to watch and listen without any introspection.
The clouds in the sky and the scenery before her eyes flashed by from time to time. Stopping and starting every once and awhile, rocking her body with the movement.
She appeared to be in something similar to a carriage.
It started moving and stopped, and moved and stopped, over and over again.
What she saw from the windows of the carriage were the tired figures of the people carrying luggage, as if they were running away from something.
The carriage laden with luggage creaked as it advanced.
It started moving but stopped moments later.
The cloth covering the dim carriage was parted, allowing the light from outside to shine in.
Suddenly, her vision was blocked by a black figure.
“Dou? Onnanoko no yousuha?”
There was someone conversing just out of her line of sight, but she couldn’t understand what she was hearing.
“Kuro-chan~, how’s the girl doing?”
“Lieutenant Itami… She is gradually regaining her consciousness. She can open her eyes slightly now.”
Their conversation was nothing but meaningless noise to Tuka.
A highly skilled sculptor focused his strongest passion and moe spirit in order to create a beautiful girl with perfect skin. Right now, the girl was lying powerlessly on her side. Between her golden locks was her slightly opened blue eyes which were just like gems.
Itami looked at the Elven girl as he considered his problems.
Her fever had subsided. He wasn’t sure about her vitals, but they remained stable so she was probably fine, at least that’s what Kurokawa said. However, they couldn’t leave her alone yet.
“The trek of refugees is slow and not making progress, more and more problems keep occurring and the number of injured and drop outs keep increasing. This escape is slowly exhausting them.”
He was just venting his complains. For Itami whose motto was ‘Eat, sleep, play, repeat, life is everything in between’, this seemingly unending trek was just suffering.
The villagers wore depressed expressions. They felt fatigue in their bones, hunger in their stomachs and thirst in their throats. The piercing wails of babies abandoned by their escaping parents permeated the air. People bleeding from accidents on the road. The sun glared heavily on their backs only adding to their struggle. The worst part for the villagers, however, was all the mud. Mud which coated the ground and caked their pants and shoes which they had no time to shake off.
There was a carriage that couldn’t move because the road had turned into mush, so the family sat beside it. However, even if they wanted to, the villagers couldn’t offer them a hand. They could only abandon the dropouts with blank faces. They didn’t have the will or energy to spare. The father carried his child, pleading with the passing carriages to at least save his baby.
Dropping out from the caravan meant death. They lacked food or water for subsistence, and would most likely fall victim to wild beasts and bandits.
It was natural to abandon. It was natural to be abandoned. This was the line between life and death, the law of nature.
Someone please help.
Such prayers were meaningless.
Someone please help.
The gods would not offer salvation. They would not come to help, and would simply stand there and watch from above.
Someone… Someone please help.
Like tyrants, the gods ordered them to die.
That was why the only ones who could save men were other men.
The men wearing green gathered before the immobile carriage. If it was just the wheels stuck in the mud, they could still help.
“Alright, we are going to push!”
“Give it all you have got, show me what you’re made of!!”
On command, the team pushed on the carriage with all their strength. After recovering the carriage stuck in the mud, the men didn’t even wait to receive thanks before returning to their amazing carriage that was not pulled by horses.
The villagers wondered just who they were.
They were not soldiers of this nation or the residents of this village.
They informed the village about the impending danger and then immediately offered their aid. Rather than simply being generous, these foreign people wore unbelievable smiles and were overly kind. This impression was left in the heart of all the villagers.
But when a carriage couldn’t bear the load and broke down, they became cold-hearted.
The men in green and the village chief approached the villagers standing stunned before their luggage.
Next, the chief would convince them to take only the luggage they could carry on them. The villagers never considered abandoning their luggage. It was the food they lived off and their wealth. How would they survive if they lose these? But the chief still made them abandon their luggage, and in order to remove their hesitation, the men in green suggested burning the luggage. With their belongings burned, they had no choice but to go on. What about tomorrow? The day after tomorrow? With no hope in sight, they could only take one step at a time in tears.
The group was divided into those in wagons and those walking. With time, the wagon group gradually grew smaller.
Kurokawas asked Itami, “Why are we setting fires?”
“They won’t be able to let go of their belongings while they are right before their eyes. This is the only way.”
“Can’t we request additional transport?”
With the transport capability of the JSDF, they could easily move this amount of cargo.
But Itami just scratched his head with a troubled face.
“First, we are behind enemy lines here. They might be ignoring us because of our small numbers, but the enemy will definitely react if we send a large unit deep into their territory. Accidental engagement, unplanned expansion of our front line, and committing our forces are exactly what we want to avoid. The sudden escalation of war could drag the villagers into all this... Just thinking about that makes my head itch.”
Kurokawa smiled wryly in response to Itami’s words.
“That’s why, all we can do right now is give a helping hand.”
Kurokawa had no choice but to nod in agreement.
When the refugees from Koda village reached this area, the sun was at its peak.
Leading the wagon train was the HMV of the third recon platoon. However, it was moving at a walking pace, since the villagers behind were on foot, along with mules and farm horses pulling the wagons. Maybe walking would be even faster than this.
“But… Can’t we go any faster?”
Sergeant Kurata complained.
“I haven’t driven this slowly since driving school.”
If he pressed too hard on the accelerator, he would leave the wagon train behind. Kurata moved by using the inertia of the auto gear, simply holding the steering wheel without stepping on the pedal.
Reflected in the rear view mirror was a child grabbing the driver seat from behind and looking to the front. The HMV was full of children and the injured who couldn’t walk anymore. It was the same for the type 73 truck behind, its bench was filled with casualties and pregnant women. Of course, the dangerous weapons, ammunitions and food had all been shifted to the HMV.
Itami studied the terrain map made from aerial photographs, watching the horizon with his binoculars. He compared the terrain with his current position, calculating the distance they had travelled and how much further they had to go. He recorded road conditions and their steepness. These were not the only things he wrote down as the flow of rivers and vegetation were also important information.
“That’s weird, ravens are circling around there.”
After answering ‘You’re right.’ to Kurata casually, Itami looked forward with his binoculars again. He then discovered a girl squatting by the side of the road, surrounded by ravens.
“A Goth Loli?”
That’s a costume he often saw during events and in areas such as Harajuku. There were many differing views on what was Goth, but Itami was certain the clothing fashion style of the girl was that of a Goth Loli.
She was between twelve to fourteen years old. She looked very attractive, a real beauty.
A girl like that was squatting at the side of an empty road, her black jewel like eyes staring this way without even blinking.
“Woah, a life size ball-jointed doll?”
Kurata commented after watching through his binoculars.
That girl was like an inorganic doll with no seams.
No matter how much he wanted, Kurata couldn’t just drive off to look at that girl. The wagon train from Koda was advancing as slowly as the entrance to a doujinshi convention, the second hand of the clock would turn five rounds before the HMV reach that girl.
Itami decided to send Katsumoto and Furuta to go ahead on foot to check her out.
Judging from her dress, she looked more like some Japanese girl kidnapped during the Ginza incident than a native here.
When Katsumoto and Furuta tried to converse with her, they seemed unable to communicate. The squatting girl looked like a runaway ignoring the questions of two rookie cops.
When the wagon train reached the girl, she stood up as if she had been kept waiting, dusting off the dirt on her dress, easily picking up her huge halberd and walking alongside the HMV.
“Hey, where did you come from, and where are you going?”
The girl was speaking the local language.
Itami and the others couldn’t converse fluently with her. They could only squeeze out a few sentences after flipping through their book of phrases which took the place of a dictionary. Katsumoto and Furuta shrugged and kept walking.
The one filling in the gaps in their conversation was a boy about seven who was sitting in the tiny space between Kurata and Itami.
“We are from Coda Village, Onee-san.”
“Hmm~? What about these people in the strange outfits?
“I don’t really know, but they are nice people helping us.”
The girl walked a circle around the HMV that was moving at walking pace.
“So they are not forcing you to go along?”
“No, a Flame Dragon came and they’re helping us escape.”
Itami’s group simply listened with an uncertain expression, exhibiting typical Japanese behaviour.
Itami sent Furuta and Katsumoto to take care of the villagers at the back, deciding to question the girl himself. He checked his phrase book, and waited for the dialogue between the boy and the girl to stop before asking.
“I wonder how this thing moves?”
“I’d like to know as well. But I don’t understand what they are saying… But riding in it feels much better than a carriage!”
“So~ riding in it feels good?”
Before he could even stop her, the Goth Loli boarded the HMV from Itami’s passenger side. She strode over Itami’s knees. There were no doors, so she entered easily.
The HMV could seat ten adults.
The seats at the front faced forward, while the back seat faced the center. There was enough space to store equipment in the center. If they could ignore traffic rules like now, it was possible to load twenty children in.
However, there were already plenty of luggage, children and elderly on the vehicle, it was as packed as a train during the morning rush hour. The girl who entered while saying ‘excuse me’ wasn’t welcomed by the villagers. They didn’t state their reluctance openly, but still showed a troubled expression.
"Hey, it’s cramped, Onee-san.”
“Ah~ wait a moment.”
It was already a tight fit, and on top of that, she brought something so long in with her.
The halberd was long and heavy. No matter how she positioned it, the halberd would touch someone’s head or face causing them to shrink away because it was cramped inside the HMV. As a result, it was placed onto the floor of the vehicle.
She then looked for a place to sit, but there wasn’t any space. With no other choice, the girl sat on the knees of the man hogging the passenger seat.
Itami was dumbfounded at her sudden action.
He wanted to stop the black-clad Goth Loli, but if he touched somewhere dangerous, it could be painted as sexual harassment and trigger a huge incident, so he didn’t. Because of the language barrier his protests and curses in Japanese like “Hey! Wait! Wait!”, “Don’t touch that”, “Don’t touch the pistol and fire extinguisher”, “Get out first”, “Wah, what the hell are you bringing along!” were ignored completely.
The place the girl sat down upon was his knees.
He had to shout “Hold it!” at this stage.
One side wanted to push the other away while the other side was fighting for a place to sit. The low class fighting thus began.
And so, the struggle between two parties who couldn’t communicate verbally ended with Itami giving half his seat away.
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