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Chapter 4 - Human Fodder

Sister Carnelia spoke to me in a tender tone as she sent a wave of immense pain rushing through the whole of my right hand.

'I won't have any trouble with you, now will I, Toby?' she asked.

Far from eyes just brimming with tears, I nodded my head in consent as the salty streams of water ran down my face. Satisfied with my answer, she loosened her grip, and I felt the pain vanish as if it had all been some sort of illusion.

With a wry smile, she further added, 'Don't get me wrong, Toby. I've been sent here to protect you by the Goddess, herself.'

This is what she said while instructing me to keep my eyes focused on what lie beyond the window glass. Yet, there was something about the way she pronounced the last syllable of my name that really rubbed me the wrong way.

Little by little, the line of passengers slowly began to flow out of the train car. Prodded on by Sister Carnelia, I inched forward while keeping my gaze on the platform through the passenger car window. Down the stairs which led to the front ticket gate were the figures of those men from earlier this morning, the three thug-like passengers who had been loitering near the large horse head emblem of tile at the imperial station.

A muffled laugh echoed from her throat as she, too, noticed them. 'Well, isn't this a warm reception party you've got going on.'

Cocking my head, I quietly pleaded, 'Give me back my orbment!'

Sister Carnelia said nothing.

Members of the crew bid us farewell as we stepped through the exit to disembark the train onto the lead-colored platform below. Angrily, I thought to myself, 'Dammit! What's wrong with these fools? Can't they see what's going on?'

I shut my eyes halfway to protect them from the drizzle whipping against my face, and I unhurriedly descended the wet set of stairs, a half pace at a time. Sister Carnelia moved along behind me at precisely the same length of stride. Below, the group of thugs waited expectantly at the bottom of the stairs. Waited for me, no doubt.

Contemplating the rate at which I was going, I ultimately believed it was only a matter of time before I would be handed over to the enigmatic group. I caught sight of their soured faces as the distance between us grew smaller and felt the heat of my left hand tightly gripping my bag grow in intensity until my palm began to sweat profusely. Hitting the midway point on the stairs, Sister Carnelia suddenly whispered in my ear, 'Keep your eyes on the ground, Toby.'

I did as I was told and cast my gaze down upon the tips of my boots, stained to a darker shade by the rainwater. Then, right at the moment I let out my breath, I felt a deep sense of pressure just below my shoulder blades as I was forcefully shoved forward.

Droplets flew from my saturated fingers and my world turned upside-down as I tumbled down the stairs and slammed back first into the group of hoodlums. With a muffled crunch, I felt the painful sensation of my ribs crumple under the weight of my body and then return to normal from their severely compressed state. Two of the seemingly military men who were hit as I toppled down the stairs (like an avalanche unleashed on a a pair of young saplings) absorbed the transfer of force and were thrown into a large puddle collecting on the ground nearby. Shrieks erupted from startled passengers nearby, more shrill than the high-pitched sound of the railway brakes from a decelerating locomotive.

As my world spun wildly about me, I lay there, the chill of the tiles seeping into my back. With a concerted effort I rolled my eyes to the left where my arm remained in an outstretched state.

By some act of the Goddess I had managed to keep my tight five-finger grip on the bag I had been carrying. In an effort to get up, I slid into a prostrate position, keeping my chin in contact with the ground. Making a low visual sweep of the vicinity as if my life depended on it, I noticed the military-like physiques of the men had vanished from view. The only figure I saw standing above me now on the platform, was that of Sister Carnelia. And on her shoulder, as if she were merely hefting a sack of grain, was one of the men.

Turning in the direction where the train sat in its motionless state, she lobbed the unfortunate man down onto a set of empty rail tracks below. By this time, I had risen to one knee while keeping the other planted firmly on the ground in a half-standing position. The world in front of me was still swaying, undulating in my wavering eyesight. My head slowly rocked back and forth with it as the double vision of Sister Carnelia's boots approached me. Then, with a strong grip, she tugged on my hand. For some strange reason or another, when she did this, I failed to notice the unpleasant feeling that her hand wrapped tightly around mine brought.

'Let's go, Toby,' she instructed in an authoritative voice. Nearly dragging me, she pulled me to my feet and before long, we were hightailing it out of there.

The onlookers made quite a commotion as they moved hastily out of the way in a determined attempt not to be caught up in the middle of our flight path. The bag in my left hand swung helplessly, knocking against my thigh. After clearing the ticket gate, Sister Carnelia finally let go of my hand, but a sickening slippery sensation came with it. Looking over at her, I realized that the stomach-churning, slimy feeling on my hand had come from the bright red blood which stained both of hers.

I peered back over my shoulder in the direction of the platform as I continued to run, but the figures of those three men who had been waiting for me at the station were nowhere to be found.

第4回 肉の弾

シスター・カーネリアは僕の右手全体に激痛を与えたまま、やさしく語りかけてきた。「大人しくしていてくれるわよね、トビー」

僕は涙目どころか本気で涙を流しながら首を縦に振った。瞬間、手首の角度はゆるまって、痛みは幻のように溶けて消えた。「誤解しないでね、トビー。

私は女神(エイドス)に遣わされたあなたの守護者なの」

彼女はそう耳元にささやきながら、僕に窓の外を見るように指示した。「トビー」という彼女の呼びかけの「ビー」の部分が、やけにくすぐったい。

乗客の列はゆっくりと車外に向け流れ出した。カーネリアに押されるようにじりじりと前へ進みながら、車窓からホームを眺めた。正面改札へと続く階段の下に、あいつらの姿があった。帝都の駅でも見送りに来てくれた、あの3人組だ。「手厚く歓迎してくれるみたいよ」彼女の喉元からくぐもった笑いが響く。「導力器を返してくれ」首をひねって僕は訴えた。カーネリアは答えなかった。左右から乗務員に挨拶されて、鉛色のホームへと出る。畜生、バカどもが。人がこんな目に遭ってるのに、どうして気づかないんだ? 吹きつける霧のような雨に半ば目をつむった僕は、濡れた階段を半歩ずつゆっくりと降りていく。その後ろから同じ歩幅でカーネリア。出迎えの連中は階段のすぐ下で待ち構えている。このままあの得体の知れない奴らに引き渡されるのだと、僕は思った。3人組の顔が近づくにつれ、バッグを握る左手に熱がこもってくる。

階段のちょうど中間で、突然カーネリアが言った。「トビー、足元を見て」言われるまま僕は、雨水のしみたブーツのつま先へ視線を落とした。そして息を吐いた瞬間、カーネリアに思い切り突き飛ばされた。爪先から振り出た水滴の向こう、天地が入れ替わるのが見え、僕の体は階段下の連中に背中から降り注いだ。

 みしりと肋骨が潰れ、また復元される感触。軍人風の連中2人の間に雪崩れ込み、彼らを押し倒した勢いのまま水溜りへと突入する。乗客たちの悲鳴が鉄道のブレーキ音みたいだ。ぐるぐる渦を巻く世界の中で、冷たいタイル地を背中に感じたまま、僕は左手の方へと眼球を転がす。5本の指はしっかりバッグをつかんだままだった。

体を起こそうとして滑り、僕はあごから潰れてうつ伏せになった。懸命に左右を見回したが、軍人風の男たちの姿は見えない。シスター・カーネリアの姿だけが、頭上のホームに見えた。まるで穀物袋でも担ぐみたいに、肩の上に男を乗せている。彼女は列車の方を向くなり、そいつを線路下へと投げ込んだ。僕はようやく立ち膝をつく。世界はまだ波打っていた。シスターのブーツが近づき、僕の手を引く。握ったときの違和感に、僕はまだ気づかない。「行くわよ、トビー」

引きずられるようにして立ち上がり、やがて僕らは駆け出す。野次馬が音を立てて道を開けた。左腕の先でバッグが頼りなくゆれ、ひたひたとふとももを叩いた。改札を抜けるとき、ようやくシスターが手を放してくれる。ばりっと何か剥がれる。僕はシスターの両手が、紅く返り血に染まっていることに気づく。走りながらホームの方を振り返った。僕を迎えに来た3人の姿は、もうどこにもなかった。

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