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Chapter 5 - Emissary of the Sabbath

I sat staring at a partially-melted lump of butter on a stack of cold pancakes. Picking up a fork, I poked at them, and after turning the top one over, I daubed the milky yellow substance between the rubbery layers. In doing so, my interest in what sat atop my plate faded to nil.

A hanging lamp dangled overhead, making a sporadic buzzing sound as its honey-colored light flickered, creating jittery shadows and distorting my vision within the inn. The pouring rain outside didn't appear as if it would let up anytime soon, either.

Bringing my face closer to the window, I peered through the film of water flowing down the outside of the glass as I tried make out the dimly lit avenue. Although the station house sat right at the end of the road from where we were lodged, all that was visible was the side of the structure obscured by a shadow which prevented me from being able to see the platform.

'There's nothing to be worried about,' said Sister Carnelia as she returned, wiping her hands with a handkerchief as white as newly driven snow.

Stretching the square strip of cloth out, she sat down and placed it neatly on her lap like a napkin. Then, in a reassuring tone, she added, 'We've seen the last of them for a while.'

Watching the tips of her fingers move as she smoothed out the wrinkles in the piece of fabric resting on her legs, I was hit with a sudden flashback, reviving the awful sight and coppery scent of the sticky blood which had covered those hands not more than a few hours before.

'How can you be so certain?' I asked, still having more than a few reservations.

'Because that's how these types of crime syndicates work,' she replied, clearly seeming to know all the answers.

The waiter came and set a plate in front of Sister Carnelia with a soft clink as the base of the glassy dish tapped lightly against the hard surface of the table. After scooting the meat-laden porcelain plate closer to her, she licked off the sauce now covering the tips of her fingers in an almost sensual way. Sickened by the bloody image already in my mind and now the sauce, I tossed my fork aside and leaned heavily back in my chair.

The city outside began to fade into shades of gray and by the time Sister Carnelia was finished tucking away her steak, it had completely sunk into the darkness of night.

I questioned her again, 'How can you be so certain that no one will come after us?'

Using a piece of black-crusted bread to wipe up the last drops of sauce, she answered, 'Because that's how they function. One unit consists of three people.'

Then, as if remembering something else important, she added, 'That group that was after you. They're a jaeger corps.'

Upon hearing this, I recalled seeing some of those men at the landing port some time ago. Only the most renowned and skilled of mercenary groups have the honor of calling themselves a jaeger corps. Or at least, that's what Micht had told me about them. They were soldiers of fortune who were said to relentlessly follow the flow of mira wherever that happened to lead, and they would stop at nothing to get at it, even if it meant spilling blood.

'War hawks, mercenaries without borders, and a group never to get involved with,' is what Micht often had a habit of saying about them.

Instinctively, I slid my foot forward and checked the location of my bag with the tip of it.

'It's quite simple, really,' Sister Carnelia explained as she reached for her dessert. 'You, Toby, are carrying something that's apparently got a lot of people on edge. And someone's hired a jaeger corps to take you out.'

'But it's not me they're after. It's what I'm carrying.'

'It's all the same,' she retorted as she gulped down her cup of tea in a single breath.

'They're going to kill the courier before they even think about searching the contents of his bag. A butcher kills a cow before someone grills the steak, not the other way around.'

Lecturing me all the while, Sister Carnelia took a glossy tallow-handled knife in hand and sliced into her apple pie. The powdered sugar sprinkled on the flaky crust danced under the golden light.

I felt a stabbing pain of guilt race through me, just above my gut. Unexpectedly, I began to think about what Micht could be doing at the moment, but my short period of rumination was cut short when I saw Sister Carnelia's hand stop cold.

Glaring into the darkness, eyes focused and intent like a hunting dog's, she tossed something shiny onto the table and eventually rose to her feet.

There it was, my orbment.

'Where are you going?'

Without pausing to answer my question, Sister Carnelia expeditiously fastened the buckle of her coat.

'You've got good taste, Toby.'

One at a time she set her heels on the chair and tightened her boot laces.

'Using the full capabilities of that orbment is no small feat. I think even most bracers would be in for a real surprise if push came to shove with you in the ring.'

Growing ever more impatient, I asked again, 'So where is it exactly that you're going?'

'That's none of your concern,' came the answer. 'Suffice it to say, I will be seeing you again on the morrow.' And with that, Sister Carnelia disappeared through the door of the women's restroom.

As if exchanging places, two other men entered the restaurant. They walked directly to the table at which I sat and stood before me.

Flashing the emblem on his chest and without making any sort of eye contact, one of the men said, 'We're with the Bracer Guild. I apologize for disturbing you in the middle of your evening meal, but you'll need to come with us.'

第5回 安息の使者

冷めたパンケーキの上にたたずむバターを、僕はじっと眺めていた。フォークを取り上げて、突っつき、裏返し、なすりつける。そうしているうちに、ますます皿の上の物への興味が失せてくる。僕の頭上でランプがじじっと音を立て、蜂蜜色の光をゆらめかせた。

雨はやみそうにない。ガラス窓を流れる水膜の裏に顔を寄せ、すっかり薄暗くなった通りの様子を窺う。駅舎は道の突き当たりにあるはずだが、僕らのいる宿酒場からはちょうど建物の影になって、ホームの方は見えなかった。

「心配しないでいいわよ」

真っ白いハンカチで手を拭いながら、シスター・カーネリアが戻ってくる。

「当分、追っ手は来ないわ」彼女は四角い布切れを押し広げ、ナプキンみたいに膝に広げた。その指先の動きを見ていると、粘つく血の匂いが顔の前によみがえってくる。

「なんで分かるのさ」

「そういう仕組みになってるのよ」

給仕がきて、シスターの前に音を立てて皿を置いていく。焼いた1枚肉の盛られた磁器を、手元に引き寄せるシスター。指先についたソースにちゅっと吸いつく。僕はフォークを放り出し、深く椅子にもたれた。窓の外で町は青く陰り始め、シスター・カーネリアがステーキを胃袋にしまい込む頃には、もうすっかり夜闇の中へ沈み込んでいた。

「追っ手が来ないって、なぜ分かる?」再び僕はたずねた。カーネリアは黒いパンで皿を拭いながら、「連中の仕組みなのよ。1単位3人――」と答え、それから思い出したように付け加えた。

「連中っていうのは、《猟兵団(イェーガー)》のことよ」

僕は発着場で見た男たちの姿を思い浮かべた。《猟兵団》とは一部の傭兵団に与えられた尊称だと、昔ミヒュトが教えてくれたことがある。連中はミラに従って動き、ミラの流れるところ誰の手足にでもなるそうだ。

「戦争屋、国境は関係ない、関わり合いになるな」ミヒュトのやつは口癖のように言っていた。僕は無意識にバッグの位置を足先で確かめる。「話は簡単なの」シスターはデザートに手を伸ばす。

「トビー、あんたはやばい物を運んでる。で、誰かが《猟兵団》を使ってあんたを消そうとしてる」

「やつらの狙いは僕じゃない。荷物さ」

「同じことよ」カーネリアはお茶を一息に飲み干す。

「バッグを調べる前に持ち主を殺すわ。ステーキを焼く前には牛を殺すでしょ」

言いながら、彼女は獣脂の光るナイフでリンゴのパ

イを切り開く。黄金色の照明の中に粉砂糖が踊った。僕の胃の上に刺すような痛みが走る。ミヒュトのやつは今どうしているだろうかと、不意にそうに思ったとき、視線の先でシスターの手が止まった。

猟犬のような面持ちで闇をにらむと、彼女は何か輝くものをテーブルの上に投げ出し、おもむろに立ち上がった。それは僕の導力器(オーブメント)だった。

「どこに行くの?」問いには答えず、シスター・カーネリアは手早くコートのバックルを留めた。

「あんたいい趣味してるわ、トビー」片方ずつ椅子にかかとを乗せ、ブーツの紐をしめる。

「その導力器を駆動できるなら大したものよ。遊撃士になっても通用すると思うわ」

「だからどこに行くんだよ」いらいらしながら僕はたずねた。「心配いらないわ」と彼女。

「どうせ明日の朝、また会うことになるんだから」

そう言い残し、シスターは手洗いの入口へ消える。入れ替わるようにして、2人連れの男が店に入って来る。彼らはまっすぐこちらに向かってきて、テーブルの前で立ち止まった。胸に紋章(エンブレム)を光らせたそいつは、僕のことを見もしないで言った。

遊撃士協会(ブレイサーギルド)だ。食事中悪いが、顔を貸してもらうぞ」

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