As for the update, I finally got around to proofreading an old chapter I translated ages ago. This is the first story about Kino's master in her heyday (not to imply that she's past her prime in the main timeline, of course). Someone once said that if Kino is a True Neutral, Shizu is a Neutral Good. What about Kino's master? I'm sure this story will speak for itself. Enjoy!
Chapter 4: A Land with an Elder
~I Need You~
~I Need You~
There was once a country in a somewhat wide valley in the rugged mountains.
The country's walls were made of stone carved from the nearby mountains, and the houses and streets were also made of stone. They were ancient relics built by people in the distant past, now used by their descendants--or settlers who weren't--as their country.
Horse-drawn carriages went by at a comfortable pace. Large oxen were being used to plough the fields. It was a simple and peaceful land.
For generations, this country was guided by a spiritual leader.
Such a person would be called the Elder.
The Elder was chosen from among the commoners through a strictly impartial drawing of lots. The person was then educated and assigned to important tasks. The Elder would abide by strict laws and serve the people as a shining example.
The current Elder was a man just over fifty years of age. He was chosen shortly before the passing of the previous Elder, and had gracefully done all that was required of him for the past two decades. He was respected by the people as their leader.
But half a year ago, the Elder suddenly vanished. The people searched high and low for him, but he was nowhere to be found. They had no way of figuring out how he managed to disappear from the country.
Not long afterwards, they received a message from a group of bandits from the mountain. To the people's shock, they announced that they had kidnapped the Elder, and were demanding a ransom for his safe return.
Because the Elder was a very important person, the people all did as the bandits demanded and gathered jewelry, food, and clothing to offer in exchange for the Elder.
But the bandits did not let the Elder go. They continued to threaten his safety, demanding even more from the people in exchange for his continued well-being.
And the people grew tired.
One day, a traveller came to the village. It was a rare occurrence for this country.
She was an elegantly-dressed young woman who had driven here on an old and battered car. In the holster tied over her right side was a large-caliber persuader.
Something about her told the people that she was strong.
The leaders of the country explained the situation to the woman, fully prepared for rejection. They asked her if she could kill the bandits for them.
The woman asked for details about the bandits' headquarters. Everyone explained to her that the headquarters were at the top of the valley, and that it was impossible to approach from the bottom. The distance also made it impossible to snipe at them from the opposite side of the valley.
The woman thought for a moment and said,
"How much will you pay me?"
There was once a valley in a stony, rugged mountain, reaching hundreds of metres down. The river that flowed at its base looked like a thread from the top, and it would be difficult not to feel dizzy when looking down from above. The valley was about two kilometres wide.
There was a winding path that led up the valley. It was a very narrow road, just wide enough for a car to squeeze through.
At a high place by the road at the top of the valley were a group of huts. There was one large hut and several smaller ones. This was the bandits' headquarters.
It was morning.
Wispy clouds highlighted the light blue sky. It was a beautiful morning in early summer, when the high-altitude plants bearing the evening fog's moisture were at the peak of their beauty.
In front of the huts were three men standing guard with persuaders in hand. Smoke and the smell of food wafted from the huts.
One bandit stepped out of the hut, holding a steaming cup. He walked up to one of the guards and handed him a hot cup of tea.
The moment the guard took the cup with a word of thanks, the two men were enveloped by a bright light.
The radiant sun rose from between the mountain peaks past the opposite side of the valley. The sun illuminated both the headquarters and the valley in a matter of seconds.
The guard narrowed his eyes, raised his cup, and greeted the morning sun.
"Another day, huh." He said. At that very moment, his height was reduced by half.
The man's torso had exploded. His upper body fell at an angle, spilling intestines and blood everywhere. His cup also fell to the ground.
The chest of the other man, who stood in utter confusion, burst as his arms and neck dropped to the ground.
One second later, two gunshots rang out loud and clear across the valley.
Another bewildered guard was blown away.
"E-enemy attack!" Another man shouted. These were his last words.
The two men who emerged from the hut were destroyed simultaneously.
"A sniper! Someone's shooting us down!" One man yelled as he ducked, listening to the deep and terrible sound reminiscent of thunderclaps.
A hail of bullets assaulted the hut at the very end. Splinters erupted from the hut each time it took a hit, and it finally collapsed. The people who were sleeping inside were all crushed by the falling rubble.
The other small huts soon fell as well. A rolling log fell into the crack of the valley, taking with it several men who were laying flat on the ground before it.
Several bandits holding rifles ran out of the large hut and took shelter behind a rock. But the fact that they did not know where the enemy was shooting them from drove them into confusion.
Soon the storm of bullets fell upon the boulder, demolishing it in about three hits and blowing apart the three people who were taking shelter behind it.
There was a woman at the top of the other side of the valley.
She was sitting on the ground with her legs forward and her back to the sun. In front of her was a sturdy metal tripod, upon which was mounted a persuader the length of a full-grown man.
This kind of persuader was usually mounted on top of tanks, used to pierce through sturdy things like trucks or armoured vehicles. It was not normally for use against humans.
Affixed to the persuader was a scope that looked thick enough to be used in an astronomical observatory.
The woman looked through this scope. She could clearly see the panicking bandits on the other side of the valley.
She took hold of the two rods at the end of the persuader. The woman carefully took aim and pushed the launch lever once with her thumb.
The shot was fired with a terrifying boom. The heavy persuader was rocked by the recoil. The great quantities of gas escaping the barrel shook the air. If she hadn't poured water over the ground beforehand, the ensuing cloud of dust might have blinded her completely. An empty shell casing that was big enough to use as a vase fell to the ground.
A huge projectile that made a rifle look powerless in comparison cut through the air, crossed the valley, and halved one man's body mass.
The woman saw through her scope the bandits dragging out a middle-aged man.
"Hey! Can you see this?! Cease fire, or we will kill this man!"
It was obvious that no amount of shouting would get this message all the way across the valley, so the bandits opted to use body language. They made the Elder kneel on the ground, put an automatic persuader to his head, and leered at the direction from which the shots were coming from. The glare made it impossible for them to see anything but the sun. Their eyes began to hurt.
The Elder, now with a full beard grown over his face, knelt on the ground with his hands in the air and a lost look on his face.
"We will shoot!"
The bandit made shooting gestures with his persuader multiple times. He poked the Elder in the head with the barrel.
The woman could see this clearly. But she continued to fire away as though it didn't matter.
Each time she fired a shot, the ox that had carried the heavy equipment up here trembled as it stood tethered behind her.
"CAN'T YOU SEE THIS?! WE'RE REALLY GOING TO SHOOT!" The bandit with his persuader fixed on the Elder yelled loudly, but the shots just kept on coming. People rushed out of the large hut, but they were powerless to escape death. Even the people still in the huts were killed by the shots that penetrated the walls.
The speechless bandit stood at the top of the valley, where only he and the Elder were still alive. Then, one final shot made its way towards him.
The Elder, who was kneeling on the ground with his hands in the air, slowly looked around him. The location formerly known as the bandits' headquarters was now their grave. It looked almost like the aftermath of a festival dedicated to throwing around ripe tomatoes for fun.
A long time had passed since the final gunshot. The Elder slowly tried to stand up. Suddenly, a shot flew in, cutting through the wind, and blasted apart the boulder behind him. The terrified Elder shuddered and sat on the ground again.
Yet more time passed.
The Elder slowly tried to lay down on the ground. This time, the shot came in to the other side, snapping in two the log that once used to be part of a hut.
"It's a warning shot. I think it's best you stay still."
The Elder obeyed these words.
The sun was high up in the sky and the blood splattered across the ground was just starting to dry.
As the Elder sat with his face covered in sweat, he heard something like the clip-clop of a horse climbing up the valley. As it got closer, the Elder realized that it was indeed the sound of a horse.
A woman with long black hair dismounted the horse, pulling a large revolver from the holster over her right thigh.
She cautiously approached the Elder.
"You're the Elder, right? I've been hired by your country."
"I… I'm alive…" The Elder managed to mumble, after moments of dumbstruck gaping as he looked up at the woman. He nodded several times in response to the woman's question.
"Of course. Now, I'd like to ask you a few things, Elder. But before that…"
The woman pointed her revolver at a bandit lying about two metres behind the Elder. He was a slightly short but handsome young man covered in blood.
"You there, get up."
The man opened his eyes. he got up and slowly wiped the sweat from his face, making it clear that he was unarmed. He then raised his hands into the air.
"And I was so sure you wouldn't catch me…"
"What are you talking about? I saw you. The first thing you did was hide behind the Elder, right?" The woman said. "Elder, can you stand?"
The Elder got up. He then took up the hand persuader that a bandit was threatening him with earlier, severed arm and all.
"You rotten bandits! How dare you?!"
The Elder shook off the arm from the persuader and pointed it towards the man who sat with his hands in the air.
"Elder, we need at least one person alive as a witness. I know how you must feel, but don't kill him." The woman said, holstering her revolver. The Elder lowered the persuader without shooting it. The man shrugged.
"What did my countrymen tell you about me?" The Elder asked the woman.
"They were all very worried about you." She replied.
"I see…" The Elder mumbled, and pointed the hand persuader at the woman. The man with his hands in the air shrugged again.
"Them? Worried about me?! Don't make me laugh! Hey! Hands in the air!" The Elder yelled, anger spreading over his face.
"What are you doing? What does your aiming the persuader at me have to do with what you just said?" The woman asked calmly, raising her hands to just above shoulder-level.
"It's got everything to do with this! If you take me back, they'll go back to forcing me to slave away for them! All because I'm the Elder! Who cares about being an Elder? Those bastards just picked me out at random and destroyed my life! I can't even see my family when I want to see them! I couldn't even be at my parents' deathbeds! They forced me to live as Elder! They forced me to act 'respectably'! They wasted half of my life! They don't want me back--they want an Elder! I never want to go back to that prison again!" The Elder yelled in one breath. He then lowered his voice.
"That's why I'm going to kill you and run away somewhere. I was just getting sick of living with these stupid bandits, anyway. I'll go on a journey and start my life over. I've got money, and you've even brought me a horse."
"Don't be so mean to us, Elder. After all, we just did everything you told us to do." The man said.
"Apologies, young man. I owe you a great deal for all of this. Will you come with me? I'll make you my subordinate."
"I'll have to decline."
"Then once I kill this woman, I'll make sure to kill you as well." The Elder grinned.
The man, with his hands still in the air, turned to the woman, who was also holding her hands in the air.
"Hey, Miss Revolver. What do you think about this man?"
"I wonder. I have a lot of thoughts, sure, but now isn't the time for this, is it?"
The man and the woman looked at the Elder. The woman spoke.
"Elder, there's one thing I want to ask you."
The Elder grinned.
"What is it? Trying to beg for mercy?"
"No. It's just that you escaped your 'prison' without anyone noticing. Everyone's very curious to know how you did."
"That's it?" The Elder snorted. "It's very simple. When I was a student, I studied archaeology. I used to research the structure of this country. One day, I happened to hear from an old man that the sewers were once used as an emergency escape route for kings. No one knows about it now, and that's how I left the country. That's when I met these foolish bandits. How lucky I was that everyone did exactly as I wished!"
"I see." The woman nodded. The man also looked as though he was marvelling at the revelation.
"What a wonderful escape route. It would be best to block it off as soon as possible."
"Of course. Now you finally start talking sense. But it's too late." The Elder chuckled. he then pointed the persuader at the woman.
"Now, you're going to have to die for me. Where should I shoot first? Your arms? Legs? Well? Where do you suggest? Hm?"
As the Elder spoke with a delighted look on his face, the man shook his head with a look that clearly spoke of his lost patience.
"I'll start with your legs!" The Elder spat, pointing the persuader at the woman's legs and pulling the trigger.
The clear sound of a click rang out across the valley.
The Elder pulled the trigger again. There was another clear click.
"Elder, that persuader's not loaded. See that red mark beside the hole where the empty shells are supposed to come out? The persuader's not gonna shoot anything." The man said.
The woman slowly drew her revolver and aimed at the Elder, who was hurriedly loading his own persuader. She pulled the trigger.
"'Course, you're too late."
"Actually, Elder." The woman said, looking down upon the fallen Elder. "I received three requests from your country. The first was to eliminate the bandits, and the second was to figure out the secret of your escape. The third was to come back to their country to report that the Elder was already dead. The leaders have already abandoned you. But they couldn't just leave you, since the people are still waiting for you. So they asked me to claim that you were dead, whether or not you actually were. Then the people would believe that you were killed by the bandits, and would move on to choose a new Elder. Maybe even as soon as tomorrow. I heard it's going to be decided by drawing lots again."
"So you're free, as long as you don't go back to that country. They said you could go anywhere you pleased. And now I've held up my end of the bargain."
The man spoke up in place of the silent Elder.
"I'm so happy for you, Elder! You got your wish after all!"
The Elder was lying flat on the ground, looking up at the sky with his eyes wide open.
Blood was flowing from his mouth.
The woman holstered her revolver and spoke to the man.
The man had already gotten to his feet, wiping off someone else's drying blood off himself with a grimace.
"You weren't one of the bandits to begin with, were you?" The woman asked.
The man wiped his bloodied hands on his pants and looked at the woman with his handsome face.
"My goodness. How did you know? Could you tell? Did you think, 'He moves too well to be a mere bandit', or 'He's good at thinking on his feet'?" The man asked cheerfully. But the woman shook her head.
"I saw a wanted poster with your face on it in a country I visited half a year ago. If only I'd found you a bit closer to that country, I could have turned in your head for the bounty."
"My job this time was to wipe out these men. You can go wherever you like."
"Then I suppose that's it, then. No more playing bandit for me. Well, then…" The man turned his back. At that very moment, the woman spoke up.
"But, you'll have to tell me where you put the money you stole from that country. I'll be taking it all."
The man looked up into the sky uncomfortably. He then turned on his heels and made the woman an offer.
"Could I at least have half? After all, all labour deserves compensation."
"I want all of it."
"How about forty percent? I'm sure I have the right to at least that much…"
"I want all of it."
"Then thirty-five percent? I'm warning you, I'm not going any lower."
"I want all of it."
"Then let's settle for twenty percent…"
"I want all of it."
"I could assist you in carrying it…"
"You're going to carry all of it."
"Nice weather today, don't you think?"
"Yes, it is."
"I want all of it."
The man fell into thought for a moment, eyes shut and arms crossed. He then finally opened his mouth again.
"Please excuse my rudeness, but I just have to ask."
"Has anyone ever told you that you are absolutely heartless?"
A lone car was driving along the mountain roads.
It was a tiny and battered vehicle that was by no means clean.
The car drove along the mountains at a comfortable speed, in full view of the valley in which the bandits had once lived. It was almost sunset.
The woman driving the car happened across a lone man standing by the mountain road, which should have been deserted.
He was a slightly short but handsome young man, standing with a simple bag and a rifle slung over his shoulder. The man stuck his arm out towards the car with his thumb in the air.
The car stopped in front of the man. The man approached the car and spoke to the woman in the driver's seat.
"Sorry, but think you could give me a ride? I don't have any transportation or money, but I'm not too bad with a persuader. 'Course, a certain someone has me beat."
The man gestured towards the hand persuader holstered at his left side. It was a .22 caliber hand persuader with a square barrel.
"It was my favourite toy. I just couldn't part with it. Oh! I can also carry your luggage." The man grinned.
"I don't need a partner." The woman replied coldly, driving onward. The man followed after the car and shouted.
"Also! I can fix your persuader! That revolver of yours! The barrel and cylinder are both in pretty rough shape! They don't work like they used to, right?!"
The car stopped after travelling about twenty metres. The man soon caught up to it.
The woman got out of the driver's seat.
The man energetically tossed his belongings into the back seat and took the driver's seat.