Nejimaki Seirei Senki – Tenkyou no Alderamin Volume 7 Chapter 3
From that moment on, the long match between Ikuta and Yatori started.
It was difficult right from the start. Problems occurred daily, hourly, or even every other minute, and they quickly learned how difficult it was to execute everything according to plan. The pace of their march would be affected by the weather, and if they pushed the soldiers to make up for the half day they lost, the accumulated fatigue would linger on for several days.
「Huh? I recall that the mission is just to march 20 km out and then return, right? Why are the troops so exhausted～?」
At the end of the first day, Bada looked at the ragged faces of the returning soldiers and asked cheekily. Ikuta who took on the role of the commanding officer to plan the march, and Yatori who assumed the role of front line commander both lowered their heads and grit their teeth.
「… There are lapses in my plan. I didn’t take the terrain and difference in altitude into account, and merely estimated the time needed by distance. When we reach a cramp place, we had to reorganize the troops, which took more time than I thought…」
「No, it’s because my commanding abilities are lacking. I took too much time to deal with the change in terrain, and the accumulated delays affected the entire schedule… The sudden downpour made the ground muddier and visibility worse than I expected. We lost our way because of bad weather, which drained the soldiers both physically and mentally.」
「Hmmp～ Then don’t make the same mistakes next time.」
After hearing their explanation, Bada brushed it off and gave them the second mission without offering any advice── the next evening, he tilted his head at the battalion that arrived back at base:
「Hmm～ Not only did you return later than scheduled, the stomachs of the soldiers are all grumbling… What happened?」
He urged the two to explain their failures, so Ikuta and Yatori answered through gritted teeth:
「… The water level at the river crossing point had risen because of yesterday’s rain, and when we crossed it, more than half the provision was damaged…」
「… I designated the bridge nearby as the alternative route, but my plans stated that it should only be used when 『the water level is too high for the river crossing to be possible』… The reality on the ground was 『it is possible to cross the river even if the water is at waist level』, so the Ikuta who is the commander has to forcefully cross the river…」
「Oh～ so water got into their food, and many of the soldiers starved because of that?── Ahaha! You two are so useless.」
Bada’s words stabbed at their heart. Unable to bear with the silence, the boy and girl said at the same time:
「There’s nothing wrong with Yatori’s plan! If I was smarter before the river crossing, I would have told them to stack the food at the top of the bag!」
「It’s not Ikuta’s fault! I should have included the possible loss of provisions during the river crossing in my plans!」
They pushed the blame in opposite directions. After being stunned for a moment, they started glaring at each other with angry faces:
「I said it’s my fault! Shut up, Yatori!」
「You shut up! Don’t butt into the things I need to reflect on!」
Neither of them gave in, and the sight of them fighting made Bada burst out in laughter:
「Ahaha!── Hey, son. When you are confident of performing your role well, it’s hard to put the blame on the other party when you run into such a situation, right?」
「Yo, Yatori-chan. You have a forthright personality, and instead of blaming others, you can’t help reflecting on your own mistakes as the commanding officer, right?」
「Really now… how noble of you two. But even so, you can’t hog the points that needed to be reflected on. That is your common property, so share it properly.」
The commandant of the Rising Sun Regiment patted the shoulders of the children and advised them calmly:
「Someone else’s failure might happen to you one day too. Build on your mistakes and face the next mission confidently.」
Ikuta and Yatori turned silent again. Bada went behind them, and pushed them from the back:
「Or rather, go take a bath. My wife prepared the bath water, so go and take a dip.」
In the bath room filled with steam, the boy and girl sat shoulder to shoulder as they soaked their entire body up to their neck. They stayed silent for quite a long time.
「… Yesterday and today, we experienced one cycle of each other’s roles.」
「… That’s right. In any case, let’s sort out the reflection points.」
Neither of them had objections. In order to find the reason behind their second failure, the two of them trade opinions:
「First is the commanding officer. Our common mistake is that we made our decisions without seeing the situation at the grounds.」
「It’s frustrating, but I feel the same. I thought I covered everything during the planning phase, but when it’s being executed, I realized that it’s full of holes. My face was red from shame during several scenarios yesterday.」
「That’s true. To be frank, given our lack of experience, it’s natural for there to be flaws in our planning. Even if we can foresee the problems that might happen during a march, but there is no way we can foresee situations we have never even heard.」
「Correct… so we can only slowly refine the accuracy of the plan over time.」
Ikuta arrived at a conclusion as he hugged his knees in the bath. Feeling that the discussion had stagnated, he changed to a new topic:
「What do you think about being the commander on the ground?」
「It’s tough because of my lack of experience. I can’t even roster the unit properly without the advice of the sergeants.」
「Yes, that’s right. However, I think both you and I can actually do much better than this.」
Seeing Yatori asking the meaning behind his words with a gaze, the boy continued:
「You probably noticed already. For yesterday and today── the one drafting the plan as the commanding officer became a burden on the grounds.」
「If we are discussing the flaws in the plans, won’t we be going back to the previous topic?」
「No, that’s not what I mean. How should I put this, it can’t be helped that there are plenty of holes in the plan… so we don’t have to be confined by the plan if we can avoid them within reason.」
Stopping here for the moment, Ikuta looked up at the ceiling in deep thought:
「Like, for the mission yesterday, you were forced to adhere to the route and schedule. I chose the shortest route on the map, but it actually included many small roads and slopes. I ended up ordering you to take a time consuming and difficult route. You must have realized it midway, right?」
「… Yes. I compared the map to the terrain before me, and felt that there are better routes than the one assigned── I don’t deny that I felt this way quite a number of times.」
「I guess as much. It was the same for me, if not for the constraint of the plan, I would have made a detour pass the river crossing.」
「… I agree. It was vexing for me since I couldn’t intervene. It was possible to cross the river as it was waist deep, but the flow was fast and there might be accidents. Even if we dismiss the problem with the provision, we should have made the detour to be safe.」
They were in consensus so far, and looked at each other.
「That’s true. Simply put… From yesterday and today’s example, we can see…」
「That the commander on the ground might be able to make the right decision.」
Phew~ They exhaled at the same time. As they had soaked in the hot water for a while now, their minds turned cloudy. They stepped up before they got dizzy, and started washing themselves.
「For the commanding officer, instead of covering the flaws in the plan── it might be better to relax control of the overall plan.」
「I think so too. There are no perfect plans, so just let the frontline commander make the decision. 『Use your judgement based on the situation on the grounds』── we should include this instruction in the plans.」
「That’s dereliction of duty── I want t say that, but your answer is probably right. If the planner is incapable, and still deprive the personnel on the ground of their ability to make up for the loopholes, that’s putting the cart before the horse.」
As they scooped up warm water to splash over their bodies, Ikuta and Yatori looked at each other in the eyes from close up.
「There are no ends to covering up the holes of the plans. But even so, we should have an idea on where the flaws might pop up.」
「Just intentionally leave enough free room in the plans for the commander on the ground to fill in the gaps.」
The moment they decided on the plan, both of them showed a bold smile.
Their reflection meeting proved useful, as Ikuta and Yatori completed the next two missions without any major error. Which parts should be in the plans, and which areas should be left for the commander to decide── it was still rough, but they achieved good results after they thought about the balance between the two.
「── I see, it looks like the two of you had gotten out of your initial useless state.」
When he saw the soldiers return to base with loads of energy to spare, Bada acknowledged their improvement. But he blocked the path of the two children with his usual cocky demeanour:
「In that case, I will not hold back and increase the difficulty of the missions. Fufufu, can you whippersnappers keep up?」
And true to his words, as the two of them grew more capable, the difficulty of their assignment increased gradually and become more demanding.
One of the mission involves sending Ikuta’s group to a forest one day’s journey away to harvest wood to construct watchtowers. The time limit was the day after tomorrow, when construction begins. Yatori was the commanding officer this time, while Ikuta assumed the role of commander on the ground, and they reached the destination without any hiccups── but the problem happened when the tree felling operation started.
「Ikuta-kun── No, battalion commander! This tree is a problem!」
The soldiers swinging axes groaned in unison. The blade of the axes didn’t cut into the tree’s bark as easily as they expected. The surprised Ikuta picked up an axe to try for himself, and found the reason:
「This tree has dense fibre and is very hard…! It will take much longer than expected to fell them!」
Bada tasked them to collect hardwood called Isunoki. It was known for its hardness and density, which made it an excellent building material. However, chopping and processing them requires a lot of effort.
「It is very heavy too… Transporting them would affect the speed of the return trip too.」
The more he thought about it, the harder it was for him to return on schedule. Ikuta who was forced to amend the plans gestured to Yatori who was observing from a distance with his eyes.
「… Collecting and transport of the trees would be left to the discretion of the frontline commander, right? I will think of a way!」
After Ikuta made his decision, he immediately recalled the soldiers scheduled to rest, and rostered them into shifts, so the axes wouldn’t stop swinging from fatigue. The group managed to chop the wood before dusk, and after resting for 30 minutes, they quickly set off back to base.
「Is this really fine, boy? If you lead the way, we might get lost even if we tried to march through the night.」
「We will keep going until I can’t recognize the road, and make camp there. I think we can cover more ground this way then setting off at dawn. We can’t go too fast with the heavy wood, and everyone will be tired no matter what we do…」
The soldiers keep marching to make up for their slow pace. However── despite their hard work, they still fell far behind schedule on the second day. Ikuta scratched his head:
「Really now~ it’s no good. We will never make it in time! Can we only prepare to be late…!」
He stamped his feet frustratingly. He then suddenly felt a gaze on him, and turned around.
Crimson eyes stared right at the boy. Even though she was not allowed to intervene, Yatorishino Igsem showed no signs of anxiety or frustration, and stood tall.
Don’t give up, there’s a way── Her eyes seemed to be saying that, and Ikuta took out the plans.
「… Did I miss something? Is there any…」
The route, schedule and objective── he checked the contents of the plans again to search for a way out of his current predicament. When he read the passage in the middle of the plans, he was drawn to a sentence he didn’t pay attention to earlier:
── The objective of collecting the wood: material to construct three watchtowers around the base. Work will start at the end of the mission, and scheduled to finish within five days. The schedule for this mission is determined by working backwards from the start date of the construction.
「… Construction of watchtowers.」
After muttering that, an idea flashed across Ikuta’s mind.
That evening, the commandant of the Rising Sun Regiment intentionally made a baffled face when he saw Ikuta’s group return on schedule.
「That’s all the timber you collected? I asked at least twice as much.」
Bada pointed at the logs on the twenty odd hand wagons, and highlighted that without reservation. The dark haired boy took on this taunt and walked forth:
「… The other half is in a village along the way. It will be too heavy to ferry all of them in one shot and return to base by today.」
「So you only brought half? That’s an understandable decision, but that’s only 50 points at best. We can’t build three watch towers with these materials. Even if you went back to get them, it will delay the construction.」
Ikuta looked at his father boldly despite this harsh criticism:
「We will go and retrieve them of course. But it won’t affect the construction schedule.」
「Hmm? Why is that?」
「Because there is enough material to start the construction right now, there is no need to wait for the rest of the wood to come. The foundations of all three watch towers can be built at the same time, and no time will be wasted before the other half of the materials reach here. And of course, we will ensure that the balance is delivered before the materials here are depleted.」
Bada looked at his son with a groan, and the boy continued with a firmer tone:
「Dad, you only stated the construction schedule for this mission. Hence, Yatori has the authority to decide on the mission timeline if it meets the construction deadline. Look, the remarks column of the plan states──『The commander on the ground is free to make slight deviation to the plans to address any safety concerns and to adhere to the construction schedule. 』」
The boy showed the documents from his bag, and snorted arrogantly:
「… Hey, just a retort, how can freshly cut timber be used for construction? I understand that you want to increase the difficulty of the mission, but the settings isn’t realistic, Dad.」
He pointed out victoriously, and Bada thought for a while before shrugging with an awkward smile:
「… Minus one point for me then. It seems that Yatori-chan saw through what will happen when she drafted her plans.」
He glanced at the girl with his dark eyes, and Yatori shook her head with a smile:
「Not at all. I just thought about situations where we couldn’t transport all the timber in one go, such as the handwagons breaking down or losing some of the materials due to other circumstances. There is no end to thinking about all the possibilities, so as the commanding officer, I drew up a plan that could be amended to deal with the situation on the ground.」
「That’s a wise move. By the way, I didn’t expect you to comment on the construction method too… However, I can’t find any reason to rebuke this proposal. The content is logical too, I don’t know about other armies, but in the Rising Sun Regiment, it is common for subordinates to propose useful plans to their superiors. It’s very common.」
When they heard that, Ikuta and Yatori high fived with their right hand. Bada looked at the children with a smile and continued:
「Alright, since I lost a point, I want to ask── what do you think? After taking turns to play the roles of commanding officer and the commander on the ground, which one of you won the debate?」
The two kids looked at each other at this question. They had long forgotten the reason for their quarrel.
「Now that you mentioned it, this is a match.」「We will be self evaluating?」
「Of course. It will be pointless if both of you can’t accept the outcome.」
Bada urged them with a serious face and his arms crossed. After staring at each other for a few seconds, the children answered:
「… I will do that then. To be honest, we are not at a level to worry about winning or losing. We can’t do anything without the help of the sergeants.」
「We pointed out each other’s mistake and gave them careful thought, and barely managed to operate the unit. During this entire process, we can’t spare the effort to compete against each other.」
The two of them answered together. The boy and guy laughed awkwardly as they think back on all the mistakes they made.
「── I know, it’s the same for me too.」
Bada raised the corners of his lips at the children’s answer, and looked at the soldiers formed up behind them:
「A commanding officer can’t work without relying on his subordinates. If the commanding officer is incompetent, it will be tough for his charges too. You have done well to understand this point. Anyway, be it in the base or on the grounds, it is retarded to think that you are fighting a war on your own.」
Feeling glad that the children learned this important lesson, the famous imperial general smiled with his back to the setting sun:
「Remember this well. A war isn’t fought by strategists, formidable generals or geniuses alone. It’s fought by everyone together.」
With the completion of this task, their days of running missions hectically ended for now. But because they were too busy to deal with other things during this time, they became hotly sought after by the other groups on base, and had no time to stay bored.
On this day, Ikuta and Yatori accepted the invitation by Bajin, Nazuna and the scientists to investigate the environment. The group of seven with varying ages and gender walked through the plains with horses laden with cargo.
「… It felt like ages ago since we moved around with a whole battalion of soldiers.」
「That’s right… After hustling around so much, this feels like a load off my shoulders.」
The two of them were a little troubled by the drastic change in their environment. To pull them out of that dissonance, the scientists spoke to them eagerly:
「We feel lonely when you two kept going on missions.」
「That’s right. Ikuta and Yatori-chan suddenly stopped showing up, so I thought you grew tired of us.」
「Sorry for worrying you.」「Like I said, it’s all Dad’s fault.」
As they chatted, the group of seven reached the observation station that will serve as their base. It was a run down cabin with a wide unobstructed view of the surroundings, built on the top of a hill. The damaged grass roof and walls erected with thin wooden boards made it look incredibly simple. There is barely enough space for seven people to sleep, and it was questionable if it can even protect the inhabitants from the elements.
However, they already expected that and prepared camping equipment. The inspection was just for three days and two nights, so they weren’t too concerned with the residence. After the group checked the door, they carried the luggage into the cabin── however…
「… Hmm? I don’t see the measuring apparatus. Bajin, is there any more luggage outside?」
Nazuna asked as she checked the contents of their bags. Bajin who was drinking water and resting behind her froze for a moment.
「… The research this time includes the terrain too?」
「Of course, didn’t I say that right from the start── Did you!」
The face of the female scientist turned moody instantly. Realizing that he couldn’t avoid the blame, Bajin turned to her timidly──
「I-I left it at the base── Uwah!」
Because he made unnecessary movements, his head was hit squarely by his colleague’s 50 cm long compass.
「── Sigh～ thanks to Bajin-nii, we get to laze around for the entire day～」
Ikuta looked out of the grilled window and grumbled with a sigh. The cabin’s occupants were just him, Yatori, the fire sprite Shia, and the Luminous and water sprites left behind by the scientists. The rest of them went left their heavy bags here and went back to base. 「We will be right back, stay here to watch the bags.」── they told the two children.
「The main objective is to study the flora and fauna here, right? Isn’t there anything we can do first?」
「There is, we can just observe── but, you will understand by looking around you.」
Ikuta answered in low spirits, and gestured to the scenery outside with his eyes. There were only open plains out there, and the place seemed to have a weak presence of life.
「Because of the dry spell around this area, the objective of this study is to confirm 『how much had the flora and fauna here have fallen』. There are a lot of tasks like counting every piece of dried leaves, and it’s not exciting at all.」
「Since it’s a job you are doing begrudgingly, shouldn’t you get it over with quickly?── Let’s go outside. You know what plants involved in the study, right? Tell me too.」
Yatori’s determination to work remained the same. Ikuta got dragged reluctantly out of the cabin.
「Wait, it’s fine to go out and perform the study, but let’s chop the wood we will need for tonight first. You don’t want to swing an axe after running around the whole day, right?」
「That’s true. Where’s the firewood?」
「They should be piled up behind the cabin. I will go prepare it first, bring the axe over. It’s hanging on the right side of the cabin’s entrance.」
Ikuta told the girl, and went to the back of the cabin. He found the pile of firewood immediately, but didn’t see the tree stump that would serve as a chopping board,
「Weird, I thought there’s a stump around here?」
The boy looked around and suddenly kicked into something hard. He looked down, and saw the silhouette of the stump buried in sand.
「Oh, so it had been buried… I have to dig it out.」
Ikuta used his hands and feet to clear the sand around the stump, and heard footsteps behind him. Thinking it was Yatori, the boy said:
「Wait a minute, the stump got covered in sand. I will dig it out──」
Ikuta who was squatting before the stump turned back── and met a gaze at his eye level. A quadruped animal with grey fur and long sharp fangs stared right back at him.
「── in no time.」
「It’s way too rusty.」
Yatori sigh at the sight of the layer of brown rust covering the axe’s blade.
「It’s meant to chop wood, but a cutting tool is still a cutting tool, if it’s not maintained properly… Is there a grinding stone here?」
Putting the axe onto the floor, Yatori rummage the surrounding areas. There were plenty of miscellaneous objects around the cabin, so there was probably a grinding stone lying around somewhere── as she was thinking about that, a cry came from behind the cabin:
「There’s a wolf!」
The girl immediately dashed out of the cabin when she heard that, with the axe gripped firmly in her right hand. From how tense the voice was, it was clearly not a joke.
She quickly went around to the back of the cabin, and found the stiff faced Ikuta facing off against a growling wolf. The girl gasped. The hind leg of the wolf was bulging as it prepared to pounce.
Yatori made the split second decision to throw the axe in her hand. Her surprise attack made the wolf back away in a panic, and Ikuta escaped while the wolf was distracted. The two of them ran back to the front of the cabin at full speed, and slid into the open door.
「Hahh! Hahh…! T-That’s scary～」
Ikuta locked the door and tried to steady his ragged breathing. Yatori sprinted to the grilled window and watched the outside of the cabin warily.
「I didn’t know there were wolves around here.」
「Neither did I. This place is just half a day’s journey from the base by foot.」
The boy said as he looked at the window. At that moment, Yatori’s face turned gloomy while keeping her eyes peeled:
「… Is that so? Our opponent isn’t a lone wolf.」
When he heard her ominous wording, Ikuta stood up and peeked out the window. He gasped── there was a second, third and fourth wolf. Just from what he could see, there were four wolves circling around outside.
「It seems that ── we are in a bit of a pinch.」
The boy muttered with the corner of his lips cramping. The girl beside him pursed her lips.
A little more than two hours later, the wolves surrounding them showed no signs of leaving.
「It doesn’t look like they will give up easily.」
Yatori muttered as she stood beside the window. In this dangerous situation, she wore both her blades on her waist. Even though she was ready for battle, Ikuta was reluctant to accept this:
「… How strange～ wolves aren’t creatures that will actively attack humans. They will basically stay away from places with human presence, and the occasional instances of wolf attacks only happen because humans invaded their territory…」
「All the wolves look very thin. Because of the recent dry spell, they got so hungry that they are hunting for food in the villages nearby… I think that’s what’s happening.」
Yatori deduced from the information she had on hand, and turned to the boy:
「Anyway, since they refuse to leave, we have to think of a counter strategy. This cabin is by no means sturdy, and the wolves might ram through the more fragile parts. And even if we continue to defend stubbornly…」
「… Yes, I know. Bajin-nii and the others who will return to the cabin tomorrow will be in danger.」
Ikuta said, recognizing that this was the most serious crisis he had experienced. Yatori also nodded stiffly:
「There are five in Bajin-nii’s group, and we have seen six wolves so far. The wolves have the advantage in numbers. If we just stay put until tomorrow, the wolves might attack the humans that just showed up.」
「I heard wolves will stalk the same prey for several days. I think we should give up the optimistic assumption that they will leave tomorrow.」
The air around the girl turned sharp. Ikuta stared at her and asked solemnly:
「Yatori, just to confirm, do you have any experience fighting with wolves?」
「No. My father hired many martial artist to my home, but that didn’t include animals. I’m confident of dealing with one, but there are at least six here… Besides that…」
She returned her gaze out the window and continued:
「One of the wolves is one size bigger, and probably the leader of the pack── and seemed formidable. It had the aura of a seasoned warrior, and is probably really tough.」
She analyzed the enemy forces with the eyes of a soldier, while Ikuta just smiled:
「… I’m relieved. I was afraid that you will seriously say that you will go out there and massacre them all.」
「I’m not that confident of my prowess, sorry for betraying your expectations.」
「Didn’t I tell you that I’m relieved? This means that I get to play a part too.」
The boy said light heartedly, and surveyed the messy room again:
「Our weapons… first is your blades and a crossbow in the cabin── it’s non-military use, and don’t have a spear attachment── and 17 crossbow bolts. There are planks to repair the cabin, and daily necessities that might prove useful.」
Ikuta grasped the materials on hand and their numbers, and told the vermillion haired girl in simple terms what he thinks the items can or cannot do.
「The mission is to 『Beat off the wolves surrounding the cabin』, which will be completed by the both of us. Working back the time needed for a round trip from here to the base, the time limit is 9 am tomorrow. Anything look out of place?」
Yatori was surprised that the boy actively proposed this plan, but she didn’t hesitate and shook her head.
「──No. Let’s draw up the battle plans.」
Tormented by their hunger, the beasts encircled the cabin.
There was a tense air around the wolf pack. It was unwise for them to linger in human territory for too long. Aside from the young wolves that didn’t know any fear, the pack leader understood the threat of humans very well── he knew how dangerous this sly opponent that had neither fangs nor claws could be.
His elder brother was killed by a lump of lead shot out of a steel tube, and his mother and another brother died after eating poison bait. He recalled the memories that made his hair stand on ends, and understood that this wisdom was the reason why he could survive for so long. Do not lay your hands on the human and the critters raised in their territories, or you will face terrible consequences── that was the rule he demanded strictly of his pack.
However── No matter how fearsome a foe they might be, there was no choice when food was scarce.
The long drought resulted in a sharp drop in the number of herbivores in this area. The plants had wilted, and the animals that feed on them would starve too. Wolves that were on the top of this food chain couldn’t escape from this effect. Their last meal was a hare they caught five days ago.
They had to think of something. The minimum condition of being a leader was to not let his pack starve.
They were even ready for a conflict against the other packs, and headed out of their wide territory. When this didn’t yield any satisfying results, they broke their taboo and headed to the villages nearby. That was when the leading wolf encountered the human cub.
The wolf didn’t finish off the prey, and let them escape into the cabin, but that couldn’t be helped. Wolves were cautious in a hunt, and the norm was for the pack to hunt one prey. What they wanted was the results from the pack working together, not the reckless bravery of facing an opponent alone.
The leader ground its teeth as he thought── how should they chase the prey out of hiding?
Two human cubs were their opponents. From the sound coming from the cabin, there wasn’t any older humans inside. But after that first encounter, the prey had grown wary of them.
He didn’t think that continuing the encirclement would yield any results. With that conclusion, he howled to warn his packmates to not lose their heads, and for all the wolves including himself to back away from the vicinity of the cabin. No matter what kind of attack was used, the first step was to wait for the foes to let their guard down.
Night would be falling soon. The beasts hid in the shadows of the boulders and rocks to observe the cabin, which suddenly lit up. The leader knew── that was the light from the small creature that cohabits with the humans.
Human had poorer night vision than them. In place of that, those small creatures provide light to the humans. They would also sometimes produce terrifying fire. If he wanted to attack by the cover of night, he had to keep that in mind.
At this moment, a flash of white light from the cabin caught the eyes of the wary leader.
The leader used his sharp eyes to restrained his excited packmates that almost stood up, and remain still── the prey might have shown an opening, but being too hasty would mess everything up.
Even if the door was open, that was just the start of the problem. Was the prey going out? They might do so when they saw us giving up and leave. In that case, they just need to attack together when the humans leave the cabin.
Or they were just checking the situation from the door gap. As the window was small, the humans inside would have a limited view of the outside. Maybe they thought it wasn’t completely safe, and opened the door slightly to take a look.
In any case, the prey was still very guarded. It wasn’t time to show their cards── as he was in the midst of deciding, the light before him suddenly turned intense.
Subverting the leader’s prediction, the cabin’s door opened completely, and showed no signs of closing again. There was a wave of commotion from his packmates, as they cast their gaze towards the leader── isn’t this a great chance?
In contrast to his excited packmates, the leaders felt dubious about the suspicious situation. This looked like a trap to lure them in. However, it was difficult to let his younger packmates understand his worries. His spouse and him were the only ones in the pack that experienced how cunning the humans were.
The patience of his packmates were almost at their limits. This long period of hunger was draining on their sanity.
It would be near impossible to demand his packmates to stay calm and let this opportunity go── the pack leader arrived at this conclusion, and decided to take the risk.
「── The presence of the wolves are getting closer.」
In the tense cabin that was ready for battle, Yatori with her back to the wall on the left side of the door warned quietly. Ikuta who was squatting on the right nodded nervously.
「They are speeding up! ──They are here!」
The wolf in front charged into the cabin and maintained its momentum, but was blocked by the barrier piled up inside the door. It stopped before the barrier, killing its inertia.
At that instant, Ikuta pulled the ropes at the right moment. The makeshift trap was activated, tightening the noose on the wolf’s hind feet and suspending it in midair.
「Shoot the closest ones, Yatori!」「Roger!」
Yatori shot mercilessly with her crossbow at the wolves charging in to rescue their packmate. Painful yelps echoed in the dark, and after two wolves were shot, the pack stopped approaching from the front. Seeing that the first wave was over, the vermillion haired girl reported the results:
「Two wolves were shot! But they are non-fatal wounds!」
「What about the leader? Can you see from there?」
「I saw three wolves, but not the leader──」
Yatori’s report was cut off by a violent creak at the back of the cabin. The two of them looked back with pale faces:
「They are ramming the wall there to break in!」「Was that frontal assault just a diversion?」
Ikuta left his post for the moment and ran to the back wall that was under attack. Yatori was about to follow when she felt a presence, and looked back at the wall.
She stared into the dark with the night vision technique her father taught her. And under the pale moonlight, she saw a wolf that was a size bigger than the rest charging in from about ten meters away. It was the large pack leader.
「──? The main attack is over here──!」
The leader ran right to the door, stepped onto its packmates back and jumped. Yatori judged right before it jumped that it would clear the obstacles, and kicked the door close. That was a smart instantaneous decision, which barely stopped the invasion of the leader.
「That was close…! Ikuta, how’s the wall over there?」
「It’s just makeshift measures, but I’m repairing the wall! This cabin is more fragile than I expected!」
The boy yelled as he swung his hammer. Yatori returned her eyes to the front, and heard heavy footsteps at the other side of the closed door. The wolf that was suspended had broken free of its bounds. The rope trap was disarmed when she kicked the door, so this couldn’t be helped.
A moment later, there was a howl from outside. The pressure of the beasts encirclement relaxed after that.
「Their presence is getting further away… They had seemed to have made a temporary retreat.」
Yatori peeked out the window. After learning that they got through the first trial, the two of them exhaled in relief── it was just a few minutes, but the fight was more intense than they imagined.
It was a trap. Looking at the two packmates that were shot, the leader ground his teeth.
He launched the assault knowing the risk, so he had braced himself for a retaliation. However, their opponent’s methods was more tightly woven than expected. Building a wall inside the door, setting a trap to snare a wolf, and shooting at the packmates rescuing it── thinking back on the chain of events made it recognize again how cunning humans were.
But there were gaps too, he thought. The prey was distracted by the sound on the opposite wall, and he was just one step away from charging in. Right before he started charging, the two humans inside didn’t realize his intent.
But during the run up to the jump, the red haired human reacted in time, and kicked the door close unhesitantly when she saw through his intent. He never thought that humans could move as swiftly as the wind. The thought humans were creatures that made up for their clumsiness by being cunning.
The prey was tougher than he expected, he had no choice but to acknowledge this fact. And with that, he had to make a harsh decision. Should they give up on their target and search for other prey?
The packmate that was lightly wounded pulled the bolt out of its back, but another bolt was embedded deeply in the other wolf, which might be stuck there forever. Just like what happened to his elder brother. But even then, it would succumb to its injury if the wound reached its intestines.
Even if they took care of the prey, there might be more sacrifices. Would it be wiser to give up and look for other prey── As the leader’s thoughts trend towards safety…
A weak bark reached his ears. He turned back, as if he was doused by cold water.
A wolf that was two sizes smaller than the other wolves stood together with another thin wolf. They were so thin that their ribs were showing.
They were his spouse and son that had just stopped the nursing phase. Right now, his family that was his priority was starving── as a male wolf, the thought of that filled him with scorching pain.
His son stumbled over with weak strides, and rubbed his nose against his father’s front paw. The leader licked his face gently, and strongly refuted the decision he made earlier.
In this pack, this was the only cub that inherited his bloodline. The other cubs either died before maturing, or had left to lead their own pack. His spouse was old, and this was definitely his last son.
He had to let this cub survive, or else his bloodline will die out in this pack, and the next leader wouldn’t be a descendant of him and his wife. The leader couldn’t accept this result, that would be refuting his life’s work.
He felt a gaze and turned to his wife. He saw in her eyes that she felt the same way.
The will of the two wolves spread to the entire pack, and they decided on their own fate.
「Do you think the wolves have given up?」
Ikuta swing his hammer to make emergency repairs to the damaged barrier, and asked the person beside him:
「From that fight, the opponent should realize we are prepared, and they will have to pay if they try to attack again. What happens next… will depend on how hungry the wolves are, and their personality.」
Yatori answered as she helped with the repairs. The boy grunted and hammered in a nail.
「’I look forward to you making a wise judgement’, huh? The leader of the pack seems very smart.」
「That’s exactly why we can’t be careless. If they refuse to give up, who knows what they will do next──」
When the girl said these words of caution, their stomachs growled loudly in the cramped room.
「… That’s right, I haven’t eaten anything since noon.」
「Let’s eat then, we don’t have to starve together with them.」
They nodded at each other and took out provisions from their bags. Ikuta bit into spicy grilled meat wrap, and spoke as if he suddenly remembered something:
「… There are provisions in this cabin, so we have plenty of food.」
「Are you thinking about using it for the next trap?」
「That works too… But I felt a little uneasy. Even after excluding our portions, there are enough food to feed the wolves.」
The boy looked at the food laid out by his feet. Yatori shook her head without hesitation:
「… Even if we share it with them, they would just get cocky, and think there are other food aside from us inside the cabin.」
「Yes, I know that. But── if we can communicate with our opponents, we can avoid bloodshed and reach a compromise.」
「I feel the same, but it is impossible to communicate with feral beasts. Besides, even for humans that speaks the same language, it will be difficult too. If they attack with wind guns or fire, we can’t defend the cabin so easily, and have to brace ourselves to launch an attack.」
The vermillion haired girl who was completely calm stated the reality of the situation. Ikuta nodded in agreement:
「That’s true… In the end, intelligent or not, all starving animals will act in the same way.」
「Even in a war between humans, they will only talk when both sides had exhausted their ammunition. My father always says that this order can never be reversed.」
Accepting her opinion with a grim heart, the boy lifts his head and looked out the window:
「So this battle will continue until we break the wolves’ fangs, right?」
「The other ending will be when we’ve used up all our energy.」
Yatori answered forthrightly. When he heard that, Ikuta took a big bite from the food in his hand, chewed the meat and wrappings, and swallowed. His throat made a very loud gulping sound.
「That’s the only ending I want to avoid── it can’t be helped, let’s break their fangs.」
When the eastern skies started turning white a while after 5 am, the beasts saw the light in the cabin go out, and the front door opened with a creak.
After exchanging looks with his packmates, the leader lying prone stood up. None of his packmate would charge in recklessly now. With the lesson of the previous failure on their mind, the pack left one young cub behind and approached the cabin cautiously.
As the small creature had stopped emitting light, there was no way to see inside the cabin through the windows. Even if they peered in through the door, there was nothing but pitch darkness. The wolf pack closed in as much as possible while keeping themselves hidden, but couldn’t hear anything.
And of course, they didn’t think the two humans had fallen asleep. As the silence and darkness loomed, the scent of danger turned thicker. Despite feeling his hair standing on end, the leader made the decision to tighten the encirclement with his pack.
They left two wolves at the entrance, sent two others to the back of the cabin, while the leader and spouse stayed in a spot that could see both sides. Spreading their forces were similar to last time, and the success this method yielded in previous hunts was the reason for their confidence.
They will win if one wolf infiltrated into the cabin. The leader was sure of that, according to his experience, the human’s tools── arrows and steel tube were a threat from a distance, and was not a threat when used within their fang’s attacking range. If they crush their ankle and drag the human down, they could bite into their tender necks. Furthermore, the prey this time were human cubs.
Maybe the frightened preys planned to escape when the wolves went in, but that was fine too. The open plains were their territory, and taking care of two slow humans in a place without cover wouldn’t take long.
As the leader imagined his path to victory, in the next instant, he saw a bolt hit the forehead of a packmate.
The first casualty was one of the two wolves that went to the back of the cabin. Its limbs lost the strength to support itself, and its thin body keeled over limbly to the ground.
When it saw a packmate breath its last, even the extreme hunger disappeared from the mind of the leader. He howled from the bottom of his lungs── the final battle between man and beast erupted at this moment.
「── Head shot, one dead!」
「Got it. Five left!」
Their tense voices reverberated in the dim cabin. The bolt fired through a hole in the wall shot a wolf dead.
They stopped the lantern light of the Luminous sprite at dawn, plunging the cabin into darkness while the outside got brighter, reversing the situation from before. The wolves couldn’t see the inside of the cabin, while Ikuta and Yatori had a clear view of the outside. This was the best condition to snipe at the enemy.
「Another wolf is approaching the wall. I’m loading the crossbow, what about the two in the front?」
「They are not coming in! The one with a bolt on its back is sprinting at the wall… Uwah!」
Bang! The entire cabin shook from the impact. Ikuta who fell on his butt stood up quickly:
「It’s ramming the wall! It wants to break in with brute force!」
The boy reported as he checked the situation through the peephole. And as he expected, the wolf that rammed into the wall was entangled by a heap of fishing line and hooks, and couldn’t get away from the wall. The trapped beast groaned in pain.
That was a trap he set during the night, judging that the wolves would attack the thin part of the wall. Ikuta grunted at the sight of his trap working, then picked up the weapon he made by tying a rusty knife to a stick── a makeshift spear.
「I already expected that…!」
He thrust the spear through the peephole, and stick it into the wolf by rough feel. He missed many attempts, but during his upteenth try, he felt a hit. The sensation of a spasming body could be felt from the spear handle gripped tightly in his hands, and a deafening howl came from the other side of the wall.
A nauseous feeling came up to his throat, but Ikuta suppressed it… He had seen chickens and goats being slaughtered at base, and had tried it himself. However, this was an entirely different experience.
「… After becoming a soldier… Do you have to do this often?」
The boy couldn’t help saying that to the back of the girl. Killing in order to survive, and killing each other in a fight── he felt the key difference between these two types of killing.
「Second shot, missed! Nine bolts left! ── what did you say?」
「… Nothing! I took out one, there’s four left!」
He cast aside his sentimental feelings, and pushed his makeshift spear harder. The tip of the spear pierced through the wolf and struck deep into the ground. Ikuta then tied the spear shaft to a pillar with a rope, condemning the pitiful wolf to die in that position.
When they witnessed the second wolf fall into the trap, the leader and his spouse sprinted over.
They couldn’t stand the sight of a packmate getting hurt and is rushing to its rescue── that wasn’t the reason they were running. Seeing that the prey were distracted by attacks from the front and back, they were aiming to charge in. That was the only reason why they were standing by from a distant.
His spouse reached the cabin first, and pressed onto the wall with her paws. The leader didn’t stop, and used his spouse as a stepping board. Just like last night, he leapt with all his might.
Working together with his longtime spouse, he jumped further and higher than his previous attempt. After sailing through the air, he reached out his paws and clinged to the edge of the roof. He then climbed up, and stood splendidly on top of the cabin.
Right after finishing his acrobatics, he immediately started working on the straw roof. After finding a spot that was seriously damaged, the leader stuck his nose through the gap between the straws── During last night’s battle, when he caught a glimpse of the cabin’s roof through the door, he realized that the roof was weaker than the walls.
The resistance on his snout was suddenly gone── and he felt a chill on his back. He backed away on reflex, and a bolt flew past the spot his head was in just a moment ago.
「Wolf on the roof! Watch out above!」
Yatori warned with her crossbow aimed at the ceiling. After getting the Luminous sprite on the table to emit lantern light, visibility was restored in the cabin. Ikuta open his eyes wide in surprise:
「Impossible! That’s not a height that an animal can jump!」
「It’s probably something pulled off by the pack leader. It did the same acrobatics last night! ──Ikuta, take the crossbow!」
After shoving the crossbow to the boy, Yatori put her hands on the blades by her waist. Ikuta loaded the crossbow swiftly while the vermillion haired girl glared at the ceiling.
Right after shoving its head through the straws, a large wolf jumped right into the cabin, pouncing towards Ikuta before landing on the ground.
Yatori pushed the boy down immediately, avoiding the wolf’s fangs by a hair. She pulled out the blades by her waist, and faced the howling wolf.
「Stand up and don’t move. If you leave my back… You will probably die.」
「… Yes, got it.」
From the moment he faced the vermillion haired girl from close up, the leader understood── she was strong. She had sharp fangs, even though she was human.
This wasn’t referring to the saber and short sword in his opponent’s hands, but something more fundamental. The leader could see immense prowess within her petite body.
He would be defeated if he challenged her recklessly. He might be a beast that didn’t understand the concept of martial arts, but the leader was very certain of that. The girl before him showed no openings, which was the reason behind this conviction.
The cramped cabin was disadvantageous for him. When facing such a powerful foe, using his agile movement to toy with the enemy before attacking was the right path to take. However, he couldn’t run freely in this confined space. The girl couldn’t attack freely either, even though they were closing the gap slowly, they were still glaring at each other for now. But that didn’t faze the leader, he knew time was on his side.
The sound of wood cracking came from the front and back walls. His surviving packmates were trying to break in.
Since the two humans were trapped here, they would accomplish that in short order. With victory within his grasp, the leader swore in his heart── I will tear you to pieces. Only your blood and warm intestines can quench my hunger.
As he waited eagerly for his packmates to charge in, he saw from the corner of his eyes── that the boy behind the girl tugged on a rope hanging from the ceiling.
In that moment, a beam dropped from the ceiling. The leader backdash in time and avoid being hit, and the two humans used this chance to escape.
They ran to a large table leaning against the wall, with the sides and top covered in planks. This was an emergency refuge for a situation like this. The two humans charged into the sole entrance, and blocked it from the inside.
The leader caught up a step later, but the two of them seemed to be bracing the cover with a pole, so it wasn’t that easy to break through. He was surprised by the stubborn resistance of his prey, but the leader still backed away calmly, and waited for his packmates to join him.
「… F-Fortunately, we are prepared.」
In the cramped darkness, Ikuta said as he patted his thumping heart:
「To think we got forced to the brink by animals… Does the wolf leader understand human speech? He must be that smart. Maybe the professor will want to catch him as a specimen.」
「You tend to talk a lot when you are out of options.」
「I hope you can refrain from pointing out my issues calmly. It will make me cry.」
「Sigh, I can empathize with you. To be honest, I’m scared too.」
The girl shared her honest feelings as she traced her fingers over the plank beside her hand.
「There is only one plan left… If that fails, it’s all over.」
「What we need to do is simple, but needs a lot of courage…」
「Is now the right time to write a will?」
「There’s no pen or paper though. Besides, I won’t die. Even if I did, I will visit my mom as a ghost, there’s no need for wills.」
「Your answer is a little weak though. And you included unscientific contents in there too.」
「The bonds between my mother and I will definitely trump the logic of science. Q.E.D.」
The boy sudden change in tone made Yatori smile── she then made a steel-like resolution in her heart.
「… Don’t worry. I will get you back safely, even if it cost me my life. I’m an Igsem descendant after all. If I have the resolve to sacrifice my life, I can take out four wolves.」
She told the boy with the unwavering conviction of a member of the nation’s guardian clan. But Ikuta looked at the girl with an incredibly gloomy face after hearing that:
「── What’s with that, suicide attacks? That wasn’t in the plan.」
「I mean as a very last resort, when everything else fails. Instead of both of us dying, having one of us live will be better. You understand that, right?」
Yatori said with a cautionary tone. That made the boy mad, and he raised his voice agitatedly:
「──No! The goal if for the both of us to return safely, any other result will be equally bad! Don’t you even understand something this simple? Then you are an idiot! The idiots of all idiots! Stupid Yatori! Stupid~ Stupid～!」
「What──! You are the stupid one! Isn’t this the harsh decision necessary to keep our losses to the minimum!」
「Hah! Saying that you will sacrifice yourself to solve the problem isn’t a harsh decision, but just brushing the problem aside! And don’t act like my guardian! You are the same age as me!」
「You are the kid acting spoiled! Just what did you learn from all the missions we did!?」
「Do I even have to say it!? The one thing I learned from the missions given by Dad──」
Ikuta groped in the dark and grabbed the shoulders of the girl in the cramped space, and said the next line sincerely:
「── If we work together, we can overcome anything, isn’t that so!?」
His strong declaration made the vermillion girl fall silent. Without relaxing his grip on her shoulders, the boy continued talking agitatedly:
「Promise me, Yatori. No matter how dire the situation, don’t try to fight alone. There’s only the two of us here, if we want to survive, we can’t split our forces.」
「To be frank, wolf packs are hard to deal with, and we can’t win if we split up. So we have to challenge it as a team, and be two in one. Just like our left hand and right hand, left and right leg, left and right brain── we are not separate individuals, but one entity moving as one.」
He said as he reached out his palm and place it against her palm, as if he was saying how important this bond was.
「So it is impossible to sacrifice one to save the other. Do you understand?」
Yatori couldn’t offer any rebuttal.
When she came to, she realized how much she yearned for this── to be like this. To believe in his words and fight towards victory. When such thoughts flashed across her mind, the vermillion haired girl had already accepted the possibility raised by the boy.
「… Since you have said that much, then you should show the results to match.」
「That’s only natural. You just need to always act under the presumption that me, your left hand, will be moving in concert with you.」
Ikuta nodded confidently. His gleeful tone made Yatori give a deep sigh.
「… I apologize for acting like a guardian. Thinking back, you and I had always been equals.」
This is the first time I felt this way in my life── the vermillion haired girl added, and she smiled boldly in response to the boy before her.
「If I’m the right hand, then the left hand has to match me too.」
「Leave it to me. You can think of me as the dominant hand if you want to.」
They couldn’t see each other face, but they knew what expression the other was making. Sweeping aside all her meek feelings, Yatorishino Igsem made a resolve that was different from a few minutes ago:
「Then both hands will be working together── indeed, I don’t feel like I will lose at all.」
After breaking the wall at the back of the cabin, the wolves outside came in.
They were initially confused by the absence of their prey, but was relieved when they learned the leader had chased the prey into the box in front of them, and started exploring the cabin. They search for the scent of food, and quickly found some jerky, and yelped in joy.
When they were about to dig in, but the leader barked at them for being careless── sniff carefully before eating! At that warning, the young pack mates quickly stuck their nose onto the jerky. Their instinct helped them to determine whether something was food by their scent, but the poison used by humans might not have a distinct smell. With that in mind, the leader demanded his pack mates to exercise caution.
After sniffing thoroughly and not finding anything amiss── the packmates reported with their eyes, and the leader finally gave permission. At that moment, the wolves started tearing into the jerky. Even with his back to the wolves eating with reckless abandon, the leader was unfazed. Unlike his packmates, the leader won’t rest easy before killing the prey hiding in the box before him.
There were voices from the box all this time, but that had suddenly ceased. The two of them might be unexpectedly tough, but maybe they had given in to fate── just when the leader was thinking that, there was some noise from outside the cabin.
When he turned back in surprise, the hole at the back of the cabin was blocked by planks. How was that possible, the two humans were in the box── despite falling into confusion, the leader rammed the planks before the other wolves could react.
He charged with all his might, but the planks wouldn’t budge. This was only natural, as the wolves destroyed the torn back of the wall and dug at the earth, the hole was very close to the ground. The humans outside could use their entire body to barricade the planks, but the wolves inside couldn’t bring their entire force to bear because of the awkward positioning, and could only nudge with their head and paws. As they could only push at the bottom part of the planks, most of their force was transferred to the ground.
They were trapped in the cabin── when the leader realized that, there were movement behind him. Even the front of the cabin, where the wolves had dug a hole halfway, had been barricaded by the humans with planks from the outside.
There were at least two humans outside. What was going on? Did they have reinforcements? As he was beset by confusion, the leader remembered something, ran to the box by the wall and put his ears onto it.
There was no sound, not even breathing. After confirming that he understood the situation── the humans had ran outside by breaking through the wall, and they made full use of the wolves’ assumption that the humans were still inside. There wasn’t any sound of the planks being cut, which meant they prepared this escape route last night.
And now, their positions had been swapped, with the four wolves trapped inside. The humiliation made him bark in frustration, but the leader still tried to think calmly── what was the prey’s goal in trapping them inside? What will happen next?
A few seconds later, crimson petals of flame fell before the leader.
「Commencing fire attack!」
After throwing a flaming rag onto the roof, Yatori used her entire body to press the planks against the cabin as she shouted. On the other side of the cabin, Ikuta was also using his body to blockade the hole in the wall.
As the burning smell entered their nasal cavity, the two of them looked up with a gulp. The small ball of fire they threw onto the straw roof that was dry from the drought── had grown into an inferno at a scary pace.
A few minutes later, the roof started to collapse, and the wolves started to howl. With no exit out of the cabin and plenty of fuel for the fire inside, even the dullest of wolf could imagine how this torturous event would develop.
Ikuta and Yatori could feel the crazed movements of the beast inside the cabin. They were scratching at the wall and pacing around futilely── the two young wolves had probably lost the calm of mind to follow the decision of the leader. Their hysteric cries echoed loudly, and was clear to anyone listening that it was howls of pain.
However, that was just the beginning of the tragedy. Sensing that the chaos inside the cabin had reached its peak, Yatori removed the plank. There was only one ventilation hole in this scorching hell── but the wolves had lost their cool to suspect this was a trap, and rushed to the opening.
A young wolf that happened to be close by reached there first, but the hole was barely large enough for one wolf to go through. As it push aside its packmate and burrowed through the hole…
The girl stabbed her saber into the defenceless forehead. It pierce right through the brain, and killed the wolf without giving it any chance to pull away.
「Three left!」 She reported loudly.
Seeing their packmate breath its last in the hole, the wolves behind stopped. Since they saw the fate of the wolf that attempted to burrow out, they couldn’t follow.
Howl! The wolf retreating slowly from the hole cried out loudly. Its hind leg was shot by a bolt, fired by Ikuta through a peephole from the front of the cabin.
「Alright, I shot one…!」
Pressing his back onto the plank again, the boy started pulling the crossbow string── since they couldn’t hope for the wolves to retreat, their only chance to survive was to wipe out the wolves. Fighting with that in mind, the two acted mercilessly.
Shortly after that, the cabin became smokey, and the two couldn’t see inside. As the heat was too intense, it became difficult to even block the planks. They exercised caution and pulled about a metre away, and waited for the wolves.
But no matter how long they waited, the wolves showed no sign of escaping the cabin. Maybe they got suffocated by the smoke, Ikuta thought. The fire spread from the roof to the walls, and it was just a matter of time before the cabin collapses. The inside was already a sea of flame.
When the two of them thought that the battle was over── the sudden shattering noise assaulted their ear drums.
It wasn’t from the front or back of the cabin where Ikuta and Yatori were keeping watch, but from the perspective of the front, it was to the right of the building. The two of them rushed over to check, and found the leader and another wolf had smashed through the wall.
There were scorched patches of fur all over the two wolves, which was a shock── the two wolves didn’t run towards the fake entrance they prepared despite the desperate situation. They waited for the building to grow weaker with the fire, waiting for their chance in the intense heat and thick smoke. They charge at the weakest part of the cabin at the right moment, and survived splendidly.
They glared at the human children with hatred. Feeling goosebumps on their backs from that killing intent, the vermillion haired girl and dark haired boy raised their weapons.
How dare you── the leader who escaped burning hell at the very last moment glared at his enemy with furious eyes, and cast his attention to the back of the cabin.
The other packmate── didn’t follow behind. It had probably inhaled too much smoke from running around aimlessly, and was beyond help now. The regret of not saving his packmate made the leader tremble and growl.
Four of his pack has died so far, only leaving him and his spouse. There was nothing more terrible than that. No── he realized the silver lining in this situation. The perpetrators was right before him.
Their motivation for killing had evolved beyond just filling their bellies, and became more pure in their intent── and the wolves didn’t even let off any intimidating howl before hunting their own prey.
His spouse swiftly chased the dark haired human. As he watched his wife from the corner of his eye, the leader faced off against the red haired human and remained still. Since he couldn’t turn his back on this formidable foe, the couple divided their work right from the start.
The girl took a stance with both blades pointed at her foe. To avoid the blades and sink his fangs into his opponent’s neck, the leader pushed off the ground hard.
「Hah! Hah…! Good, it’s chasing me…!」
The boy running with the crossbow was being pursued by a wolf. Feeling the intense murderous pressure behind him, Ikuta took out a walnut sized object and put it into his mouth, then charged to the back of the burning cabin.
This was too meek of a resistance to shake the wolf off. The speed of the human child and adult wolf was too different, and as expected, the distanced was closed in just 10 m.
As the boy felt the breathing of the wolf close in behind, he turned back── and saw the wolf pounced on him, pushing him down with its paws. A human child was too powerless against this feral agility and strength.
The wolf looked down at Ikuta with murderous eyes, and slowly opened its jaw. It will take revenge for its fallen comrades with this bite── but one moment before that, the boy crushed the container in his mouth, and spit it at the wolf’s nose.
The wolf that subdued the boy backed away, as if it was struck heavily on the nose by the boy. Using this chance, Ikuta who was also coughing from the agitating content stood up slowly. What he blew out was spice powder. For wolves that had sensitive nose, this attack was super effective.
「Cough, cough…! I-I’m really out of options now…!」
He only bought himself a few short seconds. Ikuta didn’t miss this chance, and ran away after picking up his weapon. After going to the back of the cabin, he ran counter clockwise to the other side of the building.
He turned around at the corner, and aimed his crossbow at the enemy to hold it back. The wolf backed away to avoid being shot, and the few seconds from this was enough for him to make one lap around the cabin and back to the starting point.
「Combine forces, Yatori──!」
Ikuta shouted to the vermillion haired girl who was facing off against the leader.
When it heard the boy’s shout from behind that reverberated loudly, the leader felt his heart froze for a moment.
Why is he back!? If he is fine, what about my spouse? D-Did she──!
The girl didn’t miss this opening created by the leader’s wavering, and attacked. The leader reacted a moment slower because he was distracted by his worries of his wife── and that decided his fate.
As he twisted to dodge the slash, he felt a searing pain in the joints of his right front paw, and lost his balance── before he found out why, the vermillion haired girl had ran past him.
The leader turned around in surprise, and found the two of them standing back to back, as if they had planned this ahead of time. When he saw this scene, his chest was filled with utter despair. His spouse who returned a step later also stopped because of the enemy’s intimidating aura.
Overwhelmed by the two human’s indomitable spirits, the leader looked down hesitantly at his body── his right leg was now a stump. He had lost one of his legs to support his body weight. Blood kept pouring from the wound and dyed the ground red.
His face was scowling from pain, and the leader turned his gaze back to the vermillion haired girl and dark haired boy who stood together… No, maybe they had been standing together from the very start. Ironically, the leader learned the reason why his front paw was sliced off.
Compared to him and his spouse who split up to fight, the two humans appeared at a glance, but was actually working together at a fundamental level. When the boy was chased by his spouse, the vermillion haired girl was certain her other half will return, and waited for him.
No── the leader corrected himself. Thinking back, the boy wasn’t running away in the first place. By running a lap around the cabin and leaving his spouse behind, there would be a two on one situation momentarily. The boy acted for this sake, and the girl waited after noticing his intent. That must be so.
The leader couldn’t pull off the same thing. When the boy who he thought had ran away returned, he was worried about his wife for an instant. He didn’t trust and waited for her, but wanted to rush to her side instead. In the face of a formidable foe, he made the foolish mistake of losing his focus.
The vermillion haired girl didn’t miss that opening and took his leg. The injury made it difficult for him to even stand, so his agility was gone── but this wound wasn’t the critical blow. His fighting spirit had been daunted on a different level.
They who trusted in their other half, and him who couldn’t put in his complete faith. The strong bonds of the two humans plunged the leader into despair. He had to admit that their relationship was stronger than he and his spouse.
── We can’t win this fight against this pair.
The moment he admitted his lost, the leader couldn’t go on, and his eyes lost their light.
Ikuta successfully linked up with Yatori after running a lap around the cabin, and faced off against the two wolves again. Something neither party expected intruded on the battle.
It was a wolf cub. It had just stopped nursing, and was as large as a mid sized dog. It probably ran here after noticing that its parents were in danger. The boy and girl frowned at the sight of the cub barking at them with a shrill voice.
「… Is that reinforcements?」
「… If I fought with it on my own, I might lose.」
Ignoring the two who wasn’t sure how to judge this development, the leader staggered unsteadily to the cub on his three legs. He stood in front of his cub, gestured to his spouse with a gaze, and looked towards the two human again.
Yatori and the leader looked at each other for a few seconds── sensing the intent in his eyes, the girl put down her blades with a sigh.
Before Ikuta could start feeling stumped, the leader threw his head to the sky and howled. With that as the signal, several wolves turned at the same time.
The female wolf leaned in close to the right of her spouse, who had lost a leg. A cub snuggled the left chest of the leader. The three wolves supported each other and headed west.
The howl of the leader spread far and wide in the morning of this temperate climate. Ikuta and Yatori silently watched them went over the hill. The two of them stood shoulder to shoulder and kept watching and watching──
「Great, you two are safe.」
Yatori hugged the Water sprite and Luminous sprite that had walked over on their stubby legs, and breathe a sigh of relief. Before setting fire to the cabin, the sprites had already escaped outside through an exit they prepared ahead of time. Their 「Soul stone」 could withstand very high temperature, but whether the sprites body would remain safe was a different issue.
「Sigh～ I already knew, but it can’t be salvage.」
Ikuta shrugged in front of the burning cabin. After consuming all the flammable and rotten materials in the cabin, the fire was incredibly intense. Without water or any tools, the two children couldn’t do anything about it. Yatori nodded slightly beside him.
「We were forced by the circumstances, but we burned down a military facility… How can we apologize to General Bada and the scientists?」
「Both you and I are safe, so there is nothing to apologize for. This cabin is falling apart anyway, so it’s a good chance to rebuild it.」
The boy said firmly without any guilt, and turned to the horizon in the early dawn.
「── Okay. I think Bajin-nii and the others saw the smoke, and will be here to get us soon.」
Ikuta said as he searched his pockets. He fished out a piece of jerky, tore it in half, then passed a piece to Yatori.
「Here, take half of this. The rest got burned, so this is the last piece. Savour it.」
The girl took the jerky, and the two of them sat down back to back, and bit into the jerky.
「… What will happen to those wolves?」
「Their pack is almost wiped out. The leader is seriously wounded, so their future is grim.」
Ikuta expressed his views frankly, and Yatori listened as she stared at the jerky in her hand.
「This feels like we are eating their flesh.」
「Yes, I’m thinking the same too.」
After saying that, the boy chewed the jerky in his mouth carefully and swallowed it.
「Hey, Yatori. Since you think that way, then you can choose another path aside from the military.」
「You don’t have to rush an answer, take your time. It’s fine to just remember what I said today too. Since it’s paired with such a tense memory, you won’t ever forget it, right?」
Ikuta said with a smile as he glanced at the flaming cabin. The way he put it was too funny, and the vermillion haired girl curled up her lips as she surveyed the area:
「Indeed, I will never forget this──」
After that, they met up with the scientists who hurried over after seeing the smoke, and told them what happened, as they looked at the ruins of the burned cabin. The exploits of the children surprised Bajin, Nazuna and the others. As the equipment they needed to stay here had gone up in flames, they returned to base without carrying out the environmental studies they had planned.
The scientists felt guilty about endangering the children because of their carelessness, and Bada also said 「I didn’t think this through carefully」, and reproached himself for his lack of thought. For a long while after that, they put a lot of thought into drawing the line between letting the children roam freely and being irresponsible.
However, the apologies from the adults vexed Ikuta and Yatori. Surviving the desperate situation by their own means was a badge they wore proudly. 「Instead of being sorry, you should compliment us instead.」 Ikuta said it forwardly, and Yatori expressed similar sentiments on her face.
In the end, the wolf attack became the climax of Yatori’s exchange study. The rest of the days passed by without any major events, and her three month stay here came to an end. After everyone held a farewell party with all sorts of talent performance, the vermillion haired girl bid farewell to the group.
「I will be going home today. Thank you for taking care of me during my stay.」
The morning sun shone into the house from the eastern window. In the commandant’s office, Yatori stood at attention and said to the master of the room. Bada showed a surprised face, and turned his face from the canvas to the girl:
「Go home…? Isn’t Yatori-chan a kid from our house?」
「If I stay any longer, I will probably think that way too, so I have to return before that happens.」
Yatori was used to his antics of pretending to be retarded, and answered easily. Bada stared at her, and let out a big sigh.
「What a pity～… Just when you are getting more rounded and flexible.」
He muttered with sincere regret. The vermillion haired girl smiled back, and cast her gaze at the canvas before Bada:
「Is drawing your hobby?」
「Just an amateurish hobby. I thought I could finish before today, but unfortunately, the time is up.」
He said as he laid his drawing instrument on the table. It was a drawing of four people standing together, but it wasn’t clear who they were at this stage. There were still much to be done before the work was complete.
Yatori shifts her eyes from the canvas to Bada, and said after some hesitation:
「Can I ask you something? Uncle Bada, what do you hope to achieve from this exchange study?」
「Hmm? To turn Sol’s daughter into a bad girl of course, and make him dumbstruck when he sees you return. However, you are a better kid than I imagined, and this proved more difficult than expected. My scheme is only half way done after three months.」
Bada shrugged with a sigh. The vermillion haired girl looked right into his dark eyes and continued asking:
「Uncle── you realized Ikuta’s talent, right?」
「Having a cocky son is really troubling. Being so smart at such a young age is a problem too.」
「Don’t you want to raise him as a soldier and follow in your footsteps?」
She asked the key question. When he heard that, Bada tilted his head in surprise:
「But why? There is no need for him to step intentionally into that world, there are plenty of fun way to live too, right? Be it a scientist or an adventurer, that child can just do what he wishes. That applies to you too, Yatori-chan.」
As he alternates his gaze between the pen and the canvas, that man curled his lips self mockingly.
「I didn’t choose the thug life, the thug life chose me. I wanted to spend my life holding a brush, but when I realized it, I was holding a weapon instead… Since you are going to live your life, why let your heritage constrain you? Just seek the goal your heart desires without being bound by all that, and spend your time with those dear to you── no matter what awaits you in the end, I think that is the best path to take.」
For him who didn’t have the freedom to pursue his passion freely, this was his answer. With a smile as bright as the sun, Bada Sankrei gave light to the girl before him.
「Remember this, Yatori-chan. This is the only thing I won’t back down from.
── All children have the right to dream.」
When she left the building, she ran into a lady about to walk in. She had dark silky hair, pale translucent skin and a gentle gleam in her eyes. There was no way she could mistake her for anyone else.
The girl called out to her intimately. Seeing that she had packed her bags, the mother of the Sankrei house lowered her lonely gaze.
「Yatori── you are, really going?」
「… Yes. Thank you for taking care of me all this while──」
Yuka bent down and embraced the girl tightly, not letting her finish:
「I don’t… want you to go. You are the daughter of my house. You are already… a kid from our house.」
Yuka whispered into the girl’s ears, and tightened her embrace. The girl accepted the hug with her eyes closed, and said quietly:
「── Aunt Yuka, I think you already know. I don’t remember my mother’s face.」
「She died shortly after my birth── before I was two. Even though she was healthy in the past, there are times when a mother’s health deteriorates after giving birth. I was then raised by my father. I have a nanny, but because of my father’s education directive, she didn’t play the role of a mother. Thinking back── I didn’t know what a mother was like.」
Her smooth long hair brushed against the girl’s cheeks. The faint sweet scent made her feel nostalgic for a home that wasn’t hers.
「I learned what is a mother in this exchange study… Warm, gentle, and a kindness that encompasses all. A woman who is just like a sun, that makes me want to stay with her forever.」
The warmth from the embrace probably thawed her heart, and Yatori made her first and final wilful request:
「I have a request. Can you── pat my head?」
The mother fulfilled the girl’s tiny request with a smile. Her slender and soft fingers caressed the girl’s head, neck and cheeks, and the vermillion haired girl kept the memories of this sensation deep within her heart.
「Thank you, Aunt Yuka. I will remember… this warmth.」
They parted from their long embrace, and then hugged each other again.
Yatori walked to the eastern end of the base, and found the rainbow making arc gate there. It was built to welcome her, but everyone decided to keep it as a local attraction. Thinking back on the innocent smile of the scientists clad in white, she walked forth with the corners of her lips raised.
「I know you are there.」
The girl announced, and Ikuta walked out of the shadows of the arc gate with a sigh.
「I don’t think there is any need for farewells. We will be seeing each other again, right?」
「There’s no telling when I can visit again, I’m very busy.」
「That won’t matter. Like I said, we are two in one.」
The boy said confidently without any hint of loneliness. Accepting that happily, Yatori looked back at him with the same expression:
「When we meet next time, I don’t want to see you turn skinnier than this.」
「Don’t look down on me, I won’t disappoint you.」
Ikuta said with his chest held high, and raised his right hand. Yatori mimicked his action, and the both of them moved their arms at the same time. Their palms clapped together with a crisp sound, then separated.
「I will look forward to it── see you later, Ikuta.」
「Look forward to it── til next time, Yatori.」
Without saying anything more, the two of them shared the will to meet again, and went their separate ways.
After the exchange study ended, a few months after Yatori returned to the Igsem house.
The girl who spent everyday with a busy schedule received a news.
One day after morning practice, the father told his daughter.
The Imperial General Bada Sankrei will be executed as a war criminal for deploying his unit in defiance of an imperial edict──
「How is that possible…」
This must be a mistake, that was Yatori’s initial thought. However, with no regard for her confusion, the situation continued to deteriorate like a boulder rolling downhill.
Before the trial even ended, Bada died in prison, his death shrouded in mystery. The details of his death wasn’t made public, and the Rising Sun Regiment that lost their leader crumbled apart── during the same time, the two other Sankrei went missing.
No matter how anxious she was, how much she wanted to save that mother and child, the girl couldn’t do it.
In the torrent of layers of mysteries, Yatori was tormented by her harsh questions.
「── Why? Father──!」
Even when she asked hundreds and thousands of times, the answer was steel-like silence.
The one who apprehended the traitor Bada was her father, Solvenares Igsem.