SETP Vol. 4 Chapter 7
Chapter 7 – Backlash
”Anyway — ”
Ratifah looked all around, then glanced at her slightly tired legs and sighed.
“As expected…Shizuki is nowhere to be seen.”
Something in her heart told her they weren’t going to find him.
Both Feli and Ratifah optimistically thought he was going to refrain from going off on his own this time, but they could not have been more wrong.
Feli sighed deeply. She was at a complete loss for words.
“Well, well, we’re always talking about Prince Sloth. He might be taking a nap somewhere around here.”
Feli covered her face with her hands, so Ratifah tried to console her.
Feli denied it immediately, for a very simple reason.
“I think that’s impossible, considering His Highness’ personality.”
“His personality? Why?”
Ratifah found it rather surprising and repeated Feli’s words. After thinking silently for a few seconds, she turned towards the twisted scenery — the large scale illusion forming the “Forest of Downfall”.
A nostalgic presence brushed against her skin.
She only looked at it for a few seconds, but had the same impression as Feli.
Then she smiled.
— Oh, now I get it. Yes, Shizuki couldn’t ignore this.
Their thought process was different, but they reached the same conclusion.
“If he isn’t here, it can’t be helped.”
Because of the illusion, the magic tools they planned to use to signal each other’s position wouldn’t work…even if they could use them, they already knew what the result would be, though.
“What shall we do, head maid? We follow Shizuki inside the forest, we go back and wait for him, or— ”
Ratifah opened her eyes wider than usual and continued.
“ —first should we try finding out who’s our *suspicious stalker*.”
“Eh? Someone was following us…?”
To Ratifah, it felt like something was caressing her back. Feli, however, looked at her wide-eyed: she probably failed to notice.
Ratifah nodded and smiled, then continued as if it was a very normal thing.
“The stalker always stayed hidden behind a tree. They’re waiting for the right chance, I guess? It doesn’t feel like they’re going to come out anytime soon, though…”
At present, all the weapons they had were the “Spada” that Fay left in the room, carried by Ratifah at her waist, and Feli’s sword. They were hardly well equipped.
“Why would anyone stalk us…?”
“Hmm, I wonder…”
After thinking for a while, they both reached the same conclusion.
The stalker might be trying to learn the reason why they came to Fithdan, the town next to the “Forest of Downfall”.
— In other words, the empire might be involved.
The empire’s hateful creed — the extermination of non-human races.
The empire also kept more “Heroes” in its ranks than any other country.
The target was likely either the elf Feli or Fay, who was becoming gradually known as a “Hero”. Ratifah regretted not telling Feli she should have hidden her elven features, but it was too late.
The stalker was at least skilled enough to deceive Feli von Yugstine’s senses. His ability definitely meant trouble.
Even if that was true, something felt off.
“…why haven’t they attacked yet?”
If they were really targets for elimination, why hadn’t the stalker acted yet?
There should have been plenty of chances to strike them from behind already. The stalker showed no such intention, however. They should consider that maybe there was a reason for that.
“So, what shall we do, head maid?”
“Even if you ask me…”
Feli had not detected the stalker’s presence yet. Even if she was asked, she failed to grasp the reality of the situation and couldn’t give a real answer. It was natural, in a way.
“We could remove this threat, before it becomes bigger. Wait for Shizuki to come back. Or go look for him. If we pick the right choice, the stalker might give up on us.”
…if they picked the right choice, however, they would eventually have to face the reason why the stalker gave up on following them.
In other words, none of the options they had were actually right, continued Ratifah. To which Feli replied that, in that case, the answer was only one.
“We have to stay here in Fithdan for a while longer. Thus I think we should eliminate this potential threat now. For our sake, and His Highness’ sake too.”
Ratifah smiled broadly, as if she expected that answer from the start.
She then turned around and, prudently, put one foot forward.
“Isn’t it time you show yourself already?”
She raised her voice towards one of the trees a dozen meters from them.
They were very close to the “Forest of Downfall”. No normal person would approach that place. Ratifah’s voice echoed throughout the seemingly empty area.
Her question was met by nothing but perfect silence.
The stalker apparently decided to give her the silent treatment.
Ratifah then stepped forward once more, boldly. The stalker probably gave up: an unnatural rustling of leaves could be heard.
It was a strange sort of laugh.
It seemed to contain a mixture of praise and derision.
Hence, it sounded very strange.
“Missy, you must be seriously sharp if you managed to detect my presence.”
The man who emerged from the tree’s shade had the appearance of a dashing, handsome actor. His sharp, raptor-like eyes looked at Ratifah with interest.
“I’m pretty proud of my stealth skills, you see…”
The man scratched his head, a thin smile on his lips.
“Oh my, I’m truly sorry. You were hiding in such a poor way that I thought you wanted us to find you.”
“…your tongue is pretty sharp too, missy.”
Ratifah meant to be sarcastic, but the man dropped his sneering facade and trembled.
“By the way, I have a proposal for you two…”
The man then pointed his index finger to the twisted scenery behind Feli and Ratifah.
“Would you be so kind as to go off that way? I’m not exactly a fan of violence, you see.”
“Why should we?”
Feli immediately expressed the doubt that rose in her mind.
“Why, you ask? Because ‘Ice Coffin’ is in there, why else? You just need to step away, and my job here is done. Pretty simple.”
“Ice Coffin” — one of the heroes associated with the empire.
“But if you won’t do that, then I’ll be forced to deal with you myself. I don’t like fighting, but what else can be done?”
The man’s slimy gaze drifted to Feli…and the pointed ears that characterized her race.
“I see, I see, now I have the full picture.”
The reason why they were attacked.
And the identity of the man who stalked them.
“However, *as a lowly maid*, I could not possibly do nothing while our head maid is targeted by a miscreant from the empire.”
“…missy, you can’t be serious? There’s nothing you can do about it. Maybe you’re thinking you can attack me at the same time and get away somehow, but that’s pure fantasy too.”
Ratifah drew the “Spada” at her waist and confronted the man, who responded by fiercely projecting an aura of intimidation, as if he intended to plunge her in the bottomless pits of hell.
“Because you see, I am— ”
The man, a smile full of scorn on his lips, chuckled.
“ —something of a ‘Hero’ too, actually!”
The moment she heard those words, Ratifah’s expression changed.
“I never expected to find you here, Feli von Yugstine!”
The man who claimed to be a Hero knew Feli’s name.
The chance that he followed them simply as a hunter of non-humans was no more.
“The fact that you’re here…means that Fay Hanse Diestburg is in there, yes?”
“What if he was?”
“We’re going to catch him, that’s what. But I’m worried about leaving him to ‘Ice Coffin’ alone. We also don’t know if ‘Heart Scan’ is really on our side, so…it’s a real pain, but I have to go too, right?”
The man added that, since he was called because they didn’t have enough manpower, if he kept slacking off like that he might get yelled at. It was time to work a little, he laughed.
“Ice Coffin and Heart Scan, you said?”
Both were well known “Heroes” on the empire’s side.
“What, do you think I’m lying?”
“…no, it’s very likely to be true.”
Feli replied with a sigh, after a glance at the light dwelling deep inside the man’s eyes.
It felt more plausible to think that he was speaking the truth.
“In that case, we have all the more reason to stop you here.”
Feli was worried about Fay, but it was an unnecessary concern.
He was much stronger than her, after all.
Even if he encountered the “Heroes”, Heart Scan and Ice Coffin, he could handle it somehow
Fay had grown each time he faced a difficult situation.
Though young prince had something mysterious inside him, he was also reliable.
Feli, however, did not want to let the person she was supposed to protect face all the danger by himself.
“To be honest, I do not see His Highness ever losing, even if he had to face you three at the same time.”
Feli’s words were rather aggressive.
Ratifah smiled at that “unusual” side of the head maid. She was about to add that they should join forces to fight, when—
“I said there are two Heroes in there, but when did I say there are *only” two?”
Ratifah’s lips sealed shut.
“Maybe Fay Hanse Diestburg can really take two Heroes at the same time, like you said…but I wonder what he can do against ‘that’…?”
What the man pictured in his mind was an “Abomination”. A living weapon whose existence was known only to few in the empire.
“Besides, I heard the ingredients this time are of the finest quality. I hope your confidence wasn’t all a bluff, missy.”
Ratifah’s tone of voice was low, chilling.
“Correct, the ingredients to make a certain living weapon, I can’t say in detail what it is, but it looks like it ‘lost all hope in the world’, just the right amount.”
The man failed to notice her change and continued talking.
“Anyone exposed to the ferocity of those things makes for good fuel, apparently. Right— ”
The man pointed again, this time towards Feli.
“Feli von Yugstine? You’re one of them too, I heard.”
Feli, half by reflex, felt all the hair on her body stand up and trembled in anger. Her expression turned into one of sheer fury.
Feli had never shown such an expression before: even Ratifah became speechless.
“How can you people be so…!!!”
Feli could not finish her sentence.
Because her experiences made it clear what the man was alluding to.
“Well, well, please calm down, head maid. Losing our temper is just what he wants us to do. He’s definitely trying to provoke us…but we are facing a ‘Hero’. We should not let our emotions get the best of us.”
“Thanks to our opponent’s chatty habits, however, we have learned the reason why Shizuki went off inside the ‘Forest of Downfall’ on his own.”
The man mentioned “ingredients of the finest quality”.
If Ratifah’s guess was correct, that “ingredient” was a human being. “Lost all hope” and “living weapon”. In her head, those two elements could only mean one thing — the monsters called “Abominations”.
So it was easy for her to imagine what happened.
The boy they had been looking for rarely, if ever, acted based on rational or level-headed reasons. What governed his actions was always his sense of duty and compassion. Only these two elements.
He probably felt compassion and tried to carry out what he perceived as his duty. As a result, he ran off on his own.
…you’re so easy to understand.
So thought Ratifah and smiled again.
“Shizuki surely went ahead knowing what it meant, so I don’t think we have to worry about him. Instead, let’s put this self-proclaimed ‘Hero’ out of commission, shall we?”
Ratifah spoke in her usual carefree tone, but her words were tinged with a sense of resignation only she could understand.
Not resignation in a sense of fighting ability, because their opponent was a “Hero”, but resignation towards what remained of her resolve.
“…haha, ha. That’s how it ends, after all.”
Words very similar to the ones used by Fay some time ago.
The hands of the clock were finally proceeding forward, slowly but surely, but were now pushed back. She just had to accept it: it was easy to say, but it brought immense grief to her.
“I’m not a fan of fighting either, actually…”
“Why not get out of here, then? Leave the elf and I’ll let you go, missy. To be honest, *you scare me a lot more than the elf*.”
“Oh, you’re overestimating me. I’m just the prince’s attendant, you know.”
“It would be really nice, if that was true…”
Both parties carefully gauged their distance.
Ratifah glanced to the side, in Feli’s direction.
“Head maid. Please be ready to act anytime.”
— I get the feeling that this man is quite strong.
Ratifah said what her instincts told her.
“Ra…tifah…? What are you…”
Feli, unable to fully grasp the situation, turned towards Ratifah, her head full of questions.
Feli saw Ratifah as someone who couldn’t fight. So she tried to stop her, to step forward in her place. However…
“!! … Water…Dragon…!!!”
She wanted to run to Ratifah, but stopped dead in her tracks..
Feli’s legs wouldn’t answer her commands. She desperately called the name of the suspected culprit for her lack of movement.
The next instant, Feli’s eyes turned from the usual jade to the color of lapis lazuli, as her body was taken over by a *superior being*.
— Who are you?
The lapis lazuli in Feli’s eyes spoke louder than her words.
“Ahaha, me? I’m *the same as Fay*, obviously.”
If she was ever asked who she was, Ratifah would answer with a laugh. She had decided to do so from before.
In the current situation, however, it was not a good move by any means. The Water Dragon did not see Fay Hanse Diestburg as a sane person, after all.
He was one of the very few human beings who could give a sense of dread to the Water Dragon.
“Please, don’t give me such a scary look. It’s not like I’m proud of it.”
The secret she had kept for more than 20 years.
It was just a glimpse, but she was showing it. It was natural for her to feel conflicted,
“Even I have pride though. A belief rooted at the core of my being.”
Ratifah did not show it, but the man’s words had shook her to the core and angered her too.
“I’m not going to feel satisfied until I teach you a lesson, so prepare yourself.”
Ratifah put her hands together, producing a sharp sound.
It was one of the routines of the girl named Tiara when she used her bloodline technique. The starting signal.
Ratifah’s body became enveloped in crackling blue light. A terribly nostalgic sensation washed over her.
“By the way.”
Ratifah was about to call a person’s name, but realized she did not know it yet, so she asked a rather late question.
“Aren’t you going to name yourself? Mr. Hero?”
“Ha, haha, don’t make me laugh. I’m not some honorable knight, missy. I don’t have a name for freaks like you to use.”
“Freak, really? How rude.”
“What else do you want me to call someone smiling like that before starting a fight to the death?”
Ratifah found herself touching her lips after the Hero’s comment. She could feel they were slightly curved upwards.
There was no rational reason behind her smile. It was a habit buried deep in her subconscious.
Tiara had been taught by the same mentor as Shizuki, after all.
— For us, strong people are those who don’t show their true self. So we laugh. In any situation. Someone who laughs all the time is hard to understand, right?
In her memories, the mentor laughed and laughed to show her how it was done.
“Ahaha, now you’re hurting my feelings.”
“You’re a bad liar, missy.”
The man shot an accusatory glare at Ratifah. He knew her words didn’t come from the heart.
Ratifah too realized that her words and behavior didn’t match at all and made a mental note of it. She then extended her right hand towards the man.
She uttered the words in a flat tone, without any warning.
The man managed to dodge by a hair the thunderbolt shot by Ratifah’s arm, half by reflex. In his head, he was cursing her for launching a preemptive attack so boldly.
In the exact spot the man moved to dodge the lightning, he found Ratifah waiting, as if she had foreseen his movements. Waiting in a kicking stance.
Before the man could express his surprise about her incredible speed, a cracking sound was heard.
A jolt of pain.
The pain of being kicked away was soon followed by the electricity wrapped around Ratifah’s body, transmitted to the man via her leg.
The man rolled away on the ground, raising dust in his wake.
But only for an instant.
He planted his feet on the ground to break the momentum created by Ratifah’s kick.
The man glared at Ratifah, as anger rose inside him.
“Oh? Was that bad?”
Ratifah turned towards Feli, but the latter was too stupefied to reply.
Since the man had refused to introduce himself, Ratifah thought she could ignore this world’s unique battle conventions. So she launched a preemptive attack head on.
She thus couldn’t understand why the man would give her such an accusing glare.
“Ahaha, you had so many openings that I couldn’t resist.”
The words she chose to mend the situation were the sharpest ones she could ever utter in that time and place.
“As an apology, then, let me give you a warning.”
Ratifah spoke while looking at the man, who was now at a fair distance from her.
“I don’t know if you’re actually a ‘Hero’ or whatever, but there is no value in a title you gave yourself. Such titles only gain worth when they are given by others. That speaks volumes about you, you know?”
You’re nothing but a letdown. That is what Ratifah’s words seemed to imply.
“Hahaha!!! Hahahaha!!! Really, really!!! You sure have a way with words, missy!”
The sharply honed blade of Ratifah’s words struck the man’s nerves with precision.
“Okay, now it’s decided. I’m going to take you down personally. Then you’ll have the privilege of giving me all sorts of ‘titles’ while you’re crawling on the ground before me…though I guess you’ll need a name to do that.”
When the man finished talking, the wind suddenly started blowing. Sharp, invisible blades of air had begun to dance around him.
“My name’s Levi, but they call me ‘Backlash’. Pretty fancy nickname, no?”
The imperial “Hero” introduced himself and flashed a brazen smile.
Feli couldn’t believe her own eyes.
Crackling thunder, flashing lightning.
Ratifah crossed her arms and replied by introducing herself in turn. As if those unnatural phenomena were completely normal.
“ —I am Ratifah, a lowly maid. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”