One month until the Era Festival, Imina's fourteen birthday had passed just the other day.
It was already the end-of-year season.
New year's Era Festival——it starts on the dawn of the Empire calendar's year 1500. Although, apparently there's a grand variety of events and parties that are conducted throughout the year in the Imperial City, in this remote village it's just an unusually luxurious new year celebration, it had just that kind of recognition. Still festival is a festival, so the atmosphere was restless.
But there was one person who had a languishing expression in the middle of it——it was Imina.
In the end, Imina hasn't started his travel yet.
It wasn't that he gave up on his dream nor was stopped by someone. He was given permission from his mother and if he feels like it, he can start preparing as soon as tomorrow.
Still, after his birthday he reached the age at which he can officially become a soldier, but after that night——the result of the serious match with Shirjis had made Imina hesitate.
He helped out in the house and while the Era Festival preparations progressed, he just one-sidedly continued hitting a tree with his wooden sword. Lakshus told him it's already enough. If you entered the drill school as you are now, there would be no one else your age with your skill, he said. It might not have been just a compliment. But Imina was still not convinced. He was anxious as to whether he'll be able to become a person who could protect this village and the country.
——If he could at least fight Shirjis again.
What Shirjis had told him half a month had lodged itself and caused him to stagnate.
If he could win in the rematch this time, he could take a step forward.
Since then, Shirjis didn't show himself.
Not knowing any more of his situation, he could only remain not knowing what to do. It wasn't just because of Shirjis, even more so because Ellis no longer came to the village.
His sister, Uruha didn't speak of them any more either.
For a while she only spoke Shirjis' name just five times a day and was in melancholic mood only half of the usual time, recently she rarely brought up the topic. She must have either been enlightened there were some circumstances for it and must have decided to wait until they're resolved.
Still, she looked somewhat optimistic. Maybe he'll visit unexpectedly, she might have been thinking. When Shirjis came to meet Imina half a month ago——the desperate look he had and his interaction with Imina, as well as the ending of the match——it was if he, was saying farewell to this life——but she didn't know that.
A few days earlier, he was called out to by Uruha. It was while everyone was excited about preparations for the Era Festival, Imina tried to go off alone to the forest in the east with just a wooden sword.
——"You don't have to wait for Shirjis."
She had a different from her usual, mean look. Smiling gently, his sister said so.
It's you, so you're probably thinking something like having the last match before leaving the village. But, he hasn't showed himself for a long time, if you wait you'll just waste your time. Also, I'm sure he would feel bad if you were detained because of his circumstances.
It's okay, instead of you I'll properly wait for the two. You can leave Shirjis and Ellis to me. Head quickly to the capital, get stronger and please come back. Then, as a well matched couple with Shirjis, also with Ellis who becomes even more beautiful we'll welcome you back——
The last part sounded like the usual her, but strangely he didn't feel it was unpleasant. Rather, it felt mature and somewhat dazzling. Despite all that person said, she was his elder sister and caring about her younger brother was something admirable.
However, even with his sister encouraging him, Imina couldn't take the step anyhow.
Recently, he started thinking about thinking for at least a year more. But regardless of his passive thinking, if he doesn't adhere to his schedule his resolve won't last.
That's why, until the Era Festival he single-mindedly spent every day swinging his wooden sword at the trunk of a big tree at the edge of the forest, recklessly, until he's out of breath and can't stand up——it was because when he moved his body, he didn't have to think about anything. As long as he trains his body, he can distract himself from the anxiety.
And today too, after rounding up the help around the house he headed towards the forest. Wholeheartedly he swung the sword, before he realized the day was coming to an end.
Noticing it's already evening, he stopped his sword while breathing roughly.
The coat drenched in sweat was heavy, it was cold. The season was already winter, even though the core of his body was still hot, but if he's off guard he'll freeze.
Let's leave it at this for today——when he thought so, a voice came from behind him.
"Hey, Imina, progressing ahead today as well."
It was the inn's Dolmoa.
Imina lowered his head and looked at him.
He was armed with the bow for hunting he held in his hand and a quiver on his waist. Apparently he was hunting. But, it seems like he didn't catch any prey as he came back empty-handed.
Noticing his gaze, Dolmoa made a bitter smile.
"Ahh, it was no good today. I walked around quite far but I didn't get even a single rabbit."
"That's rare isn't it."
Despite how he looked, he was an excellent hunter.
"Yep, it's rare. It somehow feels strange."
With that said, it wasn't because of his own skill, but because of how the forest was.
The forest was incredibly quiet. Even though it was the time for hibernation, there was no evidence of the bait in traps being touched and the nests were empty. Not even birds cried out.
Imina didn't notice. Of course, it was natural since he was single-mindedly swinging his sword. In the first place, the place he was in was a vacant space in the forest and nearby there's a human village. Beasts hardly show themselves there.
"Well, there are days like that."
Half-laughing, Dolmoa made a slightly disappointed shrug.
"I've been hunting recently here, so they must be wary. Maybe, they all went north? ...well, that would be unusual in its own right."
The north side of the forest was very close to the elven territory in the east.
The vegetation is also deeper, if one proceeds any further into Fairy Country, the ecosystem also immediately changes. The spirit energy on that side is dense enough to suffocate beasts, the plants are also twisted and grow abnormally, some of the species stretch their branches like tentacles and attack animals. Of course, Salamanders and Cerberi, Goblins and Ogres have their territories there so boars and deers, even bears and wolves stay away from it.
Imina swung his sword here——in a place slightly away from elf territory, on the east side of the forest. He did want to meet Shirjis and Ellis, but on the other hand it would be awkward if he encountered them coming out of the bush behind him. It's pathetic even if I say so myself, he thought.
"But, my wife's gonna get angry at me for no yield. Imina, let's go back together. If I'm with you then maybe she'll restrain herself and isn't so loud."
Dolmoa winked mischievously. It was clear that he didn't want a kid to play out late. This kind of jest was very like him.
That's why Imina made a wry smile, he wiped the sweat on his brow with his sleeve and lined up next to Dolmoa.
"Got it. But, I don't think Auntie will refrain because of me."
"Think so? ...maybe. Yesterday I caught a pheasant so I wish she forgave me."
Saying light jokes, the two had begun walking back to the village.
They proceeded on a mountain road, then exited the pastures and soon the houses entered their sight. Smoke was coming out from the chimneys of the houses. There were also people preparing for the Era Festival, but it was already dinner time.
"My stomach's empty."
Dolmoa held his bulging belly that didn't really look all that empty.
"A good scent extends this far."
Imina agreed with him, tried inhale the air and frowned.
"Mm? It smells like something burning."
Rather than meat being fried——it smelled like meat being burnt.
Dolmoa made a bitter smile.
"From which house is it?"
The closest one was Kashus' home. A family of an elderly couple and their young daughter. Their only daughter, Cyst would be soon in marriageable age, but from the perspective of the elders she was still a kid and they wouldn't allow it. The person herself wanted to get married to a pedlar from a neighbouring village, Wicca.
The smell of something burning had become denser as they moved closer to Kashus' home. There was no doubt it was there.
"Cyst-chan might have blundered. Or maybe Surara-san had."
Despite the laid-back tone, there was worry on his face.
It would be fine if Cyst was in, but if she was to be absent it would be just old people inside. If a fire breaks out like that, something might happen.
"...I'll go take a look. It's fine if you go back ahead, Imina."
"I'll go as well."
If something were to happen, there would be more manpower. Whether to extinguish the fire or call someone.
"That so? Thanks."
The two stood in front of the house's door.
Dolmoa knocked on the door and called out.
"Kashus-saan. It smells like burnt food, are you okay?"
It was a strong voice appropriated to his physique.
But, there was no answer.
"......, Kashus-san? Are you there? Kashuus-saan!"
Again, he called out even louder, but it still was silent——
Dolmoa frowned. His expression had become steeper. Even though the couple was old, they were far from having poor hearing and their noses were good enough to recognize the smell of something burning.
He put his hand on the door and opened it. It wasn't locked with a key. Imina stood next to Dolmoa, he braced himself to rush over to call others if the house catches fire from a pot.
Food was certainly burnt. Stir-fry meat and vegetables placed on the fire had turned black.
But, rather than that.
Table, chairs, fireplace, wooden walls.
It was not much different from Imina's own home, in this living room that had common in this village furniture and arrangement——there were two corpses and a monster.
Imina was so stunned, he forgot to even breathe.
The corpses were of an old man, and, of a young woman. The man didn't have an arm, his entrails were ripped from inside is belly. His body was lying face down on the floor, displaying his bald head.
The woman's face was well visible. Or rather, just her head was lying on the table. It was Cyst. Five years older than Imina, they played together often as children. She's become beautiful ever since she found a lover, Uruha often said. But, there was no longer anything beautiful about her. Her cheeks were soiled with blood, distorted in an expression of despair and anguish, her hair disordered and stuck to her face.
His head didn't work decently, he ended up wondering where Cyst's body had gone, but found it soon enough. The monster was eating it.
Even though it was turned with its back, Imina could tell it wasn't a human. Rounded bulging shoulders, whole body thickly covered with dark, dry-tree coloured body hair, thick arms holding Cyst's body in iron grip. Above all, big mouth and fangs chewing on her breast and making a mess out of it.
In the ecosystem of this side, there was no such monster.
In other words, the Fairy Country's——an organism living in elven forest.
A "demon" close to primates whose feature is walking on two legs. Even among those demons——one that has its entire body covered with hair and is of a human's size is——,
"Ugly demon... it's a Troll."
Dolmoa muttered that. He stood there like an idiot.
But it lasted just for a moment. Unlike Imina, he was a hunter who regularly entered the forest and above all, he was an adult man. He immediately regained composure and turned towards Imina,
Shortly, quietly, he spoke in compelling tone.
He raised the bow he held and quickly nocked an arrow.
"Call men. After that, go to Lakshus-kun's place. Act as a message relay."
I don't want to, let me too——he swallowed these words on the verge of saying them.
Dolmoa had predicted Imina would want to fight and immediately gave him a different role. In order to stop him from challenging the enemy, and, in order to escape.
In unusual circumstances where a demon is eating an acquaintance, having consideration and judgement——it was something Imina absolutely couldn't have calmly pulled off. Thinking he would be only a nuisance to this person, Imina obediently obeyed it.
The Troll continued his crazy meal and didn't pay any attention to them. That's why, while he had a chance.
He gave a short answer and turned on his heel. It was something he had to do. While Dolmoa holds this guy down Imina will call reinforcements, and in that way he'll protect the village.
Forcing his trembling legs, he started running desperately.
He knew that with Fairy Country close, this kind of thing could have happened. Still, with the reality in front of him, his confusion and consternation are really deep. There were only a few demons and magical beasts that had appeared so far and they were all exterminated so the only thing he saw were corpses.
And——in the corner of his head appeared a thought.
The reason the attacks of the demons and the magical beasts' attacks were so scarce on this remote village, was because of the good elven governance on them. They had a tight security making sure monsters don't escape to the human forests. Why was it that now, suddenly, that demons have to come to this village?
Shirjis said the king has changed. His father who was king until then died and a new elven king was crowned, so——can it be that this trouble came from his influence?
No, even if he thinks about it, it can't be helped. Even if so, what of it. It's unclear if Shirjis comes for to help, he had no grace time for waiting.
He shook his head to refocus and then concentrated on running.
First, he'll contact the next house in the village, then he'll go to Lakshus' place.
He had to hurry. Dolmoa's skill with the bow was excellent, but Imina was anxious as to whether he could win against a demon. Will an arrow pierce through that hairy body in the first place.
After arriving, breathing roughly, he carelessly hit the entrance door.
Here——was a family of three consisting of a couple and a child. Everyone should have been in for the dinner.
"This is horrible! Next door's Kashus-san's house was attacked, by a Troll..."
Not waiting for a reply, Imina opened the door while shouting, a nasty smell has spread in his nostrils.
It was an overwhelming stench.
Reflexively feeling like vomiting, he held his mouth.
He felt a deja vu. It was something he smelled a few minutes earlier. Mixed in with the smell of burnt meat in Kashus house——earlier, he was unable to process the sight in front of him, but this time he clearly understood. It was the smell of entrails, blood and faeces.
The husband, his wife and the children——the entire family was torn apart and scattered all over by an irregular magical beast.
It was a dog. However, it had three heads. Each head had sunk its teeth into a different body. One into husband's neck, the other into the wife's arm and one into child's torso. Size-wise, he was as big as a medium-sized dog, he was coated in fur as stiff as metal spikes, the developed muscles were like rock.
A magical beast living in the Fairy Country, Cerberus. The elf say as a guard dog it's tame like shepherd's dog, but to humans it was just a ferocious monster.
It had become aware of Imina's presence and looked back at him with one of three heads.
His teeth chattered. Wanting to vomit from the odour, his body felt chilly and he trembled.
It seemed like the Cerberus had recognized Imina as his new prey.
It immediately stopped feasting, the entire body including two remaining heads have turned around and a growl rang out in its throats. It lowered its limbs and bent——kicked off the blood-covered floor, leaping in Imina's way baring its fangs out.
A scream out of fear had leaked out. But,
Almost unconsciously, it had changed into a roar.
Before he realized he pulled out the wooden sword from his waist. Normally he held it with just one hand, but he gripped it with both now, braced his legs and aimed between the leaping Cerberus' heads.
The Cerberus, intercepted in-mid air had whimpered like a dog and fell to the ground. Of course, the magical beast didn't have a scratch, let alone it being a fatal wound. In blink of an eye it got up and once again launched attack on Imina.
His body moved naturally. It was the fruit of every day's training.
He attracted the rushing magical beast very close, then flew to the side dodging it. At the same time as they passed by, he thrust into the Cerberus' flank. The opponent flinched and an opportunity appeared. That's why he swung from above and delivered a blow to the middle of its head, then kicked its abdomen with all his strength.
The Cerberus fell outside the house and rolled on the ground.
Imina didn't think he can stop it with a wooden sword. In a split second he entered the house, looked around inside and barred the house entrance. Seeing the acquaintances bitten apart and scattered, he cowered, tears and vomit welled up at the same time. He swallowed it all forcefully and looked for something that could be used as a weapon.
Nothing. He couldn't find anything. There was nothing but the corpses. The three from the Amary house died without any resistance.
Maybe he should go outside. There should be a plow and a sickle in the barn.
*bang*, an impact hit the floor. The magical beast tackled it. It was a matter of time until it's broken. There was no choice but to escape through some window and into the barn.
He resolved himself, and when he tried to head to the room in the back.
Outside, something like a hand whistle——a shrill sound like that had rang out.
The whistle lasted for approximately five seconds, after a short breath, there was another one which also lasted for five seconds. It happened three times in a row. He didn't mishear, it was clearly artificial.
Imina furrowed his eyebrows.
When the whistle had sounded, the magical beast stopped tackling the door. The surroundings were wrapped in silence. Imina tried to listen in to any signs of it, but he could no longer hear Cerberus' breathing.
——What does this mean?
Maybe it was a sign of warning from one of the villagers and hearing it, the magical beast changed its target. No, even though irregular it was still just a beast. It was hard to think it would give up on the prey it had set its sights on. If there was one thing to think of——could it possibly be.
A shepherd dog would immediately rush to its master after hearing him whistling.
And, elves tamed magical beasts as if they were dogs or cats.
Did he come? Possibly he came and is acting to appease the magical beasts and demons.
Imina's eyes sparkled. Suddenly a hope sprung inside him. In that case, I can't barricade myself in here, I need to go and help him out, he thought.
He rushed to the door, removed the bar from the door in a hurry.
But——the light of hope in Imina's chest,
Was repainted dark by the inferno beyond it.
He jumped out of the Amary house and had a full view on the village.
Gently rippled, open hills, familiar houses.
More than half of it, was engulfed in flames.
Illuminated by sunset and flames, villagers ran away trying to escape. Chasing and catching them and ripping them apart were magical beasts and demons.
When he moved his gaze stunned, he saw the Kashus' house.
His sight finally focused and he saw something like a darkened piece of meat lying at the doorstep.
It was Dolmoa's corpse, who had his neck turned in strange direction.
Unable to withstand it, Imina vomited on spot.
The hell had already unfolded long ago.
Here and there in the village, there were flames, blood, mud, screams, destruction and bodies in a messy clutter.
It was gruesome, that was the only word it could be described.
As he moved towards the centre, the number of dead bodies lying on the roadside increased. Of course, all of these masses of meat used to be his acquaintances, every time Imina looked his breathing was disturbed. As he avoided the wandering demons and magical beasts, corpses entered his sight regardless of whether he wanted it or not.
The inn——the arms loosely hanging from the window were that of Dolmoa's wife, Nana. But, there was no head between her arms.
There was a woman who had her clothes torn off and died in that state. One exposed breast was gouged, between her loosely opened legs there was blood. It was obvious what has been done before she was killed, Imina's empty stomach had begun to once again act up.
The daughter of the general store owners was bitten apart by a magical beast. The store front that had items for sale displayed had collapsed, mixed in with it he could see five pieces of her body. When Imina was very young, whenever he fell over she would pull him up by hand and they would run around the fields together. In recent years she put on mature airs, but she still had a gentle look in her eyes——together the daily goods, tableware, wooden tools and her entrails had become a mountain of junk.
There was also a corpse of a man who fought bravely. By the roadside, around him there were several magical beasts he exterminated. But, with a machete for self-defence he was unable to win against a demon. His body's upper and lower body were torn apart.
Of course, it wasn't just the corpses that attracted Imina's gaze.
Even now, there were people dying in the village.
In a certain house's garden, a woman had her abdomen eaten while alive. The one eating her was a small demon——a Goblin. The monster had an eerie blue skin. It had filled the breast of a woman sitting in the corner of the garden with its face and was feasting upon her internal organs.
Of course, she was an acquaintance.
It was a mother of a child really attached to Ellis——her name was Samaji.
His eyes met with hers, Imina let out a soundless roar. Whether from anger or sadness or despair he reflexively swung his wooden sword, tried to jump and beat up the Goblin. However, Samaji made a light smile and shook her head, she stopped Imina with her trembling right hand.
You can't come——she meant.
She had a gentle and calm look in her eyes.
The eyes she had shown when her son played with Ellis, a mother's eyes.
After stopping Imina, using both her arms, Samaji hugged and held down the Goblin that continued eating her belly. And she moved her lips. Escape. You, escape.
Her bitten lips overflowed with blood. She clenched her fist so hard it turned white. Even though her head was full of the sound of her heart beating, Samaji smiled and nodded next.
That's right. Rather than her, who was beyond salvation already, Imina should give priority to people more important to him. This person had pushed his back. Bearing the fear and pain, but still.
Unable to bear it, he let out a voice. Even though the Goblin might notice it, even though the demons and magical beasts nearby can notice it. But he couldn't go without saying it.
"I'm sorry... Samaji-san. I'm sorry."
Repeating the words that couldn't count as atonement, Imina turned away.
His home was already a stone's throw away——the home ahead of his sight wasn't yet broken apart in a flashy way nor burning. The face of his mother and sister floated in his mind, they have overlapped with the corpses he saw until now, then further overlapped with Samaji's dying smile and he felt like he was going crazy.
That's why he desperately moved his tangling feet and ran.
He ran, ran desperately, he put a hand on the door of the nostalgic and familiar home.
It didn't move. It was barred from inside. He panicked for just a moment, but soon noticed. Since it doesn't open——it must be closed from the inside.
"Mom! Uruha!! It's me!"
It meant that inside, living humans have barricaded themselves in.
A muffled reply had come from inside the house. Along with a rattling sound the bar had come off.
The face that had appeared to welcome him was that of his sister's, she hugged him putting her face as close to him as possible.
"Hurry up and enter!!"
What he heard from the side was undeniably his mother's voice. At the same time he was dragged inside by his sister and immediately closer the door. Next, he was embraced by Lilu from behind.
"Good, you're.. alive...!"
"Stupid, this idiot! You're alive... Imina... I'm so gladd..."
His mother overflowed with tears, his sister also had a tearful voice. Imina too, flooded with tears in relief.
"Sorry. But, it's great that Mom and Uruha are both safe."
"I was attacked once."
After regaining composure his mother let go of him and responded while wiping tears.
"When I went outside to pick up firewood... it was a big lizard. But, Lakshus-kun saved me."
"That's right. That person, when he realized there was a commotion he came here straight away, first."
"So, he's fighting."
Hearing that name, he was reassured.
He was a remote region's guard dispatched from the Imperial City, the only person in this village who had a magical sword. In other words, he could fight with magical beasts and demons as someone more than equal to them.
The magical sword could clad itself in flames, overflows with ice, emit acid and vibrate. The power of those mystics, coupled with swordsmanship should be able to easily destroy the hard fur and muscles of the monsters. That's why surely, at the moment he must be slaughtering them somewhere in the village. There's lots of monsters so it might take time, but soon enough this tragedy will end.
Beside Imina who tried to inspire his broken heart, Uruha muttered quietly.
"...still, why something like this happens."
"In the village's history, something like this never happened."
His mother bit her lips and wondered.
"So that demons and magical beasts don't come here, elves are keeping firm watch. Even in the forest it's rare to see footprints of demons and magical beasts."
That's why Salaido village was able to exist peacefully by the border of the Fairy Country, which could be called an alien world. They were unaffected by the thick spirit energy when they went to hunt in the forest and weren't raided by magical beasts and demons as they lived in the village.
And yet, why.
That story told Imina by Shirjis half a month earlier had appeared in his mind again.
The death of his father and change of the elven king. Since it's come to this, he could only consider it related. The border's defence must have gotten loose because of the turmoil.
"Uruha, Mom, it's all right."
With confidence, Imina showed the two a smile.
No matter in how much disorder the Fairy Country was, there's no way Shirjis will remain silent as Imina and others are attacked. Before long he'll rush over to help.
No, surely, he's already rushing over.
After all, earlier in Amary's house he saved Imina's life, hasn't he.
The Cerberus disappeared somewhere after hearing an elf's whistling. They had techniques that made demons and magical beasts obey them. In that case, this situation might be already calming down. The proof of that, was that the outside was awfully quiet. There was no signs of monsters coming to this house——.
Along with a loud voice, the house's door was forcefully destroyed.
The three were wrapped in astonishment not allowing them to even scream reflexively. They had an illusion of their hearts stopping. Imina, Uruha and Lilu hardened like a stone.
Entering through the broken, barred door was a huge body.
Its height was more than two and a half metres, it wasn't just its height, it was wide as well.
Large muscles on its entire body. Black skin like a rock. Sharply slanted eyes and ears, a mouth like a crack with fangs peeking out. Although it had few hair, it was covered in spiked mane from the head to its back.
Wicked demon——called Ogre, it was the most ferocious species among all demons.
For powerless humans, it was despair incarnate.
Uruha let out a soundless voice.
Probably from mother's instinct, Lilu covered her children with her arms as if to protect them.
However, beside Uruha, flinching, before Lilu could embrace him——Imina's gaze wasn't turned towards the intimidating monster, it was nailed to a different place.
The Ogre's arm.
As large as a log, there was something held by its five fingers.
Not fitting the black body, a palely shining scimitar.
By the handle, it had an exaggerated apparatus. Having a spirit energy tube for charging, a device with evocation engraved and trigger, it was the engine of the magical sword.
Imina knew it well.
With blazing iron used as a blade and core of the dragon silver, it was called "Liminalie's Smile". Previously, he heard all about it. Inscribed on it was the name of a sister who died at early age,
Imina's father's junior whom Imina always admired, the thing he always had by his waist——,
"It can't... be."
Why does this Ogre hold Lakshus' sword?
Was Lakshus defeated? By this guy? Lost, killed, then deprived of the sword?
When he looked up at the Ogre, Imina was shocked.
Ears distorted in atrocious shape, fangs peeking from the mouth gaping up to the earlobes, slanted eyes.
Running diagonally from the forehead, was an old sword wound.
It was very similar to that on Lakshus' face——no, it was the exactly same wound as his.
The corner of his head was awfully cold, suddenly he was reminded the events from several minutes ago like a revolving lantern. And as if a by-product of it.
No——ended up connecting.
First, the Kashus' family house he saw first. It was a three-person family, and yet there were two corpses being eaten by a Troll. There was Cyst, the daughter and the father. Then, where was the mother?
Amary family was wiped out. However, strangely, the Cerberus eating them was inside the house despite the door being closed as if it was in the house in the first place. Yeah, that's right. That house had a dog. A shepherd dog called George.
General store. Although there was the daughter was dead there, it was too late for her to remain alone. The original owner, her father should have been home. He wouldn't remain silent as his daughter is killed. But, he wasn't there. There was no corpse.
Even as Samaji-san was being eaten by the Goblin, with gentle eyes she shook her head to Imina. The Goblin——had a small body like that of a human's child, it devoured her belly while it was hugged like a child.
Elves, unlike humans poured spirit energy into their living bodies rather than inanimate objects and strengthened them. It was so-called organic necromancy. Their muscle strength and vision, as well as reflexes were enhanced many times.
But, if by chance organic necromancy was used on something other than their own bodies.
In the past, he recalled learning something like that from textbook. Fairy Country's ecosystem was different from human world's, the plants and animals are influenced by dense spirit energy and become irregular.
Then, on the contrary.
If the animals and plants of the Fairy Country had grown influenced by the dense spirit energy——then in the first place the animals and plants of the human country and Fairy Country were originally exactly same species.
If animals and plants of this side are exposed to the dense spirit energy, it was possible.
In other words, magical beasts. If they were altered by organic necromancy, originally beasts.
In other words, demons. If they are were altered by organic necromancy——.
It wasn't that the Ogre took Lakshus' magical sword.
It held the sword from the very beginning.
"It can't be. It can't... impossible."
At the same time Imina muttered, the Ogre moved.
Without reserve it took a step forward and reached. Towards the mother protecting her children, Imina and Uruha with her back——towards Lilu.
The family embrace was simply pulled apart by the monster's brute force.
It was a sudden and irrational, eternal separation.
Carelessly grasped head. Lilu was unceremoniously raised into the air with one hand. As their mother flapped her legs struggling in front of them, neither Imina nor Uruha could let out a single word.
"......, ......kh...... ....mm......!"
Lilu's muffled scream coming out from the Ogre's hands didn't feel real. However, what they heard, was their mother's last voice.
Along with a dull sound, there was sound of something breaking.
Both of the rampaging legs and hands, painfully trying to scratch the Ogre have started hanging loosely. The scent of blood tickled their noses. The scent of mother's——blood, overflowing from the skull.
Her body was crudely discarded in the corner of the house.
There was no answer to the call. Their mother didn't even budge. The scent of blood was getting denser.
Impossible, they thought.
It happened too fast. This can't be.
After all, she was just held by head by the monster, lifted up and only a little bit of strength was put into the grip. And yet, with just that, with just that.
A vigorous woman who all alone raised the siblings, their mother has.
Slightly nagging yet gentle mother has.
As Imina said he wants to become a soldier, slightly lonely, but even more happily she said "you're your dad's child after all", that mother has.
There's no way——that mother has died so simply.
The Ogre didn't even glance at their mother.
He looked at Imina and Uruha. The gaze went back and forth between the two. There no longer was anyone who could protect the two.
The gaze stopped at Uruha.
Once again the giant hand outstretched, its five fingers were wet with Lilu's blood.
The elder sister was held. This time by the right arm. Without the regard to the fact an overwhelming grip broke the arm like a twig, ignoring the scream of agony, he raised her up and in front of his face.
The magic sword held in its other hand——the blade protecting this village——was already discarded.
Then at Uruha's chest, he grasped her collar and tore it apart like paper.
A long tongue had extended from crescent moon-shaped mouth and licked Imina's sister lips.
He lowered her half-naked body onto the ground and pinned her down face to the ground,
The Ogre covered her from above.
What was he trying to do, both Uruha and Imina understood.
"N...O. NO. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!"
A scream had come out of Uruha's mouth as if she was on fire.
"NO, NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. THAT'S, NO I DON'T WANT THATTT!"
On top of her, the Ogre growled loudly.
"NO, NO, LET GO, STOP, LET GO OF ME... LET GO LET GO LET GOOOOOOOOOO!"
With this scene in front of him, Imina's face and lips turned pale.
His mother was killed and a cruel thing was being done to his sister.
The monster who caused this tragedy——of all things, was a prideful warrior whom he admired and made his goal.
Why would he do such a thing? Why would it turn like this?
Lakshus. He was a soldier serving the country, former subordinate of late father. He came to this village to repay Imina's father's for care, a person who became a guard of this village. Such a person laid a hand on the person whom he owed and on top of that, tried to rape his daughter. Such a thing——such a horrible thing, is it really all right.
There was no way.
Imina stood up.
His legs trembled. But he still moved. If he could move, he could do it.
Hurry. At least before something irreparable happens to his sister, hurry——
He ran. Towards the magical sword discarded by the Ogre earlier.
Picked it up, held the handle. It felt much heavier than the wooden sword he was wielding every day, maybe because of the difference between one-handed sword and scimitar, or maybe the difference between a wooden and a normal sword, or maybe because of the reality in front of him.
He didn't know at first glance whether a spirit energy tube was inserted. Imina didn't have any experience with using a magical sword. But it didn't matter. In any case, there was no choice but to do it.
Imina put strength into his limbs, held the scimitar and squeezed the grip on both the handle and trigger,
From over the Ogre's head, he strongly swung it down.
The magical sword spat out blue flame. As to wrap the blade, the evocation had activated.
The scimitar clad in flames had hit the shoulder in a blow using the entire body.
Ogre was unfazed. The blade hardly went through. The heat just slightly burned its skin. And an arm, as if to swat a fly had hit Imina from the flank.
An impact that felt like it abolished his sense of balance, gravity, and vision.
His body was blown away. It destroyed the house's wall with which he collided and he had rolled outside.
"Ka... ha. Aa!"
He couldn't breathe. And yet, something hot was overflowing from the back of his throat. A sticky liquid——it was blood. He felt like he would faint if he loosened his concentration for a moment. He didn't feel pain in the abdomen that was hit. Instead, the texture of the soil he stroked with his cheek was awfully clear.
Imina grit his teeth and stood up. Using the magical sword he miraculously hold onto instead of a stick, he put all available strength into his legs.
The Ogre's giant body had emerged from the hole in the wall. It's eyes were even more slanted then before and it had bared its tusks like a tiger. It was a fierce look. Apparently it was angry at Imina for interfering.
However, even if he had turned his rage towards Imina, Uruha wasn't released——the Ogre walked over to him with her body under his arm. Still, even though he was unable to retake her, he stopped the act before it was stuck in, which was his single relief in despair.
Struggling violently, Uruha raised her face. Ahead of her line of sight was Imina.
Feelings of worry for her brother and feelings of wanting to be saved. He could tell those two were conflicting inside of her. She wouldn't be able to bear Imina dying. But on the other hand she was too afraid of being raped so she couldn't scream for him to run away. That's the expression she made.
The heartbreak felt like bursting his chest apart. Enough to make him forget about severe pain running through his body.
Frenzy and impatience dyed his vision red.
I need to stop him. No matter what happens, losing isn't allowed. If I lose——Nee-san will die. She'll be killed by Lakshus.
He inspired himself with a cry and raising the sword again, he took the first step.
*ka* *ka* *ka*, *ka*.
Four arrows hit the Ogre's head. In quick succession.
It was too sudden. To Imina's eyes, it looked more like the arrow grew on his head. It was the same for the Ogre——a few seconds later, as if the monster realized he was killed, it collapsed forward.
The Ogre also threw away the body of Imina's sister, which rolled on the ground.
Uruha held her hit head and raised half of her body.
On the other hand, Imina stood stunned.
Unable to run up to his sister, he looked towards the direction the arrows came from. The moment he reflexively turned his face, his consciousness was nailed to it.
It was them.
There——were seven figures.
They weren't humans from the village. No, they weren't humans.
Shining in the setting sun, incredibly white skin.
Despite the individual differences each of them looked graceful.
Above all, two ears pointed like needles——.
They were elves.
"Tch, whatt. Why did you kill him, he was at the good part."
Next to the house, a boy leaning on tattered broken wall-board said that with a light smile. His childish features and low stature were reminiscent of an innocent, mischievous girl.
"At least wait, until this kid's crushed by the Ogre."
However——what he said was nothing as gentle as "mischief".
"Why did you save them? It can't be that you're having mercy on mere humans, Emeane."
The one who spat that out with irony, was a slim youth standing next to her. He had a pair of eyes that suggested a bad personality, they were coloured with mix of arrogance and nervousness.
The youth demonstrated his opinion not just with words, but also showed it with actions. In other words, he trampled and rolled a head that was lying on the ground.
Imina gasped. Yeah——what a thing. That was the head of the neighbour, Roffen-san.
"You had no reason to get in his way. Did you have a change of heart?"
"...as a woman, I didn't feel like watching it."
The response came from above, from a woman with a knee on top of the roof. Her hair was cut shortly in a cool manner, it was a cold, ice beauty. There was shuddering charm in her long and slanted lips.
She was holding a bow in her hand. Apparently, she was the one who saved Uruha. Of course, the fact she saved them didn't mean she was an ally.
"That's the only reason. Or maybe, you have any objections to what I did?"
At the woman's words, the slim man clicked his tongue in response.
"Kukuku, really? I had fun too, you know?"
"Me too me too. I love these kind of things... so vulgar. Kukuku."
As if to pour water on the two's quarrel——behind the woman, two girls stood side by side on the building's large wing and laughed darkly. The two looked like peas in a pod, perhaps they were twins. Although they were beautiful like a lotus flower blooming in the grassland appearance-wise, in their eyes dwelled a dense and dark colour and like mud, the gloom from their eyes made the lotus rot.
"Isn't mating of the livestock interesting?"
"Hey, the ugly scene... isn't it laughable?"
The words they let out were disturbing and cruel. Contrasting with the woman in front.
"I don't mind. Whatever the motivation, Emeane's actions were correct."
A middle-aged man leaning with his back against the pillar spoke in a well-resounding voice.
He looked the oldest among the bunch. He was wearing an eye-patch due to a battle injury. His features were tough and dauntless, his stout poise and attitude were natural to a warrior.
"A demon that doesn't listen to given commands and acts selfishly isn't suited for taming. Disposing of it was appropriate. ...however, it's hard to use those made from corpse seeds, they lack obedience."
"Ha! Leaving it to demons makes it pain in the ass. We should have done it ourselves from the start. If needed I could even do it myself."
A large man spat that out in loud voice and sat down on the ground. His large and tough body was more like that of an Ogre than elf, there was a different harshness coming out from his body than that of the man with the eye-patch. The battle axe he pierced beside him was huge, the blade was like a tiger's head.
"There ain't competition. Humans are always this weak. Actually, that warrior looked quite good but... you went and made him an Ogre, geez."
Unreserved and irreverent tone of voice, intimidating demeanour and look, condescending attitude making fools out of everyone but himself. A man who was a mix of of gracefulness and ferociousness.
"One way or the other, you love bullying weak things don't you, Vorguno."
The little boy elf started ridiculing him.
"Ah? What, you picking a fight with me, Cissha? Or maybe want to be bullied by me? Certainly, I might like it, bullying weak. To me you're weak as well, you know."
"Hee, want to try?"
The boy called Cissha laughed fearlessly, with enigmatic attitude he released thirst for blood.
"Oh, want to go at it? I said it earlier, I ain't have rampaged enough."
The man called Vorguno leaned on one leg and made a smile like a beast.
The one who restrained the two was the man in the eye-patch.
"Do it if you want. However... when you make cheap quarrels, remember this. The valour is the vessel. The vessel of the one who swings valour over cheap things is also cheap. To us, Endveils, these people aren't necessary. I won't overlook it just because you're young."
"Cissha, Vorguno, how about I'll become your opponent first."
On the roof, the tall woman——Emeane put away the bow and put her hand on the dagger at her waist.
"We, the 'Six Petals' are supposed to be Lord Khan's shield. Our valour is Lord Khan's valour, our vessels are Lord Khan's vessels. If you sell it cheap, I will not forgive you."
"Hmph, geez, you're really crazed about Lord Khan."
As Emeane gave him a sideways look, the slim man nervously ridiculed her.
"Then, what was that earlier? Releasing arrows to save a human woman, that's what makes your valour cheap doesn't it."
"Kukuku... hihaha! Kuzan's being jealous again."
"Really, true. After all, Emeane won't even look at him."
The twins in sync teased the slim man.
"Silence, Nokt, Mikt. Your voices hurt my ears."
The thin man——Kuzan had narrowed his pair of eyes and spat out.
"Should I bite off your tongues? Or maybe fuck you until you can no longer let them out?"
"Oh dear, your "Single Skill"... are you going to show it to us?"
"Kukuku... that sounds interesting."
Unique Vocation, an unfamiliar word entered Imina's ear.
However, Kuzan frowned and his lips distorted cruelly.
"Hmph. I don't hesitate to show my 'Valour'——Unique Vocation, but someone like you can't make me move a single finger. In other words, it's enough to show it on a Cerberus or an Orc."
"Oh my oh my, how wonderful. I wonder how a dog's drool tastes. Right, Mikt?"
"You're right, Nokt. I wonder how does a demon's drops splatter? Ufu... kukuku."
With grim presence, the twins returned a dirty provocation.
"Hmph, you insane twins."
Letting that out with irritation, Kuzan's leg moved. The head rolling on the ground——Roffen's head was kicked towards the girls.
Half of the twins easily caught it flying straight at them,
"He looks like he'd make a good Orc but, unfortunately. With just a head you can't plant a seed."
Disinterested she threw it behind her.
As they had their exchange, Imina stood there unable to move.
Their conversation entered his ears, his lips trembled and fingers stiffened.
For better or worse, all of their presences were dangerous. The content of their exchange all made him disturbed.
There was something he couldn't overlook in their conduct. There was something he couldn't overlook in what they were saying. Thinking it over one by one, the more he organized it in his head, the more it screamed it's no good. There was another him, stopping him from thinking.
If he organizes the thoughts, he'll naturally come to a conclusion. Simple and only conclusion. But——that's why, he couldn't.
He shouldn't arrive at it.
"Youngsters, close your mouths already."
While sitting down, Ji-dig turned his only eye behind Imina's back.
"Lord Khan is present."
Imina turned around. He couldn't stop himself from turning around. It was as if his stiff body that couldn't move earlier was pulled by a string.
Elves all at once have turned serious.
Ahead of his line of sight there were collapsed house. That of Roffen's whose head was discarded earlier. On the road extending from it and leading to the central square came a figure, walking.
The figure had stopped behind Uruha who was sitting half-naked and covering her breasts with an arm.
After that for a few seconds——Imina's time had passed incredibly slow.
He thought of not wanting Uruha to turn around.
If she turns around, she'll see. That guy's face, his appearance, she'll see it. Seeing it would be her greatest hope, that's why it's her worst despair.
But on the other hand, he thought, turn around.
If you don't turn back, you can't respond. You won't be able to avoid the waiting despair.
That's why I need to move, he thought.
Move, run, so that she can avoid despair of turning around——he just needs to save her. The one and only dear, elder sister of Imina's.
Uruha was always an annoying existence. Mean, loved to talk about love affairs Imina hated, for some reason tying those to him and poke fun at others. It was so annoying he couldn't bear it. However, on the other hand——he knew that she had discreetly cared about him and Ellis. That's surely the reason she was loved by the villagers despite her gossipy personality.
Now that her mother had died, the only remaining family was the only one who could save her.
His consciousness moved much faster than the flow of time and yet, his body wouldn't keep up. He wanted to rush over but his legs wouldn't break into a run. He wanted swing his arm up but his arm wouldn't respond. He wanted his fingers to strongly grip the sword, yet no strength would enter them. At least his voice. Just one word is fine. Stop. He wanted to shout as loudly as possible. Yet, yeah, yet——his throat wouldn't even tremble.
Just his gaze, captured that guy.
The one standing behind Uruha, that guy.
He held a sword. A single edged, curved long and thin one-handed blade. It was in almost the same shape as the wooden sabre used for practice. On the other hand, unlike the wooden sabre, the long sword shone in silvery white colour.
Fitting the blade well beautiful silver hair, like a flowing river.
His features were so refined one could take him for a woman, tough yet fascinating.
His limbs were supple yet strong, reminiscent of a deer lightly rushing through the hills and fields.
Imina knew him well.
Ever since childhood, they were together on a daily basis, so he knew him well.
It was that guy.
That guy, who for Imina and Uruha was practically family——ahh, what a thing.
The elves behind Imina gathered nervously and respectfully.
These lined-up elves have seen humans as lower organisms. It was an arrogant and disturbing attitude. But the words he heard from their mouths——"Lord Khan" and "Endveil clan". There was undeniably respect in them.
The "Lord Khan" who appeared, looked just like someone both Imina and Uruha knew.
He unsheathed his long sword.
With a cold expression devoid of emotions, he glanced at Imina, then looked down at Uruha.
Imina's lips finally moved. He tried to shout. His vocal cords finally began to react. But.
Maybe guessing from Imina's seriousness or maybe she felt a presence behind her, Uruha looked up blankly. Her eyes were red as she was flooded with tears on the edge of despair earlier. She had swollen eyelids. Cheeks wet with tears. Her lips deep blue. Not befitting her, who always paid attention to her appearance, an undignified face.
That was the end.
From behind, Shirjis Endveil had thrust his long sword and pierced through Uruha's heart.
Imina's body caught up to his consciousness only when Shirjis pulled out the sword and his sister's body had finally lost its strength.
Too late to do anything, so the first thing Imina did was to scream.
"U, aa, aAA, AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!"
Having a hard time with his legs tangling, he ran. He arrived by his sister who was already finishing her fall.
He discarded the sword and embraced her upper body with both arms. It was still warm. Still, warm. But the warmth was a residue rather than her body temperature. From here on, she'll only quickly lose it. Her heart was no longer beating. There was no pulse. No breathing There was no proof of living. Her eyes half-closed, nothing reflected in her pupils.
Where did her soul go? It must still be floating nearby. If it's pushed back into her mouth before it diffuses in earth's spirit pulse, won't she open her eyes? With elven evocation that much is possible. Then, why won't Shirjis do so? Why, is he looking down at us in silence? Why? Why——.
Embracing his sister's body, wiping away blood from her clamped lips, with his vision stained redder than blood, Imina looked up at his best friend.
The man whom, until last night he thought of as of best friend——he looked up at him.
"Shirjis, why. Why...!"
A man's voice had come from behind.
"The disposal of the village is mostly complete. The only one remaining is this boy."
"Well done, Ji-dig. Also, 'Six Petals'."
Shirjis ignored Imina's question and returned a nod elsewhere.
"You have my thanks. We, the Endveil clan had the first strike."
All seven at once have corrected their posture at once. Pointing their elbows to the ground, horizontally they hit their chest with their left fists. It was a salute of elves. In other words, they were undeniably Shirjis' subordinates.
And——the perpetrators behind the tragedy in this village.
Ji-dig spoke in stern and grim voice.
"Lord Khan... no, Shirjis, we're ones who ought to say thanks. We were saved thanks to you. You had to make a painful decision."
"Uncle Dig, let's not say such things."
Shirjis made a friendly and soft smile, one was familiar with. However, it wasn't turned towards Imina, but rather for the elven warrior.
"Emeane. Vorguno. Nokt, Mikt. Cissha. Kuzan. You too. I made you worry. And put you through effort. However... the worries and struggles ahead, will be shared by us all together."
The recognition of services, was aimed towards elves.
The reactions were different for each. Those relieved, those letting out happy shouts, those laughing in grim manner, nodding with innocent expression, distorting the edges of lips sarcastically.
Imina——cast a sideways glance at their reactions, at the chest of his sister's body, the body of his mother in the back of the house, at Shirjis' smile over his head——and thought vaguely.
When was it that this had begun. When was it that this was decided.
That night in full moon, the serious match with Imina.
Or maybe it was when the king of the elven country had changed.
Or maybe, even further in the past, when he had met Imina and Uruha——.
Don't know. I don't know, but,
There's only one thing to make clear.
"Look at me. Look at Nee-san. Look at Mom. At the village, at everyone in this village!"
Imina has——Imina Haimatie has,
"Was it you? Everything... was it you that did it?!"
Family, home, best friend, he lost everything.
No, he didn't lose it.
He was deprived of it, by this guy——Shirjis Endveil.
Shirjis finally looked his way.
He looked down on Imina and nodded. Killing all emotions, cold, as if he was a stranger.
"I did it. It was done on my orders."
Imina no longer wondered why.
Would he answer if Imina asked? And what if he was answered. Would Imina's feelings flow away somewhere? Would everyone in the village be revived? Would the village be restored? Would his mother and sister laugh again?
Imina stood up. Hit by the Ogre——by Lakshus changed with elves evocation, his side was in dull pain and even breathing was painful. But, he couldn't care less about that.
He picked up the sword. It was too heavy for Imina to handle, the spirit energy tube was empty, it was a sword that could be used for its metallic properties. It was insufficient as a weapon, but he couldn't care less.
Yeah, that's right. He couldn't care less.
This guy's circumstances too. Situation on Imina's side too. Playing and running around the hills together, sweating as they clashed wooden swords, happy days——he couldn't care less about them any more.
He shouted the name of his former best friend. Putting everything into his negative fury.
This was different from usual sword practice. It was also different from the serious match from that night. He held his sword to kill his enemy rather than defeat his opponent. The glare wasn't challenging Shirjis for duel, but from the will to kill.
That's right. I'll kill. Kill him. I have to kill him.
He betrayed us. Me, Uruha, Mom, he betrayed everyone in the village——!
Imina lowered his knee, pooled strength and swung the heavy sword with one hand. He pounced while rebounding with his left arm. The blow he released from above was faster than his consciousness. Anger and hatred might have drew out power that surpasses physical limits. With speed to which even magical beasts and demons couldn't catch up to, Imina swung the magical sword.
However, the blade still didn't reach.
To Imina's eyes, it just looked as if something flashed in front of him.
Regardless of that he moved of it and swung the magical sword in the gap of it.
Shirjis' sword flashed overhead and the touch on the sword——no, more weight than that was lost.
The right arm swinging, retaining the momentum didn't have the forearm.
Shirjis cut it off with a single slash.
Imina's balance was lost and he fell over.
While rolling on the ground he realized what happened. The blow that was supposed to decide everything was cut down before it was released. Moreover, the opponent didn't even poise his sword. He outdid him while standing upright, he cut off Imina's arm as he started to attack.
What made it possible wasn't swordsmanship.
By gathering spirit energy from the land and pouring it into his own flesh, Shirjis increased his reflexes, reaction rate, as well as bodily abilities like vision and strength.
——Organic necromancy... was it!
Shirjis from the past wouldn't ever use it, a technique only available to elves.
Only genuine strength at work in the fair and square match with swords, that was the common understanding between the two, it was the proof of the two's determination to become strong together. Even during the serious match practice of that night, this agreement wasn't broken.
Now, it was easily scrapped.
Imina stood up after licking the ground. Just having an arm cut off won't stop him. In front of him was no longer the best friend with whom he competed. No——precisely because he was once his best friend, that he hated him even more, an enemy to take revenge on.
Supporting his body with remaining arm, he raised his leg and released a kick. No matter how much his body was reinforced he won't be able to avoid this attack from a blind spot.
As intended, Shirjis didn't avoid it. But it wasn't because he didn't see it. Even if it's from a blind spot, an attack of a human was pointless in the first place.
Shirjis leg reinforced by organic necromancy didn't even budge.
The recoil felt as if Imina kicked a big tree. Instead, Imina fell on his back.
Finally Shirjis responded to Imina's attack. He swung his long sword.
This time he cut off the left leg at the knee. Just like the right arm earlier, it was cut off and rolled away.
"Aa ...oo... OO-AAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!"
Many times Imina roared. It wasn't scream of pain. It wasn't scream induced by loss of body parts. Hatred, rage, hatred, complaint, curse, resenment, mixed in it were all such feelings existing in this world, it wasn't enough to call it murderous intent, it was wrath.
His throat shook, he had a feeling he shouted Shirjis' name. Not just his. Uruha's, Mother's, Lakshus, acquaintances from the village. These weren't from anger but from nostalgia and sadness. Warm and painful thoughts crossed his mind.
They mixed in and penetrated his body, they felt like cold metal.
Imina had probably——stood up on one leg, stretched out his remaining left arm and tried to grasp Shirjis' neck. Was he able to move to the point where he stood up and stretched his hand, he wondered. Or maybe, he was unable to even stand up. He didn't know.
That's because, in middle of the screams,
"Imina Haimatie... farewell."
Shirjis' long sword tore deeply through Imina's belly,
"I won't apologize nor atone. I shall move on."
And turning the slash backwards he penetrated Imina's heart.
Imina's vision dyed red had begun to dim. He could no longer tell the taste of the blood overflowing from his mouth. He lost sensation in his limbs. The smell of entrails and flames covering the village had become distant.
With his remaining hearing, he vaguely heard their conversation.
"Shirjis, can I make this one into a demon?"
"Why? This boy looks like he'd come out well."
"Stop this. This is my last selfishness. I want at least those three to return to earth."
"That's a shame. But well, it can't be helped."
But their words, only sounded in his eardrums.
Imina's consciousness was overwritten by darkness and dissolved in the air.
It was the sound that he last perceived before losing consciousness and the sound was the first thing he perceived after regaining it.
"...r...y. So............... ...'m...rr... I'm...rry."
A sound of something trickling on him.
Dazed, he comfortably floated in the pond in his heart, sound shook his eardrums, his brain caught the words.
"I'm s...r...y. I'm so..r... ...'m sor... y. I'm sorry."
They were repeated apologies.
At the same time it was also atonement.
Along with the awakening of his consciousness, he understood that someone was embracing his skin. Warm body temperature, trembling arms and drops falling on his cheeks one after another.
He was too lazy to open his eyes. A great deal of effort was required to open one eyelid. But his awakening didn't stop, he didn't have the desire to fall asleep again. That's why, he opened them.
His name was called. Even as she sobbed and spilled tears, the voice was beautiful like a bell.
The white skin like porcelain was flushed from crying. Her cute facial features were wrinkled. Tears pooling on her long eyelashes have overflowed. Bluish silver hair was hanging down, tickling Imina's cheeks.
Imina responded——calling the girl's name. His throat rattled.
"Imina...I'm sorry——I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
Just when did they reunite. He felt like he hasn't seen her face for a long time. It hasn't changed much. Her sobbing expression was the same she had when she tumbled, fell down and injured herself as a child.
Absent-mindedly, he felt nostalgic.
With time all his five senses returned. Imina's head was lying down on top of Ellis's knees. She seemed to have been crouching and hugging his head.
When he put strength in his fingertips, they moved. Strange, he thought. That's because he could properly feel the right arm and left leg Shirjis cut off earlier.
In that case, was that a dream. Thinking of it, it was impossible. Shirjis turning villagers into monsters and hurting Uruha and Lilu who were like family to him.
——No, it was no dream.
Imina pushed Ellis away and jumped as if repelled from her.
His mouth was filled with taste of iron rust and he felt sick. It didn't change even when he breathed in. That's because the air itself outside has been stained by the smell of blood.
He checked his right arm and left leg with his own eyes. They were properly connected. Or to be precise, they were reconnected. As if grafted. In the slashed place there was adhesive——a hardened, painted red adhesive.
Imina tried touching his left breast. His upper body was naked. The cut out wound from the shoulder to the belly and the pierced left breast were filled up in the same way, leaving scars behind.
He turned around and asked Ellis.
Organic necromancy elves use. So it could also heal wounds.
"I'm sorry... I'm sorry, Imina."
Mixed in with her sobs were just apologies.
He looked at the surroundings.
This was the end of the village, on top of a small hill.
It was the pasture that was the playground of the four, Imina, Shirjis, Uruha and Ellis. The place he was in wasn't beside his home——where he was knocked down. Surely, Ellis must have carried him so far.
The day was almost over already.
Despite the dark, the scenery could be seen well. He could see the things in the distance awfully well.
Houses had become mountains of smouldering charcoal, smoke rose from them.
Here and there were corpses. Corpses of those killed by demons and magical beasts, corpses of those who burned down in fire, corpses which seemed to be of those killed by elves and, the corpses of demons and magical beasts themselves.
Some of the corpses were wriggling. Not the corpses themselves. It was something breaking out from the corpses' bellies, growing out of corpses and extending, reminiscent of insects coming out the nurseries, caterpillars out of the summer grass, wire worms coming out of mantis' belly. In other words, he noticed something like that.
Using corpses as nutrients, the plants grew. At speed unthinkable of with human common sense, in shapes human society was unfamiliar with, plants that didn't belong to human world.
After looking at it well, Imina realized the scenery was different from that of the village he remembered. Across the village here and there were green bushes.
What was happening, was obvious.
Not tired with just destroying the village, killing all the villagers, they planted seeds in human corpses. No——they killed people in order to plant seeds. In order to provide the calamitous flowers and trees nutrients to sprout. After growing they would suck dense spirit energy from the earth for themselves, then start releasing it into atmosphere. After a night human world's plants would wither, beast be chased away and instead, magical beasts and demons would rush in instead, completing elf territory.
In other words, it was a process of incorporation.
Imina's birthplace was incorporated into Fairy Country, it looked like it was transformed.
His gaze defined his home. The whole area was half-covered in calamitous trees and bushes. The body of his sister and mother couldn't be found, he had no idea where were they. Surely, they must have become another seedbed.
"Uu, aa, aaa..."
He put five fingers of his left hand on his chest, he scratched the place where his heart was penetrated earlier. His five fingers of his right hand on the pasture soil he once played on, piercing it. Floating in his mind were villagers', mother's and sister's face. And as if eroding it, devastating the village, the elves, Shirjis appearance.
"Aaa... aa, aaAAAaAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!"
As if tearing his soul apart. Several layers of rage had poured out of his body. As if putting the entirety of his heart into a curse. He collected all the regrets of killed people.
He gouged the meat on his breast with nails, his nails gouging the ground bled, his torn throat was filled with blood.
With tears at the ends of his eyes——with a smile on the edge of his lips, he screamed.
"...kill! I'll kill them! These filthy elves... Shirjis! I will, with these hands! I won't let a single one escape! Definitely... kill them, kill them, kill them!"
"I'm sorry... Imina, I'm sorry."
And——as Ellis repeated apologies clinging to his back, relaying her body temperature to him, Imina suddenly stopped cursing.
That was, the girl's behind him——an elf's name.
Shirjis's little sister.
He slowly turned around. Stared intently at her crying face. The siblings didn't resemble each other much. But, she was his relative. Almost unconsciously he extended his arms.
At her, white throat.
Grasping it with both hands, he pushed her down with his body weight. She didn't fight back as he straddled her.
"I'm sorry... I'm sorry."
She just continued apologizing as she sobbed.
Slowly putting strength into his both hands strangling her, Imina spat out.
"Why... you all, such a thing!"
The thoughts he couldn't clash against Shirjis, he clashed against his little sister instead.
Ellis lightly shook her head.
From her facial expression and gestures, he immediately realized she didn't know anything. They knew each other for long. Even without saying it, he could understand what she wanted to say.
Shirjis assaulted the village in secret from Ellis.
Ellis learned that from somewhere and rushed over.
But, by the time she arrived at the village everything was already over——
Yeah——that's definitely how it was.
Just, this girl didn't know anything and yet, I.
"Yo...u... Ellis. You."
He then realized that his fingers on her throat were trembling.
It wasn't from murderous intent. More like opposite, he was confused. Despite the resentment, curses and hatred filling his chest——he was unable to hit her.
That's why, he asked.
"You're, mine... what? What am I... to you?"
His family until yesterday had become corpses.
His home village until yesterday had become a monstrous forest.
His neighbours until yesterday had become hateful enemy.
His best friend until yesterday, had become the enemy to take revenge upon for his family and home village.
Then——this girl, now,
While sobbing, while being strangled by Imina, she still smiled.
"I'm, Ellis. Ellis who loves Imina very much."
It wasn't sympathizing with grieving Imina, neither it was apology she repeated until a moment ago, it was pure love.
Slowly, one of her hands was raised.
Approaching Imina's face.
"More than someone like Nii-sama, more than my home town, more than Endveil clan, I prefer Imina. Imina is more important. That's why... my everything, I give to you."
And as if accepting his hatred.
"If you want to kill me, kill me. If that calms you even a little, then do so. As much as possible torment me, as much.... as you like, kill me, Imina."
Water droplets fell on Ellis' cheeks.
That it was his own tears, he understood from the blurring vision.
Looking as his and Ellis tears mixed, he understood an emotion inside his chest.
"Don't screw... around."
He slowly retracted his ten fingers on Ellis throat.
"...I won't kill you. As if... I could.'
That's right. He can't do something like killing her. Definitely not.
After all this girl wasn't his enemy's sister. Nor a hateful elf.
She was, different. Different.
She was the only one who didn't change. She didn't change. She remained unchanged.
Just like yesterday, no, even now she was the only left with him——
"You're, my... last family."
He stroked her soft, silver hair.
Burying his face in her chest, Imina muttered while exhaling deeply.
"Thank you for saving me. My beloved Ellis."
With the information relayed on the end of year 1499 of Imperial Calendar, the Imperial City was in uproar.
The eastern end of Midgalz, the Salaido village and surrounding areas on the border with Fairy Country were destroyed by elven hands and absorbed into Fairy Country. In other words——it was the declaration of war by the elves, the start of invasion.
In prehistoric, in the age of myths there was one Fairy War.
Still, at first they were collected. It was because the empire hold sovereignty over the majority of the continent. Fairy Country was at most a single feather of the bird. It's estimated population was ten thousand times lower, the estimated land area was one hundred and twenty times lower. It was considered just another troublesome addition to the skirmishes with southern barbarians, that was the degree. The Era Festival of year 1500 was also made glamorous.
However, their perception was soon overturned.
For elven organic necromancy, human numerical advantage was not a problem. A flock of hundred magical beasts and demons could scatter away a troop of thousand like a storm. One elven warrior could single-handedly trample over the a hundred soldiers. Fully equipped villages with brigades stationing in it were destroyed overnight.
The land elves had occupied had entirely changed into Fairy Country——changing into "Elven Forest", making recapture impossible. Humans were unable to step inside the dense spirit energy of the Fairy Country.
In other words, if they're pushed away the land becomes permanently lost and humans were unable to regain it. Before long, within one year a percent of Midgalz Empire was eroded, the Imperial City had finally realized that this war is incomparable with the skirmish with southern barbarians and it was the second coming of the Fairy War from the mythical era. The Era Festival was closed immediately. There was no longer any time to celebrate a hundred years of prosperity. Because, a once-in-thousand years crisis had come.
A large-scale recruitment was carried out, the eyes of the mercenaries changed colours, ironworks and workshops were bustling, study of object necromancy had become increasingly popular and the commoners screamed because of raised taxes. Fortresses were made through rushed civil engineering work over days and night nearby the front line, villages and towns built barriers in preparation for war. The entire country had left itself in the large flow of war.
After getting serious the Empire was successful in bringing the war into a stalemate when it lost about two percent of the country, turning the situation around has failed. Elves maintained the front line, so that they are able to attack whenever there's an opportunity, they were on high alert.
And, time flowed.
Midgalz Empire's Calendar, year 1504.
Four years have passed since the first elven invasion on the Salaido village, it's February.
North of the Empire, in the city Yusala, about two thousand kilometres from the Imperial City a pair of a boy and a girl had come to visit. Yusala was a drill city that fostered young soldiers. Glaring at each other with elves in the war's front line, in other words, it was a town that faced the the Astozellen great fortress in the east.