Chapter 9 – The Story of a Bomb
It was a forest with many tall, thin trees.
I was flying on my broom over a meandering path that looked like it had been made to follow the chance gaps occurring between trees. The leaves that had fallen on the ground writhed and made a rustling sound.
The climate is cool, and the wind is gentle. Really, this is a great feeling.
Taking a nap in a place like this would probably feel really good.
After continuing to travel through the forest for a while, I saw a horse-drawn wagon. The wagon was entirely devoid of any luggage, and deplorably, it was stopped right in the middle of the road and blocking the way.
I could only see the back of the wagon from my position, and hence I wasn’t able to see the driver. Is he taking a carefree nap? Or is he trying to say that he won’t allow anyone to pass beyond this point?
I inclined my broom upwards a little as I had no other choice. The broom that had been flying close to the ground gradually floated upwards.
Obstacles must be overcome, after all.
When I was above the wagon, I looked downwards. What I saw there was the roof of the wagon, a horse eating grass—-and a man who was collapsed beside the wagon.
I immediately understood why the wagon was stopped in the middle of the road.
The driver was not slacking off and taking a nap, nor was he blocking my path on purpose.
The man was covered in blood and wounds. He was collapsed limply beside the wagon.
Just what happened here?
I had no idea what the circumstances were, but it was clear that the driver’s life was in danger. I felt that flying off and leaving him in this state would be far too cold hearted, so I landed my broom, pulled out my staff, and healed his wounds with magic.
A warm, white haze wrapped around him and erased the bloody wounds and bruises that covered his body.
He looked quite young, but he was still older than me. I’d guess he was somewhere in his mid twenties. His unkempt black hair looked dull as it was covered in dust.
Just as the wounds on his body finished fading from sight, he opened his eyes.
He stared blankly at the canopy of the forest, and eventually he spotted me.
“Are you okay?”
I spoke to him while standing over him.
I didn’t receive an answer.
“Umm… Are you okay?”
I tried waving my hand in front of his eyes.
He blinked rapidly, opened and closed his mouth a few times, and finally moved his body.
“E-Excuse me…! I’m not sure who you are, but do you know how long I’ve been lying here?”
Perhaps he’s not completely awake yet? He seemed a little hysteric as he asked that question.
“I just happened to find you as I was traveling, so I have no idea—but it was probably not a very long time.”
The blood from his wounds hadn’t finished drying, after all.
“T-Thank goodness! In that case, I can still make it on time…! Umm, I’m not sure who you are—”
“Elaina. That’s my name.”
“Elaina-san! Would you please listen to my wish!?”
He came towards me looking like he was about to grab my hand, so I courteously declined while avoiding him.
“Sorry, I’m in a hurry.”
“P-Please, just hear me out first!”
I can hardly be blamed for sighing. I could sense some annoying problem closing in on me from behind.
I was already half-weary of the incident and then he started talking to me desperately.
“I know that I’m being very shameless, asking this of you after you saved my life. However, something horrible will happen at this rate! Please, I beg you! Please help me!”
He knelt down on the dirt and bowed to me over and over again. He kept begging me to help him…
…I feel like I’ve experienced something similar in the past.
After thinking about it carefully, it was a similar situation where I was entangled in some strange business after healing someone.
I felt like it was my fate to be unable to escape. Is there something about me that makes me get mixed up in the issues of injured people whom I happen to heal?
I surreptitiously touched the brooch on my chest to make sure it was still there, and replied.
“Well, I can listen to what you have to say, at least.”
After hearing that, he quickly blurted out:
“At this rate, a lot of people are going to die!”
He said that in a hysteric voice.
That certainly caught my attention, although I still didn’t understand what this was all about.
In the end, I heard the whole story from him.
Apparently, he was a merchant who drove his own carriage. Due to his job, he was currently transporting certain cargo to the country just ahead of where we were. However, his wagon suffered an unexpected trouble while he was on his way.
To put it briefly, he was attacked by bandits.
On his side it was just one horse and a weak man, and on the other side were dozens of robust men. There was no way he could win. He was easily pulled from the wagon and then beaten, kicked, and cut up by the bandits who then proceeded to strip him of all his valuables.
“Oh my, that sounds awful.”
“Yes, it really hurt a lot. The only silver lining is that I didn’t end up dead.”
“—So? How does the fact that you were attacked by bandits lead to a lot of people dying?”
Was he actually from a royal family, disguised as a merchant? When he said that a lot of people were going to die, did he mean that the bandits would be massacred as retribution for what they did to him?
“Umm… My cargo was actually a bomb, which was ordered by the country that I was heading to.”
“Yes. They said something about using it to make a tunnel or something. I didn’t really understand it. They agreed to pay an absurdly high price for it, so I had it made for them.”
“Hoho. How much?”
“It was about ten thousand gold coins.”
I felt my head start to ache. It’s just an explosive to open a tunnel, what’s with that incredibly high price? Are they idiots?
I could vaguely guess what happened next.
“So basically, these bandits have got their hands on an incredibly expensive bomb, and you’re worried that they might put it to evil use—is that what you meant?”
“That’s right. This is a serious problem. If the bandits take the bomb back to my country, a lot of people might die.”
“Yes, it’s really a serious problem.”
Judging by what he said earlier, it sounds like he doesn’t particularly care about what will happen if the bandits take the bomb to the country ahead of us instead.
What’s up with that? Are they on bad terms? If they are, then why did he prepare the bomb?
“That’s right… More importantly, that bomb is dangerous as it will blow up instantly if you make even the smallest mistake in handling it.”
“What the heck…”
“As one of the people involved in creating the bomb, I can tell you that it has an extremely complicated structure. The explosive strength of the bomb is also quite high, matching the price that was paid for it.”
“You helped make the bomb?”
“Yes. I drew up the blueprints, and also wrote the user manual.”
He said that he just helped to make the bomb, but he actually turned out to be the most important man involved in the process.
Should he be called a merchant, or an inventor?
If he’s the inventor, why did he lie and say he’s a merchant?
“The operation of the bomb is fairly simple, but there’s a chance that it could be used for the wrong purpose.”
“So basically, you’re saying that even the bandits can easily use it?”
“That’s how it is. The bomb is easy to use, so I don’t know what will happen in the future…”
The man probably wants to prevent the bandits from using the bomb to attack his home. I see, now I understand why he was so hysterical.
Having his own creation used to destroy the country he came from, there could be nothing sadder than this.
“Something very bad will happen at this rate. I need to get the bomb back from the bandits, no matter what.”
What he said was true. It was clear that things would take a turn for the worse if nothing was done.
There is no time to be indecisive. At this rate, some people will die for certain.
After unconsciously taking my broom into my hand, I realized that I had become impatient as well.
“I’ll try and track the bandits from above. You should go to the country ahead and report that the bomb was stolen.”
The man looked bewildered for a second, and then,
“Ah, yes, I understand.”
He said that and jumped onto his wagon.
“Right then, let’s go.”
It happened right after I said that and mounted my broom.
The dreadful sound of an explosion reverberated throughout the forest.
The shockwaves that could be felt on my skin made the plants shake and sent the animals into a frenzy. Looking up, I saw that the birds were flying away while making a loud noise.
We both looked at each other.
He had several different types of expressions running across his face.
At this point, I slightly regretted the time wasted by standing around talking in a leisurely manner.
I shook off the young man who panicked and kept saying “Please wait, I want to come along too,” and went over there alone.
I didn’t want him to see the results of the bomb that he had designed himself… or rather, that was just an excuse. To be honest, I was probably panicking and not thinking clearly at that time either. The explosion that had reverberated throughout the forest was just that powerful.
After getting on my broom and flying above the treetops, I was able to see some thin, brown smoke rising into the air towards the south.
After moving towards the place the smoke was coming from, I saw that there was a small village there. Or rather, it was a place where a village used to exist.
There was nothing left alive. Blood, flesh, and viscera were spread everywhere.
Both the people and the wooden structures that barely rated as houses had been completely destroyed. Everything there was in pieces, as if they had been cut apart by a sharp blade.
Near the center of the village, there was a large hole that looked like a crater created by the impact of some large object. A large cloud of sand and dust had been expelled into the air from that area, and it was still rising up into the air like smoke.
After that, I found two scraps of paper among the debris over there.
One of them was the user manual.
The other was a letter.
I went ahead and read it.
“…So that’s how it is.”
After putting those items into my pocket, I returned to where the man was waiting and told him only about the state of the place where the bomb had exploded. After hearing my report, he replied,
“I see… That’s unfortunate.”
That’s all he said.
“Are you okay, Merchant-dono!? We heard an incredibly loud sound from the direction of the forest…”
After we followed the road to the country on the other side of the forest, the person who greeted us was not the gate guard, but a consul from the country. As is often the case, the consul was also flustered and panicking.
“Consul-sama—I’m extremely sorry.”
After saying that, the man briefly explained what had happened to him while he was on the way here. The Consul showed a lot of grief when he heard the reason behind the sound of the explosion.
“What… Such a thing… Merchant-dono, are you uninjured?”
“I was healed by this Witch-sama who just happened to find me while she was passing by… actually, my injuries do not matter. More importantly, I lost the bomb that was supposed to be used to excavate the tunnel. It happened because of my lack of ability. There is no doubt that this incident is entirely my responsibility.”
“Not at all! Please don’t blame yourself. This was just an unfortunate accident. It is truly sad that some people lost their lives because of this…”
“But those people were bandits, right? Wouldn’t you say that they brought this upon themselves?”
I interrupted their conversation with that comment. The Consul glared at me.
“Witch-dono. I cannot approve of such a statement. They were still people even if they were bad natured. It’s only natural to feel sad when people have lost their lives.”
Did he actually just say that?
I touched the pocket where I had stashed the letter, but didn’t say anything more.
The young man ignored me and continued to give an explanation.
“In any case, I am really sorry for what happened… Please, could you give us another chance?”
“Hmm? A chance?”
“Could you please allow us to prepare another bomb for you? You need not pay for it. In fact, we don’t require payment for the first bomb either. There will be a considerable delay until we can deliver it, so I will use my authority to commission another bomb for you free of cost, as an apology.”
The Consul showed an exaggerated look of surprise when he heard the man’s proposal.
“No way…! We can’t have that! Actually, we were ready to offer you a token of our sympathy instead.”
“Please, such a thing is not necessary. I just want to fulfill my responsibility. Please, won’t you allow me to deliver the bomb for your country’s sake?”
“No, really, that’s…”
“No, this is just the right thing to do.”
That conversation where both of them were shamelessly spouting transparent lies finally came to a close, with the agreement that the man would prepare another bomb and the Consul would pay a token of their sympathy.
That token of their sympathy was one hundred gold coins.
The amount was far less than the original price of the bomb, but would the man—no, the people from his country really be okay with this?
I just stayed silent the entire time and didn’t say a single thing.
“In that case, let’s meet here after a week.”
I looked at the retreating figure of the man who said that while waving.
One week later, I once again met that man on the road in the middle of the forest.
“Hey, how are you? What a coincidence, meeting in such a place.”
I stopped in front of the wagon and waved to him. The man looked at me from atop the wagon and,
“Hey, Witch-san. Thank you for helping me last week. I’m really grateful to you for healing my injuries.”
“Would you like to ride along on my wagon? I’ll treat you to some food, as thanks for last time.”
“Ah, no thanks. I’m in a hurry.”
“That’s a shame—In that case, I guess we part ways here.”
Saying that, he cracked his whip and got the wagon moving again. However, he came to a stop again almost immediately.
The horse stamped its hooves in place and gave an annoyed snort.
I had stopped it from moving. I stopped it a little forcefully, by patting the horse’s head.
“…? What are you doing?”
The man looked at me and gave me a smile tinged with a little fear.
I was standing in front of the wagon, and blocking its path.
“Nothing, there’s just something that I needed to let you know.”
“…? What’s that?”
I spoke to him.
“About that bomb, the country withdrew the purchase order.”
“…What did you say?”
“Oh, my. Were you not able to hear me at this distance?”
“I heard you just fine, I just don’t understand what you mean. Why did they withdraw the purchase order? And why am I hearing this from you?”
“Who knows? Perhaps they realized what you were attempting to do with that bomb?”
“It looks like your country was planning on doing something very insolent.”
I continued to talk as I walked towards the wagon.
“There’s a bomb in your wagon now, right? It is made similar to the last one?”
Saying that, I opened the back and looked inside.
What I saw inside was definitely a bomb… or rather, it was a bunch of bomb components.
Last time, when I had visited what was left of the bandits’ village, I had found a user manual that explained how to assemble the bomb. There were also some strange warnings that said 『Caution: This bomb might explode at the slightest mistake,』and 『Please assemble the bomb inside the country before taking it to the excavation site.』
“You intended to have the bomb malfunction from the start, didn’t you?”
“No. That was truly an unfortunate incident.”
“What was unfortunate? The fact that it was bandits who died due to the explosion, and not people of that country?”
“…Just what have you been talking about since earlier?”
It was pretty simple.
There were many strange things about the bomb that he had been transporting.
Despite his insistence that it was meant to be used for excavations, its lethality was absurdly high. In addition, it was in an incomplete state that would cause it to malfunction easily.
What’s more—this is just my own speculation, by the way—there’s a good chance that the user manual itself had wrong instructions that could cause an accidental malfunction. All of this seems to indicate that the people who had built this bomb intended to have it malfunction and kill a lot of people right from the start. Perhaps they wanted to have it assembled inside the country, so that it would explode there and cause a great deal of confusion inside?
“I have a message from the Consul of that country. Would you like to hear it?”
I took his silence as consent and continued to speak.
Seeing as he lied to me, I’ll lie to him in return.
“‘We will never order anything from that country again. We never want to be involved with them again…’ That’s what he said. So please take that bomb with you and go back.”
“…You’ve got to be joking. Just how much money did you think we put into making this bomb—”
“Ah, that reminds me. Here’s the money they said they would give you as a token of sympathy. It’s not much, but please accept it.”
I cut him off in the middle of his sentence and put a bag with one hundred gold coins in his wagon.
It was unexpectedly heavy. Ridiculously heavy, even.
I continued to speak to him while rolling my shoulders.
“That should be enough, right? Now, go back to your own country.”
And then I said,
“Why not use that bomb to make a tunnel or something?”
This happened about a week before I saw him for the second time.
It was right after he and the Consul had finished their conversation full of transparent lies. I pulled a certain letter out of my pocket.
“Consul-san, does this look familiar?”
It was the letter that I had found amidst the wreckage of the bandits’ village.
“…! That is…”
Seeing the letter, the Consul-san turned pale.
“So you’re familiar with this, after all.”
I mean, of course he would be familiar with it.
The Consul-san’s signature was written perfectly at the bottom of the letter, after all.
I wondered what business the consul of a kingdom had with a bunch of bandits, so I carefully read the letter. The more I read, the stranger it seemed.
『I want you you to steal the bomb that is meant for excavating the tunnel. If you succeed, I will pay you one hundred gold coins.』
Summarizing the contents of the letter, that was basically what it said.
It’s the sort of thing that makes you want to say, “Oh, what’s this?”
“It looks like that attack by the bandits wasn’t just a coincidence.”
Most likely, the ambush had been set up in advance. Perhaps he thought that it would be more profitable if he got the bomb from bandits whom he owed nothing to, rather than spend ten thousand gold coins on purchasing the bomb from a country they were already on bad terms with.
How stupid can someone get?
“…What is it you wish for, Witch-sama?”
Is he trying to bribe me to stay silent?
“Are you saying you’ll give me something?”
“If you’re willing to say nothing about this matter, then yes.”
And then, I decided to tell a lie.
“In that case, you should prepare something to give to the merchant as well. For what it’s worth, he saw the corpses of the bandits, and read this letter as well.”
“What…? But, he promised to build a new bomb for us…”
“Oh? That new bomb might be something used for revenge against your country, you know? I’d suggest that you refuse to accept anything that is brought over from that country.”
I then said to the consul who was silently thinking,
“Ah, that’s right. About the price for buying my silence…”
I put a hand on his shoulder, and said,
“How does one hundred gold coins sound?”
“Considering that it’s for the sake of keeping this a secret from that country you hate so much, isn’t it rather cheap?”
I said that to him as well.
It’s always sad to see people losing their lives, so I think I did my part in keeping any more sadness from accumulating.
Even so, as a traveler, whatever became of those two countries in the end was not my business. If I had to guess, I’d say they are still in a chilly relationship where both sides want nothing to do with each other.
The country who wanted to use bandits to bring misfortune upon the other country that they hated.
And the country who set up a bomb in such a way that it would kill the people of the hated country that used it.
Both of them were incredibly stupid. Even so, having a chilly relationship with each other is probably better than having bombs go off. Given enough time, perhaps, both the bombs and the hatred they have for each other will be eroded.
That is why, I sincerely hope that those two countries will keep waiting. Until the day comes when their current relationship ceases to exist.