The Alchemists Who Leapt Through Time
So I watched the Baccano! dub for the first time a few days ago and holy shit Elmer has a British accent. This is so hilarious and awesome I can't even begin to describe it. One of the few dub voices I think is really great. I'll be trying to reflect a bit of that in Elmer's lines from now on. I'm shamelessly biased and fickle, so other characters (like Maiza) may not speak with approximations of their dub accents, and others may.
The four main chapters are based on the four kanji of the saying 喜怒哀樂 (kidoairaku). Read one by one the characters mean joy, anger, sorrow and happiness, and together they come to mean the scope of human emotion.
Preface & Prologue
A forest somewhere in northern Europe
"Hey, are you sure we're going the right way?" the small boy asked.
He was seated in the front seat of a four-wheel drive car as it drove through the forest, plowing through the freshly fallen snow covering the gravel-covered trail. The snow had stopped some time ago, the sun shining down through the conifers. Strangely, the sunlight diminished as they advanced, the trees crowding ever thicker around them.
"Doesn't it seem like we're heading deeper into the forest instead of toward a town? And there's no traces on the road that a car's been this way at all."
"I'm quite sure we're going in the right direction, though it does seem that if we continue this way, the road will end soon," the bespectacled man in the driver's seat replied. His glasses had black rims, and he continued driving with a warm smile on his features.
"...Well, if you put it that way, I guess it'll be fine. But this forest... it's giving me a bad feeling."
"Haha, you still worry too much."
"What're you talking about? You're the one who's way too laid back."
The boy - Czeslaw Meyer - shot a sour glare at the man in the driver's seat - Maiza Avaro. But Maiza only gave him a quick glance and smiled even wider.
"With age comes composure," he said, though at a glance he looked to be barely into his thirties. The boy grimaced.
"I'll be 300 soon, you know. We're not that far apart in age or experience, anymore."
They were, in a word, immortals.
Not vampires, not monsters, but merely people given completely immortal bodies - eternal life, eternal youth without end save the possibility of another immortal's attack.
That was the curse and the blessing that fell upon those so gifted. The only way to kill an immortal... to be eaten by another immortal. All that needed to be done was to put one's right hand on another's head and wish...
I want to consume everything this person is.
With just that strong will, one could take in everything that made up another person. Memories, knowledge, and even muscle reflexes.
Like they were playing a game, the alchemists killed one another. Like puppets dancing on the strings of the demon who had given them immortality. Of course, most of the hideous crimes committed then could be lain squarely at the feet of one old man.
Two hundred years later, the band of alchemists who had once numbered over thirty strong could be counted on one's fingers. However, with the death of the one who had started this war, the man who had been the center of this disaster, Szilard Quates, the terror that had once gripped them faded slowly.
Maiza and Czes wandered the world, spreading the knowledge of Szilard's death to those of their comrades, those who had gone to earth in order to hide from Szilard's hunger.
And thanks to a clue regarding the whereabouts of one of those comrades, Elmer C. Albatross, they found themselves driving a car through a forest in a foreign land...
The conversation died abruptly as the car continued along the gravel trail. Silence reigned for a time, until the woman riding in the back spoke up.
"So, what kind of village are we going to? Do you think they'll have a shower, at least?" she asked, her voice clear like the ringing of a bell. She clasped both hands behind her back and stretched.
Just a brief glimpse of her slender, smooth wrist from the sleeve of her winter clothes served as a direct sign of her beauty. Her face was balanced and lovely, bringing to mind the languid grace of a great hunting cat, framed by silky hair that fell naturally about it. The short silver strands were not gathered in any particular style, but instead of dulling her beauty, the disorder served only to further accentuate the lines of her neck.
She was a woman who would definitely fit the definitions of the word "beautiful." But that beauty was not the natural loveliness of a goddess in a painting. Instead, her form was full of mysterious allure, as though she had been made in accordance to the desires of mankind.
The woman, Sylvie Lumiere, finished stretching and settled back, heaving a sigh. That motion in itself presented a fascinating temptation to any who might be watching, regardless of gender, but Maiza, perhaps used to it, saw her in the rear-view mirror and showed not the slightest sign of perturbation.
"We'll have to get there to know."
"Hmm... Is Elmer really there?"
"Most likely. The information broker in my neighborhood doesn't deal in lies."
Sylvie nodded, satisfied with his confident reply.
Czes shifted uneasily in his seat and said, "Hey, Maiza, it's getting darker even though it's still the middle of the day."
Czes bowed his head in worry, and Sylvie leaned forward and draped her arms around his neck.
"Oh, Czes. You're so cute."
"Ack! Stop that, Sylvie! I'm not a kid anymore!"
"Come now! You look like a kid, so you're cute!"
Sylvie rubbed her cheek against Czes's as he flailed in his seat. He flushed bright red, but made a great show of ignoring her and turning to Maiza.
"But this place is really creepy, I'm serious... It feels like a monster'll pop out from the trees or something."
Sylvie giggled and stroked Czes's head.
"A monster? Now you're really acting like a kid."
Czes shook off her smooth hand and muttered to himself, as though he'd remembered something he'd rather have not.
"You can only say that because you've never actually seen a monster, Sylvie."
Sylvie opened her mouth to ask what he was talking about, but before she could speak, Maiza cut her off, his expression suddenly tense.
"You're right. This is strange."
"Huh? What's wrong?"
"The forest around us. The density of the conifer spread around us is much too thick. You can tell at a glance that that these trees have grown here even though there isn't enough sunlight to support them."
Sylvie sat up straight and looked around at the woods. The trees were so close together they looked almost like they were hugging, stacked up next to each other in a formation that refused human entry.
"...Now that you mention it, it is a bit creepy. I wonder what's going on."
"I can't say for certain... Perhaps if we advance a little further, we'll be able to find something."
"I guess you could say that this place really fits Elmer," Sylvie said with a shrug, accepting Maiza's words and settling back once more, getting comfortable. "If the evilest alchemist on that boat was Szilard, and the scariest was Huey, then the strangest one had to be Elmer. He always found ways to surprise me... Though at the same time I think he was the happiest."
"Was Huey so frightening to you? Admittedly, I found myself unable to guess what he was thinking at times, but..."
"Of course he was. Remember, Elmer was the only one who was really close to Huey."
"Indeed, Elmer is quite fearless... Though he was often given to baseless boasts, like that one occasion where he claimed to have scammed Louis XIV, or that he was immune to the effects of a cursed diamond... perhaps, if it were Elmer, such things could be possible."1)
Suddenly, Maiza stopped the car and peered through the front window.
Blocking the way was a mound of earth, too high to be called a hill. The curve itself wasn't too steep, but dirt and rocks were thrown haphazardly together, making a great lump that would be treacherous even to traverse on foot, much less by car. Trees surrounded the slope in a close huddle, making it impossible to drive around.
"I heard that there was a tunnel passing through this place before, but... it seems that it collapsed and was buried by earth. It looks like it's been quite a while since it caved in, but thankfully no trees have taken root here."
"What do you mean, thankfully? Either way, we still can't drive over this thing. I don't know why they haven't rebuilt the tunnel," Sylvie said.
"It was a tunnel that nobody used in the first place. This is the entrance to the private property that's up ahead, so perhaps the owner of that area decided not to use this path any longer."
"Hmm..." Czes nodded in understanding, then stopped. "Wait, Maiza. What? Private property? I thought you said that Elmer was in a village."
"Right. From what I gather, there's a town inside the private property beyond here," Maiza said calmly. Czes met Sylvie's gaze in the rear-view mirror, one eyebrow quirked up.
"Hahaha. I attempted to contact the property's owner with the excuse of conducting an examination on the wildlife, but all for naught. It seems he's a man of some wealth, but I have no connections to speak of in this country."
Though he was a camorrista in an American crime organization, it seemed that such a position was of little help in a country where he didn't know anyone. Sylvie frowned and muttered to herself.
"A village... inside private property?"
"Are you sure this information broker of yours is trustworthy?"
Sylvie stared at Maiza as though he'd grown a second head.
"Now then. Shall we go? Hold tight."
Go where? The question was on the tip of their tongues when Maiza slammed his foot down onto the accelerator.
Czes's startled cry was swallowed by a shock so tremendous that it shook the car's entire chassis. His light body jolted violently in all directions, the impact running through his spine and straight into his lungs.
Sylvie lay flat in the back seat, absorbing the shock as the pitch of Czes's squawks rose and fell along with the car. For long minutes the car continued to rumble forward, and finally came to a stop with a huge crash - the other side of the hill ended in a steep incline that left them almost three meters above the ground.
At that moment a startled shout came from behind the back seat - the area between the seat padding and the rear panel - but none of the three people in the car took notice, instead catching their breath.
"...From time to time, you really do some wild things, you know that?"
"It comes with the job."
"Sometimes I envy that eternal composure of yours."
Czes and Sylvie glared at Maiza, but he just chuckled and looked outside the car. The snowy gravel path extended forward again, though it seemed as though the carpet of snow on the ground was slightly thinner, perhaps due to the trees that stood clustered even tighter than before.
"Now, if we just go for another five kilometers or so, we should be there..."
"Maiza! You fool, are you trying to kill me?!"
Another shout came from behind Sylvie, but Maiza stepped on the accelerator as though he'd heard nothing. After making sure there was nothing wrong with the engine, he stepped on the clutch and shifted the car into first gear.
"Are you listening to me, you bastard?!"
"Of course I am, Nile," Maiza said calmly, and in one swift motion pressed the accelerator all the way to the floor. "The road is still quite rough, so be careful not to bite your tongue by accident."
The snow flew in all directions, the tires spinning furiously.
"Don't try and change the subject. I say this: things like this are the reason that your girlfriend dum-ack!"
A dull thud came from the trunk. For just a moment Maiza looked back with worry on his face, but shortly\ he turned back and concentrated on driving again.
The man behind the rear seat spoke no more.
In short, it was unquestionably an unsettling situation, but none of those riding in the car seemed to pay it much mind, and the vehicle trundled diligently deeper into the shadowed forest.
To a village that could be found on no map, to find an old friend...
People have come to the village.
They have come in a strange thing.
A colossal metal box. Like a carriage, but slightly smaller.
The large cart the peddler rides. It looks like that.
Just like the peddler's vehicle, it moves without the help of horses.
But it is somewhat different. It does not look to be carrying goods.
The metal box stops at the entrance to the village.
I am the first one to notice.
But the villagers are the first to approach. Holding weapons. One by one, they walk toward the metal cart.
Someone else will fall upon misfortune.
Someone else, will be unhappy.
I can feel it. Just like it was then...
...Five years ago, when Master Elmer was killed for the first time...
I can only watch. Even now, I can only stand and watch the townspeople as they advance, their forms full of dread and hostility.
And I can only relate back the truth I behold.
That is my mission.
"Ah, there it is."
At length, Maiza and his companions emerged from the forest and fell into a slightly wider road than the gravel path they'd left behind. Their field of vision widened dramatically, a sparkling white world unfolding before them. At first they thought it was just a normal plain, but from the way the road was laid down in a straight line, it seemed that the snowfields around them were probably fields of farmland.
"Barley fields, perhaps," Maiza said, prompting the other two to look around. The fields, quite wide from the looks of it, were surrounded by the forest. Less snow had fallen than they'd thought, and here and there they could see bare soil through the carpet of white.
And at the end of the road, ahead of them, were a few buildings.
"So there really was a village."
"Are you sure this is private property?"
Maiza paid no heed to Sylvie and Czes's words, and parked the car at what he supposed was the village entrance.
The buildings were made of stone. From afar, they had looked like barns made for farm work, but once the car approached it became clear that they were in fact houses. They looked quite different from the rest of the housing facilities they'd seen in the country, more like sheds than proper houses.
The buildings themselves were old, granted, but the atmosphere of the village itself was so quaint and antiquated that they almost felt as though they'd stepped into a movie. No modern-looking architecture could be seen at all, further enhancing the old movie feeling.
But none of the travelers were truly confused, for the sight before them was different from the real "past" that they had actually experienced. It was as though the village hadn't come to be naturally, but had instead been constructed according to someone's calculations...
"Quite a bit bigger than I'd expected."
From the looks of it, they road where they were parked was the main path; several houses stood on each side. There were wooden buildings and log cabins as well as the stone houses they'd seen before, haphazardly mixed amongst each other.
"Looks like a pretty hastily constructed village, doesn't it. A little out of style, though," Czes mumbled.
"I don't know, I think it's got some old style charm," Maiza replied.
Sylvie closed her eyes and let out an exaggerated sigh, her shoulders slumping. "Damn. I don't think this place has a shower... or running water, for that matter."
"I'm not sure that's what we should be worrying about, Sylvie," Maiza said suddenly, his voice oddly tense.
Something in his tone made Sylvie look out the window once more.
A girl in shabby clothes stood in the center of the wide road that divided the town, timidly staring at the car.
"What about her?"
"Not her. The others," Czes said. His voice, too, was slightly strained.
Perhaps sensing something from the girl's expression, Sylvie looked around carefully. She'd thought at first that only the girl was there, but soon she realized that many eyes were watching them from the shadows in the streets.
From the shadows, behind windows, dozens of silhouettes stood silently, staring wordlessly at them.
"Mmm, it seems that's the case."
"What's the case?" Czes blurted, unable to contain his nervousness. Maiza adjusted his grip on the steering wheel.
"Well, there are quite a few cases of villages being found inside private property. For example, illegal organizations and extremist religious groups often set up bases much like this."
"And that means?"
"There's no telling what they'll do to outsiders. If we're lucky, they'll hand us over to the authorities for trespassing, but in the worst case..."
Maiza paused, his sharp eyes narrowing, and continued.
"The results will be unspeakably terrible."
"Let's leave. I don't want to get involved in something that could turn out to be bothersome."
"Wait, Czes. If Elmer's here, we'll have to ask these people, whether we like it or not. If Elmer has become a member of this town, then surely they'll welcome us once we explain our circumstances."
Contrary to Maiza's bright opinion, Czes remained stubbornly pessimistic.
"And if he hasn't become a member, or if he was never here in the first place?"
"Maiza? Hey, answer me. Look at me, Maiza!"
Czes grabbed him and shook him forcefully, but Maiza ignored him and stepped out of the car alone.
"Well, in that case, I suppose we'll have no choice but to run away."
A man approached them from a ways down the road, flanked by a handful of youths. He looked to be at least middle aged, with sharp eyes and a bristly mustache. His wire-thin body was shrouded in thick winter clothes, made not of synthetic fibers but thick furs. The youths following him were dressed similarly, and in their hands they held metal clubs and hunting rifles.
The rifles were old; Maiza's memory pegged them as models that had been in use a century ago.
The girl was still standing in the middle of the road, and as the men approached Maiza they shoved her roughly out of the way. They glared ferociously at him, and their feet tramped forcefully over the stony, slushy ground.
With every building they passed, one or two of the silhouettes that had been watching from the shadows wordlessly joined them, and soon the band marching toward Maiza's group swelled to over twice its original number.
There were women among the ones who had joined the middle-aged man's group; in their hands they held kitchen knives and hoes, and their eyes were hard with hostility.
However, even as he closed the car door behind him, Maiza didn't appear to be overly concerned. His hand kept its position on the door handle, ready to open it and get in at a moment's notice.
...I only hope we can communicate with each other.
"...Who are you people? You're not the peddler... How did you get here?"
As though in response to Maiza's unspoken worries, the hairy man who looked to be the leader spoke. Maiza had hoped to speak first, but the motley band of villagers stopped earlier than he'd expected.
Regardless, some of the tension in Maiza's body drained away as he realized that the villagers at least spoke in the country's common dialect.
"Excuse me. We're just ordinary travelers."
There was the chance that just blurting the name of the person they were looking for would make these people suspicious. Maiza decided to first pretend to be a traveler and observe their reactions.
"Travel... you say?" the hairy man asked cautiously, shooting the car a furtive glance before glaring full on at Maiza. There was a dark light in his eyes, not anger but more like great hatred.
The man glanced once more at the car and then at Maiza, and his expression hardened. "Make everyone in there come out."
"May I ask why?"
"I need to make sure there aren't any strange people with you."
Maiza privately wondered what the man's standards for strange were, but decided there was nothing to be gained from needlessly arguing. He heaved a small sigh and gave a signal to the two inside the car.
The townspeople's hostility diminished ever so slightly slightly as Czes hopped out. And when Sylvie stepped out from the back seat, their eyes widened.
She looked about sharply, then narrowed her eyes and leaned back against the car door in one smooth motion. At this, the animosity directed at them died down even more, and some of the men stared at her with emotion in their eyes quite different from what had been there before.
"...Is that it?"
Only the hairy man's glare refused to falter.
"You're very prudent," Maiza said jokingly in lieu of reply.
But the hairy man didn't react, instead saying, "I'm the mayor, Dez Nibil."
"Pleased to make your acquaintance. I'm-"
The hairy man - Dez - looked away, cutting off Maiza's introduction.
"I don't care to listen to outsiders. We can't accommodate you, so leave now."
"Come now. We're not asking you to let us sleep in one of your houses. If you would just stay here for a while in this car..."
"This village can't afford to get involved with foreigners right now. We don't want your trouble. It's because of outsiders like you that that demon-"
Dez suddenly closed his mouth.
A man's face suddenly rose to the forefront in Maiza's mind. The demon that had given them eternal life... and at the same time, the man who was his fellow camorrista, now far away in New York. But there was no way that he could be here, and now Maiza asked to make sure his suspicions were unfounded.
"It's nothing. Leave this village... no, leave this forest, now."
"A demon, you said?"
The mayor snarled at Maiza's continued interest and reluctantly opened his mouth.
"...There's a monster living here."
A land cut off from the outside by a wall of trees, and a monster that attacked the village.
Such an occult setting sounded more like something that would be found in a fable or legend, but instead of mocking him, Maiza kept his silence and listened as Dez elaborated.
"You couldn't even begin to imagine how much that thing is tormenting us. No, you'd never believe me even if I told you."
"What exactly is this monster?"
"I've nothing more to say to you! Leave, now!"
Dez's anger made his breath steam white in the cold winter air. Maiza was silent for a moment and then, as though to confirm a theory, he muttered...
"...Elmer... Elmer C. Albatross."
The air became charged with nervous energy.
The moment those words left Maiza's lips, the atmosphere changed in an instant. The slowly fading hostility came back full force, and even the men who had been lost in Sylvie's beauty suddenly shifted their gazes to Maiza, their heads snapping around like wind-up toys.
Even the mayor, who had until then kept the same flat expression, suddenly glared at them with wide eyes.
"We're looking for him. If he's not here, then we'll leav-"
The mayor's cry cut off Maiza's words and rang loudly in the street.
The villagers burst forward like waters from a floodgate. They looked almost like a pack of wild animals charging at their prey, but it seemed to Maiza as though there was another emotion in their eyes, apart from animosity.
He caught a glimpse of the terror in their eyes, but before he could make sure, the men were pushing forward, grasping at him.
But Maiza kept his calm, having predicted this from the start. Keeping his gaze steady, he stepped back, just barely avoiding the hands that sought to seize him.
"Please, calm down. We don't-"
The moment he looked to the mayor, he saw that the young man standing beside Dez was aiming his rifle.
"I see words will not suffice."
The loud retort of a gunshot shattered the quiet, and Maiza's body jolted from the impact.
"Maiza!" Sylvie screamed despite herself. Unlike Maiza, she hadn't felt the situation going pear-shaped, and had still been leaning against the car. Czes, on the other hand, had taken in the atmosphere in an instant and already scrambled back into the car.
The bullet shaved the skin off of Maiza's thigh in passing, ripping his thick pants and spraying blood in all directions.
As the villagers crowded forward, sensing an opening, the mayor was focusing on something else: the blood that had splashed out from Maiza's leg. A strong sense of foreboding grew in his chest as he stared at the crimson speckles on the stones.
And his worries were confirmed.
The blood that should have stayed on the ground began to crawl across the earth.
Possessed with life of their own, the spots of red gathered at Maiza's leg. As though dancing, the droplets merged with one another, and then ran up Maiza's leg and flowed into the rip in his pants, into his wound.
The townspeople who had been trying to tackle him noticed it as well. They froze in place and backed away, their faces pale with fear.
"He's the same..."
"He's just like him...!"
"We're going to die."
"We're going to be tainted."
"Don't look into his eyes..."
The villagers muttered furtively to each other, looking away from Maiza.
Maiza stopped, slightly suspicious.
Over the course of his life, he had, from time to time, been caught in the act of regeneration. Those who saw it felt terror and ran away from him. His boss, the head of a tidy criminal organization in New York, was one of the few exceptions.
But the reaction that these villagers showed was somewhat different from those that he'd observed through the years. Usually, those who saw him heal feared him as "an unknown thing," but... these people seemed to be fearing him as a thing they were already familiar with. It wasn't fear of the unknown that made them quail in terror. Instead it was the implications of what was entailed by a man who could heal from wounds in seconds.
...Ah. I see.
Maiza nodded inside and took in the situation once more.
The men who had backed away from him suddenly charged at Sylvie. From the way through glanced fearfully at him as they run, it looked like they were trying to take her hostage.
"Wait, what are you doing?"
Sylvie tried to twist away from the first man to reach her, but he was just a bit faster, and a rough hand grabbed hold of her slender wrist.
Maiza almost moved to save her, then stopped in his tracks. Behind her, the rear seat car window slowly lowered with a low whine. The young man who had grabbed Sylvie was so eager to bring her down that he didn't notice the light brown hand that emerged from the window until it was already clenched around his own wrist like a vise.
The young man let out a startled cry and stepped away from Sylvie like he'd been burned. The arm jutting from the car swiftly drew back inside, dragging the young man's body with it.
The young man's arm was halfway inside before he could even react. Shortly the low whine came again - someone in the car was closing the window while the youth's arm was still in it.
Tremendous pressure came down on the youth's arm. The window pane was not strong enough to sever his arm outright, but nevertheless it bit mercilessly into his flesh as the tortured sound of machinery filled the air.
Those surrounding Sylvie froze, unable to understand the situation. For her part, Sylvie peeked cautiously inside the car, then hurriedly backed away. As she reached the front of the car, the back door burst open - with the hapless village youth's arm still caught in the window.
His feet left the ground and he began to fly bodily through the air, but the arm still stuck in the door would not allow it. A sick crack split the air, but the villagers were unable to discern whether the sound had come from the young man's bones or his joints.
And as the scream split the air, someone stepped out of the car...
"A... a monster?"
Unlike the reaction they had shown toward Maiza, the villagers' voices were now filled with fear of the unknown. The man who left the car was simply that strange.
He was clothed entirely in white silks, his sleeves cut short at the elbow to show his light brown skin. They were by no means thin clothes, but considering the freezing weather, they were more than enough to cause those watching him to shiver.
Just his clothes would not have been cause for such alarm, but the area above his neck, on the other hand, was.
A peculiar mask covered his face. It was an ornate thing, of a design that would not have looked out of place in southeast Asia, or at a festival in Hong Kong, burnished chocolate in color and accentuated with loud base reds and oranges.
Furthermore, what little could be seen behind the mask was not skin, but tightly wrapped bandages. In other words, this man had bound his head with cloth and then put on the mask. Through the eye holes, the townspeople could see half-lidded eyes, shining with sharp light.
Such a man had appeared. The villagers watching stirred up a tremendous ruckus, their worried voices filling the air.
The masked man ignored their reactions and calmly turned to Maiza.
"You drive like a madman. I will tell you again. I say this to you once more: are you trying to kill me?"
The mask hid his expression, but from the tone of his voice it was clear he was quite angry.
"Normally, I would lash out at you, or send you flying with a kick, but considering the situation, I will forgive you. I say this: I forgive you."
"Thank you. You have my eternal gratitude, Nile," Maiza said with a light shrug. He turned and spoke to the mayor's band, who were now almost paralyzed with shock.
"Ah, I must make it clear that this person wasn't riding with us - we were just 'carrying' him behind the back seat, if you will. Please don't misunderstand. We weren't trying to hide him."
But they weren't even listening. They could only stare wordlessly, unable to tear their eyes away from the nightmarish man in front of them.
The masked man, Nile, gave them a cursory glance and crossed his arms, turning his gaze to Maiza.
"I don't know what's going on, but it looks like they've calmed down, at least. But I ask you, Maiza. What do you want me to do?"
"Ah... I don't want trouble, so try not to hurt anyone," Maiza said, worrying more for the villagers than for Nile.
Nile nodded curtly and stepped around to the back of the car. With his foot on the spare tire hanging from the back, he hoisted himself up to the roof in one swift motion, crossing his arms once more and glaring down at the townspeople.
Once he was sure their eyes were on him, he spoke.
"Good. First, kneel. We'll talk once you do so."
His voice was low yet clear, carrying easily through the air. His demands were ridiculous, yet neither Sylvie nor Maiza protested, having become used to his habits long ago. But...
"Nile, these people don't understand English."
...perhaps it was for the better.
Silence hung over the gathered people for just a moment, and...
The voice from under the mask sounded just slightly taken aback.
"How dare you play me for a fool!"
"I would never dream of it. Weren't you listening? Not a word of the conversation so far has been in English."
"Mmm... so it's my mistake. I must acknowledge it. I will acknowledge my mistake, instead of trying to hide it! The problem is, the only languages I know how to speak besides the Berber languages are English, Chinese, and Indonesian. What shall I do?"
"Don't do anything. In fact, I'd rather prefer you come down before you end up damaging the car roof," Maiza said flatly, rubbing his forehead.
"The villagers are all frightened because you're talking in a language they don't understand," Sylvie said, finally finding her voice.
Nile peered through his mask at the villagers, still arrogant. They were spread to surround Maiza and Nile in a loose half circle, consciously trying to put some distance between them and the two. The youth whose arm had been caught in the window had finally managed to wrench himself free, tears spilling down his face as he retreated to the rear.
If they had understood what Nile was saying, perhaps their hostility would have lessened due to his sheer audacity, but as it was they could only regard Nile's words as meaningless and frightening noise.
"I see... Maiza, I say this."
"We aren't going to get out of this peacefully."
"Indeed," Maiza replied, looking about.
Only the young men near the mayor had kept their calm. All of them had their rifles raised, pointed squarely at Maiza and Nile.
"Aim for their heads."
The men, hunters from the way they handled their firearms, adjusted their aim according to the mayor's orders.
"If they're anything like him, they won't be able to move for a while if you blow their heads away. If we can get even one of them, we'll be able to use them as a bartering chip against him."
Though objectively it looked like the villagers were at an advantage, not a single one among them was sure of victory. Even those who aimed their rifles found their palms slick with sweat.
"Go on, shoot. The moment you pull the trigger, I'll take you to be my enemies. I say this: I will slaughter you all!"
"And I'm telling you, they can't understand a word of English."
Even as he sighed and quipped flippantly at Nile, Maiza's eyes never left the rifle barrels.
...Now, what to do? Getting caught on purpose is one way to do it..."
Even as such thoughts flitted through Maiza's head, the hostile air coming from the villagers thickened once more.
Staring up at the clear blue sky above, Maiza came to a decision. He would make his comrades run, and allow himself to be captured. It was possible for all of them to make their escape together, but he didn't want to let go of this clue regarding Elmer's whereabouts if he could at all help it.
Maiza had left behind his position as financial executive of the New York camorra organization, the Martillo Family, to journey across the world. Not for the sake of tourism, but to find the immortals who had scattered all over the globe.
Over the course of three decades, he had traveled with Czes to find his old fellow alchemists. It had taken a considerable amount of time and effort just to find Sylvie and Nile, but to they, immortals in the truest sense of the word, such time meant little. And just when Maiza was about to give up on finding the remaining two, he came upon some information regarding one of them, Elmer C. Albatross. It was a tip from the information broker he frequented. It was not a vague clue - it detailed exactly the location of the village. But even the information broker hadn't deigned to describe the village in detail, instead covering it with the curt words, "trade secret." However, to Maiza, desperate for any kind of help, even that was a godsend.
He couldn't let go of this chance. He had eight months left until the time he'd promised to return to New York. If he lost track of Elmer here, he wouldn't have the time to make another try.
There was an element of impatience in his actions. That was why he had specifically mentioned Elmer's name, even after he had deduced from the townspeople's reactions that the demon they spoke of was most likely Elmer.
But even though he found himself at odds with the villagers, and Nile had brought this all upon himself, he couldn't allow Sylvie and Czes to become involved. After all, just because they were immortal didn't mean that they were immune to pain.
Just as Maiza turned to signal that he was giving himself up, he caught sight of something out of the corner of his eye. From where Maiza stood, they were approaching from the far side of the village, the opposite of where he and the others had emerged from the forest. The three unknown figures were each wearing bright red clothes, riding astride three horses.
Maiza froze, his back to the villagers, but they too stopped on the verge of charging him and gulped with suddenly dry mouths, catching sight of the three mounted figures.
"Look... the messengers are here."
"Lower your weapons!"
"Damn it all, this shouldn't be the day they come..."
"So they were demons, after all..."
Low worried mutters spread as some dropped their weapons, and others rushed into their homes and slammed the doors behind them. The many presences that had been staring at Maiza's party from the shadows vanished like a dream. Amidst the sudden hubbub, only the mayor and his cronies stood their ground, glaring at the trio in red clothes.
"What? What is it?"
Nile and Sylvie, too, heard the sound of horse's hooves and turned to look.
The horses stopped about ten meters away from the car. The three riders were women - no, from the looks of them they could still be called girls. They all looked similar, and Maiza surmised to himself that they might be sisters.
In addition to their red clothes, the white cloth stitched onto their sleeves brought to mind Santa Claus. It was a sight which seemed doubly unnatural when compared to the townspeople's antiquated clothing.
One of them dismounted and timidly looked to the hostile mayor.
"These people are Master Elmer's guests. I would lead them to the castle."
The mayor shot a glare that could have melted steel at the trio of girls.
Instead of the fear he had shown regarding Maiza or Nile, only disgust could be found on his features.
"Please, stand back. Master Elmer commands it."
The mayor kept his silence for a long moment, made a vague noise of distaste, and flicked his head to the townspeople. At his signal, those youths who were still left turned and walked away.
The village entrance, which up to the appearance of the girls had been a near-constant cacophony of raised voices, was dead silent. The atmosphere was hard to describe, and even Maiza found himself at a loss for words due to the unexpected intrusion.
The girl who had talked to the mayor finally broke the silence. She hooked one foot into the stirrups and spoke carefully to Maiza and the others.
"Umm... if you would please follow me, I would be most... ahh... obliged. This place... is dangerous."
Chapter 1 End
1): I thought at first that this was the Hope Diamond, but given that the legend of that diamond's curse began making the rounds in the late 19th century, and Maiza mentions in a later chapter that it's been 290 years since he last saw Elmer, I'm inclined to think that it's just a coincidence.