The Land of Wolves:
Death unto the Weak, Mercy be None Zero, Arakiya
Suppressing a grunt, she seemingly bounced off the ground with her little body as she pounced. The target was small, and the bounded body was like a ball in the air. It flew through the air in a clean curve and headed straight towards its target.
Like an arrow shot from a bow, it went straight for the target’s vital spots…
“…However, I can see right through it, unfortunately.”
The spinning ball’s attack was meant to be a surprise assault at the enemy’s rear.
But what was meant to be a strike against the back of the blue-haired boy’s head disappeared like a puff of smoke, and the attack was cleanly nullified.
Realizing that she had failed, she immediately twisted her body in midair. She looked around, searching for her target that had disappeared before she touched the ground…but even her fastest was too slow.
“Shatzbot,” declared the boy.
“Oh? Don’t you know? It’s what you say in Shatranj to declare victory over your opponent,” said the frivolous-looking boy annoyingly, his eyes wide.
He looked to be around eleven or twelve and was dressed in clothing known as a kimono, which was made by sewing cloth into an unusual shape.
His face showed no tension or seriousness—though he had never been seen suppressing his emotions either.
And so, even during a practice match with their lives on the line, the boy didn’t even bat an eyelid while pointing the blade at her throat.
“That’s enough. Keep going, and all that’s going to happen is that girl losing her head.”
…They were no match.
Anger bubbled up at the realization, but before it could be unleashed, a voice came from her side. The voice belonged to a tall, thin man dressed in white from head to toe.
A man who, despite his casual words, had a sharp, blade-like gaze and could see their moves, even though he wasn’t able to keep up with them.
Listening to the man who was weaker than him, the boy said, “Alright,” and cheerfully drew back his weapon—a katana—giving up his right to decide her fate.
No, he didn’t give it up at all.
“That’s right, lil’ doggie. If I wanted to, I could kill you anytime, but that’s not just limited to you. I’m more of a simple, straightforward actor.”
“…I have no idea what you’re trying to say.”
“To summarize, a lead actor loved by everybody mustn’t be an impossible-to-understand monster. Being loved requires amiability and generosity.”
She frowned, and the boy who had unsheathed his sword looked down at her and placed a finger on his cheek.
How that gesture related to amiability and magnanimity was unknown. But she had heard of the word amiability before.
From her precious, precious princess, who she couldn’t be beside…
“Cecilus, that’s enough. It’s not nice to be troubling a lady.”
“Eh! I’m not troubling her. She didn’t look like she understood, so I explained it to her! See how gracious I am?”
“Unfortunately, I have never seen your graciousness. And I worry for your future since it might never come to pass.”
“Your words might be creative and quirky, Chisha, but they’re hard to understand!”
The boy and the man, Cecilus and Chisha, continued with their argument. It was a peculiar argument, where you couldn’t tell whether they were friends or enemies.
In any case, she wasn’t in a position to point that out nor join them.
Paying little heed to their conversation, she slowly moved to leave the area…
“Woah, careful. Do you not have any strength left, lil’ doggie?”
Seeing her body lose its strength and almost collapse, Cecilus moved quickly to support her. That action, as well as his words, brought forth further humiliation for her, and she felt her lips trembling.
Upon seeing that, Cecilus looked on in confusion and tilted his head.
“I’m helping you, and you give me that? Pretty cruel, don’t you think, Anya?”
She had reflexively responded and quickly regretted it. But it was too late. It was clear from her opponent’s expression that she had fallen for his trap. His grin was proof that she had fallen for his trap.
“Go to hell.” The girl…Arakiya…swung the branch in her hand, aiming for his face to remove his smug expression.
But her attack was also easily deflected by Cecilus’s lightning-fast sword draw.
Rolling around on the grass of the parade grounds, Arakiya listened to the pulsing of the earth.
As she became one with nature, she could feel her body as just a portion of the massive power of the world.
When she did this, spirits, the mystical existence, stopped thinking of Arakiya as an enemy and accepted her as a part of nature.
And they would let themselves be entangled with Arakiya’s slim fingers and swallowed by her small mouth.
The lesser spirit that gently crossed paths with Arakiya was silently swallowed by her, and its earth power became hers.
Lesser spirits might not be very sentient, but eating them was still consuming life.
She let the power of the lesser spirit permeate throughout her body. And as she was healing her injuries…
“Man, that Spirit Eating is really something, Feels weird no matter how many times I see it.”
The sound of clapping could be heard, followed by footsteps on the parade grounds. Arakiya turned her head towards the sound of the zori and clapping while still lying down and made a sour face.
It was someone she didn’t want to see. At the very least, it was the face she hated most in the empire.
“Cecilus, I hate you.”
“What a greeting! But saying so, fundamentally, isn’t the reason you hate me because you can’t beat me? So isn’t it your fault?”
“Huh!? I got hated even more?!”
It was a demon-like being, one that didn’t understand the human mind.
Even amongst Arakiya’s tribe, the demon was a being told of in tales. In short, a demon was a being that smiled and pretended to be your friend, while simultaneously trampling over your feelings.
In that case, Cecilus, the being in front of her, was definitely one of them.
“That’s a mean way to put it. Though as an intimidating title it’s not so bad, but not so good for a lead actor that’s loved by everyone. So you don’t think that Blue Lightning sounds better as a nickname?”
“The flash of lightning. The emperor’s soldiers spread that after seeing my prowess in battle. Wait, could that have been a reward from the emperor?!”
Cecilus’s eyes sparkled as he babbled about things that could be either true or false.
Arakiya had no patience to listen to someone she despised. She had none, but she still felt a pang in her heart when he mentioned the emperor.
She had no interest in Cecilus’s loyalty or the feelings he had for his master.
But hearing him talk about his master so casually brought forth strong feelings of envy.
“Oh, such a gloomy face. Stay like that and the reaper will catch you.”
“…Don’t understand. No relation to face.”
“Of course there is. Sad faces bring unlucky circumstances. You and I, Anya, are just foot soldiers, so unlucky means a meaningless death for us.”
“I’m not…not afraid of…”
“Really? Even if you aren’t able to reach your goal because of that?” Cecilus’s eyes narrowed as he struck Arakiya where it hurt her most.
She wasn’t afraid of dying. It was considered a great honor to die on the battlefield as a warrior. However, if you asked her to accept the fate of dying without achieving her goal, without fulfilling her wish, then…
“That would be impossible. There we go.” Saying that, Cecilus casually sat down next to Arakiya.
Such a thing would be considered improper, but Arakiya couldn’t say anything since she was prostrating on the ground as well. And so the two of them stayed side-by-side in an empty parade ground without even looking at each other.
It was uncomfortable. Arakiya didn’t even know why Cecilus was there in the first place.
To begin with, Arakiya wasn’t good at inferring things. The only reason it never caused a problem before was because the smart princess by her side knew what she was thinking, even if she didn’t say anything. Even if Arakiya couldn’t understand the words, she could believe in her princess.
And in this empire without her, there was no such trust or bond to be found.
Perhaps that’s why I always feel irritated and like I’m on my own all the time.
“By the way, Arakiya, are spirits tasty? You keep eating them.”
…No. The reason I’m irritated is because of this idiot boy.
He had casually asked that question as if he had completely forgotten the previous topic. If he didn’t have any business with her, then she’d prefer that he didn’t come.
“Ah! You’re trying to get rid of me by remaining quiet, aren’t you? Unfortunately for you, I won’t allow that. I used to believe nobody could follow my talking speed, but the emperor told me that wasn’t the case. Everyone was ignoring me!”
“Now that I understand that, my attitude has completely changed. Now, if I want an answer, I’ll keep talking until I get one. I mean, if they say something like ‘Next time,’ they might find themselves without a head before they can even blink.”
It was a twisted conversation, but Cecilus did have a point.
Human life was a fleeting and fragile thing, and it would be no surprise if it were lost in the blink of an eye. Both Arakiya and Cecilus had the power to do that after all.
“So, if don’t talk, kill?”
“That sounds threatening. But if I kill them, then I can’t get my answer, so that would be the same as cutting them down in anger. I won’t do it, sounds too petty.”
“See…then won’t tell.”
Even after she had left the princess’s command and joined the emperor, she kept getting beaten up by him whenever they met, and she hadn’t been able to beat him even once.
Even in such circumstances, she wanted to feel at least some superiority.
“Eh! Don’t be so heartless! Ah, then, let’s do it this way. I’ll fight and beat you one hundred—no, one thousand times, Anya. Then can you tell me?”
“…Are you…picking a fight?”
“What? A fight? No! Just practice. I don’t like picking on weak people…leaves a bad taste in my mouth… Wait, huh!?”
Cecilus was smiling unconcernedly when a kick infused with the power of the earth came flying towards his head. But Cecilus quickly ducked under the kick and jumped away the next moment.
“You run away like lightning…”
“Ah! Wait a sec, I can’t overlook that! You call this running away?! Running might be necessary for victory sometimes, but this isn’t it!”
Arakiya crouched on all fours and glared, and Cecilus stood at a distance with his hand on his katana. The energy between them formed a maelstrom and disturbed the ground of the parade grounds.
Despite both of them looking like children, there was nothing childish about the fighting energy the two were releasing.
They didn’t betray the impression they gave, and there was nothing cute about their clash.
Using the power of the spirit she had consumed, Arakiya stepped forward, her foot looking as if it had sunk into the ground. To easily counter that, Cecilus drew his blade as he flashed his white teeth.
Both of them had been forged on the battlefield; both of them could only live on the battlefield. Their weapons clashed like their very souls were screaming out, and the two warriors howled voicelessly.
As her best strike got deflected, Arakiya ground her teeth as she stared at the lightning.
“Really? Even if you aren’t able to reach your goal because of that?”
He was a truly vexing boy.
He was flighty and irresponsible and he believed that the world was for him to take, control, and play with. And even then, he managed to land a vital hit on her.
To not achieve her goal. That was the most terrifying thing to Arakiya.
The most important thing for Arakiya—what she would give her life for—was just a single person. And for that person, she betrayed her.
She betrayed her trust, and was unable to stay by her side because of that. But she willingingly gave it up, so that her princess could live.
Screaming, the lone warrior Arakiya twisted her thin body and swung her knife against the fencer in front of her, in hopes she wouldn’t just end as a lone warrior.
She made a promise. That one day, one day, once she fulfilled her value…
She would be reunited with the one she had been separated from.
From a distance, an old man with long white eyebrows cleared his throat as he watched the scene in the parade grounds.
Though he sounded like a man on his deathbed, he was far from it, and in that small spindly body lay plenty of spirit.
He was suppassing ninety years of age and still in high spirits as Chisha closed an eye and looked at him. I wonder how this man sees the two at the parade ground.
“Ohoh, there’s a dangerous one. Chis, you here to see too?”
“It’s Chisha, Olbart. Indeed, I see them with my own eyes. Either of them could become Ten or One or Two. Truly an embodiment of the Empire’s ideals.”
“Kukakaka! Truly, truly. Monsters keep appearing amongst the youngin’s. It makes me laugh now that I am Three at last. I can’t see myself going up any further.”
Standing next to the guffawing old man, Olbart Dunkelkenn, who he had heard voice his own assumption, Chisha watched Cecilus and Arakiya’s practice battle, which looked more like a battle to the death.
Cecilus didn’t know restraint. But as long as Arakiya didn’t die, the promise she made with Chisha’s master might be fulfilled. However…
“I was relieved that the Imperial Selection Ceremony was finally over, but now there are signs of uprising in various parts of the Empire. There’s no time to rest and I want to lament that this was not what I was promised.”
“Well, this is the Vollachia Empire. You’re too naive, Chis.”
Despite the old man laughing at patting his back, Chisha’s gaze blurred at the numerous issues before him.
Chisha’s life motto was to complete only the work given to him and live a quiet life.
So why is that plan falling apart before my very eyes like this? he thought. “To be charmed by someone is such a troublesome thing.”
The girl howled desperately at Cecilus while being danced around. And while expressing checkered sympathy to her tumultuous life, Chisha turned his white face towards the sky and sighed a deep, deep sigh.