Kino no Tabi:Volume5 Chapter4
 “Land of Heroes” — No Hero —
Kino breathed out white air as she unloaded the bag from Hermes’ carrier. She was wearing a black jacket and a hat on her head, and her goggles remained strapped on her face. ‘Canon’ was hanging beside her right thigh.
She opened the bag. A disassembly-type rifle persuader was strapped on the inside of the cover.
“It looks like it will be useful right away, Kino.”
“Yeah, though I’m not very happy about it.”
The rifle was divided into two portions. The first half consists of a black metal frame, on the side of which, a prominently long cylinder was attached. The second half includes a wooden stock and a sniper’s scope.
“There’s seven of them.”
Kino connected the two parts of the rifle and locked them together. She pulled its leather sling strap up front. She took out a cloth shoulder bag from the box on one side of Hermes’ rear wheel. Inside was a magazine containing nine bullets, which she loaded into the rifle.
“Oh, right. Did you name that rifle after all?”
“I called it ‘Flute’.”
Kino released Flute’s bolt and loaded the first round. She briskly tucked the sash of the shoulder bag in a corner of her belt. While taking out Canon’s spare magazine from inside,
“If I do not come back, then by that time I got someone else to ride you.”
“Ok. Well, if possible, a person like you would be nice.”
Kino touched Canon on her right side. “I’ll try.”
She transferred the spare magazines inside the pouch.
“Just in case, I’m going to say it now. ——Goodbye Kino.”
“Yeah. ——Goodbye,” Kino answered.
“Yup. Then in that case, have a nice day. Never mind the souvenirs,” Hermes said in a tone of voice without any hint of tension.
“Sure, I’ll be going now,” Kino said with a face that was a little stern but with a hint of amusement.
Kino slowly put her head out from her spot.
Both sides of the street were lined up with identical apartment buildings. There was an arch leading to a courtyard. Hermes was parked and concealed in the interior of this courtyard.
Heavy clouds covered the surface of the sky, giving it a dull gray and overcast look. The cold wind blew strongly from time to time.
There was no sign of life between the three-storey brick buildings along the street, and broken glass windows are visible here and there. On the cobblestones, there were freely growing weeds and naturally-made dead tracks.
Kino rushed out and ran at full speed to the other side of the building.
At the moment Kino took cover beside the entrance stairs, a bullet came flying towards her, and quickly passed through to her side. The fierce hum of the bullet that sped past the speed of sound resonated.
“There you are,” Kino muttered, as she saw a person’s silhouette with a poised rifle on the other side of the street.
She then dodged and disappeared to the side of the building.
“He went out. He’s fast,” a tall man said.
“So it was a young person. He abandoned the motorrad, eh… He has a rifle too. Be alert,” a bald man holding a pair of binoculars said. The men around him nodded.
There were seven men.
A bald man. A very short man. A bearded man. A big, muscular man. A man wearing a thick hat. A tall and skinny man. A man carrying a big rucksack.
Everyone appeared to be over fifty years of age. They were wearing similar clothes that were full of cloth patches — heavy pants and jacket of a navy blue color. Belts with pouches for ammunition were wrapped around their waists and chests. Only the bald man was wearing a hand persuader holster on his right hip.
Everyone was grasping rifle-type persuaders in their hands. For every shot, the ejection pod had to be manually reloaded, bolt-action style. The rifles have wooden stocks.
The tall man who had fired the shot earlier expertly operated the bolt to reload. His was the only one with a sniper’s scope attached to it.
The bald man spoke. “Let’s follow him.”
With their persuaders positioned by their hips, the men slowly moved forward along the walls of the houses on both sides of the street.
As they passed in front of the courtyard where Hermes was parked, they silently peeked at the alley where Kino had been hiding. There was no other place she could hide in on both sides of the alley.
Without raising their voices, the men moved according to the direction the bald man pointed out with his left arm. They advanced without hesitation, one pair at a time, while providing back-up to each other.
They came out of the narrow alley to a neighboring street that looked similar. There was nobody.
The man with the hat who went first found barely visible footprints. When the men returned to their hiding place in the alley, the bald man spoke. “He escaped to the east.”
“There are many wide roads in the eastern district. It will be difficult for him to hide,” the rucksack-carrying man said from the side.
“He probably doesn’t know. That’s good for us.” Next to him, the very short man said with a laugh.
Shortly after, “No. —That guy must have escaped leeward. The sounds will not reach here, but the sounds will reach that place,” the tall man said. The wind that blew through the street wound up in the alley. A thin cloud of dust rose up.
The men looked at each other silently. They breathed out white air.
The bald man gave several small nods, and then spoke.
“Don’t let down your guard. That guy was better than I thought. At this rate, he will be cornered once he reaches the eastern border. Kill without hesitation.”
“Okay,” “Understood,” the men replied nervously.
The street in between the apartments extended straight to the east. It ended in a park full of dead trees, where it was divided into two directions.
On the side of the street with buildings, the men separated into two groups and silently moved forward. The park at the end of the street looked small.
Going first, the man with the hat traced the footprints. He carefully walked with his persuader positioned low beneath his waist. The footprints on the right side of the street continued straight to the park.
The men proceeded quietly. They approached the park until the shapes of the dead trees could be clearly seen. Suddenly, the man with the hat stopped. He raised his left fist up to his shoulder, and the men behind him halted. At the same time, everyone looked out in all directions, and the last two people in the line aimed their persuaders to the back.
The man with the hat looked the footprints at his feet with his sharp eyes.
From there, the footprints continued a bit and then suddenly vanished. On the other side, there were neither traces of jumping, nor a place to jump from.
The man with the hat slowly backed away by four steps.
He traced back his own footprints. He confirmed the depth of his own, as well as the footprints of their target. Then he turned his body and cautiously went back while carefully watching his every step. The other men observed in silence.
The man with the hat stopped in his tracks. There was a little hesitation in his footsteps. He noticed traces of jumping on the right side. When the man raised his head, he saw a dimly lit alley, blocked by the debris of a collapsed roof.
The man with the hat pointed his persuader towards the alley.
And then the man’s right thigh burst open. Blood and flesh scattered.
Only a scream and the sound of a falling body were heard from the street.
“A sniper!” the large man shouted from a nearby wall. All the men clung to the wall for cover. The man who was shot twisted his body to an upright position, pressing down his right thigh with both hands. Fresh blood overflowed from the wound.
“From which direction?!” the bald man shouted.
With an anguished expression, the man with the hat attempted to raise his right hand to point. At that moment, a second bullet crushed his left knee.
“Gyah—!” The man with the hat writhed in pain. He tumbled face down, trembling and shaking while blood oozed from both of his legs.
“Damn! Where is he?!”
“There was no gunshot!”
“Which direction?!” The men shouted while clinging to the wall. They were looking out in front.
Kino has positioned Flute beside the debris, and was peeking through the scope. The cylinder from the side was screwed to the tip of the barrel. That suppressor (gunshot silencer) extinguished most of the gunshot’s sound.
From the scope’s view, on the main street at the end the dark and narrow alley, the man who fell down was clearly visible.
The man’s mouth was wide open.
The man who was shot raised a scream. He was moving his arms, trying to crawl even if only a little to a safe place. He exerted himself, but barely moved.
“Wait! I’ll go!”
The large man left his persuader and removed his ammunition belt. Then he jumped out to save his fallen comrade.
Kino aimed at the new target, moved her aim a little, and fired.
“Don’t come out!”
At the same time as the bearded man’s scream, half of the head of the large man was blown off like a dropped tomato. Both of his hands were still turned towards the fallen man; and as he collapsed forward, his body made a blunt, loud noise. He stopped moving soon after.
The tall man saw the blood and brains fly out to the left, and screamed.
“To the right! Not in front! It was from the side alley!”
“Flares!” the bald man said, and the men lit and threw away the flares they had with them.
They dropped down and hit the alley wall as a dull purple smoke enshrouded them.
Just before the cloud thickened, Kino aimed and fired at the stomach of the man struggling on the ground.
After firing, Kino picked up the four empty cartridges by her side, and made her escape.
The smoke in the alley only lasted for a while before it was cleared away by the wind blowing from the main street.
The tall man established his aim to the back of the alley. Nobody was there anymore.
The bald man squatted beside the man with the hat.
His legs and stomach were stained a deep red. The rucksack-carrying man was desperately pressing down his clothes, but the pouring of the blood did not show any sign of stopping. He was slightly steaming up.
“I’m sorry…. I failed you, guys…,” the man with the hat said with a thin voice.
“Don’t talk,” the bald man said.
“Enough… I don’t see a thing anymore…” As tears flowed out from his big, gaping eyes, the man with the hat died.
The bald man gently closed his comrade’s eyes.
He searched the chest of the corpse and pulled out a pendant with its chain. It was a small, round pendant with a star design. He removed the chain and put it in his breast pocket.
The bearded man silently held out the large man’s pendant. The bald man took it and carefully placed it in his pocket like the other one. The clinking of the two metals made a small, dry sound.
The two corpses were placed on the stone pavement. Their faces were covered by cloth.
“We’ll bury them later. After killing that guy, that is,” the bald man said.
“The rifle that guy used was probably an automatic-fire type with a gunshot suppressor. Its accuracy was also good. It’s an excellent persuader,” the rucksack-carrying man said while aiming his persuader and looking at his surroundings.
The tall man nodded. “If only we have that, too.”
“It’s too late to talk about this. What we can do now is to do our best with what we have,” the bald man said monotonously.
The bald man spread a map he took out from his breast pocket. He held it in a way that wouldn’t let it get blown away by the wind. In the faded map, the appearance of the circular country was accurately drawn. At the end of several parallel streets heading to the east was a long park.
Across the park, a street with the same apartments continued on, and over there, the words ‘almost collapsed’ was written with a pen.
“Do you think he would run away just like this?” the tall man asked.
“If it were me, I will wait in ambush somewhere again. He would have come here without abandoning the motorrad but that engine is just too noisy,” the bearded man answered.
“Then… at the ‘street ruins’ across the park?” the rucksack-carrying man asked.
The bald man thought for a few seconds while looking at the map, and then spoke. “That makes sense. If he was thinking that we would give chase immediately, he wouldn’t waste his time crossing the park. He would be hiding in the building on the other side, let us get past and then annihilate us from behind in the park or the main street. What do you think?”
Without letting his vigilant eyes rest, the tall man said in a whisper, “If it were me, that’s what I would do. With an automatic-type, I’ll take on everyone at once.”
The bald man gave a small nod.
“We’ll divide into two groups and search the balcony from both corners of the park. ——We will outsmart him.”
“This is boring…” Hermes muttered.
In the deserted courtyard, the broken windows and clothes hung out to dry rustled as the wind blew.
“So boring…” When he muttered for a second time, a gunshot rang from afar.
“Oh, maybe Kino was done in already?” Hermes said, then he heard several shots in rapid succession.
“Oh, alive, still alive.”
“I was found so easily!” Kino said while running down the stairs of a building.
The short man and the rucksack-carrying man fired several rounds towards the third floor balcony where Kino was hiding.
Kino, who landed on the first floor, rushed through the living room and kicked open the doorway. At the same time, chipped wood scattered as two bullets that came flying bored two holes on the door.
“There are two people from the right… They separated into two groups, huh?”
Kino was in the eastern corner of the street, in the very last apartment facing the park. Right before its door was the road parallel to the park that ran north-south, and the expanse of the park with dead trees.
“I’ll be in serious trouble if I get cornered. There are only a few directions to go to…”
Kino went south inside the house and found a window made of frosted glass in the bathroom. She quietly raised open the dusty window and came out to the courtyard. She passed through an arch and went to a corner of a wide street that ran east-west. She lay down and put her arms around Flute, ready to shoot at any moment.
Kino spied towards the direction of the park. On the other side of the street was a similar entrance to a courtyard, and immediately to the left was a crossing on the main road to the park.
Around the corner of the building on the opposite side, the tip of the barrel of a rifle could be seen; right next to it was the face of the short man.
At the moment Kino hid her face, a bullet came flying and bounced on the stone pavement.
Kino got up and carried Flute. She pulled out Canon with her right hand, and fired one round towards the corner without taking aim.
The bullet flew towards the park, and the men backed away from the gunshot.
Kino immediately transferred Canon to her left hand. She dug her empty right hand to the cloth bag and took out one bottle. It was a medicine bottle containing a greenish liquid explosive. A short fuse was stuck in the mouth of the bottle.
Kino fired one shot from Canon to ignite the fuse. The bullet opened a hole in the courtyard wall.
She pitched the bottle with an under throw. The bottle slowly made its way diagonally across the street, and with a clink, dropped near the corner of the building without breaking.
Kino immediately squatted down, and covered the opening of her ears with both hands.
The short man who was crouching in the corner to aim, yelled as he saw the bottle thrown at him.
The short man stood up and dropped down as his comrade pulled him. He got down with his feet pointed towards the corner.
The bottle exploded.
The explosion sent out large quantities of the characteristic white smoke of liquid explosives, covering the entire crossing.
This scene was also witnessed by the three men heading towards the battlefield from the north side of the park road. A second later, the low echo of the explosion was heard.
“Is that him?” the bearded man said.
The tall man peeped through the scope. As the white smoke quickly dissipated, he saw moving people through the crosshairs of the scope. The two fallen men were trying to get up.
“The two are still alive,” the tall man said, and the bald man spoke.
“Let’s join up. It’s dangerous in the streets; let’s exit through the courtyard. If you see him, shoot.”
The three men entered a nearby street. From the nearby courtyard, they passed through a building one after another.
The tall man guarded the south, while the bearded man took the north.
Over there, the stone pavement was dyed black from the explosion and fragments of the building were scattered about. Almost all of the glass windows nearby were broken.
The bald man looked at the two, and raised their upper bodies when he confirmed that there were no major injuries. He dragged them right next to the building and leaned them on the wall.
“Are you okay?”
The rucksack-carrying man shook his head a few times. Dust fell off him.
“My ears were badly injured… *cough!* Other than that, I’m fine.”
“I’m not gonna die yet,” the short man said. His face was covered by scratches. Blood was flowing down his cheeks. The hem of his pants was slightly burnt.
The bald man handed the rucksack-carrying man a bottle of water.
“Where did that guy disappear to…? Is he dead?” the short man asked while wiping away the blood from his cheeks.
The bald man answered. “No, he’s still alive. Like us, he used the explosion as a chance to continue through the courtyard. He was afraid of getting cornered, so he must have run to the south side. We can’t trace his footsteps in the dust.”
“Son of a bitch…,” the short man murmured with a hint of annoyance. There were cuts in his mouth, and blood dripped from it. The rucksack-carrying man silently passed him the water bottle.
The short man spewed out the water mixed with blood.
“There he is. Crossing the park,” the tall man said. He was sitting with one knee up, right elbow on his right knee. He was looking through the scope of the rifle poised on top of his left knee.
Everyone looked at the same direction. The bald man looked at the target with his binoculars.
The place was quite far to the south, in the park with dead grass and weeds. From there, the silhouette of the person running across looked like a grain of rice with the naked eye, but with binoculars, the shape of a rifle was clearly recognizable.
“It’s far. Can we get him?” the bald man asked.
The tall man silently twined the leather strap of his rifle on his left arm. He balanced the rifle and tried to catch the running opponent in the scope’s crosshairs. He slightly aimed higher and fired.
A high-pitched gunfire rang. The men looked at the target. The target continued to run.
He quickly loaded a second bullet.
The tall man fired. The target continued to run.
Third shot. A strong wind blew and raised a cloud of dust.
Fourth shot. The target continued to run.
The fifth round was fired. Only a little more and the target would have finished crossing the park, when the target fell forward.
“Did you get him?” the rucksack-carrying man asked from behind.
“Nope. He took cover,” the bald man said, looking through the binoculars.
The moment the short man asked this,
“Everybody down!” the bald man shouted. A figure aiming towards their direction was reflected in the binoculars.
In response, the men dropped down instantly.
Only the tall man, who was removing the last empty cartridge from his rifle, remained in his position.
As Kino heard the sound of the fifth bullet tearing through the air, she pretended to fall diagonally, prostrate on the dead grass. She then positioned Flute and looked through the scope. She soon saw the men drop down. She looked at the person who had been firing at her earlier.
Kino aimed at that man. The distance was considerably far, and the wind was blowing. She moved the crosshair a little diagonally upwards from where the man is.
She fired. And continued to fire.
No gunshot was heard. There was only the buzz of the bullets being incessantly fired, and the nearby stone pavement and brick buildings being chipped off soon after in succession.
The four men covered their heads with their arms while lying down. Only the tall man remained positioned on his empty persuader, glaring through its scope towards the person who was firing at them.
He glared in silence.
When the nine bullets of the magazine were spent, Flute’s bolt retracted and remained in its position.
The man in the scope’s view did not change his position.
“No good, huh… I thought at least one bullet would hit him.”
Kino stood up quickly, and while thin smoke was still rising from the heated barrel, she carried Flute under her arms and ran the remaining distance to the park.
She soon crossed it and entered the wide street.
Before her was a mountain of rubble.
“Let’s follow. Spread out horizontally. Avoid the front of the street where he fled, and cross the park immediately. He won’t be able to climb high up the ‘street ruins’. Be alert out front.”
As the bald man gave instructions, the prostrate men raised their heads. With their glittering eyes surrounded by creases, they stared towards the direction they’re heading to.
The shoulder of the tall man, who still sat in his position, was tapped by the short man, whose face was now slanderous.
“Hey…,” the tall man said. A bead of sweat trickled down his cheek.
The tall man took out five bullets from his ammunition pouch.
“That guy, that bastard…, I’ll kill him…”
He pushed the bullets firmly into the rifle, one bullet a time.
“Sure,” the short man nodded, helping up the man who was filling the rifle with bullets.
“I’ll definitely kill him,” the man who stood up said in a thunderous voice.
“I understand. ——Let’s go.”
The five men set off with the tall man going last.
Blood started to gradually seep out from the flank of his jacket.
There were five gunshots after the explosion. And then it became very silent.
“It’s not yet over? ——Could it be that Kino is having such a hard time? ——That, or she’s giving the other side a hard time?” Hermes complained.
“How boring…. Well, since the weather is bad, it’s not a bad idea to stay underneath this building. Finally it’s getting cold, but I wonder what Kino will do if the snow continues to fall. I don’t like to fall down every day…,” he complained once again.
“There…,” the rucksack-carrying man said.
The road was filled with the collapsed portions from the destroyed second floors of the apartments on both sides. The rubble makes poor foothold, but created a number of hiding places. The men concealed themselves in a place where the rubble was around a man’s height.
“Hey,” the short man spoke to the tall man. He pointed to a hole in a collapsed wall on the left side.
“I’ll be the decoy. I’ll run to that hole, and if he shows his face, take him down. Whether it’s one of my arms or both, this time, be patient,” he said while grinning.
The bald man and the tall man looked at each other, then nodded.
The tall man clambered up the rubble, and slowly raised his head and persuader as much as he can.
“I’ll get you…,” he murmured.
The short man jumped out. He pushed through the rubble and ran towards the hole. At the same time, the tall man rose up in a kneeling position. On the other side of the rubble, he saw the head and rifle of the opponent peeking out.
The tall man noticed that the opponent did not aim towards the man who had jumped out.
From the beginning, the opponent was aiming roughly towards his direction. At the moment he showed his face, the opponent finished adjusting the aim.
The man ground his molars.
The bullet instantly moved to the top of the rubble.
It hit the tall man’s wide open left eye, and penetrated to the back of his head.
When the man who ran and safely made it to the wall turned around, he saw blood spurting from the head of his fallen comrade.
“That bastard! Damn it!” the man screamed. He revealed himself from the hole and tried to aim, but in the next moment, his rifle burst flying. A second bullet grazed his right arm and made a scratch.
The man concealed himself in the hole, and then shouted. “There he is! Behind that car’s shade! Bottom left!”
At the end of the rubble where the men were concealed, there was an abandoned car smashed by collapsed bricks. The bald man showed his face for a moment to check.
“We’ll get him. A grenade. Distance, eighty.”
The rucksack-carrying man put down his rucksack and took out a rifle grenade from inside. The thick cylinder at the top contained blasting powder, while the narrow cylinder at its rear has a wing attached to it.
He opened the bolt of his own rifle, and inserted special blank ammunition for the wooden warhead. He plugged the grenade at the tip of the barrel, and erected the gun sight from the side of the rifle.
The bald man spoke. “Straight ahead.”
The rucksack-carrying man nodded. He pulled out the safety pin on the grenade’s tip. He pressed the rifle’s stock to the ground, adjusted the angle with the gun sight, and pulled the trigger.
The grenade made a big, heavy explosive sound as it was launched.
Kino reacted instantly when she heard the explosion. From the side of the car, she jumped to the right and ran six steps.
Behind her, the grenade exploded at the side of the car.
The bearded man gestured a thumbs-down to the man hiding behind the wall. The short man replied with a big shake of the head.
“He ran to the side! To the leftmost side of the street!”
“One more shot. A little to the left,” the bald man said.
The man put down the rucksack, quickly reloaded blank ammunition, and placed a grenade at the tip of the rifle. He aimed, and fired.
While dust and small stones dropped off Kino, she raised herself from her prone position. Then she sat on the top of the rubble, looking upward. The car that received a direct hit had all of its glass broken, and was reduced to scrap.
With the second explosion, Kino set up Flute. A black mass rose up in the cloudy sky.
Kino did not peek through the scope. From the bottom of the metal scope, she drew a high parabolic aim towards the mass and fired.
An explosion occurred mid-air in the street. The explosion left a black smoke, and fine debris scattered in the surrounding surface.
“What?” The man who launched the grenade raised a surprised voice.
“He shot it down! He shot down the grenade!” the short man shouted while clinging to the hole in the wall.
“What a guy,” the bearded man muttered in shock.
“Son of a bitch…,” the short man spat. His rifle was lying on top of the rubble. As he stuck out his face to spy, a bullet struck immediately. This time the bullet cut a line through his cheek, and crushed one brick of the building.
“Damn it!” The man hid himself.
While holding Flute, Kino removed the magazine with her left hand and inserted a new one.
Debris fell from the top of her hat when she shook her head lightly.
Among the three men in front of the rubble, it was the bearded man who spoke. The other two looked at him.
From the hole in the wall, the short man wrapped the wound in his right arm with cloth using his left hand and mouth.
“I’ll go. I’ll take the rest of the explosives. At this point, there’s no reason for my comrades to get reduced any further. I’ll try to ‘persuade’ him.”
The bald man who was looking at the bearded man for some time asked, “Why does it have to be you?”
The bearded man spoke. “I am the oldest, see. You should respect your elders.”
“……. Fine…,” the bald man said, and took out a small shoulder bag from the rucksack. Inside were four box-shaped explosives. The other person took out from his waist pouch a tobacco-like object with a long cord. It was the fuse.
“It will take seven seconds after pulling the string.”
The bearded man took it, carefully inserted it in the explosives and stopped it with his hand.
The man pulled the pendant from his neck, and removed it.
“Take care of this,” he held it out to the bald man and then, “I’ll take it back later.”
The bearded man dropped the pendant onto the outstretched hand, and held the hand tightly. Then he also held the hand of the other man.
The bearded man inserted the fuse in the explosive, and hung the shoulder bag around his neck. He turned it around so that it wouldn’t be visible from the front. The tip of the cord was concealed by his neck.
“We have something to say!” a thick and loud voice came out. “We have something to say!”
The bearded man lifted up both his hands, and slowly revealed himself from the rubble.
Upon seeing him, the face of the man in the wall changed color ——he instantly understood what he was trying to do.
The bearded man walked over the rubble. No bullets came.
Slowly, the man walked while checking his foothold. He passed in front of the hole in the wall.
“We have something to say!”
The wind carried the man’s voice to Kino’s ears clearly.
Kino looked once at the hole in the wall and moved her aim to the head of the man with upraised hands.
“We have something to say!”
When the bearded man had advanced halfway through, a voice replied, “Do not get any closer, please talk from there.”
It was a voice just loud enough for the man to hear.
“We have something to say! I don’t have a persuader! I’ll go there!” the man shouted as he continued to walk.
“I can hear you just fine, so please talk from there.”
He ignored the voice and kept walking.
“If you advance any further, I’ll shoot. Please stop.”
He heard the order when the remaining distance was only about one-third. The bearded man saw the opponent aiming at him. It was a young person wearing a hat and goggles.
The bearded man laughed once. And then,
“Uwaaaaaaaaa!” He ran as he roared. He grasped the bag in his back with his right hand, and held the cord with his left.
The first bullet hit his belly. The second bullet hit his right lung.
The man continued to rush forward. He pulled the cord with his left hand. The man’s right hand threw the bag using his right hand with full force.
It was the moment when he released it from his hand.
The third bullet hit the bag. In mid-air, the cloth made a ripping sound as a hole tore through it, and the bag’s forward force was extinguished.
After throwing, the man who rolled face down saw the bag fell down right in front of his eyes.
“! ——Uwaaah!” While screaming, the man rose to pick it up, and ran as he held it in his arms.
Kino did not fire a fourth bullet. She turned away from the field.
She avoided the edge of the crumbling street and began to run at full speed towards the center.
There was an explosion.
The blast broke through the length of the street. There was a violent tremor, and the buildings began to collapse.
The man in the wall jumped out as it was filled with dust. Soon the wall collapsed.
No one could be seen any more in the street, where the dust rolled up like thunderclouds.
The shock from the explosion shook Hermes a little.
“Oh—— Earthquake, it’s an earthquake,” Hermes muttered.
“‘The earthquake intensity just now is about one-half? —The shaking is especially greater in seaside areas, so be on alert for tsunamis. More details will be provided shortly in the news,’” he further said to himself.
“So boring…” he murmured.
The wind blew, and the dust was wiped off and disappeared from the rubble-filled street.
“Did we do it…?” the bald man said as he looked at the mountain of rubble that was now higher than before. At the same time, one part of a building collapsed.
He went looking for his comrades. On the left side, the rucksack-carrying man, and a little further on top of the rubble the short man, were lying. Dust and stone fell off both of the men as they stood up. Harsh coughing sounds were heard.
As the bald man helped his comrade up, he noticed something and picked it up.
“Did we do it?” the rucksack-carrying man asked.
“We don’t know yet,” the bald man answered and showed him what he was holding. It was a right boot, containing a torn leg.
The boot looked familiar.
“Gone. He’s gone.”
The short man was up front, with his rifle raised to his waist, proceeding atop the rubble. Behind him, the bald man aimed ahead with the rifle’s scope.
“That degree of explosion would blow off everything and wouldn’t leave any trace…,” the rucksack-carrying man said. A grenade was already inserted in his rifle.
“We can’t be careless.”
They passed through the center of the explosion. Stuff that appeared to be internal organs were stuck on the side of the wall. The men advanced further.
“I found it! That bastard’s blood!” the short man exclaimed. The bald man approached, looking carefully at his surroundings.
On the street rubble, there was a small pool of blood, from which traces of blood started. Blood drips the size of the tip of a thumb were scattered here and there, and continued ahead the street.
“We did it. He bled considerably,” the short man said.
“Depends on where he was hit… However, he is definitely injured,” the bald man said without changing expression.
The bloodstains extended towards the east.
Eventually, the crumbled buildings on both sides disappeared from view. Right in front was a not-so-high iron fence completely tumbled on its side. Beyond it was an expanse of land, and beside it was a large concrete building. It was a three-storey building with many glass windows.
“He escaped into the schoolhouse,” the short man said. The three men concealed themselves behind two abandoned cars on the road in front of the fence. The bloodstains were lying beyond the fence, straight through the schoolyard.
“An ambush, eh?” the rucksack-carrying man said.
“Grenade. Can we do it from this distance? How many left?” the bald man asked as he lowered his body, looking out front with the binoculars. The rucksack-carrying man answered.
“It’s possible. But barely, since we’re aiming from a low position. There are five shots left.”
“I’ll get him to come out. I’ll be the decoy. Even if he shoots my leg, don’t come out. Fire four grenades in a row towards that room. Got it?”
The two men nodded, and replied with the same word.
“I’m very sorry…. However…,” Kino said. Both of her hands were dyed a deep red.
As usual, the sky was covered with unbroken clouds.
While the bald man was keeping his body low, he went across the schoolyard holding his rifle, one step at a time. There was nowhere to hide.
On both sides of the car, the two men were peeking through their scopes, their fingers ready in the triggers. They were suppressing their rough breathing, staring at the broken pieces of glass windows of the schoolhouse for a good thirty seconds.
A gunshot echoed.
It was from the schoolhouse. Four shots fired in succession were heard. And then the roaring sounds of bullets.
The bald man dropped down, and then shouted. “Second floor! Third classroom from the right!”
The two men reacted, aiming towards that direction. They saw a barrel from the broken glass of a window, from which the high-pitched gunshots were coming out. The bullets drifted far above the car.
Two grenades were launched at the same time.
They flew in a low trajectory, breaking through the glass and flying into the room. They exploded.
All the glass windows of the classroom shattered. The pieces of shattered glass fell into the balcony.
The men fired two more grenades.
Both shots flew into the window frame, right where they aimed.
The man lying down in the school yard peeked through the scope as he listened to the explosions.
No moving figure could be seen inside the wrecked classroom. No one fired a shot. All of a sudden it became quiet, and the sound of the wind could be clearly heard.
“Did we do it?” the man murmured.
Dried bloodstains crossed the schoolyard, climbed up the staircase on the right side of the schoolhouse, and headed towards the second floor hallway.
The short man put out his head into the long and dark corridor. The bloodstains extended towards the third classroom. Even from the corridor, the blown off door dangling from its hinge was visible.
The men walked in the hallway, prepared to shoot at any moment. They came to the front of the door; while one person was poising his persuader, another kicked the door open.
They saw what’s inside. The grenade’s fragments pierced the ceiling, floor and inner walls. Several desks rolled over, their frames made of iron pipes bent.
“There’s nothing here…,” the short man said, slowly entering. Inside, there was nobody. There was no corpse.
The bald man entered while the rucksack-carrying man guarded the back.
“Hey. It’s that guy’s rifle. Seems like it’s still usable.”
The short man found the persuader trapped underneath a desk, and lightly poked it with his foot. Several fragments pierced the stock, but its scope and parts were safe under the desk.
As the short man tried to pick it up,
“Get it later. We have to see his corpse,” the bald man said.
The short man lifted up his crouching body, and did not notice the thin wire wrapped around Flute’s trigger.
The rucksack-carrying man found bloodstains underneath the desk. It went through another door, going out to the hallway. Sticky dots were rubbed off the floor.
“What a tough guy,” the short man said with a grin. With him first, they went out to the hallway once again. There were footprints from the left foot, and on the right side, there was blood.
This did not surprise them, and continued searching the next two classrooms. They opened the first door, and saw that there were marks of it being closed. There were no traces of anyone leaving this room.
The two men poised their rifles; the short man crouched to the side of the door, slowly turning the knob.
He pushed the door. It opened with a creak.
While poising his rifle, the short man moved his gaze from the blood clots on the floor to the inside of the room. A red line crawled on the floor, extended to the center of the classroom, and ended underneath a desk.
On top of the table, there was a familiar face.
It was the face of the bearded man. His eyes were shut, as if he was sleeping. Behind it was the head, and underneath was the neck.
And there was a desk wet with blood. There was nothing else in the classroom.
These were the only sounds that leaked out from the short man’s mouth. His eyes were wide open as he stepped into the room. Shortly, the other two men also saw the traces. On top of the desk, they saw the freshly severed head.
The severed head was on top of the cloth where it was wrapped some time ago. The cloth was dyed deep red.
“It was not his blood…,” the rucksack-carrying man said.
“Ah… a-aah… That bastard… That bastard…” While moaning, the short man approached the desk.
“That bastard… What a thing to do… Damn it… How awful… That bastard… To desecrate the body of a dead man… That bastard… That bastard…”
The rifle fell from the man’s hands. The short man, while crying, stretched out both his hands towards his comrade’s head.
“How horrible… This sort of thing…”
He touched the cheeks with both hands,
“I’ll take him on… I’ll take him on… Ah…”
And lifted his comrade (‘s head).
“Stop!” the bald man cried out. At the same time, a string tied to a hair on the back of the severed head got pulled. On it, a waterproof match was attached, the tip of which was placed between two stones. As well as a fuse.
A small green bottle hidden in the hair fell on top of the cloth. Small sparks from the fuse scattered from the bottle’s mouth. The short man looked at it.
The schoolhouse shook with a thunderous roar. All the glass panes of the classroom were blown off.
The white smoke was blown towards the balcony.
From the side of the stairs on the north side, Kino walked as she saw the smoke disappear from the hallway. She headed to the destroyed classroom.
With her right hand stained deep red with another person’s blood, she pulled out Canon and entered the wrecked classroom from the blown off door.
Of the three men, one person lost his upper body. Those were splattered all over the wall.
Another person was wriggling against the wall, bleeding from a glass fragment piercing his face. His trembling hands held a grenade, and he was trying to pull out the safety pin from its tip.
The bald man lying face up beside the door stirred. He tried to draw out his hand persuader from the holster on his waist using his right hand.
Kino stood in front of the man holding the grenade, and fired a bullet to his chest. The man let out a cry, and stopped moving.
With his bloody right hand, the bald man pointed his hand persuader towards Kino. He attempted to pull the trigger.
“It will not fire, you know,” Kino said. The man’s right hand applied force (to the trigger).
And no bullet came out.
The persuader dropped from the man’s hand. The man looked at his right hand. His index and middle fingers had been torn off.
Kino stood beside the man.
“This young… it was a mere boy…,” the man said while looking quietly at Kino.
“Why me? If you don’t mind, can you tell me the reason?” Kino asked. The man took one deep breath, and spoke.
“What’s wrong with protecting our own country…?”
“Your own country…?” Kino asked in return.
The man reached out his right hand to his own breast and pulled out the chain of a pendant with his thumb. It was a small, round pendant with a star design.
He put it up in front of his face and looked at it.
“This place is our country…. That’s why we fight…”
The man started to mutter, not paying attention to anyone in particular.
“Aah… We couldn’t do anything. We couldn’t do anything and returned shamelessly…. We couldn’t become heroes. Everyone’s gone…. At the very least, until the end, we will try to become heroes… by protecting this country…. Ah, even so, it was no good. Until the very end, we couldn’t become heroes…”
Kino was listening.
The man spoke to Kino. “Come now, kill me quick. One shot… take me to where everybody is.”
“There’s no need for that. You will die soon,” Kino answered. She replied to the man whose left hand was blown off, exposing a big, bloody mass of flesh.
“Whatever,” the bald man said with a grin.
And he died smiling.
Kino gently closed the man’s eyes.
“‘——Even if our heroes do not come back, they will always be alive in our hearts——’”
Kino murmured. And then she closed her eyes.
“Welcome back, Kino. You are stained with so much blood, are you hurt anywhere?”
“You killed them all?”
“Then, everything’s fine now?”
“Yeah, everything’s fine. No one will shoot us without warning while we’re riding anymore.”
“Kino. The pouch on your left.”
“There’s a hole. Could it be that you were shot?”
“……. Ah, I didn’t notice at all…. When was it, I wonder? At the park, maybe?”
“Then, what about my souvenir?”
“What’s this? It’s just a bullet.”
“It’s a bullet from the rifle those men used. Exactly like Flute’s. I got a lot of these bullets.”
“What was that about? Don’t you have any other souvenirs?”
“Ah. I have a story for you.”
“Eh? What kind?”
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