The Imperial Princess Piña Co Lada awoke after a long sleep.
She immediately opened her study to the light of dawn. As the shutters were swung back, the morning sun shone on her face and made her squint.
The Imperial capital was two days inland by foot from the shores of the Azure Sea. The sunlight was strong, but the cool wind blowing down from the glacial north made it comfortable instead.
The Imperial Palace was located on the easternmost of the Imperial Capital’s five hills, on the slopes of Sadela Hill.
One of the mansions in the palace’s east wing was hers. It was well ventilated, and the wind brought the fragrant scent from the cypress trees in the eastern forest over to her. Piña loved the way it cleared her head when she breathed it in.
“Your Highness, you didn’t sleep in your bed again,” Hamilton grumbled as she opened each of the windows to the study.
Piña was wearing a garment that people in this world called a “Tunic”, and her upper body was sprawled over her desk as though she had jumped out over it.
The desk was covered with all manner of books, as well as letters from many places. Most of them were made of parchment, but recently, they had started using photocopy paper bought from the Arnus Living Community (ALC).
“Ah, I messed up…”
She hurriedly tried to smooth out the parchment she had crumpled in her sleep. It was a financial report from House Formal. She must have fallen asleep while reading it.
A closer look at her fingers revealed ink stains there. While she managed not to get her clothes and face dirty, her clothes were crumpled and her body and face felt uncomfortable.
“Your Highness, why not have a bath before you have breakfast?”
“Sorry. We’ll go with that,” Piña said, throwing her hands up in surrender after hearing Hamilton.
“For today’s schedule, the more important events are lunch with Lord Cicero of the Senate, and the dinner party to celebrate the birthday of Marquis Ducie’s daughter. Between lunch and dinner, Shandy wishes to speak with you. I think she wants to recommend candidates for the next leader of the White Rose Knights.”
“I think Panache and Shandy swore a vow of sisterhood, right? Doesn’t that mean Shandy Cuff will be the next leader of the White Rose Knights?”
“Perhaps she does not wish to be the leader, but wants to go with Panache to Arnus instead?”
Piña wrinkled her immaculate forehead with a frown. If she wanted to repay the trust placed in her by her own sworn sister, wouldn’t it be better for her to stay and manage the knights? What on earth was she thinking, suddenly saying that she was sick of the knight band’s traditions and rules? If it was really like Hamilton said, she could not agree just like that. In any case, she would meet Shandy first and decide what to do about her later.
“Today, Sugawara-sama will meet Lord Cicero, and then there’s the Ducie house party, mm.”
“This is the namelist for the first batch of prisoners to be released. Arrange to have the relatives of those on the list to attend the party, and then Sugawara-sama will hand the namelist to the various family representatives. Would you like to go over the draft for the list?”
“Ah~ I saw it last night. I think they arranged for 15 people to be released, but I only see 14 names here. Why is there an empty space?
Just as Piña was thinking about looking for the needed documents among the huge piles on her desk, a stack of them fell over onto her bed like a rockslide.
After stopping the Princess from doing it herself, Hamilton went to clear up the mess.
“Your Highness… the empty space on the namelist is an enticement for Lord Cicero. I believe his nephew was among the prisoners taken by the JSDF. In order to increase the chances of success for our meeting today, I decided to leave room for him to be included in the first batch.
Piña grabbed her head and contemplated Hamilton’s words. She did not know if her memory had reached its capacity, or if she just could not think any more.
“Are you alright? You look tired.”
“If I said I’m not alright, would you take my place?”
“You know I can’t…”
“Then, it just means I have to work harder, right?”
Piña rolled up a document and pressed it on Hamilton’s chest before leaving to take a bath.
After her bath, she tied her red hair up again, put on some light makeup, and got dressed. After these preparations, Piña finally showed up at the breakfast table, about an hour after being woken by Hamilton. It was already quite fast considering the time noble ladies normally took to ready themselves.
That being said, Sugawara Kouji had still waited for quite a while before Piña showed up, and he had helped himself to breakfast first. The menu was hot barley porridge with meat jerky, as well as some citrus fruits.
Piña’s mansion had a lot of maids, and they ensured that he would not be inconvenienced in any way. Sugawara was wearing their formal wear, known as a toga, in order not to cause any problems. However, if Piña was not around, he could not do any work.
Diplomacy began by meeting the other party. He did not know anyone else in the Imperial Capital, so no matter who he met, he would need Piña to introduce him. The reason why Sugawara had been sent over as part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Special Region Incident Response Committee was to increase their presence in the Imperial Capital. His job was to build relationships with people here, make preparations for the true negotiations team that would be sent out, hone his proficiency with the local language, and keep a firm grasp on the movers and shakers of Imperial society.
“Good morning, Your Highness.”
“Good morning, Sugawara-dono. You’re early as always.”
You’re the one who’s late, Sugawara thought as he swallowed those words while complimenting Piña with the pretty words he used for business encounters. It was a trick he had learned while studying in France, and it seemed to work quite well on the ladies here.
When Piña sat at the table, she only had a little porridge and some fruit. The breakfast before her seemed to be as bland as possible to reduce the strain on her stomach. The reason for this reduction in intake will soon be explained.
“We’re having lunch at Lord Cicero’s house and then a dinner feast at the Ducie home. Frankly speaking, one does not have enough stomachs for that.”
It seemed that the trouble related to receptions were the same everywhere. Sugawara had only come here after accumulating a lot of similar experiences, so he fully agreed with her.
“Our country has a saying, a healthy body begins with one’s stomach. Although, it is difficult to preserve one’s belly in this line of work, so it’s fairly troublesome.”
For women in particular, diet had a significant effect on their skin, bodies and looks.
Piña seemed to be contemplating these topics when Sugawara said to her, “My country makes good stomach medicine. Would you like me to provide some for you?”
“Please, by all means. Thank you, thank you very much.”
In the Empire, feasts were events where one had to be prepared to eat and drink a lot. There were almost no other entertainments besides that, and in the case of Japan, preparing an appropriate amount of food and alcohol was also to be expected. The problem on this side of the Gate was that the “appropriate amount” was very large, which proved troublesome.
Naturally, Lord Cicero’s luncheon was a luxurious one.
There were meatballs made of mutton, soup made from fish and vegetables, as well as large quantities of fowl, fish, beast and other vegetables.
The fruits were chilled with snow from the mountain slopes, and the variety of food, as well as the quantity, was quite impressive. Guests over here showed their politeness by eating, and unfinished food was a sign of a good welcome.
It was all thanks to Princess Piña that he could receive such a warm welcome. If Sugawara had tried going it alone, he might have just gotten a basin of cold water dumped on his head instead.
Cicero La Maltose was a member of the Maltose family, one of the founders of the Empire. However, it was merely a branch of a famous family, and it was among the lowest-ranked among the Imperial peerage. However, he had exceptional debating and leadership abilities, and as a Senator, he had a significant amount of political pull. Since there were other Maltoses in the Senate, they called him Lord Cicero to avoid confusion.
In this war, he belonged to the Imperial, pro-war faction. In other words, he was a champion of the idea that “Since this is an emergency, we should gather the Empire’s strength and reconstitute the Legions under the Emperor, and drive the barbarians of Arnus away with military force!”
In opposition to them were the Senatorial, pro-peace faction. They proposed that “Since this was started by the foolish actions of the Emperor, we should transfer his power to the Senate and rebuild our army under them. At the same time, we should make contact with the enemies in Arnus and ask them to return to the other side of the Gate by means other than violence.”
Cicero had been chosen for negotiations because he was a member of the pro-war faction who could still be reasoned with.
The pro-peace faction wanted peace at any cost, but there were far too few of them. Therefore, the plan was to try and lure away some of the pro-war nobles to the pro-peace side.
Sugawara explained this to Piña, and then asked her to introduce a suitable person to him. Based on her previous experiences, she had chosen Cicero.
“Lord Cicero, may I present to you his Excellency Sugawara Kouji, an ambassador of the land called Japan.”
Piña had artificially inflated Sugawara’s status. Sugawara, knowing what she intended, did not correct her.
“Pleased to meet you,” both sides said as they greeted each other.
With a haughty attitude, Cicero said, “Forgive me, but I know of no such country called Japan. May I know what is it like?”
The Empire was a powerful nation. It had over a dozen vassal kingdoms to begin with, and when one counted allied nations and rural tribes which banded together to form a country, it had ties with over a hundred other domains. Cicero might have been a Senator, but he was no diplomat, so it was understandable that there were countries which he did not know
“How shall I put it… Japan is a land of four seasons, with beautiful mountains and rivers.”
As he heard this, Cicero snorted in quiet laughter. His wife looked at him with an oafish look on her face and shrugged.
He had asked the ambassador of a primitive backwater nation about his land, and the answer he had received was some nonsense about a beautiful country. In other words, hardly an answer.
At a glance, Sugawara seemed like he might be talented, but ultimately he was a farm-born plebeian. It would be a long time before he could match wits with an Imperial patrician. That was Cicero’s opinion of Sugawara. Well, it was not his fault that his country was backward. Cicero prided himself on fairness, and therefore he would raise his low opinion of Sugawara by a notch or two… or at least, he planned to do so.
Piña was watching from the side, and she could see right through Cicero.
She sighed in annoyance and quietly thought about saying, “Be more careful, you’re playing right into his hands…” But she was just an intermediary, and not a proper diplomat, so she did not speak out.
“I brought some gifts from my country with me. Please accept them.”
Now there would be a show of presenting gifts. Sugawara snapped his fingers. Piña’s servants, as well as Sugawara’s JSDF escort, Sergeant Naoe, began bringing in the gift boxes.
Cicero’s cold smile warmed up into a genuine smile.
Piled before Cicero were bolts of beautifully embroidered cloth, silk from Kyoto’s Nishijin district, stitched with colored thread of gold and silver, black and red Kanazawa lacquerware, intricately decorated works of art, brightly embroidered folding fans, and Satsuma Kiriko glassware.
There were cultured pearls from Shima, of which a legendary craftsman once said, “if only I could decorate all the necks of the world’s women with these”. There was also a katana made by Kansai swordsmiths.
Then there were reams of wagami paper1, western-style writing paper as well as fountain pens and other writing instruments. They were handy tools that one could hardly bear to set down.
In addition, there were eating utensils made of gold, silver, ceramic and porcelain.
This was a display of Japan’s artistry and useful rarities.
Piña was used to seeing Sugawara at work over the past few days. He would begin with a humble attitude, and then display attractive objects, in order to make people want to keep talking to him. It was precisely because Cicero was a patrician of good taste that he understood the technological ability needed to produce the things he saw before him.
Cicero’s wife was distracted by the vividly-colored Nishijin silk and the embroidered cloth. Cicero himself was enchanted by the beautiful curve of the katana. Although he was known as a politician who was skilled in debate, he was still a man, and he was naturally drawn to the weapon first.
“These are marvellous, were they all made in Japan?”
“Indeed, they were all produced by the craftsmen of my country.”
“What manner of country is Japan that produces such wonderful objects? Forgive me, it seems I looked down on you earlier.”
Cicero’s attitude had changed. He cast away his initial arrogance and replaced it with an equivalent amount of respect. His attitude was one of a connoisseur of fine goods and a frank and honest love of culture.
“However, your Excellency Sugawara is quite cunning. You spoke of your country’s scenery when there was so much more for you to be proud of. Come, tell me, where is this land of Japan?”
Piña pressed her forehead and thought, he walked right into it.
And so, the other side opened up and lowered their guard.
“My country Japan is currently at war with the Empire. We are from the other side of the Gate.”
When he heard this, Cicero’s jaw dropped.
For the most part, the pace of the subsequent negotiations was entirely dictated by Sugawara.
Cicero was a hardline supporter of the pro-war faction, and bringing him over required all his diplomatic skill. Also, the fact that Piña brought over an enemy ambassador might not have been treason, but it came quite close.
In addition, in order to recover from his shock, Cicero had threatened to send troops through the Gate to conquer Japan. The legions were currently being reconstituted, and that work would be completed in a few months. Their new strength would be around 100’000 men, and in his panic he had accidentally revealed information that should have been kept secret.
However, this was because Cicero accepted the existence of a country of Japan. Because he accepted their existence, he could underestimate the actions of their civilians.
Sugawara had become an equal being, accepted by the other side, and a point of contact for further negotiations. This meant that in future, it would be fine if he came calling by himself. What was left was to inform the other party of the facts.
At this point, Sugawara withdrew a piece of paper, and that made Cicero — who was scolding Piña — quiet down. On that paper was written the name of… the son of Mrs. Cicero’s little sister.
“I believe this is Lord Cicero’s nephew? He is currently a prisoner in our country.”
“What did you say, is he still alive?”
“He is, yes.”
Cicero’s wife, listening from the side, passed out from excessive joy. The maids hurriedly carried her away from the dining hall.
“In addition, in exchange for Princess Piña’s hard work in accepting the role of mediator, we will unconditionally return these people to you, in accordance with her Highness’ wishes.”
“Indeed, we will not impose any demands upon you.”
“How about ransom?
“Strictly speaking, her Highness’ cooperation is sufficient ransom. The safety of these prisoners is entirely within her hands…”
Cicero understood what those words implied; Do not interfere with the Princess’ situation.
Piña was working as an intermediary because she feared for the lives of these prisoners. Cicero thought. She had no choice. Not protecting these people would be treason in its own right. She made this sacrifice to protect patrician sons and fathers, as well as my ego and reputation.
These words meant, “Admit defeat”, or “If you want your prisoners back, make peace”. If Sugawara had flat-out demanded them of Cicero, he would probably have rejected them right away, but since the other side was simply asking for Piña to serve as a mediator, he could not refuse. Regardless of opponent or circumstance, he could accept that negotiation itself was not a bad thing.
If he interfered with her actions as a mediator, the prisoners would probably not be coming back. In addition, while only a few people were coming back now, once Piña negotiated with Japan, they could probably bring more people home. Therefore, even a pro-war supporter like himself could not do anything to Piña. After all, whether his nephew came home or not was her decision.
To Cicero, he was the one who had to beg for Piña’s favor. Therefore, he silently grasped Piña’s hand. Piña’s calm nod represented her acceptance of his request.
“Actually, there’s going to be a birthday party for Marquis Ducie’s daughter. You should have received an invitation too, right?”
“Forgive me, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know Marquis Ducie’s daughter…”
“Well, in truth, tragedy has befallen House Ducie. The Marquis has decided to throw a party for his daughter’s birthday to lift his spirits. I thought to bring him good news. Would you accompany me there?”
Any politician who could not read the meaning from these words was no politician at all.
In all likelihood, House Ducie had probably sent people through the Gate. Therefore, the good news of which she spoke must have meant that these people had survived. If he showed up there, Cicero’s own nephew might have a better chance of coming home as well.
Cicero politely lowered his head and kissed the back of Piña’s hand.
“Please, allow me to join you in sharing the good news.”
While Sugawara of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was making strides in the Imperial Capital, the temporary living area of the refugees at Arnus had changed greatly in these few short months.
This was because this place was where the Imperial Princess Piña Co Lada sent her knights and their followers (all of whom were female…) to study the Japanese language. This required the founding of a campus building.
Initially, after hearing Piña describe that dreamlike city of skyscrapers and “art”, all of her knights were eager to go to Japan and study there.
However, since none of them could speak a lick of Japanese, there was no way they could go abroad and study there. Tokyo would not just accept them like that either. In addition, there were many other things to take care of. At the very least, they had to be able to carry on a conversation in Japanese, and so the Japanese government set up an educational institute at the refugee camp.
In this way, Japan had also bought themselves some breathing room.
The camp was also the home to the sage who was the official translator between the Special Region’s language and Japanese, as well as the horde of children who were learning Japanese with her. For all they knew, this might well be a better place to learn Japanese than Tokyo.
In addition, there were Japanese people in the camp too. For example, Itami Youji, other JGSDF members and certain diplomatic officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were personally learning the Special Region’s language in this place.
However, now that there were several times more people present, there was not enough room for all of them.
While they were trained in fieldcraft and living off the land, the members of the knight band were also patrician ladies. Being cooped up in the small prefab buildings would only give them stress. Their followers, who had to take this stress head on, would become even more stressed in turn. Therefore, providing sufficient necessities became the most crucial task. In addition, they could not possibly allow diplomats of the Ministry of Foreign affairs to stay in temporary housing, and making the knights stay in tents was hardly acceptable. Therefore, they decided to abandon the idea of a temporary camp and construct more permanent structures instead of temporary ones.
Other than digging wells and building water storage tanks, the JSDF also had to dig proper drains and prepare water-purification facilities. To power all of these, they installed solar power panels. Through the steady accumulation of these improvements, life in the camp slowly started resembling that in Japan.
As an aside, the free provision of food and other living supplies was halted. Given that the refugees were making a comfortable living by harvesting wyvern scales, nobody objected to that.
However, it was inconvenient to have to go to a distant town to buy things. As a result, they set up a shop in the camp to sell various expendable items. Naturally, running this shop was left to the members of the Arnus Living Community (ALC).
After a while, the older refugee children could be seen running the shop. They soon called this shop the PX. It was much more convenient and closer to buy things from the PX compared to the extremely troublesome process of going in and out of Ginza.
The refugees did not mind the expansion of the PX.
The ALC did not need to expand. All they wanted was the things they needed.
The original idea was to use the sale of Wyvern scales to buy the food and clothing they needed, and to one day save enough money to return to Coda Village and rebuild. All that was left was protective equipment for work (gas masks, protective clothing and other expendables) which the JSDF would supply.
However, the PX attracted more and more guests. The highborn ladies of the knight band came by more and more often, and their maids would also buy things. They would snap up their daily necessities, such as clothes, tea and other luxuries in an instant.
The diplomats who came to learn the language would visit as well. In addition, the JSDF troopers from Arnus Hill came too. They did not just buy items from Tokyo, but vast quantities of local art products and souvenirs.
The PX had to accommodate more customers, and soon there was not enough space inside.
After the shop building was constructed, the number of things it could sell increased as well. But as sales increased, there were not enough people to help with the importing, sale and exporting of products.
When they saw that the children and elderly had their hands full running the place, the maids brought by the patrician ladies volunteered to help (This was because after seeing the catalogue of items from beyond the Gate… especially ladies’ underwear, they realized that the PX needed help so they could freely buy the things they wanted).
As a result, the young men of the JSDF were attracted by them, and the number of customers increased again, which led to a vicious (?) cycle where there was once again too few staff. The ladies who started out as volunteers ended up doing it full-time… after a few days, the need for professional staff became obvious.
In the Special Region, people were hired by connections. Since there were no job centers, there were also no recruitment services. Therefore, all they could do was put out word among the people that help was needed. After that, the middlemen would recommend people. It was very important that the middleman was a good one, otherwise one might end up getting weird people.
House Formal, which had close ties to the ALC, announced that they had several candidates for them. The ones they sent over were women from the Catpeople tribes. Since House Formal needed to deal with its financial situation, it was only natural that they sent their demihumans over to work. However, that only accelerated the vicious cycle further.
And then, another problem reared its ugly head.
Wyvern scales were very valuable and also very profitable, and as a result traders from all over were attracted by them. These traders visited Arnus one after the other, and what they saw were the valuable convenience goods from the other side of the Gate.
For instance, paper, pencils, clothes of stretchable fabric… the traders came in droves for these things. However, the people in the camp were not qualified traders. And so, more and more requests kept coming in (Thieves appeared as well), and the older children which made up the majority of the ALC found it hard to refuse these requests.
Lelei sighed as she filled out the Japanese order form Itami had given her. He would then send it on to wholesale companies or enterprises in Tokyo. After purchase was complete, they would import the good, and after the goods were imported they would be sold, and then the cycle would repeat endlessly. They might as well install a phone line or a fax machine at this rate, and some of the diplomats were requesting a fiber-optic line for Internet access, which was being considered.
By the time she realized it, the scale of the economic activities here had grown tremendously.
Where there were profits, there would be traders. However, the presence of too many people was troubling. After all, there was no place for them to stay and no restaurants for them to eat. The traders who came had to camp in the dangerous territory outside the refugee camp. And of course, people with ill intentions had appeared with them. In order to take care of them, the security troopers were forced to work in shifts.
If they asked the traders not to come, the goods would stop coming as well. The people they needed here would also vanish, because merchant convoys needed guards. They certainly could not keep relying on the JSDF, and so they needed mercenaries. That being the case, those mercenaries would also need places to sleep, which meant more buildings.
Things being how they were, they could not shamelessly beg the JSDF to “please build more temporary shelters for us!” They would need to find carpenters and craftsmen to construct new buildings. Therefore, they had gathered Dwarven craftsmen and woodsmen, as well as the traders who worked with them, some mercenaries who looked a bit fierce… and of course, all these people needed places to eat and drink, and after they built a tavern, they had to hire a cook as well. When the cook produced excellent food and drink, it drew even more customers, and once the shops and tavern began operating at night, the JSDF troopers came as well. And of course, a place that sold alcohol would naturally need waitresses, so they asked House Formal to provide them with more recruits. The people who came over had bunny ears, fox ears, dog ears… they were monster girls.
In this way, people of many different tribes kept flowing into the Arnus Refugee Camp. The ever-growing vitality of the place, combined with the influx of Japanese culture and the uncontrolled expansion of the place… before they knew it, the refugee camp became known as Arnus Town.
Arnus Town had become lively, and then it became even livelier.
Who would have thought that just a few months ago, this place was a refugee camp hosting less than thirty people?
A wooden hammer striking a bell rang out noon, accompanied by the sound of disciples being scolded by their master.
The creaking of heavily laden traders’ horsecarts coming to and fro, escorted by mercenaries whose equipment clanked as they moved, promising they would return… all these were now daily fare.
Nobody knew where it started, but travelling peddlers began setting up roadside stalls. They displayed tribal crafts and valuable gems and stones together, while the maids shouted to the uniformed JSDF personnel “Hey, want to take a look?”
When the sun set, the tavern came alive, a beacon of light in the darkness.
There were about twenty tables in the cafe, filled with stocky Dwarves, Harpies, Catgirls working in the PX, the maids working as waitresses and the JSDF troopers rubbing shoulders with them, holding mugs of frothy beer in one hand and heartily toasting each other.
There was a muscular old man with white hair inside the kitchen, who took orders with gusto.
Naturally, each table was getting noisier and noisier.
On several tables, there were people who looked like former soldiers. They removed the swords at their waists and sat on the chairs. One of the men sighed, and put his sword on the table.
“Oi, how was the interview?”
“Not bad. I got a job as a guard for the trade route going from Italica to the Empire,” said a man with a scar on his face as he leaned in to tell his counterpart, a man with a huge beard and holding a mug of beer, about the results of his interview.
In order to wet his throat, one needed to order “Oi, one ale!” Shortly after that, the bunny-eared big sister of the tavern replied, “We don’t have ale, do you want a beer?”
“What’s a beer?”
“It tastes great. You can only get it here. Just try it. In the worst case, just take it as though someone tricked you into drinking it.”
Since that much had been said, all he could do was order a mug. After a mouthful of cold, frothy beer, he spoke again.
“This is good!”
“There’s eight convoys running between here and Italica, you can join me if you want.”
“Well, if we end up together again, I’ll be in your care,” one of the men said as they shook hands. Then, he looked around and lowered his voice.
“What happened after that?”
“It took me a long time to get this job, don’t talk about it. I heard about what happened to the guys who attacked Italica, it scared the shit out of me.”
“Then, you’re seriously looking for a job? Hehe…”
“Turning over a new leaf and living your life correctly is the most important thing.”
“I see, I see.”
Halfway through their conversation, a loud voice boomed, “What’s this, big men like you whispering to each other! All right, you’ve waited long enough!”
The bunny-eared woman who carried herself like a big sister laid big plates of meat and vegetables before them and said, “All right, eat up!” The big-bearded man, filled with crude desire, reached out to squeeze the appealing buttocks before him and received a roundhouse kick that sent him flying out of the tavern.
After watching the man being bodily kicked out of the tavern, his comrade beside him laughed out loud. The bunny big sister clenched her fists.
Then, she shouted, “My ass isn’t that cheap!”
Just then, a voice said, “Yo, Delilah. How much to touch?” The speaker of this vile sexual harassment was Itami, accompanied by the black Goth priestess Rory Mercury, Staff Sergeant Kurokawa and Sergeant Major Kuwabara.
Delilah, who was originally puffed up with anger, flushed red. “B-Boss Itami, you’re so mean~” before covering her face with both hands and darting into the kitchen. The white-haired head cook shouted, “Boss, the VIP tables inside is ready for you!” That was fortunate.
“Alright, this is good.”
It was called a tavern, but it seemed more like a roofed and walled canteen. Or rather, this should have been a canteen from the beginning, but because of the huge increase in customers, they had to start seating them outside.
Now, the so-called VIP tables were the places used by the original residents, the diplomats from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the ladies of the knight band and the JSDF officers. They were basically a place for fine dining.
As a 1st Lieutenant, Itami was allowed to use these VIP seats, but he personally preferred the noisier, livelier seats outside.
“Then, you were saying…?”
After Itami took a seat, Kurokawa sat down opposite him, while Rory sat beside Itami and Kuwabara took a place beside Kurokawa. They were here to discuss something concerning 3rd Recon or its members.
As usual, Rory ordered a round of fresh draft beer for everyone. In place of Delilah, who was hiding inside the shop and wouldn’t come out, a Foxgirl called Dora came to take their order.
After the beer came, Kurokawa took a swift mouthful before speaking in low tones.
“It’s about Tuka. How long are you going to leave her like that?”
The Elf in question, Tuka, was approaching from behind Kurokawa. She approached slowly, as though observing the inside of the tavern. She looked like she was looking for someone.
“Tuka! What are you doing?” Rory called out.
“Mm, mm. Just, something.”
“Are you looking for someone?”
“Like say, a man?”
Tuka waved her hands and said, “No, no,” and left after smiling bitterly.
As Kurokawa watched her leave, she said, “That’s what I mean. She comes looking for someone who isn’t there around this time every day.”
Once again, she looked at Itami, wondering what he would do.
Beside her, Kuwabara watched the black Goth girl downing a bottle of beer, and he could not help but sigh. Kuwabara was a man of staunch morals, and the sight of someone who looked like a young girl heartily downing alcohol just felt wrong to him. However, when he tried to ask her about it, Rory called him a “brat” instead. After all, she was over 900 years old, and even if he was 50 himself, he was probably nothing more than a toddler in her eyes. Even so, he felt somewhat insulted by it, but when he realised she must have felt insulted by his words as well, it gave birth to a complicated feeling in his heart.
“But, is there a need to force her to face reality?” Rory seemed to be saying that while drunk, and obviously Kurokawa the counsellor would agree.
“Of course there is.”
“Isn’t she desperately trying to imagine her father is still alive because she can’t face that reality?”
“She’s running away from reality.”
“And what’s wrong with that?”
“What’s not wrong with that? People can face tomorrow because they can see reality and accept it. By denying reality, you cloud up the present, and tomorrow will never come. No, you can cloud it up, but your tomorrow will be that much crueller. Tuka’s father is dead. He… probably died in that village that got burned down. If she can’t accept that fact, she’ll lose herself in her fantasies and spend her days in the prison of the now.”
Rory rounded her shoulders and sighed as if she was exhausted. The mug in her hand was empty. Behind her, a child who was struggling with what she had just heard said, “That’s not all there is to life.”
Rory was thinking about the same thing Kurokawa was pondering. No, it would be more accurate to say she had always been thinking about it. However, it was merely “the truth”.
The truth could not save anyone.
Kurokawa was now walking her own path. After that, she would not notice if anyone said anything. She would have to wait until she realized it by herself. Along with the painful memories… These are my personal experiences, but how should I explain them to her? What a pain...
“Then, Kurokawa. Let’s say we corner Tuka and tell her ‘Your father is dead’, and we make her accept reality. How about that?”
“How about that? After the period of sadness called ‘mourning’ has passed, she’ll be able to accept her father’s death. Her lifespan will be far longer than ours. It might even be eternal, for all we know. An eternity spent in delusion about a dead person is just too sad.”
“That… well, that may be true.”
Rory meshed her fingers behind her head and looked to the stars in the sky. 961 years. It was long… or short, a little voice in her head said. In those 960 years, she had met and become close to people. Naturally, she bid them farewell. She had overcome these things by herself. So she could boldly say that trying to change someone else’s thinking was sheer arrogance. At the same time, because they were humans, they would not be able to realise that they were being arrogant. If they had not found the answer yet, they would probably never find it.
“Kurokawa, let’s go with what you said. Tuka can’t bear the pain, right? So now, while she’s lost in the gap between reality and fantasy, if we suddenly force her to accept reality, can you confidently say she won’t lose herself even deeper in the past to turn her eyes away from the truth?”
These words shocked Rory. She had not expected Itami to say something like that at all.
The truth was like a shot of strong medicine. Anyone could keep quiet, and because it was so effective, they could be trusted. That was why people might be driven to their ends. Rory thought, I can’t imagine a man who was so detached from reality would know about these things, and then she grinned. She has always been interested in Itami, and now her interest deepened.
“That, that is…”
“Are you absolutely sure it will be fine? How much do you know about Tuka, anyway? Do we, no, do you have the power to help her? None of us are psychologists or social workers. We can’t constantly keep coddling her. If we force her to accept reality today, what happens if we’re ordered to withdraw tomorrow?”
“...That is to say, we should leave her like this?”
“Ahhh, I’ll say something you won’t like to hear. If you don’t have the resolve to take responsibility for her until the very end, then don’t do anything unnecessary,” Itami said coldly to Kurokawa.
3rd Recon would be setting out for a mission tomorrow. They were to establish contact with the diplomat in the capital. Saying she had to prepare, Kurokawa left in a huff, an expression of anger on her face. Kuwabara left shortly after, saying he had to escort her back to the barracks.
The only two left were Itami and Rory. They faced each other and drank.
“Well, go on and drink then, you big idiot.”
Rory offered her mug to him so he could have more. Itami grinned, and clinked mugs with her.
“Did you really have to say it that way? It felt pretty cruel. I don’t think Kurokawa can hate you any more than she does now.”
“My heart’s not so big that I can be that gentle to everyone. It can’t be helped.”
“Hmph~ you don’t have a lot of people in your heart, then.”
As she said this, Rory thought: liar.
Itami was faking his cruelty. If Kurokawa were allowed to do as she pleased, something terrible would have happened, and she would have concluded, “What a shame we couldn’t do it right.”
“It’s hard enough trying to care for one or two people.”
“Well, then decide on one, or think only of one.”
“The girls will like you that way.”
“If I’m not nice, they won’t like me, right?”
“That’s wrong. To a girl, a man who’s nice to everyone… hm, I suppose that works as an example, to a man, it would be like a woman who opens her legs to anyone.”
“People want companions so they can swiftly satisfy their need for love and affection. A woman wants a man who only shows his love to her.”
“Hm~ Is that so…? Rory, you’re pretty nice yourself, even though you worship Emroy, the god of death and judgement. I mean, you’re one of his Apostles, and you’re called ‘The Reaper’.”
“Ara~? That’s a misconception. To rule death is also to rule life. The goal of all life is death, and the way one dies is also the way one lives. Therefore, one who welcomes death cannot help but respect life. The death that follows a person’s life is the result of every day that he lived.”
“Is that so…”
“It is,” Rory smiled, and finished the beer in her mug.
“Oi oi, let’s stop here for tonight, if you get drunk I’ll leave you here…”
“Aw, come on, be nice to me~”
“If you’re going to be like that, let’s get you onto the bed first.”
Rory kicked Itami in the calf.
“Aiee, that hurt…”
As Itami rubbed his calf, Rory laughed like the ringing of a bell.
Then, a gravelly woman’s voice cut in.
“What’s going on here? Why’s there a brat drinking here? Or could it be that this man intends to get a young girl drunk for some purpose? Could it be you have lewd intentions in mind?”
Suddenly, everyone on the scene fell silent, like they had been doused with cold water.
The chatter that filled the tavern vanished, and the only sound that remained was the crackling of the torches.
The crude mercenaries and the crude Dwarves’ faces were bone white and they were silent. After glancing at the person who had just spoken the unspeakable, they glanced away.
It was a skinny man wearing a white headscarf… no, it was a woman.
She had coffee-brown skin, and long, tapered ears.
She was a woman who belonged to the race that was known in this world as Dark Elves.