SETP Vol. 4 Chapter 5

 

Chapter 5 – The Ruins

 

“…Cohen Socaccio.”

It was a mechanical voice, with barely any emotion.

“Who are those people?”

“The Princess of Calsas and her *entourage*. I happened to meet them outside. They said this was their destination, so I brought them here. Just that.”

A simple, plain explanation.

So replied Cohen to the questions of the guards posted in front of the entrance to the ruins.

“…the Princess of Calsas.”

The guard’s eyes scanned Elena from head to toe.

Then, after about a minute of silence…

“Indeed, she matches the characteristics we have been briefed on…we’ve also been ordered to let you through.”

The guard stepped aside.

Entourage.

Cohen introduced Ulle, Raem, and me that way. The guard looked at us with suspicion, but did not stop or ask any questions.

A young boy of small stature carrying a sword at his waist.

…I see, that makes sense.

If I was in the guard’s place, I probably wouldn’t have stopped me either. I had to thank my childish looks this one time: they saved me from unnecessary trouble.

But then— 

“Wait.”

The voice was more powerful and intimidating than before.

“Why are you going inside the ruins too? Cohen Socaccio.”

Cohen already started to quickly walk away from the entrance, but was stopped.

I recalled the words he had used before we entered the ruins.

—I am cooperating with the empire only because it was convenient to learn more about history.

It meant that he placed no trust in the empire. The people from the empire were probably aware of this too.

The reason why they kept using him was his ability, most likely.

“I only thought that the Princess of Calsas might know some clues about the ruins.”

“…I see.”

It was a makeshift answer, but the exchange itself was not strange.

Someone as passionate about history about Cohen would not ignore the smallest clue. Even the lowest ranked soldier was apparently aware of his philosophy.

The soldier was apparently convinced and his suspicious gaze left Cohen.

“That is fine, then.”

As soon as Cohen heard the soldier’s reply, he started walking forward again.

His pace was quick, without pause, as if he was anxious about something.

I started thinking about it, more than what was necessary.

His anxiety was surely due to the possibility of encountering the Hero “Ice Coffin”. There was no other reason for a Hero like Cohen to feel anxious.

It was also reason enough for me to be anxious too.

Finding clues about the “Abominations” was my highest priority. This line of thinking, a burden I carried since my past life, was a true annoyance, because there was the possibility that Feli and Ratifah came here to look for me.

“…Shizuki?”

So I should finish my business here as soon as possible and…

Trapped in these thoughts, I had stopped walking. A voice called my name.

“…hm?”

I got out of my head and looked forward.

Cohen was walking a fair distance ahead of us. The voice came from Elena, who looked at me, puzzled.

“Ah…no, sorry.”

I thought about an excuse for a moment, then just said “sorry”.

Elena did not seem to think much of it. She nodded once, then quickly turned away to catch up with Cohen. I was about to follow too, when— 

“The Princess of Calsas has arrived. The target is accompanied by ‘Heart Scan’ and three guards.”

As soon as we were far enough, the guard that had approved Cohen entrance to the ruins started making a report to someone.

Thanks to my senses, sharper than the average person, I could somehow make out what he said. His tone of voice was not friendly in the slightest.

“…what a pain.”

I sighed and grumbled to myself.

I was already told that we might run into trouble, but that possibility had just become reality, much to my annoyance.

The silver lining was that going inside the ruins meant we had to pass through the illusion surrounding the forest. And that many of the empire’s elite soldiers were likely to be gathering in the “Forest of Downfall”.

The possibility that Ratifah and Feli could reach this place was extremely close to zero. So I felt some relief in the fact that at least they weren’t in danger.

 

◆◆◆

 

Bonfires of deeply scarlet color burned bright here and there.

The sound of burning firewood struck my ears from time to time.

The ruins Cohen led us in could be aptly described as “mystical”. If I was a poet, I would have surely sung the praises of such a fascinating building.

“Right.”

The first words I said after stepping inside the ruins.

They were— 

“This place makes me sick.”

It was an insult — and a compliment that *only I* could truly understand.

Walls illuminated by the soft light of the bonfires.

Walls decorated with paintings.

An insane world. A corrupted world. A world broken beyond repair.

That is why I said it made me sick.

In my own way, I praised Rudolf’s talent of representing that world so perfectly, with just one wall as canvas, his talent of evoking it so easily.

“So— ”

I turned away from the memories bubbling again inside me and looked at Cohen.

I probably wasn’t going to get rid of that unpleasant feeling, as long as I lived. But at least I could hide away the feelings filling my heart. I had relived them so many times in my dreams, after all.

“What do you want to ask? Cohen Socaccio.”

I was well aware that we did not have much time at our disposal, so I got to the point right away. However.

“There is one thing I must know first.”

Somehow, I could clearly tell what Cohen was going to ask.

So I smiled a small, self-deprecating smile.

It was something I wished he didn’t ask.

It was something I wasn’t proud about in the slightest.

“Who exactly are you?”

“Haven’t I introduced myself already? I’m Shizuki.”

“…you know what I really mean. You know it better than me.”

I lied with a serious look on my face, but Cohen easily saw through my facade.

“I have read inside you…and found the lives of two people.”

Cohen really noticed it, after all.

“One is the life of Fay Hanse Diestburg, the so-called ‘Trash Prince’.”

Someone gasped. It was probably Elena, who was looking at the wall paintings. Or maybe her guards, Ulle and Raem.

“The other is the life of a swordsman called Shizuki”

“ —what is that supposed to mean…?”

Elena interrupted the conversation, a look of suspicion on her face.

“Exactly what I said. He is living his second life: in the first he was a swordsman called Shizuki, now he is Fay Hanse Diestburg.”

“….eh….?”

“In other words, he was reborn. Not that it’s a concept easy to accept.”

Could he read me so thoroughly? I thought, as a feeling akin to resignation came over me. That sensation also felt somewhat nostalgic, though.

“If you know that much already, your question makes even less sense. Do you really need to ask who I really am?”

I probably had more questions about my current state than anyone else, anyway. Why was I even reborn as Fay Hanse Diestburg?

I could think it was for the sake of exterminating the “Abominations”, but I didn’t know the real reason.

“Besides, I said that I would decipher the ruins, but I didn’t say that I was going to answer all of your questions. So…I don’t have any obligation to answer.”

In the past, I threw away everything and took my own life. A good-for-nothing bastard, that’s what I was. I knew that well, so I used words to put myself down, over and over and over. As if engraving my past sins deeper and deeper inside me.

I had no intention to deny my past, however. Or to flaunt it to others.

“…………….”

Cohen frowned at my reply, not even trying to hide his displeasure.

It didn’t matter to me, though.

“…right.”

Seeing no gaps in my refusal to talk, Cohen gave up and shook his head.

“Let me change the question, then…what are these wall paintings?”

The question was probably due to the fact that, unlike Lychaine May Rinchelle, Cohen couldn’t read everything I had inside my head.

I sneered at the question.

“In a certain person’s words, this is supposed to be ‘Salvation’.”

“… ‘Salvation’?”

“Yes, that’s right. ‘Salvation’, at least according to that lowlife. This is what it leads to. A hell on earth teeming with hideous monsters…that’s what ‘Salvation’ was for him.”

Laws, rules, the most basic human morals.

In that world, none of that was “normal”.

All those people helpless on their own, who didn’t even have the luxury to ask others for help. The hands that reached out to such people were those of the “Black Peddler”, the mastermind behind the creation of the “Abominations”.

Pain, sadness, everything could be forgotten. That was their promise. As he gave such weak, battered people their “pills”.

…at first, maybe he really believed they were granting them relief.

In that case, he should have stopped when he realized that his “Salvation” was turning people into hideous monsters.

The “Black Peddler”, however, took the transformation of people into the “Abominations” as a form of salvation. He reached the conclusion that the world had to be destroyed to be saved.

“There were three kinds of people in that world. Weak people who relinquished themselves to ‘Salvation’, people who could not do so, and scum who lived as they pleased.”

The worst were the scum who thought that messed up world was good for them.

After them, the “Black Peddler” who forced his “Salvation” on others.

I had seen it plenty of times, the instant normal people transformed into the “Abominations”.

What relief could there be in living as such a hideous, cursed beast? I thought again and again. Then I learned that those weak humans hadn’t transformed because they wanted to. That the “Black Peddler” took advantage of their weakness and preached about “Salvation”.

Even after learning the truth behind their howls and wails, all I could do was to cut down those who had relinquished their bodies to the “Abominations”.

Many times I saw those who sacrificed their reason to become “Abominations” beat their family to death. That horrible scene happened before my eyes again and again.

Before I realized it, I too started loathing the creatures called “Abominations” from the bottom of my heart. Like my mentor and the others before me.

“…these wall paintings were left by men belonging to the second of those three categories. Those who exterminated the monsters were the same kind of humans too.”

I could only think of one reason why Rudolf and Traum decided to leave that world for future generations, in the form of these ruins.

“…I wish I didn’t have to say this, but the ‘Abominations’ were born because of the nature of that world. In a world like that, turning into an ‘Abomination’ could be somewhat understandable. Even I can see it.”

Cohen’s question was already answered. There was no need for more words, and I knew it. Yet my mouth wouldn’t stop. I always got too excited when talking about the “Abominations”. A bad habit that wouldn’t go.

“But there is no place anywhere for the ‘Abominations’ in this world.”

There was not a single reason why their existence could be justified here.

Hence my anger.

It could be said it was an impulse.

“You better remember this, Cohen Socaccio.”

He had already read inside me anyway.

There was no need to choose words.

“These ruins were built as a warning. For this history never to be repeated again.”

Knowing what kind of man Rudolf was, I could say so for sure.

“You’re free to pursue history as much as you want. I’m not going to stop you or anything…but there’s nothing pretty or nice in the history you’re looking for. It’s a disgusting, rotten mess.”

So I continued.

“If you stain your hands with the ‘Abominations’, like the ‘Black Peddler’… I will cut you down. You better not get too involved.”


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