Battlefields were like butterflies. They swayed and swayed, lives wandering about infinitely without a destination.
“I am going to break down their vanguard artillery.”
Battles were like businesses. Filled with lies and truths, bargaining, deceptions. Things progressed with revenues and losses.
“I’ll back you up. But Violet, this fight isn’t only yours. Don’t forget that.”
The bigger the proportion, the lower the chances of the ones that had started said battles to be in them. They would throw their soldiers into the blazing flames like chess pieces on a board.
“I recognize that. However, I alone can suffice for a breakthrough. I concluded that involving others would be unnecessary.”
Although the soldiers were bundled up together, that was, in fact, a gathering of distinct individuals.
“War is not something personal of yours. Victory is reached through the cooperation of all soldiers.”
With so many of them, there were surely those who were bound to become very close to one another in the mass of people.
“I understand. As a soldier, I shall grant you victory, Major. And protect you. That is what I exist for.”
Even if the color of their skin, the words that would spew from their lips or everything they had on them were reproved, everyone was the same at the beginning of all. Were they dismembered, there would be no difference in the composition of their blood, flesh or bones. However, even the bodies of snowy countries’ young men and southern nations’ boys were currently sinking within the soil of what was the motherland of none of them.
“I am fine. Prioritize your own body.”
The interchange from life to death occurred naturally, due to the existence of a greater cause.
“Major, I am your tool; your weapon. Weapons… exist to protect their wielders. Please do not say that to me. The word you always use… is enough for an order. Please say it. ‘Kill’.”
If so, what happened in the meantime that said cause was lost?
Emerald-green orbs darkened. In a battlefield of scorching grassland and deluging dirt, the Lord and his subordinate locked eyes with each other. The subordinate kept by the Lord was a beautiful monstrosity. Said monstrosity prided in being the strongest fighter, and was as ignorant as she was innocent. Until the time when her eyelids would close for eternity, she would not know the feeling of having her body burn. There was conviction but no salvation for her. Her hands never held onto anything, and she would most likely continue living that way.
She was definitely destined to do so.
The Girl Soldier and Her Everything
The long-lasting confrontation involving the allied nations of the East, West, North and South of the continent was named the Continental War. Resources strife between North and South; religious strife between East and West. The diverging interests of the Northeast and Southwest, which had formed an alliance with and convolutely comprised each other, interwove with one another and eventually broke out. The Northeast lost, the Southwest won.
Originally, the inequality of the trade between South and North was much too strong, which compelled the North to start the war. The voices of criticism regarding the victory were many, coming from countries that had not participated in the war. What was essential to the war was compensation once it was over. Due to disapproval from other countries, the southern side had only requested the removal of military factories, mainly producing and storing weapons and ammunition, after war reparation. The northern countries had scarce natural resources, but their machinery industry was superior to the South. The confiscation of such technology and the calling-off of their military forces was what served as the compensation.
As no other sanctions had been imposed, there seemed to be peace at first glimpse, but in reality, it was not an exaggeration to say that unsaid rules had been imposed.
The settlement of the East-West war was of superficial mutual reconciliation. The West, victorious, did not forbid the forms of belief of the East and suggested coexistence. However, it was not a reciprocated compromise in the true sense, as it conditioned the East to accommodate to a certain amount of taxes for each church of the West. Moreover, the East had been prohibited of pilgrimage to Intense, the most important sacred grounds of the East-West religion, which had also been the site of the decisive final battle.
There were numerous states all over the continent’s territory. The lump called Continental War had been but one of the conflicts caused by bigger countries putting limits to each other. Nonetheless, peace was brought temporarily to the concerning nations.
Along with post-war reparations, the wounded soldiers would clearly be included in the subjects to come. Soldiers provided for national defense once wars were over. The current objective was to devote medical treatment to the ones that had been injured in the war.
Leidenschaftlich, one of the winning countries, had its military hospital built on a not-so-tall hill. The name of said hill was Anshene. It was a problematic location, as the roadway to it, made by cutting dense trees, was narrow and required caution and driving skills whenever carriages and cars had to pass by one another. Originally, it was a recreational facility of the army, and had been quickly transformed into a medical one in order to make up for the lack of hospitals. Such was one of the consequences brought by the war, in which so many soldiers had been injured that the number of sickbays became insufficient.
When going down the road, one had to pay attention to the passage of small animals, such as squirrels and rabbits. After three or so small animal attention signs, the hospital could be sighted. The property retained a luxurious, broad garden. It was a place for playing outdoor ball games, where one could bask in a peaceful walk through the woods. Even the parts of it that no one used would now likely see the light of the sun. Due to the increasing support of wounded soldiers’ families, the hospital had recently become able to acquire regularly operating shared stagecoaches. Children brought in them played together albeit often being strangers to one another.
Amidst those who hopped off the stagecoach was a remarkable man. He wore a tone-on-tone plaid vest over a white shirt and wide pants made of a Bordeaux-colored fabric, decorated with Suède strings. A plaid ornamental cloth rustled from his waist belt. He was a charismatic man, his fairly long crimson hair tied behind his head. Perhaps because he had many acquaintances in the hospital, amongst not only the nurses but also hospitalized patients and their families, he pleasantly returned all the greetings directed at him. His gait was unfaltering.
He climbed up the stairs and walked through the corridors. The scenery from the windows was the best view that Anshene hill could provide. Beyond the mountain woods was Leiden, the port capitol. A gull flew in the distance, growing farther away. The current season was early summer. The mountain winds brought in the smell of freshly blooming flowers through the open windows.
The room that the man entered after a knock was an infirmary used by multiple people. Female and male soldiers were apparently split. Some patients of that room were separated by curtains and could not be seen, but all were women.
“Mister Hodgins, she has awoken… honestly, it was a hassle.”
The so-called Hodgins was dumbfounded upon being informed in a fatigued tone by a nurse accompanying a patient. “No way, seriously?” his voice echoed through the infirmary. Breaking into falsetto, it denoted amazement, joy and a little bit of unease.
He gazed at the interior of the room with a nervous look. The one he had asked for lay there, on a bed made of rusted white pipes, staring at her own hands. The eyes that wondrously observed the artificial limbs as if they had been forcefully attached to her shoulders were of a clear blue color. Her hair grew unevenly, but was as flowy and golden as a sea of rice ears. She was a girl so beautiful that she could take one’s breath away with just a glance.
As she took notice of Hodgins, who was searching for words as he walked to her side, she opened her mouth first, “Major… where is… Major Gil… bert?” Her lips had cracks from being too dry, blood welling in them.
“Little Violet… you were quite a bit of a Sleeping Beauty.”
The girl was an injured soldier, just as the other patients. She was the driving force of Leidenschaftlich’s army, acting from the shadows without any registration – the weapon that only a certain man could use, Violet.
“Do you… recognize me? It’s Hodgins. I commanded the Leidenschaftlich units at Intense. See, during the night of the last battle, we greeted each other, remember? You weren’t waking up, so I was worried.”
However, for Hodgins, the fact that she was the soldier his best friend had raised was more significant. As the other patients began talking with one another in hushed whispers, he closed the partition curtains and sat on a nearby chair.
Violet looked into the gap between the curtains. She was probably expecting someone to enter from there. “What about Major…?”
“He isn’t here. Since he has been… busy because of the postwar victory. It’s not a situation where he’d have an opportunity to come.”
“Then… then… he is alive, right…?!”
“What about his wounds? How are they?”
Taken aback by her frantic aggressiveness, Hodgins stalled for an answer. “In terms of injuries, he was in a better state than you. You should worry more about yourself.”
“Whatever happens to me… does not matt…” for a moment, Violet peeked into Hodgins’s eyes as if suspecting of something. “Is this information true?” Her gaze was icy. Precisely because she was so beautiful, her outer ghastliness increased with it.
Yet Hodgins stared back into her blue eyes without wavering. Contrastingly, he put on a cheerful smile. “Worry not, Little Violet. I’ve come to visit you because he asked me to.” With a gentle tone, he created an atmosphere as warm as possible.
Such was Hodgins specialty. From extolling his superiors to making his way into ladies’ bedrooms, the process was different but the technique was the same.
Firstly, he had to make the other party think of him as an ally.
“Yeah. We’ve been best friends since back when we studied at the army’s military academy. We always help each other whenever anything happens. We might be more familiar with one another than with our own parents. That’s why I’ve also been entrusted with you. Gilbert is concerned about you. I’m the proof of that. Though you might have forgotten about me…”
“No… Major Hodgins. I recall it. That was the second time… we had met.”
“Eh, you remembered up to the first one? You… didn’t say that on the night of the last battle.”
Hodgins had said during their second encounter, “Well, this isn’t your first meeting with me, but you don’t remember it, do you? I’m an one-sided acquaintance of yours. Call me ‘Major Hodgins’.” And in response, Violet had merely saluted him.
“I had not thought I was being asked to speak.”
“Do you really remember… our meeting in the training grounds?”
“I had not yet learned words back then, so whatever was said is unclear to me. But Major Hodgins was very friendly with Major… Major Gilbert.”
As he had thought she had taken no notice of such things, his happiness was more prominent than his astonishment. The tension that had previously surrounded the two of them had diminished slightly. Violet was self-conscious of Hodgins, and Hodgins was self-conscious of Violet.
“Is that so? He is all right…?” Violet closed her eyes and sighed in relief.
What the nurse had described as a “hassle” possibly referred to that. Someone who would only ask about Gilbert in spite of whatever was being said to her was unquestionably a hassle.
“Your unit’s achievement was particularly huge. To compensate, there were many casualties, but… it’s the same for all the corps. Just as planned, you caused a disruption, destroyed the North’s posture, and we were able to strike them down.”
“The doctors have told me… that we won the Great War. But I do not… have any memory… of the very end.”
“You were lying on top of Gilbert and you both fell unconscious. Then, you were saved by a comrade who called for reinforcements. It was close, but well, neither of you died. Your blood loss was especially profuse.”
——Your resistance level is beyond that of humans. Such words had traveled up his throat, yet he did not muster them out.
“What kind of mission… is Major in at the moment? When should I join him? My body… is not moving, but… it will return to normal within a few days. Major was also supposed to have suffered serious damage. His eye…” Violet’s voice wilted halfway, “I was unable to protect him. I will at least stay by his side to replace his eye.”
——It ain’t very good… to believe too much… in something.
From the very start, the girl had not mourned the loss of her arms at all, only worrying about a man that was not present. Hodgins could not sincerely think well of her blind devotion.
——Trust and faith are different things.
Violet’s attitude was close to faith. Hodgins’s way of thinking was, very much like him, oriented by a calculation of profit and loss. Be it with material possessions or with lovers, overestimation was not advantageous. Otherwise, any case of sudden betrayal or disappearance would be unbearable. He was very passionately enthusiastic when it came to social disposition, but his reasoning was cold.
“That will be impossible, Little Violet. The one who should worry about their body is you. Your arms… you must already have noticed, but there was nothing that could have been done. I’d wanted them… to have put prosthetics of a more subtle design on you, but… this is a military hospital. They ended up being combat-specialized ones. I’m sorry.”
“It is good that they are sturdy. Why are you apologizing, Major Hodgins?”
Upon being asked, Hodgins shrugged. He had no words to reply with. “I wonder why.” His eyebrows were low as if he were troubled.
With that, the conversation came to a halt and a drape of silence fell between them. Perhaps because the infirmary was quiet, said drape was painfully perceptible.
“Little Violet, is there anything you want to eat?”
The sound of the second hand of a clock hanging on one of the infirmary’s walls.
“No, Major Hodgins.”
The whispering voices of nurses and patients.
“Don’t you… want some water?”
Their own breathing.
“It is unnecessary.”
They all echoed much too conspiscuously.
An image of every bullet of potential topics shot at Violet being sliced by her with her battle-axe Witchcraft played in Hodgins’s head. The talk did not progress from there.
——This is a problem. To think that a guy like me would have difficulty chatting with a girl…
Hodgins groaned inwardly at how considerably hard it was to please the Warrior Maiden of Leidenschaftlich. Their only commonality was Gilbert Bougainvillea. However, since she dedicated her body to her Lord to the point that the first thing she had asked upon awakening were his whereabouts, wouldn’t speaking of him only cause her to feel desolate?
——I mean… does she even think of anything as lonesome? She does seem… obsessed with him, though.
It was hardly imaginable that the girl, who looked like an inorganic and refined art piece, was a living being. Was she alive or dead? If she were alive, what did she enjoy in her life?
——Aah… Gilbert, you’ve asked a pretty troublesome favor.
It was difficult to divide people into two types, but there were those who could withstand silence and who could not. Hodgins was rather the latter. His gaze instinctively lowered to his feet as he aimlessly rocked his shoes with them. As his droopy, grayish blue eyes wandered to the floor, he found something. He then reminisced to the existence of what could get him out of his dilemma.
“That’s right, I had brought gifts for the visit! I’d been avoiding doing this because I was told it would get in the nurses’ way, but I’ve actually been bringing in a quite a bit of stuff until now. Here.” Hodgins took paper bags from under the bed. He turned towards Violet, who could not sit up, and pulled a stuffed black cat from within one of them.
Violet’s reaction was minimal.
He then took out a stuffed feline with tiger strips. Lastly, he took out a stuffed dog. Lining the three of them up, he made them bow with a, “‘Hello’!”
Her reaction was still dull.
“Is it… no good?”
“Did they get reproved as a present for you?”
Violet’s big eyes blinked. Her golden lashes swayed as well. “For me…?” She really did hold doubt. “Why for me?” Violet asked again, adding one more word.
“Since you were injured and hospitalized, getting gifts during visits is only the obvious. I see, so you’d never been hospitalized before. These are my feelings… like, ‘get well soon’. Your belongings… have gone missing in the postwar turmoil. You have nothing now. That’s why, in order for the room not to get lonely…” at that second, Hodgins’s body gave a pronounced flinch.
It was because Violet had let out a gasp that sounded like a swallowed scream.
“A-Are you okay, Little Violet?”
“My brooch… my emerald brooch… it is something that Major gave me. If it has been lost, I must look for it. It was given to me…!” Violet moved her neck in a forceful attempt to stand.
Hodgins frantically moved to stop her. Nevertheless, there were no issues, even without him holding her back. Violet could not get up at all.
There was no way that someone who had been in a coma for months, and on top of it, had their upper limbs fall off and be replaced by artificial ones, could immediately start walking around. Her prosthetics creaked.
He held down her shoulders as she seemed to be about to collapse. From the sides, it looked as if he was pinning her violently.
——Cut me some slack.
Hodgins’s inner gentleman could not forgive the manner with which he was pressing down the girl soldier that his best friend had entrusted to him, who was also a woman weakened due to losing her arms.
“Is it fine as long as it’s emerald? I’ll buy another to replace it, okay?”
Violet shook her head slightly. “There is… no replacement.” She closed her eyes as if suppressing something.
Hodgins concluded it was an extremely important item. “I understand. I’ll buy it back, so rest assured, Little Violet.” He declared without thinking twice.
“Can you do it…?” Violet’s resistance ceased instantaneously.
Without delay, Hodgins put on a boastful grin and nodded, “Probably. I think it’s gone to the black market. I’ll try to contact a merchant that I’m acquainted with. Please, don’t think of going anywhere out of here in that state. Until then, couldn’t you endure it using these? Stuffed toys and brooches are… completely different things, but… ain’t they cute? This is exactly like one I used to own in the past. Little Violet, would you have preferred stuffed rabbits or bears?”
“I do not know.”
“Which is the cutest one out of them? If you had to choose no matter what, tell me which it would be.”
She had certainly never been asked such a question before. Violet silently eyed the plushes from right to left.
“What if the condition is that the world would end if you didn’t respond? Okay, three, two, one! Answer!”
“No way… the dog… maybe?”
“Mickey, right?! Ah, Mickey is the name of the dog I used to own. Then, I’ll leave him right beside you. Isn’t that great, Mickey? You’ve been chosen.” Hodgins placed the stuffed dog he had named Mickey near Violet’s face. He massaged his own chest while watching her finally calm down. Cold sweat trailed his back.
Primarily, Violet seemed to have no interest, but eventually dragged her head close to the stuffed toy and touched it with her face.
After casually watching her for a moment, Hodgins said, “Little Violet. There’s a tad too many people here, so if a private room becomes vacant, should I transfer you? The formalities have been dealt with. It’s… been several months since that last battle. At first, the infirmary was also crowded, and there weren’t enough beds. But now the number of people has finally decreased… though that was just from the fact that most who were brought here died… that’s why… it seems there will be private rooms available. When that happens, these can be put there as well…”
Was a stuffed toy itself something rare to her? Perhaps because it felt pleasant albeit feeble, Violet closed her eyes and rubbed her nose against its stomach. As she had just awakened, she could not yet move her untrained prosthetics. She could only touch it with her head. Once she had pushed it too much and it strayed, she stirred her neck and landed her cheek on it again.
“And, also…” At the sight, whatever Hodgins was about to say was erased from his mind. “Erm…”
Her actions were incredibly natural.
“Is it fun… to touch… that plushie?”
“I do not understand ‘fun’. However, I believe I want to keep touching it.” Possibly due to her anxiety and nervousness subsiding, her tone was softer than before. She politely thanked him as he held still the plush that was drifting apart from her nose once more.
——She was… this kind of child?
An emotion unlike whatever had been wafting within Hodgins until now began to sprout in a corner of his heart. It was not fear, inconvenience or desire to control. It was something more lukewarm.
“I see… yeah, I used to be like that in the past too. Little kids… ah, no, I don’t mean it in a bad way, but… little kids do that a lot. It’s not… like they’ll always be looked after by their parents.”
“I do not know my parents.”
“Aah, that’s right…”
Children would touch humanoid and animal toys in search of solace. But those were not real protection from insecurity and toxic environments. In actuality, they were but substitutes. Childhood itself was a replacement for shelter.
——She was… the kind of child to do something like this?
He could not determine anything just from her reaction.
——No, isn’t it more like… she can’t keep up without doing something like this? Right now, she is genuinely… alone.
“Erm… what was it again? That’s right, if there are any other… other… things you want me to do, just say it. Gilbert entrusted you to me. If you’re bothered by anything, I’ll try to solve the matter however I can. Somehow, the things I’m saying are messed up, huh. When you woke up, I was… a bit… shocked, and ended up talking too much.”
Violet replied curtly, “Thank you very much.”
Hodgins, who was a master at keeping a poker face, maintained a grin, but under his smiling façade, he embraced a completely different feeling.
——I see, so that’s how it was?
He had not had many opportunities to get to know Violet – only during the few days subsequent to the gruesome spectacle presented in the training grounds, in which he had seen Gilbert for the first in a long time after their promotions, and the night before the final battle. Once said battle was over, he had come visit her many times. Violet had no parents or siblings. Neither did she have friends. Hodgins was always her sole visitor.
——Even though I know how powerful she is, and how many she can kill…
Perhaps he should disqualify her as a weapon and put an end to such insanity.
——Aah, this is…
Just from conversing with her normally and watching her movements, he could understand.
——This is no good. This… I mean… Gilbert, you…
——Isn’t she… just a young girl?
Hodgins felt as if a soft spot somewhere within his heart had been hollowed out with a spoon. As she was so demonic in battle, he had forgotten about it. He had played a blind eye to it. Most likely, anyone in the Leidenschaftlich army who sighted her had done so as well.
“If this… is left in my care, will it not break?”
Violet was but a child that would do nothing when she was not fighting. She was not registered as a person, and had been raised not knowing life outside of the battlefield. She was a beauty-endowed weapon, a commodity, an asset. A girl soldier that was permitted to live in exchange for her battling capabilities had no need for unnecessary knowledge.
One would never think that watching her in combat would instigate so much fear that people would not dare speak to her. Her adult-like appearance caused men to feel excited rather than paternal. She was not treated as a child at all.
——Still, what’s in front of my eyes now is…
“You can do as you please. It’s already yours.”
What lay before Hodgins’s eyes was the girl that Gilbert Bougainvillea had made a ‘person’. The one who had taught her words and manners was Gilbert himself. Doing so while leading army troops in wartime must have been terribly difficult. Hodgins knew of Violet’s initial circumstances.
“Major Hodgins, is something wrong?”
“No, nothing. Isn’t there… anything else?”
While taking back the bags, Hodgins was immersed in the feeling that his entire body was rotting. He attempted recalling how he had regarded Violet so far.
——That time, I… wagered on you.
He no longer remembered what he had bought with the cigarettes he had earned. Gilbert had stubbornly refused to take his own share.
——I had thought you would, surely, be of use to the military.
Just as he had imagined, Violet had done an excellent job. During the final battle, she had successfully caused the disturbance that had been the key of his strategy. That had been merely one portion of a grander achievement, but he did not know of other soldiers whom could say they would have accomplished the same in that situation. Had she not fought, the number of casualties amongst their allies would have been even bigger. Conversely, there were many who would have escaped death without her there. She was that kind of existence.
——I thought… we could use you.
The girl who had survived by slaughtering men one after another at those training grounds pledged allegiance to Gilbert alone. A part of Hodgins had believed that, since she was a monster, she was better off as a cold-hearted assassin doll that could not conceal her brutal nature.
——There’s no way…
The girl who had been named Violet peeked through the curtains with unyielding expectation. Her figure was similar to that of a chick searching for its parent bird.
——…that this… was the case.
“Little Violet, I’m sorry.”
“For what reason?”
“The gifts I have aren’t that good. Next time, I’ll prepare lots of stuff to surprise you. You used to travel a lot, so you haven’t gone shopping downtown, right?”
“Is that so? I’ll put in more effort next time. Get your hopes up. Even if you don’t like them and they’re no good, it’d be great if you could not throw them away.”
“I do not quite understand, but I will not do that.”
After that, even as the conversation did not continue, Hodgins stayed with Violet until sunset. They could hardly chat as Violet had continuously fallen asleep and awoken in the process, since she was unable to stay conscious for too long.
At evening, a bell would resound to inform the end of visits in the hospital. Along with it, the nurses started prompting visitors remaining in each room to take their leave. Hodgins was unable to move immediately.
“Major Hodgins, the visiting period is over.”
“Is it all right for you not to go home?”
In the beginning, their talk had not been progressing and he had wanted to hurry home, but now he wanted to be by her side very much. Leaving her alone in that state ached in his conscience. As he pierced his own heart with the fact that that such pain was too late to occur, what he felt was even more of it.
“The nurse is glaring at me, so it’s not. Guess I’ll go home… ah, speaking of which, I forgot to say this: I’m not a major anymore. I’ve quit the military.”
“Is that so?”
“What do soldiers… do when they deploy from the military?”
“We can do anything. Life doesn’t have only one path. In my case, I’m an entrepreneur trying to open his own business. I’ll be the president of an agency. Next time, I’ll tell you about that.”
“All right, Maj… Hodgins…” She was certainly at loss as to how she should refer to him.
Hodgins giggled. “You can call me ‘President Hodgins’. I don’t have any employees yet so I’m not referred to like this, and I can’t get anyone to call me that.”
“It doesn’t have a bad ring to it. When Little Violet said ‘president’, I got chills.”
“Are you cold?”
“Hmm… next time I come, I’ll explain to you about jokes.”
Although it was summer, Hodgins pulled Violet’s comforter up to shoulder level so that she would not be chilly at night, placing the dog plush next to her face once again. She stared straight into him. Unlike the first time she had done so, Hodgins was unable to bear it and wound up averting his gaze. He directed it to the window. The scenery that could be seen from the infirmary was dyed with the orange shades of sunset.
The borders of day and night intertwining was a scene that one would always end up contemplating, regardless of where they were, what time it was or what they were doing. The clouds in the sky, the sea, the earth, the city, the people; a madder red light poured over everything. Even as those that received such grace were not actually equal, at that moment, all were homogeneously covered and gradually being embraced by the night. As Hodgins commented, “Pretty, huh?”, Violet replied with, “It is beautiful.”
“Well, then.” Hodgins said as he got up from his chair.
“This isn’t a ‘farewell’. I’ll come again.”
——Though you… may have zero interest in me.
Opposing his expectations, Violet whispered expressionlessly, “See you…”
She had fixed the “farewell” into “see you”.
“Yeah, see ya, Little Violet.”
After a brief silence as if she were deep in thought, Violet nodded a bit.
Insects cried so as to inform the world of their short life.
The hospital of Leidenschaftlich’s army was encircled by a forest with lush greenery. The path arranged for wheelchairs to pass through pushed by volunteer soldiers had recently started turning into a resting place for patients. Wooden tables and chairs were scattered along its course, and it was not uncommon to see the hospital staff distributing meals around them at lunchtime. In that midst were a man and a girl.
“Little Violet, aren’t you tired?”
Both sat on stump chairs next to each other. Some time had passed since the early summer of their reunion, and they spent the best moment of sun exposure quietly. It was a windy, refreshing and easygoing summer day.
“President Hodgins, there are no issues. How about ten more strolls?”
Violet wore a loose cotton dress. Although it was a simple and plain clothing, her emerald brooch gleamed on her chest. She would occasionally glance down at it to confirm its existence. Watching her, Hodgins smiled without pointing it out.
“That won’t do. The doctor told you to just go once and return, right? I also get anxious when I see you like this… I’ll push you on the way back.”
“You can’t. I’ll know right away if you’re forcing yourself.”
“Now, let’s wipe that sweat, or else, you’ll catch a cold.” Hodgins took out a handkerchief.
Violet grabbed onto it, preventing him of properly cleaning her forehead.
“Can’t I be the one wiping it?”
“No can do. I would not be able to practice otherwise.”
“But, hey, you’ll mess up your hair.”
“No can do. The one who said I should first and foremost learn to move these arms was you, Maj… President Hodgins. Indeed… in this condition, I would be of no use to Major. Quite the reverse, I would be a dead weight.”
At that, Hodgins did not let any bitter smiles or afflicted expressions show.
Ever since the girl soldier Violet had awoken, the number of visits he paid her had accumulated into two months. Every time they saw each other, he was consistently asked first-thing whether Gilbert Bougainvillea would visit. The latter had not come until now. Hodgins was unable to do anything about it, but he could not handle Violet’s sorrowful face whenever he had to say, “He won’t come today”. Therefore, he had persuaded her with, “While Gilbert doesn’t come, what you’re supposed to do isn’t to lament for his absence but to do whatever you can. In other words, to rest and head towards recovery. Becoming able to use your arms with pride when you meet him is your mission.”
That had a profound effect on Violet.
“I will definitely master the use of these arms even better than my flesh ones. Estark Inc.’s prosthetics are combat-specialized… if my skills catch up to them, I should be able to become an even more useful existence.”
She was the sort of person that shone brighter when having missions or orders to follow. It was her main trait.
“No, that’s not true. Just by existing, girls are already as praise-worthy and wonderful as the miraculous limpid waters that flow from mountaintop springs. Men are filthy.”
“I fail to understand that example, but I think that while I am unable to receive Major’s orders, I should train autonomously.”
It was a somewhat strange conversation, but the mood was not somber. On the contrary: the two of them, who were a disagreeable combination, had unexpectedly become familiar with one another. And that, in retrospect to Hodgins’s relationships, might not be so odd. He and Gilbert were best friends, but Gilbert corresponded to him essentially in a leveled manner. Meanwhile, Hodgins had the tricky characteristic of proffering his love for women but being fond of swaying amongst beautiful people regardless of them being male or female.
“It’s a tricky lifestyle, huh, Little Violet.” Hodgins made a comment also supposedly directed at himself as if only speaking impersonally.
Violet repeatedly picked the handkerchief after letting it fall on her lap, finally managing to wipe the sweat. She had been able to leave her previous state of not being able to use her arms at all, but had not yet received permission to do everything on her own.
“Good job.” After fixing her disheveled forelocks with his fingertips, Hodgins sat Violet on her wheelchair.
“Are we already leaving?”
“Since the wind has started to get chilly.”
“I will… not sweat anymore.”
“If you can, I want you to teach me that technique. No matter what you say, no can do. Let’s go back to your room.”
——It’s exactly because she’s a kid who forces herself a lot that I don’t want to let her do too much therapeutic exercise. Hodgins thought while leisurely pushing the wheelchair.
As always, Violet’s reactions were dispassionate, yet as she cast her eyes down, she seemed somewhat depressed. It was but Hodgins’s own assumption – however, that was how she looked to him.
——Even so, it’s no good to take away what she’s doing. Isn’t there a better training method?
The two that had become used to silence returned to her room. It was not a big one, yet it was just about enough to shun outsiders. The girl soldier with artificial upper limbs, whom only the ones she was close to truly knew, was a frequent target of rudeness and impolite stares.
As a result of her being transferred to a private lodging, Hodgins was able to bring her many gifts. When entering the place, the fragrance of fresh flower arrangements wafted towards them, several stuffed animals welcoming the duo. Clothes and shoes that she had not yet worn lay in piled boxes wrapped with ribbons. It was a very feminine room. Inside of it, Violet’s outstanding figure as she sat on her bed was akin to that of a doll.
“Little Violet, I have something for you.”
“I have received enough. There is nothing I can give in return. I will have to refuse.” Violet shook her head and turned to the side, displaying predictable rejection towards Hodgins, who would bring something during every visit, as a doting grandfather would do with his granddaughter.
“No, it’s nothing too expensive. Actually, it’s a secondhand notepad of mine. A fountain pen, too. I just changed the ink, so I don’t think it’ll run out so soon.” Hodgins put the objects on the desk installed in the private room – a hardcover book-like notepad and a golden fountain pen.
As she was surged, Violet sat in front of the desk, prompted to pick them up. Only a few sheets of the notepad had been used. Hodgins took them off and threw them away.
“Let’s make of this… practice for your hands. Do calligraphy. If I’m correct, you were able to write your name, right?”
“Yes… however, I cannot write… other words.”
“Isn’t that fine? It’s exactly because the hospital life is boring that it was your fate to learn it at a time like this. It’s better to have a goal. How much would you aim to be able to do?”
“Letters.” Violet said as if coughing. “I want to become able to write letters.” Her voice contained urgency.
Hodgins’s eyes and mouth were wide-open in bewilderment. That was a great offer for him. He was actually going to take the matter into that same direction at his own convenience.
“Why… did you think of that? Little Violet, it’s rare for you to have something you want to do. Like, aside from training…”
“Letters can deliver words to those who are far away. There are no communication devices here. However, if I wrote a letter… and received a response, although I would not be using my voice, it would be the same as having a talk. Major might not have spare time for it. Still, I… the fact that I, his tool, am here… to Major…”
Even as she did not finish speaking, he understood.
Violet did not want to be forgotten. She wanted to remind Gilbert Bougainvillea of her existence as the tool that was there for his sake.
“You wanted to convey your thoughts to him.”
“Yes… No… No, most likely… Yes.” Came the ineffective reply.
She was unable to properly express her feelings. Hodgins knew it well. Every time he opened the door to her room, he would witness Violet’s expectant expressions disappear.
——Aah, no good. This kind of stuff is really no good. Hodgins pressed his eyelids with one hand and exhaled a breath.
“Hm, sorry, just wait a jiffy. I’ll recover soon.” He flailed his other hand and faced elsewhere. The insides of his canthus were hot. His chest hurt. He bit his lip, attempting to somehow cancel out the pain in his heart with the pain of his body, to no avail.
——I wonder if I’m getting old.
As he was touched by the ‘humane’ face that the automated assassin doll had unintentionally showed him, for some reason, he felt like crying.
——I’m so sad that it’s agonizing.
The sound of his sniffles reached Violet’s ears. Her shoulders flinched once in alarm, just as a small animal would do when sensing danger. It was only Hodgins’s bodily impression, but an aura of not knowing how to deal with the circumstances emanated from her.
“Wait just thirty more seconds…”
Violet observed the surroundings. Her blue eyes carefully searched in the room for something supposedly necessary in such a situation. She took a handkerchief from her nightstand and a black cat plush from her bed. As the strength of her grip did not make it until she reached Hodgins, they fell to the floor. By the moment she squatted to pick them up, Hodgins was already back to normal. He crouched as well to help her out.
“Were you, by any chance, trying to comfort me?”
His painfully clenched heart unraveled at her clumsy gentleness. A form of affection unlike romantic love bloomed deep within his chest.
“President Hodgins, you told me before that, in your early childhood, you would nestle with a stuffed toy that resembled this black cat one to deceive your own loneliness whenever you cried from not being cared for by your parents…”
However, said feeling blew away the next second.
“Did I… tell you even about that!?”
“You once came here drunk on the way back from a business negotiation and talked about half of your life for nearly two hours.”
Now Hodgins wanted to cry for a different motive.
“Little Violet, if I show up drunk any next time, it’s okay if you don’t take my words seriously. You can even hit me. Really… I’ll avoid alcohol. I’ll drink tea from now on. I’ll live off tea. Aah, how embarrassing… what did I say after that?”
“That you are named Claudia… because your parents had believed you would be born as a girl and prepared to receive you as such, but you wound up earning the name either way and it was difficult to live with this.”
“Alright, let’s go back to the letter writing work, Little Violet.”
Claudia Hodgins was at his limit in countless ways.
The duo’s new experiment started with becoming able to hold the fountain pen. Just from her writing a single character, the pen would roll away and she would grab it back. Her figure as she would attempt to pick it whenever it fell onto the floor caused Hodgins’s heart to be enveloped in sorrow again.
“You can take it slow.”
For Hodgins, who had only ever attended the army’s military academy, playing the role of teacher was quite rough. The same applied to Violet. Although she could dismantle guns, she did not know how to write. The unskillful teacher and student had no choice but complement each other’s ineptitude. In her current level, he thought of her being able to write letters as a marvelous future.
“I want to become able to write… Major Gilbert’s name.”
Along with the progress of her writing, the scenery outside the window gradually faded.
Decayed maple leaves created a colorful carpet over the ground. It seemed the main entrance of the Leidenschaftlich Army Hospital would not be clean of them in time. The mountain road to said hospital was tinted in the sigh-inducing beauty of nature. The world was completely dyed in autumn colors.
In front of said main entrance, a young woman awaited someone, her trunk case and trolley bag lying on the ground. Perhaps because she had too much luggage, her stuffed toys’ heads stuck out of the bag. She was most likely being stood up, staring into the air in an unspecific direction. It was a girl beautiful enough to become a painting. She wore a wisteria mist nude coat and a black high-neck knitted jumper. Her raw organdy lilac skirt rustled noisily every time the wind blew it.
The golden hair of the female soldier Violet was growing quite long. It delated the number of days that she had spent in the hospital. As she spotted a small carriage coming from the mountain path, she took her luggage with her creaking prosthetic hands. With no inconveniences, she lifted them with both arms and headed to where the carriage had stopped. Similarly, a man made his way towards her.
“Sorry, sorry. A lot happened at work, so I ended up being late.” Even though it was an autumn where the gelid breeze could make one shiver, Hodgins was drenched in sweat as he came running, showing a surprised smile as he saw Violet wearing ordinary girl clothes, almost as if not recognizing her. “Little Violet, you look cute. My choice was wonderful! I have so many talents that it’s troublesome… maybe I should have gotten into the fashion industry. What about the brooch?”
“I have it. I thought it might get lost during the moving…”
“It won’t fall that soon. You should put it on. Lend it to me.” Hodgins placed the emerald brooch firmly on Violet’s chest.
Violet showed no signs of cautiousness, although the distance between the two of them was small.
“Done. It suits you, Little Violet.”
Even as he patted her head, she remained docile, not pushing his hand away. It seemed she had accepted Hodgins, who had taken care of her for a long while.
“President Hodgins, where should I go now that I have been discharged? What will be my next post? Major has not replied to my letters. I have sent several of them already.” Taking Hodgins’s hand, Violet entered the carriage.
“From now on, you’ll become the foster daughter of a certain noble family. Their son passed away during the Great War, you see. They were looking for an adoption candidate. Their household is related to Gilbert’s. You’ll be educated on lady manners there.”
After confirming that the passengers had come inside the carriage, the cabby set it off. It swung pronouncedly once. Violet stood still with a serious look. She was not caught off-guard in the slightest by the oscillation.
“Are those teachings necessary for fighting?”
Just as she had thought she would finally return to the place where she could put her abilities to use, she was informed of an outrageous fact. Her reaction had been moderate.
Hodgins bent his waist, facing Violet’s eyes directly. “The war has ended, so you won’t be needed as a soldier anymore. That’s why you will learn what’s necessary to lead a life that isn’t the one of a warrior.”
“I do not understand…”
Hodgins nodded at the response he had already foreseen. “Yeah. It’s a pretty complicated issue, and I’m also forcing my own values onto you.”
“‘Complicated… issue’. Even for… you, President Hodgins? Is it not easy?”
“Little Violet, why did you use to kill people?”
“I had that ability, and it was needed. Simple as that.”
“Yeah. In order to live, in order to protect yourself, you’d been killing… surely, you had been doing that even before meeting Gilbert, because someone made you so. It was like a task of getting rid of obstacles… there’s no emotion to it.”
——And that caused you to malfunction as a person.
“Aah, truly complicated. Hm, for example, let’s say I was attacked by a thug. You killed the thug to save me. It would have been better if you had acted without doing so, but you killed him. There’s a moral cause in that. You almost certainly wouldn’t be convicted for the crime. Actually, you’d be a hero.”
“What is a ‘moral cause’?”
“Something important that people believe they should abide to while living. If you don’t abide to it, in the world of humans, you’ll be caught by the military police. Can you understand if it’s from that angle?”
“Then, another example. I had actually wanted to be killed by the thug. I gave him money and asked him to murder me. I wanted to die. We’d discussed our losses and gains and made a deal. You misunderstood that, meddled and ended up executing a person who was merely playing the role of thug and going to kill me because I asked. Do you think this is a murder with a moral cause?”
“See, it’s pretty complicated, right? There’s probably no correct answer. In the legislation made by humans, both would likely be tried, but a correct answer probably doesn’t exist. Forget the example of just now for a bit.”
Violet thoughtfully leaned her rigid and inorganic hands on her cheeks. At the moment, Hodgins was confronting her with what she considered to be ruthless words. Yet that was a problem she would have stumbled upon sooner or later.
There existed a girl soldier. She had slaughtered many. Although the murders had been for a greater cause, she had still killed people.
Was that girl soldier allowed to find happiness?
“Only, what I can say for sure is…” despite fearfully not wanting to be ostracized by the confused Violet, Hodgins spoke, “I don’t want to see you killing anyone, so I don’t want to let you go someplace where you’d have to do that. This is a completely emotion-driven theory, but… I think it’s the closest it gets to a solution.”
He almost despised Gilbert Bougainvillea for burdening him with such a role.
“Murders increase the number of sad people. That’s why I don’t want you to do it. I want to avoid… things that could be sad. I don’t feel this towards the whole world. I only seek it… for those whom I cherish. Gilbert was the same… that’s why we say ‘no’. We push our ideals onto you. A moral cause with an extremely egoistical thinking of killing or not killing. The world is becoming like that. Everyone… is really selfish. Little Violet, what was the last order you received from Gilbert?”
Upon being asked, Violet reminisced to the peak of the Great War. Gilbert was covered in blood. She had cried. Those had probably been the first tears she had shed.
“I love you.” As she pondered over those powerful words, her heart would race. Just by recalling them, her heartbeats would intensify.
“To escape from the military and live freely.”
“That’s how it is.”
The conclusion had come to light. For Violet, Gilbert’s orders had to be followed. She would not reject them so long as there were no exorbitant perils. Even so, it seemed that she had difficulties in accepting a future where she would not return to the battlefield.
“Is that something beneficial to the military? Even if it results in our allies’ deaths if I do not kill?”
“The enemies are also people. Besides… it’s because you don’t know that killing people is slowly setting fire to your body and scorching it that I’m telling you this… Little Violet.”
The girl soldier – rather, the former girl soldier – dropped her gaze to her own body. Nothing was on fire. She could only see the materials of her beautiful clothes.
“I am not burning.”
“I am not. This is strange.”
“Nope, you are. I saw you burning and left you alone. I regret that.”
Everything Hodgins said was abstract.
“You will learn a lot from now on. And then, surely, the things you have done… the things I said I left you alone to do… there will come a time when you’ll understand what they were.”
The subordinate kept by the Lord was a beautiful monstrosity.
“And then, for the first time, you’ll notice the many burns that you have.”
Said monstrosity prided in being the strongest fighter, and was as ignorant as she was innocent.
“You’ll realize that there’s still fire at your feet. You’ll realize that there are people pouring oil onto it. It might be easier to live without knowing this. There will certainly be times when you’ll cry.”
Until the time when her eyelids would close for eternity, she would not know the feeling of having her body burn. There was conviction but no salvation for her.
“Still, I want you to know. That’s why you won’t go back to the military.”
Her hands never held onto anything, and she would most likely continue living that way.
“Little Violet, let’s change your fate.”
She was definitely destined to do so.
However, a certain man had appeared to grasp the hand of the burning girl and throw her into a lake. Although he was not present, he undoubtedly existed.
“The people you’ll meet now are officials from the upper military departments and who belong to a prestigious family that others don’t have contact with right away. From the get-go, your name wasn’t registered in the military. So, start a new life from this point.”
“But then, I won’t be by Major’s side…”
“This is an order from Gilbert, whom you want to become the strength of. He wished for this. What are you to Gilbert, Little Violet?”
“I am… Major’s…”
“Aah, we’re here. We have to give our greetings.”
The carriage had stopped. Without being able to do anything else, Violet hopped off, led by Hodgins’s hand.
Although old-fashioned, a mansion with an architecture magnificent enough to be mistaken for a castle rose at the end of the long road. An elderly couple walked out of said mansion. While they had not yet arrived, Hodgins whispered into Violet’s ear, “Try to not be rude.”
Violet hurried to hold onto her emerald brooch. The carriage was already starting to depart from the same path it had come from. Beyond said path, she did not spot the figure of the person she had wished to be there. No matter how much Violet sought him, he would not come see her.
“These are the head of the Evergarden family and his wife. They will be your substitute parents. Now, your greetings.”
The elegant but gentle elderly couple took Violet’s artificial hands without hesitation. They smiled at her as if unbearably contented.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance. I am Violet.”
And thus, Violet Evergarden was born.
Snow melted into the nightly sea. The water surface was even darker than the starry sky that people slept under. The flakes being absorbed by it one after another were a rare sight in the south of Leidenschaftlich.
Children ran towards the gift from the sky after opening their windows. Doormen of wealthy estates trembled with the coldness. Sailors were relieved to have finished their voyages safely and returned home before the snowstorm. In such scenes that were rarely winessed, the arrival of winter could be keenly felt.
In the south of Leidenschaftlich, snow fell only a few times a year and never piled up. No one would have been able to tell it would downpour incessantly by a capricious command from the heavens on that year. Normally, there would be nothing but nimble snowfall, yet it had piled up to reach the knees of adult males.
A government meteorologist announced the occurrence to be a once-in-a-century abnormality in the weather, and the southern part of the country was caught in a temporary disorder. People would slip when coming outside and the roads for carriages and cars had vanished. Those who did not have stocks at home had flooded food shops and restaurants, from which came screams of rapture and apprehension. Once logistics had ceased, no one was walking around the city. It was wrapped in silence, as if the snow had absorbed all sounds.
Among it was the figure of Hodgins, who advanced along the snowy path, used as he was to walking over it despite being from a southern country. For someone like him, one of the former majors of Leidenschaftlich’s army, which had clashed with the northern countries, the snowy scenery overlapped with the battlefields.
He continued trailing the lone roadway silently while pushing over the snow with his dragging winter shoes. In front of him, although faintly, he could see the Evergarden manor, which was far apart from Leiden, the capitol city of Leidenschaftlich. He let out a thankful sigh in relief. The puff of his breath soon dissipated like smoke in the darkness.
As he arrived at last, firstly, he was welcomed by a butler of the Evergarden residence. The mansion could not be considered warm in every corner due to its large structure, yet Hodgins, who had endured the passing of a dark snowy night, was grateful enough to even be inside a room. During his reception, he spent a few minutes drinking hot tea next to the fireplace.
“You have finally arrived, Mister Hodgins. I was thinking you would not come today.” An elderly woman with a silk nightgown appeared before him.
“Miss Tiffany, it has been a while. I’m sorry for visiting in the middle of the night.” Hodgins bowed respectfully.
“That is my line. You were in another continent, am I right? It was my mistake to summon you immediately after your return.”
“There’s no way I would refuse the request of a lady. Where’s Mister Patrick?”
“My husband has left me here and confined himself in a far-off town. He still protects this land, but he will certainly not see this scenery again before he passes… Since this is about that person, even though he is already so old, I think he might even be playing with snow outside. He better catch a cold.”
The image of a youth merrily making snowmen formed in Hodgins’s mind. “It’s wonderful that he is a candid person that does not forget his childish innocence.”
“No, he is but a child. Even so, he is the head of the Evergarden family… still, rather than Patrick, we should discuss about Violet. My head is full of her at the moment.”
Tiffany Evergarden started talking with a melancholic face. It seemed she had attempted to give Violet various sorts of knowledge ever since taking her in. From schooling to etiquette, horsemanship, singing, cooking and dancing. Yet she would not enjoy any of them or show a remotely delighted expression, and whenever she had nothing to do, she would shut herself in her room and write letters all day long. However, none of the letters she had sent ever earned a reply.
“She has become pretty familiar with everyone in the house, and even massaged Patrick’s shoulders a while ago. He cried from joy… no, it might have actually hurt. But even though she is awkward, I believe she is a good child. Our hearts, which felt as if they had been stabbed when our son died, are gradually healing… I like her sincere innocence.”
“So do I.”
“But if only we are healed, there would be no meaning in adopting her.” Seemingly cold, Tiffany braced herself over her gown. “We took her in after hearing everything about her circumstances. We are the ones that actually should bestow her with something… is it no use, after all? If there is no blood relation…”
“That is not true.”
In spite of Hodgins’s assertion, Tiffany shook her head. “We cannot… replace Gilbert.”
“Just as Violet cannot really replace your son. No one can replace another person. We can only be of comfort. Ever since that girl left wherever she came from, she has not had a home to return to until now. Neither did she have people waiting for her with a warm meal. But she does now. This time, whatever path she decides to take will be very important. Just this much is enough. It’s something very precious. Please do not send her off.”
“‘Send her off’…! I have no such intention. If I had to let go of Violet, I would rather sell my husband.”
Her gaze held no lies.
“Miss Tiffany… this exchange is becoming very fascinating, but please cherish your husband.”
“Honestly, a daughter is much cuter than a husband…”
“Please do not destroy the dreams of an unmarried man.”
“If you have any interest, I can introduce you to as many candidates as you want.”
As Tiffany’s eyes shone, Hodgins quickly halted the conversation, making his way to Violet’s room as if running away. The servants of the Evergarden household nervously observed him from a distance. The resolve to enter the room was not building up in him. He then attempted to motivate himself.
——No one can become anybody’s replacement. Isn’t that right, me?
Hodgins had tasted that feeling many times after becoming Violet’s guardian. He had also felt lonely. But simultaneously, he had felt happy.
——If it’s me, I can give her the things that Gilbert couldn’t and do that he didn’t manage to.
“Even without becoming his substitute…”
He hit the chest area of his shirt as if confirming something. He then cleared his throat and tried once more to knock on the door.
Since it was her, she probably knew who was coming inside just from his footsteps. Although he had visited her room often, even Hodgins would be anxious when sneaking into a young woman’s bedroom late into the night. But the tension melted into a different emotion the next second.
“President… Hodgins. It has been a while.”
Violet Evergarden, named after a flower goddess, had become even more beautiful yet again in the few months they had not seen each other. Her figure as she wore a negligee was pure and refined. Her golden hair had become lengthier. The sight was mysterious even. She had grown into someone fitting of the name Gilbert had given her.
“Little Violet, what are you doing?” Still, what caught Hodgins’s eyes was not that. His voice quavered. He had not wanted to show much of a reaction, yet could not hide it.
Violet stared at Hodgins as he entered the room while sitting on the floor amidst a heap of disarranged letters. It was not one or two, but dozens of paper sheets piled up quietly like corpses. Dead thoughts merely existing, like continuously pouring snowfall.
She did not answer him right away. It might have been that she did not have the will to open her mouth. “I was… sorting out letters.”
“From who? I always send postcards, right?”
“Nobody… these are the ones I wrote and did not send. I no longer send letters. I understand… that there will be no reply. I simply find myself writing letters whenever I have nothing else to do, is all. There is no meaning to it. These are mere miscellanies in which I wrote about my days. I was pondering on whether I should dispose of them.”
The letters without destination were indeed corpses. And Violet, who had given birth to th