Chapter 1 - The Butler & The Lady

A single passenger ship of prodigious size lay anchored to a port town in the northeast of the Principality of Remiferia. Extravagantly crafted from top to bottom, a single glance was enough to discern its intended clientele--the privileged few among society's upper crust. True to appearances, the passengers boarding the vessel that day most certainly fit the bill, each smartly-dressed and adorned with conspicuous opulence.

Even among such guests, two stood out in particular, however--a young lady possessed of regal air and the butler at her side. Judging from their attire, behavior, and linguistic register, they suited the setting to a prim-and-proper T. The single factor that set them apart from the other guests were their ages. Neither looked to be much older than twelve or perhaps thirteen years old, making them mere children in the eyes of most.

'J-Just one moment, my lady.'

The young butler labored to keep pace with the young lady as he dragged a large suitcase behind him. Despite this, she continued to stride forward, not slowing her pace in the slightest. Exhaustion creased his weary brow.

His attire was proper, as befitting his station, but his unkempt hair--grown out long enough to completely obscure his eyes--was another story. On top of that, everything about his demeanor screamed that he was timid and weak of spirit.

'Snap to it, you dullard!' the young lady brusquely shouted, now several paces ahead of the struggling boy, 'If you can't make those legs move any faster, I'll cut them off and feed them to the hounds!'

She continued to increase her pace while assailing her butler with an unending string of contemptuous words. Her arrogant, haughty demeanor stood in stark contrast to her graceful appearance. Dressed in a lovely, black-frilled dress, her blue eyes shone like a pair of sparkling sapphirls, and her twin pigtails curled slightly in perfect arcs. Most eye-catching of all, however, was the 50-rege stuffed bear she held close to her chest. Though it was large enough to draw attention, it didn't look out of place in the arms of a girl such as her.

'Ah! Please, my lady! Forgive me!'

In response to the girl's tirade, the boy miserably sputtered excuses and breathlessly plead for leniency as he summoned his remaining strength to pick up his pace.


After a not-insubstantial trip, the two finally arrived at the ship's boarding gate.

'May I please see your invitation and boarding passes?' the crew member working the gate asked, smiling politely.

Up close, the ship was even more opulent. A prized possession of the Verne Company, its main route was between Remiferia and the Calvard Republic via Lamelyn Bay. For this particular trip, the entire ship had been reserved by one Halldor Baarn, a wealthy merchant from Calvard. Passengers hoping to board required both a standard boarding pass as well as an explicit invitation from Mr. Baarn himself. However, as each invitation included the room information for the guest in question, the boarding pass was strictly a formality.

'Gray.' The girl called the boy by name and gestured with her hand, implicitly ordering him to present their credentials.

'Yes, my lady? What do you require of me?' the boy asked, having completely failed to grasp his employer's unspoken instructions.

'You cannot possibly be this dense, you stupid worm!' she snapped.

'Oh! I am so sorry, my lady! I beg your forgiveness!'

Cowering before the young lady's vicious glare, the boy stuttered and stammered a thousand apologies.

'Silence! The invitation and the boarding pass! NOW!'

'R-Right away, my lady!'

The boy began busily rustling through the contents of the suitcase, frantically searching for the requisite papers. Yet his haste quickly proved to be his downfall, for no sooner had he located the pass, than a sudden gust of wind blew past, tearing the paper from his hand.

'Oh no!' he exclaimed.

The boy instinctively threw his arms out, stretching them to their physical limit, but his efforts were in vain. The boarding pass gently fluttered down to the bottom of the harbor, coming to rest gently on the water's surface.

As though that wasn't bad enough, misfortune continued to hound the boy as a number of silhouettes swiftly appeared beneath the waterlogged document. A school of fish jumped into the air with a splash, spraying water all about. They then descended back into the harbor's depths, taking the hapless butler's boarding pass along with them.

'AAAH! NOOO!'

The boy's grief-stricken cry resonated throughout the harbor. Trembling with fear, he turned to face his master, prepared for an eruption of anger followed by a vicious tirade of abuse.

Yet it did not immediately come. The girl simply stood there in silence. She stared long and hard at the boy, her face betraying no expression whatsoever. After what felt like an eternity, she spoke.

This was the calm before the storm. The boy began spitting out apologies, tripping over his words as his voice grew weaker by the second, like a short-circuited radio warbling its death knell. His body seemed to shrink and his shoulders slumped like a criminal awaiting judgment.

'You're...ABSOLUTELY USELESS!!!'

The girl's anger finally burst forth in one violent blast. Despite the ferocity of her exclamation, she managed to save enough breath to launch a sharp kick at the boy in the same moment. The well-aimed strike sent the boy flying farther than her petite frame would suggest was possible. He seemed to hang in the air for a brief moment before resuming his journey downward off the edge of the pier, reaching a frigid end as he broke through the water's surface with a splash.

As soon as he returned to his senses, he began violently thrashing his arms about, pleading for aid between coughing up mouthfuls of cold water.

'M-My lady! Please help me!' he begged, his thrashing growing more desperate and frantic.

'You're going to find that pass. And I mean NOW. You're not leaving that water until I see it in your hands.'

'But I... I can't...swim...' he burbled as his head began to slowly sink beneath the surface.

'I'm well aware.'

'P-Please my...la...'

His words were cut short as his lungs filled with water and the rest of his head bobbed below the surface. His thrashing ceased and his silhouette grew faint as he quickly plummeted downward to the bottom of the bay.

With the situation having reached an unacceptable level of risk, several onlooking crew members ran over to rescue the waterlogged butler. The moment the boy made it out of the bay, however, the still-enraged girl tried to kick him right back in again.

'M-Miss, please! You must calm down!' the crew member at the gate said, trying to pacify the young noble.

'How?! How can I be calm about this?! My father was unable to attend, so I am here in his place. There are important business discussions taking place on this ship that I CANNOT afford to miss! And now, thanks to a certain someone's rank incompetence, that is exactly what is going to happen!'

The girl gave the boy a menacing glare so virulent, it could have stripped the paint from the entire vessel.

'Tell me, worm. How exactly are you going to take responsibility for me being unable to board?!'

Though the boy was still coughing and violently spewing water, his already pallid face managed to lose what little color remained in it upon hearing those words. Feeling pity for the boy, the gate attendant stepped in.

'Well, for the time being, may I see your invitation instead?'

The boy moved to comply with this request, but was stopped dead in his tracks by the girl's menacing scowl. She produced the invitation herself, and roughly shoved it at the attendant.

The attendant read over the paper, then went through the list of names on the guest list.

'This invitation is for Baron Kris Reinhardt, who I can confirm is, indeed, on the guest list. Might I presume you two are his daughter and her attendant?'

'You presume correctly. I am Baron Reinhardt's eldest daughter, Celia Reinhardt.'

The gate attendant made a respectful bow before continuing to speak.

'Then there will be no need to further concern yourself with the matter of the boarding pass, Miss Reinhardt. You may proceed.'

'Oh? We may?'

Strictly speaking, a decision of this nature required approval from a higher-ranking employee, but in this case, the gate attendant decided that swift action was the best way to provide a peaceful solution to the rapidly-worsening situation at hand.

'It seems as though you'll live to writhe another day, you useless worm. Count yourself lucky.'

The girl boarded the ship, still staring icy daggers at her butler. He dragged their luggage on after her, still wheezing and dripping wet from the events of the past few minutes. He effusively expressed his gratitude to the gate attendant as he passed, receiving a sympathetic smile and a few words of encouragement.

Having finally boarded the ship, the two youths immediately headed for their room. Their pace was quick, as though they already knew the way, and not a single word was exchanged between them as they briskly walked down the halls.

Once they arrived, they gave the room a quick, yet thorough search.

'Infiltration complete.'

The girl broke their silence, suddenly speaking in a sleepy drawl. Her eyelids drooped and she let out a mighty yawn, not a trace remaining of the tense, high-handed young lady from only a few moments ago.

'I'm beat, S. Think I'm gonna take a nap.'

She tossed her plush bear onto the bed and immediately launched herself after it. She dove under the covers with childlike exuberance befitting someone her age--perhaps even younger. In contrast to her whimsical new demeanor, the boy remained completely expressionless.

'Don't let your guard down. The real mission begins now.'

His voice was alarmingly calm and terse. As he brushed aside his bangs, still wet from the frigid water of the harbor, his now-visible eyes were cold and sharp. Beneath that, however, was the gleam of a hunter fixed on its prey. Each and every rege of his body exuded composure. The flustered, stammering butler from before was nothing but a memory. Though the girl's transformation was strange, the boy's sudden shift in personality was nothing short of jarring.

'That wasn't really your best work out there, S. Far from it.'

She spoke nonchalantly, rolling around the bed as she critiqued the boy's performance. He remained silent for a moment before speaking, almost as though he agreed with her assessment, at least in part.

'It didn't affect the mission.'

'But you overdid each and every reaction. It's not easy to match that without seeming unnatural, you know? You hamming it up like that made us stand out more than we needed to.'

Despite her words, the girl's halfhearted tone took the bite out of her criticisms.

These were the duo's true personalities. The upper-class young lady and her bumbling butler making a spectacle at the boarding gate were simply elaborate pageantry--an act necessary for gaining entry to the ship and nothing more. Any other method of infiltration might have raised suspicion, endangering their mission. Thus, they chose to board under false identities.

They had made clever use of the Organization's info network beforehand, ascertaining which of the invitees would be unable to attend. Armed with this bit of intel, they created their personas. The invitations required for boarding were printed on high-quality paper, but ultimately differed only in name. Using the same layout for each invitation was the logical choice for a merchant looking to pinch mira wherever possible. Logical or not, that particular decision had made the necessary forgery a walk in the park.

The boarding pass, on the other hand, was a different story. The Verne Company was known to employ cutting-edge technology to prevent forgeries. Attempting to use a fake pass to board was an act accompanied by a considerable amount of risk. This is why the two engineered the dramatic performance that took place at the boarding gate. The boy dropping their boarding pass was, of course, an intentional act. Both the gust of wind and timely group of fish were the result of a battle orbment the girl had kept hidden in her stuffed bear--a clever method she had used many times in the past to cast arts unnoticed.

All of their hard work had paid off--the infiltration had gone exactly as planned. It was yet another successful operation for the boy, known as Three of Swords, and the girl, known as Nine of Swords, in their life as professional assassins.


To be continued

第1巻 執事とお嬢様

レミフェリア公国、東北の港町に1隻の大きな客船が停泊している。ひと目で資産家か貴族御用達とわかるほど豪華な造りで、ぞろぞろと身なりのよい客たちが乗船していく。

そのなかで、少々目を引く二人がいた。お嬢様と執事――まさにそう呼ぶしかない(よそお)いと言動の二人。それ自体はこの場ではありふれた組み合わせだが、問題はその年齢。どちらも12、3歳にしか見えない容貌で、はっきりいって子供二人だ。

「ま、待ってくださいよぉ~ お嬢様~~」

大きな旅行カバンを引きずり、執事の少年はへとへとになりながら前を歩く少女を追いかける。身に着けている燕尾服(えんびふく)は上質なものだが、目のほとんどが前髪に(さえぎ)られ、動きにも覇気がなく、いかにも気弱そうな少年だ。

「早くしなさいこのノロマ! これ以上グズグズしたら、その無駄な(あし)を犬に噛み千切(ちぎ)らせるわよ!」

辛辣(しんらつ)な言葉を吐きながら先頭を歩くのは幼い少女。

傲慢(ごうまん)で高圧的な態度をとっているが、その外見は実に可愛らしいもの。人形のような整った顔立ちに、サファイア色の透きとおった瞳。髪型はツインテールで、その先端はわずかにロールがかかっている。

フリル多めの、黒を基調としたドレスで身を包み、そしていちばん目立つのは、片腕で抱きしめる、50リジュほどある巨大なクマのぬいぐるみ。つい『年相応だから仕方がない』とわがままに目をつぶりたくなるほど容姿に恵まれている。

「ひぇ~~! 勘弁してくださいお嬢様ぁ~~」

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少年は情けない声を出しながら足を速め、ついに乗船口にたどり着く。

「招待状と乗船券をお見せください」

乗船口で乗務員が笑顔を見せ、乗船資格の提示を求める。この豪華客船はヴェルヌ社が所有するもので、おもにラミリーン湾経由でレミフェリア公国とカルバード共和国の間を行き来する。

現在は共和国の豪商ハルドル・バールンが貸し切っており、今回の乗船にはそのバールン氏が送った招待状と通常の乗船券の両方が必要となる。もっとも、送られた招待状には必ず客室指定の乗船券が付随されており、乗船券のほうはあくまで形式上のものにすぎない。

「グレイ」

少女は少年の名を呼び、暗に招待状と乗船券を出すよう、手で指示する。

「はい、お嬢様。なんでしょうか?」

しかし幼い執事は察しが悪く、その意図を()み取れていない。

「なーんでお前は、こんなにも愚鈍(ぐどん)なの! このクズ! 芋虫(イモムシ)!!」

「ひぇ―――!! ごめんなさいごめんなさいごめんなさい……」

思い切り怒りをぶつける少女に、ひたすらに謝る少年。

「はやく招待状と乗船券を出しなさい!」

「は、はいっ!!」

バタバタと荷物を(あさ)る少年執事。しかし慌てていたせいか、せっかく取り出した乗船券が指からすり落ち、宙を舞う。不運なことに、そのときに一陣の風が吹き抜け、乗船券が風にのって遠くへ――

「ああ――――!!」

少年が空中へ手を伸ばし、必死につかもうとするが、それもむなしく、乗船券が港の水面へと落ちた。

しかもその不運はまだ終わってはいない。急にそのあたりに魚影がひらめき、数匹の魚が一気に水面に身を踊りだす。弾けた水しぶきとともに、魚たちは湾にもどり、つられて乗船券も一緒に水底へと沈んでいく。

「あ、ああ、ああああああああああああぁぁぁ―――!!!」

少年の悲痛とも聞こえる叫びが辺りに響きわたる。

ブルブルと身を震わせながら、執事の少年は(あるじ)のほうへ振り返る。少女はただ、そこに立っていた。何の表情もつくらず、ひと言も発さず、ただ立って、少年を見つめている。あたかも嵐のまえの静けさのように――

「何か、いうことはあるかしら?」

ついに、ひと言。すると少年は壊れたラジオのごとく

「ごめんなさいごめんなさいごめんなさいごめんなさい」

と小さな声で繰り返し唱えた。身を縮め、まるで裁きを待つ罪人のように。

「この―――――― 役立たずぅぅ!!!!!」

全身の力を込めた少女の叫びとともに繰り出された(するど)()りの一撃。小さな体のどこにそんな力があるのかと思わせるほど、少年の体は大きく宙を舞い、そして“ボシャン――”と、水のなかに落ちた。落水した少年は泳げないらしく、激しく腕をばたつかせ、助けを求める。

「た、助けて…ください…お嬢様……」

バタバタバタ…ブクブク…バタバタバタ…

「今すぐそこから乗船券を探し出しなさい。見つけるまで岸に上がることを許さないわ」

「でも…ボク、泳げ…ません…」

バタバタバタ…ブクブク…バタバタバタ…

「知ってるわ」

「そ、そん…なぁ……」

バタバタ…ブクブク…ブクブクブク……バタつく音が止み、少年は見る見るうちに水の底へ沈んでいく……さすがにまずいと思ったのか、見かねていた乗務員がほかの船員を呼び、少年を引き上げた。しかし少女の怒りはまだ鎮まっていないようで、ふたたび少年を蹴り落そうとする。

「お、お客様、落ち着いてください!」

乗務員が必死に少女をなだめる。

「これが落ち着いていられる!? (わたくし)は急用で来れなくなった父様の代わりに来たのよ!」

厳しい視線を少年に向ける。

「船で大事な商談もあるわ、これで乗れなくなったら、どう責任を取ってくれるのかしら!!」

まだせき込んでいる少年はそれを聞いて、すでに青白くなっている顔からさらに血の気が引いていく。それを不憫(ふびん)に思い、乗務員が助け舟を出す。

「とりあえず、招待状のほうを拝見させていただけないでしょうか?」

動こうとする少年を(にら)んで制し、少女自らやや乱暴な動作で招待状を取り出し、乗務員に渡す。何度もリストと照らし合わせ、乗務員はいう――

「リストにあったクレス・レインハーツ男爵閣下宛ての招待状で間違いありません。男爵閣下の代理として来られたそのご令嬢と使用人でよろしいでしょうか?」

「ええ、私がクレス・レインハーツ男爵の長女、セリア・レインハーツですわ」

乗務員が一礼して、言葉を続ける。

「ではレインハーツ様、乗船券は結構ですので、このままお通りください」

「あら、いいの?」

「はい、どうぞ」

本当は上の判断も(あお)がずに決めていいものではないが、この場を収めるにはこれが最善の判断だと乗務員は思った。

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「命拾いをしたわね、ゴミムシ」

また少年を冷たく一瞥(いちべつ)して、少女は船内へ入った。少年は荷物を引き、慌ててあとを続こうとする。すれ違いざまに何度も乗務員に感謝を述べ、相手からは同情と励ましの言葉をかけられた。

船に入った二人はひと言も交わさずに、まるで事前に道を知っていたかのように、足早に自分たちの客室に着いた。部屋のあっちこっちを素早くチェックし、ひととおり終わったところで――

「潜~入~完~了~~」

ひどく緊張感のない、間延びした声が少女から発せられた。

「はぁ~ぅ」

あくびをし、眠たげなその眼からは純真さと可憐さしか(うかが)えず、先ほどまでの高飛車なお嬢様とはまるで別人のようだ。

「なーちゃん、疲れた~。もう寝る」

ぬいぐるみをベッドに放り出し、少女自身も一気にベッドへダイブする。その姿はまさに年相応、いや、それ以上に無邪気なものだった。対して、少年のほうは――

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「気を抜くな。任務はここからだ」

まったく感情を感じさせない、氷のように冷たい声。水で濡れた前髪を手で軽く左へどかし、隠していた目があらわになる。それはどこまでも無機質、けれども獲物を睨んでいるような、鋭い目。オロオロするばかりの執事は何処(どこ)へやら、そこにいる少年は全身から冷酷な気配を発している。少女以上の変わり様といってもいいだろう。しかし――

「さっきのすーちゃんの演技、ヘタだったよ~」

ベッドの上を転がりながら、少女はさりげなく指摘する。心当たりがあるのか、少年は一瞬沈黙し、そしていう。

「任務に支障をきたしていない」

「反応がいちいち大袈裟で、合わせるために、なーちゃんも大変だったよ~、しかも無駄に目立つもん」

言葉からして文句をいっているようだが、無気力な声のせいか、うわごとのように聞こえる。

そう、いまの姿こそこの二人の真実で、先程までの執事とお嬢様はあくまでここへ潜入するための演技に過ぎない。

船の出航前に変な騒ぎを起こせばかえって任務の(さまた)げになる。そのため身分偽装による潜入を選んだ。“組織”の情報網で事前に来られそうにない招待客の情報を掴み、その“娘”を自称する。招待状は、使う紙こそ上質だが、統一された形式で、名前だけ異なって印刷されたもの。そこはまさしく商人らしい合理性を追求した結果だろう。おかげで偽造は簡単だった。

対して乗船券のほうはヴェルヌ社最新の偽造防止技術が詰め込まれており、偽造するにはリスクが大きい。だから乗船口であんな芝居を打ったのだ。

少年が乗船券を落とすのはもちろんわざとで、あのとき風が吹いたのも、魚が暴れたのも、ぬいぐるみの中に隠した戦術オーブメントを使って、少女がひそかに魔法(アーツ)を発動したからだ。結果、目論見(もくろみ)どおりに潜入に成功した。

 

少年の名は《ソードの3》(スリー・オブ・ソーズ)

 

少女の名は《ソードの9》(ナイン・オブ・ソーズ)

 

二人は、殺し屋である。

TO BE CONTINUED


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