…If I made Stronoff wait for me while he was hungry, I don’t know how I’ll live this down.
He opened the house’s door. Naturally, Gazef had permitted Brain to treat this home like it was his own.
As Brain entered the house and walked towards the room which Gazef had lent him, he heard the sound of footsteps heading in his direction. Someone must have heard him coming in.
He guessed that it was Gazef, and when the person making those footsteps came down the stairs, his guess was proven correct.
“Well, you’re back late, Unglaus. Did you go anywhere?”
Gazef’s question held no hint of a rebuke. In fact, as Brain fell into contemplation about how to answer that question, Gazef instead looked upon him with eyes that were bright with interest.
“If you don’t mind, how about talking over dinner?”
That idea sat just fine with Brain. He rubbed his belly and laughed.
“That’s a great idea. Where shall we eat?”
Gazef looked surprised for a moment, and then he led Brain to the dining room, saying “over here.”
“Are you going to have the servants make something? Or don’t tell me, you’re going to cook yourself, Stronoff?”
Gazef smiled bitterly at that unexpected question.
“No, I can’t cook at all.”
Saying so, he pursed his lips into a cat-smile, and added:
“However, everything my servants make is pretty bland, probably because they’re getting on in years. In my line of work, I’d like to eat things with strong flavours… but they just don’t seem to get it.”
Brain chuckled, and teased: “So even the great and mighty Warrior-Captain of the Kingdom is forced to eat bland, healthy fare?”
Gazef did not protest this, merely frowned and replied: “Indeed.”
Then he continued: “While i’d thought of letting you try my famous home-cooked food, in the end I ordered take-out.”
“Is that so. That’s very kind of you. Thanks.”
Brain smiled thinly as he said this. It seemed to amuse Gazef, who chuckled. Then, he shot back:
“Can you cook then, Unglaus?”
However, that riposte went wide.
“Well, it’s nothing much, but I can throw together simple dishes. After all, it’d be pretty hard to get by if I couldn’t cook on my own while training.”
“I see,” Gazef answered as they entered the dining room, whereupon he picked up the basket placed near the wall.
It seemed large enough to hold a baby, and a fragrance wafted out from inside, stimulating the nose and belly.
The two of them sat down, facing each other.
After setting several dishes on the table, they raised glasses filled with wine and clinked them together. There was no special occasion for the toast. They simply glugged the wine down in silence.
A refreshing flavor spread from their mouths.
After about two mouthfuls, Brain put the glass down. He coughed and said in an earnest tone:
“…It’s been a long time since I had wine.”
“Same here. Or rather, I should say I haven’t eaten at home in a while.”
“…Working in the Palace is hard, huh.”
“There’s a lot for the Warrior-Captain to do.”
“Are you in charge of the Royal Family’s security too?”
“Yes. It’s what I do for the most part.”
Brain could sense Gazef’s upright nature through his words. It would be fine to lapse a little, but he insisted on sticking to his guns.
The nobles must hate commoners like this.
It would seem Brain’s guess was on the mark, because Gazef very rarely mentioned the nobles. Despite his lofty station of the Kingdom’s Warrior-Captain, Gazef mainly talked about his military duties or how he served the Royal Family. There was hardly any talk of the decadent world of ballrooms and banquets.
An imposing social barrier still separated noble from commoner, though this practice had largely vanished in the nearby Empire.
Brain suddenly found it all very amusing.
In the past, he had honed his sword skills to defeat Gazef, and he had selfishly thought that “the next time we meet will be a battle to the death”. Yet the two of them were now friends who could share a drink.
Perhaps Gazef had picked up on his thoughts, but the other man smiled too.
They clinked their glasses together. Perhaps the wine was starting to get to them, but they used a bit too much force and the wine spilled out, soaking the table.
“Oi oi, don’t spill it on the food.”
“Don’t you think the wine’ll make it taste better?”
“Well, my tongue’s pretty bad so it’s all one to me… is it the same for you, Unglaus?”
“Brain. Call me Brain.”
“Really now. Call me Gazef, then.”
“Got it, Gazef.”
The two of them looked and each other and laughed, and there was a clear ringing note as their glasses clinked together again.
Gazef brought up all manner of topics, and Brain soon found himself in unfamiliar territory. As they were getting into it, Gazef nonchalantly asked:
“Come to think of it, how did a man like you end up like that, Brain?”
He asked that question carefully, as though afraid of reopening old wounds. His penetrating gaze did not appear to be testing the truth of his words. He seemed genuinely worried about hurting Brain’s feelings.
Gazef froze at Brain’s unbidden thanks. Perhaps that face of his was amusing, but Brain’s own expression softened a little. Then, he straightened himself up and said:
“…I saw a monster.”
“A monster? Some kind of magical beast, maybe?”
“I think it was a Vampire… her name was Shalltear Bloodfallen. With just her pinky finger she managed to deflect the move I invented… to defeat you.”
Brain sensed that Gazef’s eyes had slightly widened.
“…Is that so.”
Those words were accompanied by a savage smile. Brain knew well what that smile meant.
It was the desire of any warrior to defeat a mighty foe.
Brain had once felt that way about Gazef. Gazef had probably wanted to fight Brain as well, to re-experience that pitched exciting battle from back then—
However, that bestial grin promptly vanished. In its place was the smile of the Kingdom’s Warrior-Captain.
Brain described the Vampire’s appearance, but Gazef replied that he had never heard of her before. Then he took a mouthful of wine. Brain had a sip himself, and then described their battle — no, of how she had trampled him underfoot.
However, he stayed away from the topic of being employed by the Death-Spreading Brigade. He felt that Gazef might say “every man walks his own path in life”, but the truth was that in front of a righteous man like Gazef, Brain felt ashamed of mentioning the depths to which his past self had sank in pursuit of sword skills.
There was no doubt in Gazef’s eyes after he had heard the whole thing.
“Do you believe me?”
“…The world’s a big place, after all. It wouldn’t be strange if such a monster did exist. When you look back at history, there were things like the Demon Gods and the Dragon Lords. Still… I don’t think I could beat such a powerful monster either.”
“Yes. I don’t know how strong you are now so I can’t really comment, but I’m still certain that you can’t beat her. She lives in a world which people like us can’t even approach. Even if the two of us attacked at once, all we’d manage to do is draw the battle out from one second to two.”
“Shouldn’t you be comforting me and saying ‘no, it’s alright’ or something?” Gazef mock-complained.
However, Brain sternly told him:
“Gazef. You have to protect the royal family as the Kingdom’s Warrior-Captain. Don’t challenge her even if you see her. You can’t waste your life like that.”
“Thank you for your advice. However, if that monster called Shalltear strikes at the Kingdom, I will throw my life away even if all it does is buy some time.”
What time could he buy? Gazef would be helpless before her unless she wanted to play.
Even so, Brain began to feel that Gazef might be able to do it, even if it was just to buy some time.
“She’s called Shalltear. Shalltear Bloodfallen.”
After Brain described her appearance once more, Gazef nodded gravely.
“Right, I got it. However, you’d best tell me again once I recover from the wine, just to be safe. I’ll learn as much as I can about her too.”
“I don’t think any amount of learning is going to help against her.”
“If we know a storm is coming, shouldn’t we try to do something about it? Can’t just leave things be. Besides, we might be able to come up with something if we can pick enough brains.”
“If only that were the case.”
“I’m not too close to him, but I know an adamantite-ranked adventurer. He ought to be able to come up with something useful… anyway, what do you plan to do in the future, Brain?”
Brain’s eyebrows knitted at that question. What should he do?
His eyes unconsciously drifted to his beloved「Katana」beside the table.
It was lingering attachment.
Ultimately, that was all it was. No matter how much he tried, he would never be able to beat that monster. His dream of becoming the greatest swordsman was in ruins. He had indeed wasted his life.
From now on, he would have to keep his feet firmly on the ground and live his life correctly.
It was just a childish dream…
“What should I do, huh… what about working on a farm?”
He had been born in a farming village, and while he had forgotten much about agriculture, the knowledge still lingered in the recesses of his mind. The only other thing he knew besides that was swordsmanship. Put in a nicer way, he had lived a very focused life.
“Farming… well, that’s not bad, but… how about this? Why not serve the nation with me?”
Brain did not think it was a bad idea. He might not be able to beat that monster called Shalltear, but he considered himself quite capable in terms of human-scale ability. However—
“I’m not a very sociable person, and I’m not into the bowing and scraping business.”
“Well, I don’t bow and scrape that much…”
“Ah, sorry. I didn’t mean to make fun of you. Just that the thought of serving in the court made me think of that sort of thing… In truth, I think that’s a pretty good idea, Gazef. Fighting for others… that’s it! Oi, Gazef, I met a boy called Climb.”
“Climb? That hoarse-voiced kid?”
Gazef went “ohhhhhh” as he saw Brain nod.
“Where did you meet Climb? I thought he was the Princess’ bodyguard, so he shouldn’t have had many chances to leave her side…”
“I saw him training on the streets.”
“Training on the streets, huh… well, he just doesn’t have talent. I don’t think he’ll get any stronger than he is now. All he can do now is train his body and improve his physical attributes. Was he doing that? If not, I might have to guide him a little.”
“Hm — indeed… he’s got no talent for swordsmanship. However, he’s stronger than me in some areas.”
The look on Gazef’s face seemed to say “are you kidding me”.
Indeed, Brain was far more skilled than Climb, and more talented as well. However, Brain knew that this discrepancy meant nothing in the face of true power, and so he felt that laughing at Climb for it would be hypocritical.
Rather than quibble about such a trifling difference, Brain felt that Climb’s strong will — which had withstood the murderous intent of the mighty Sebas — was truly worthy of praise.
I was beaten and chose to flee. But Climb would never run if someone he had to protect was behind him. He would choose to fight. Perhaps a man like him… could clip that monster’s nail.
Brain did not say anything about Gazef’s confused expression. Instead, he roughly explained the day’s events; in other words, the raid on the Eight Fingers brothel.
“I see. So you and Climb… I see.”
“You can abandon me if you think it’ll cause problems. I mean, when you think about it, having someone like me who goes in and out of your house is going to cause you trouble if I’m at odds with the underworld, don’t you think?”
“No, not at all. In fact, I rather welcome it… those bastards are the maggots infesting the Kingdom. I would like nothing more than to carve my way into their headquarters.”
“Are Eight Fingers so bad for the Kingdom?”
“They make me want to throw up. They control most of the secret societies in the Kingdom and profit from them. The money and benefits go to the nobles, allowing those rogues to mix with them and swan around in normal society. If we try to arrest them, the nobles obstruct us, so there’s nothing we can do on that front. The only way we can hurt them is by doing what you did, Brain. We need to barge into their cunningly concealed hideouts, force their criminal acts into the light, and make a big fuss of things. Of course, they’re more powerful than the average noble, so if we fail, the consequences will be severe.”
“You’re out of luck, then?”
“Indeed. Therefore, I hope what you did weakens them. Unfortunately, that’s not too likely.”
“Can’t you have the King issue a royal decree or something?”
“The nobles opposing him will interfere from the sidelines, so we can’t do it. And they have allies in both factions, which makes things even trickier.”
As the air hung heavily over the table, the two of them drank their wine in silence and reached for the food.
Lower Fire Month (9th Month) 4th Day 07:14
The members of Blue Rose had entered the keep early in the morning. Each of them carried a large sack, which made metallic clattering noises when put on the ground. The sacks contained all their gear, because entering the Royal Palace all girded for war was not very appropriate.
After putting down their weighty luggage, the group rotated their shoulders. Renner looked kindly upon them, and their team leader, Lakyus Alvein Dale Aindra, asked her:
“Will you have any princessly duties to discharge later?”
Renner had hardly any power, but she still had her responsibilities as the princess.
“It’s fine. Those matters can wait. Don’t worry.”
A mischievous expression came over Lakyus’ face. Similarly, Renner also flashed her a mischievous look, which then melted into unrestrained laughter.
“Lakyus. Once you’re ready, I’d like to ask you to take care of that matter as soon as possible.”
“Why? I heard yesterday that we were going to attack in secret, taking each location in turn. Isn’t that so?” asked Evileye, the masked arcane magic caster.
She had not removed her face-concealing mask even in the Royal Palace. She had not been censured for such suspicious dress because she was an adamantite-ranked adventurer, the elite of humanity, and also because her team leader Lakyus was a member of the peerage.
“Something unexpected happened last night, so I feel we need to change part of the plan. It’s like this—”
Renner described the brothel raid from last night.
Climb stood stock still behind Renner, and the members of Blue Rose looked upon him with respectful eyes. Their gazes made him feel itchy.
Charging into the brothel and saving people from their hellish confines was not Climb’s doing. He had merely borrowed the strength of the two men who had gone in with him. Frankly speaking, Climb had done nothing worthy of praise.
Instead, he felt disappointed with himself. He had not been rebuked for his reckless, independent action and the plan had not been cancelled, only altered. The fact that he actually felt relieved by that only made it that much more tragic.
“Not bad, cherry boy.”
“Yup, Gagaran’s right. Apprehending a member of Six Arms is a pretty big deal.”
“…’Undying King’ Davernoc. ‘Void Cutter’ Peysilian. ‘Bloody Scimitar’ Edstrom. ‘Thousand Kills’ Malmvist. ‘Illusion Devil’ Succulent. And then their leader, ‘Battle Demon’ Zero.”
Tia smoothly recited each name.
“Davernoc is undead. Peysilian is said to be able to cut down even distant foes. Edstrom can skilfully use special magic weapons. Malmvist is a fencer with a poisoned blade, adept at lunges. Succulent has already been apprehended. And Zero is a brawler who excels in empty-handed combat. Each of them is equivalent to an adamantite-ranked adventurer.”
“Mmm. Catching one of them is a big aid to us.”
“Amazing work, Climb. Still, it was great good fortune that you met Brain Unglaus and fought by his side,”
Climb agreed with that sentiment.
“The fact that he could take out Succulent in one hit proves that Unglaus — the man who fought the Kingdom’s strongest warrior (Gazef Stronoff) to a standstill — is the real deal. That said, I’m more interested in that old butler which even he couldn’t beat.”
“I didn’t get Sebas-sama’s address…”
“…Hm, Climb. Did he not tell you because he was wary of you, or did you not ask because you knew you should not have asked… which is it?”
“Both of them, Evileye-sama. Perhaps he might have told me if I had asked him. However, Sebas-sama volunteered his help despite the fact that I was the one who involved him in this, and I did not want to learn anything which might cause him difficulty.”
“…Hm — you’re an honest chap.”
The sisters seemed to be sizing Climb up from head to toe.
“I have no idea why I’ve never heard of such an amazing person before…”
Climb could sense everyone’s sudden wariness of Sebas, as though it had been triggered by those words from Evileye. Just as he was about to retort, Lakyus clapped a few times and the mood in the air changed.
“Alright, let’s leave this aside for a moment. If not for him, we would not have found the accurate location of the brothel and we would not have captured the head of the Slave Trafficking Division (Cocco Doll). Both Climb and we are indebted to him.”
“You’re right, Lakyus. Then, Princess. You said you were going to change part of the plan — does that mean we’ll be attacking a new location instead?”
“Yes, Evileye-san. I was hoping to attack several points at once by today and take them all down in one fell swoop. They will gain the advantage and we will lose it the more time we take.”
The room was dead silent.
Only Blue Rose would be participating in this operation. They had insisted on taking the targets one after the other due to this lack of manpower.
“Er, but Princess. I believe we told you before that we don’t have the people for it, right? Did someone agree to help us in the middle of the night? We can’t hire adventurers for this, can we?”
One of the founding principles of the Adventurer’s Guild was to defend humanity against external threats. Thus, there was an unwritten rule in the guild that they would never involve themselves in disputes between humans. Otherwise the Adventurer’s Guilds of various countries would not be able to step over national borders and help each other.
Therefore, if the Guild judged that their involvement in a matter would result in their involvement with a perpetual feud, they would apply pressure on their adventurers to abide by that unwritten rule. This applied even if the Guild’s intervention would save lives. The pressure which the Guild could apply included warnings, not recommending jobs to them, and expulsion from the Guild in the worst-case scenario.
As a result, there were some adventurers who engaged in illegal activities, becoming part of a group known as Workers. However, there were rumors that the Guild would employ their own private assassins to go after those who violated the rules with malice aforethought.
The fact that Blue Rose had begun their opposition to Eight Fingers was a violation of this unwritten rule, but they were adamantite-ranked adventurers and arguably the Guild’s representatives, so there was no way they would actually be chased out of the Guild. Thus, their actions had received tacit approval. However, the only reason why they had been excused this trespass was because they were the ones who had done it.
“The most stupid thing we could do is to involve the city guard in order to bulk up our numbers. Those people have the guards in their pocket. All we can do is have them handle cleanup at the end. Otherwise there’ll be trouble.”
“Same with borrowing house troops from the nobles. We can’t ask them for help when we don’t know who’s in bed with Eight Fingers.”
“Hmph. The only people we can trust are Stronoff and the men loyal to him — his warriors… no, we don’t even know how many of his warriors can be trusted.”
“Practically speaking, yes. In the end, there’s not much we can do because we don’t know exactly know how far our opponents can reach. Still, if we do nothing but investigate because of that, the Kingdom will fall apart one day. We can’t adequately remedy the problem when we’ve got cries for help from all sides.”
Renner nodded as she heard Lakyus’ complaints.
The Empire’s interference only compounded the turmoil within the Kingdom as corruption continued to eat into the government. Climb narrowed his eyes, as though he had glimpsed the sun from behind her back; after all, his mistress insisted on fighting on despite the dire circumstances. Once more, Climb realized that she was the only one capable of ruling the Kingdom and granting happiness to the masses, and his loyalty to her was further strengthened.
However, there were those who did not understand that point and had decided that all the princess had to be was a decoration — her sole purpose being to sit there and look beautiful. Climb was filled with anger at these people — primarily the nobles — and his hands balled up into fists.
However, Renner’s lovely voice filtered into his ears and dispersed his anger, and he once more committed himself to listening to their conversation.
“You’re right. Therefore, I thought of asking a reliable noble for help.”
“You know of trustworthy nobles, Princess?”
“I do, Evileye-san. There aren’t many of them, but I know of one who can be relied upon.”
“Oh, and who is that, Renner? I don’t doubt your judgement, but there’s no point in them being reliable if they can’t do anything for us. There’s also no guarantee that he’ll be able to muster up enough troops from his domain either.
“I don’t think that will be a problem. Also, I will be bringing the Warrior-Captain along.”
“I can understand that.”
“Mm, the Warrior-Captain’s a reliable man. Or rather, if even he’s in bed with Eight Fingers, then we’re finished.”
“Climb, please go call Marquis Raeven over. He was present at the latest meeting, so he ought to still be within the Royal Capital.”
“The Marquis? I did see him in the company of the Prince…”
Indeed. Marquis Raeven matched all their criteria for the man they needed… his trustworthiness aside.
He was one of the Six Great Nobles, those whose assets and so on surpassed those of other nobles by far. However, there was no proof that Raeven was not in cahoots with Eight Fingers. One could also say that his wealth might have been the result of Eight Fingers’ bribes.
However, Climb promptly rejected that notion.
Renner — his mistress, the wisest of all women and the one who was the most deserving of respect — had chosen that name. That being the case, Marquis Raeven ought to be reliable.
However, the members of Blue Rose seemed displeased, in contrast to Climb.
“Oi, oi, Princess. Are you sure you can trust this Marquis guy?”
“They say Raeven’s a bat.”
“A bat who flits back and forth between the Royal and Noble factions. If he’s doing it all for his own gain, then Eight Fingers’ filthy lucre will move his heart.”
“I don’t want him to leak intelligence about us, Princess.”
As the disapproval poured on from the gathered people, a loud clap cut through the air. Its source was Lakyus.
“…That’s enough, all of you! Ahhh, Renner, Marquis Raeven didn’t exactly leave a good impression on me. Is he really trustworthy?”
“I can’t guarantee that. And I believe he’s taken money from Eight Fingers.”
Eh?! Everyone present was surprised, and they had confused looks on their faces. However, someone hit on a possibility and asked:
“Are you trying to spread false information in order to manipulate the enemy?”
“We did that before some assassinations. Spread news about assassins coming from somewhere to divert the attention of the security personnel.”
Renner shook her head at the notion of the assassination.
“That’s not it, Tina-san and Tia-san. I believe that some people won’t help Eight Fingers even if they do take their money, right? You could say I lost my bet if it turns out he was more active behind my back than I thought, but… Climb. Go get Marquis Raeven. He should be willing to meet me once you tell him about the destruction of the brothel and the capture of the head slaver.”
Climb’s eyes shifted, checking the light outside the window. The morning sun was almost blinding, and it seemed a little early to wake someone up. However, one could not keep Great Nobles at one’s beck and call, so it might be best to arrange a meeting now.
“Should we talk about capturing the head of the slave trade? Your servant believes that it might be better to keep it a secret for the time being.”
Renner said that she had to play that trump card to compel an audience, but surely not even a Great Noble could refuse a Princess’ summons. That being the case, should they not keep it in reserve?
Renner shook her head at Climb’s opinion.
“We need to lay our cards before him if we want him on our side. Doing so is the best proof that we trust the Marquis.
No wonder. Climb nodded and then bowed respectfully.
“Your servant understands. Then, I shall summon Marquis Raeven now.”
“Please do, Climb. Now, since this will take some time, shall we have tea?”
♦ ♦ ♦
Lower Fire Month (9th Month) 4th Day 09:37
Blue Rose believed that it would take some time for Marquis Raeven to arrive. They estimated that he would come by around noon.
As a nobleman, he had a fixed schedule to keep, which largely consisted of meeting with other nobles. It would be one thing if the King summoned him for an audience, but Renner was just a powerless princess, after all. She would be lower on Raeven’s list of priorities.
Therefore, when Climb returned earlier than expected, they all thought for a moment that he had been chased back. Thus they were hard-pressed to hide the looks of surprise on their face when they saw the forms of two men behind him.
One of them was, of course, Marquis Raeven.
His appearance was, in a word, impeccable. His tight-fitting clothes were made of some sort of rare animal hide — possibly some sort of magical beast — and stitched with goldwork. The embroidery around his collar and his front buttons was of exquisite workmanship, and the front buttons probably had tiny gemstones worked into them, given the way they caught and reflected the light.
His stand-up collar completely concealed his narrow neck. This was top-class apparel, which was undeniably suited to him. He was the very picture of a member of the Kingdom’s Six Great Nobles.
After him was a slightly plump man.
When Renner saw him, she exclaimed in surprise:
“Yo. If it isn’t my sister from a different mother. You look well… oh, and if it isn’t the Alvein heiress and the renowned Blue Rose. How wonderful. To think we’d run into so many adamantite-ranked adventurers here.”
The man who had entered without knocking, and who had addressed them all in a bright and cheerful voice was none other than the Second Prince Zanack Valrean Igana Ryle Vaiself.
Lakyus curtsied to him, and Zanack replied by way of a grand wave of his hand.
“I heard you were talking about something quite interesting, so I decided to drop in.”
“I have come in response to Renner-denka’s summons.”
“Yes. Thank you for coming all his way, Marquis Raeven. Please raise your head.”
Renner rose from her own seat as she saw her elder brother — one with higher status than herself — make his entrance.
Marquis Raeven had a cold smile on his face as he straightened up.
His smile was very sinister, and it made people think he was quite creepy. Yet for some reason, it seemed perfectly suited to him. It did not displease others who looked upon him.
“Then, would the others mind retiring to the adjacent room for a while?”
“I understand, onii-sama. Lakyus, Climb, I’m sorry, but could you please go next door?”
With that clipped reply, Lakyus indicated that her colleagues should get their things. They were probably going to gear up in the next room to avoid wasting time.
The five members of Blue Rose and Climb nodded in unison before entering the adjacent room. After she watched them leave, Renner bade the two remaining people to take a seat.
“Please, have a seat over here.”
One of them threw themselves onto the seat, while the other one settled himself in gracefully. Renner poured a cup of tea and placed it before Raeven.
“I am honored that your Highness would personally pour a cup of tea for me.”
“It might have chilled a little. Please forgive me.”
“Oi oi oi, where’s mine?”
Zanack glared unhappily at the two tea-drinkers.
“Ah, but do you not dislike tea, onii-sama?”
“True, I’m not a fan of colored water. Still, it feels like something’s missing if I don’t have anything to wet my throat.”
“Then I shall have the maid fetch something. Will fruit juice do?”
“Tea will be fine. There’s no need to let news leak out.”
“I doubt the maids will have time to report to their families if we make our move by today.”
“Still, you should be careful. Women have big mouths, after all. In particular, the maids who serve in the Royal Palace are frighteningly quick at tattling.”
Renner smiled, then poured a cup of tea and placed it before Zanack.
“…Hmph. So you’ve already made use of the maid intelligence network, have you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Ah, never mind.”
With that, Zanack took a swig of tea.
“Ack, it’s bitter,” he said while sticking out his tongue.
“Still, your Highness. What matter is there which needs to be discussed so early? That said, your servant will rush to your side at any time. You have but to give the word”
“Thank you. Then, I shall get to the point since time is tight. I wish to borrow your intellect.”
♦ ♦ ♦
After coughing briefly, she wasted no time getting to the meat of the subject.
Marquis Raeven’s narrow eyes parted slightly, full of surprise. However, he recovered almost instantly and hid his consternation.
“My intellect, hm. Since it is your Highness that asks… your servant fears he will not be able to live up to your expectations.
“I think you will do fine. After all, I doubt anyone is your equal in affairs of the court, Marquis Raeven.”
Marquis Raeven and the Prince exchanged looks.
Princess Renner had hardly ever participated in political power struggles. So what did she mean by “affairs of the court”?
Marquis Raeven smiled leisurely. He knew too little, and thinking too hard on the matter would only lead to a strange conclusion. That much was obvious. He decided to hold off on his decision until he learned more.
“And what would you have your servant tell you?”
“I wish to ask if someone like yourself, as a secret supporter of the Royal Faction — or rather, as the one who holds the entire Royal Faction together — could mobilize the faction’s forces.”
Given the look on Marquis Raeven’s face, one might be forgiven for thinking a spell had suddenly gone off in front of his face. Just about anyone who saw this would have been shocked, because Marquis Raeven was not normally an expressive man.
Still, his reaction was understandable. Any other noble might laugh it off, but this was a truth which had been hidden until now.
People thought of Marquis Raeven as a bat, flitting from one side to another, but the truth was that he had been guiding the Royal Faction and warding off any potential conflicts which might tear the country in two. His private crusade was the biggest part in keeping the country whole.
The Kingdom would have fallen apart long ago without someone like Raeven around.
Zanack sucked in a tiny breath.
He had already sensed that Renner, with her unimaginable intellect, was a fiend in human form. Yet, she was like a prisoner in the Royal Palace, without eyes or hands to see or work her will. How had she grasped the truth under these circumstances? Nobody else in the Kingdom knew the answer besides Zanack.
Both of them suspected that she was merely bluffing, but they rejected that notion almost immediately. Renner spoke as though explaining a fact of life. Both of them had seen people hiding daggers behind their smiles, but Renner’s attitude did not seem like an act. In that case, how exactly had she found out about that?
Renner seemed to think further explanation was in order. She ignored Marquis Raeven’s shocked expression and calmly continued:
“…No, perhaps I should have asked one of the two members of the Royal Faction, but Marquis Blumrush has been secretly passing on information to the Empire, no? That would mean…”
“What-what did you say…”
“A moment please, your Highness!”
Zanack murmured hoarsely, but Raeven’s eyes shot wide open and he shouted.
“You knew, right? After all, is that not why you tried to keep the good Marquis from learning too much?”
The two of them stared speechlessly at Renner.
They looked at the beautiful girl, who calmly said, “Am I wrong?”
Marquis Raeven was so overcome that he forgot to address her as ”Your Highness”
Renner had been right about everything.
Only Zanack and Marquis Raeven knew that Marquis Blumrush, a Great Noble of the Royal Faction, had betrayed the kingdom. They had kept quiet about his treason to keep the balance between the factions from breaking down.
Marquis Raeven had been desperately trying to keep this from the Noble Faction and had come up with all manner of schemes to keep the Empire from learning this. His efforts should have been flawless, until now.
Zanack only knew about this because Marquis Raeven had told him. Then how had this caged songbird discovered it? As Zanack imagined it, he felt himself break out in goosebumps.
“How did you find out…”
“Oh, I just listened to what everyone was saying. And I do talk with the maids from time to time.”
How reliable were the maid’s words?
An unbelievable idea filled Marquis Raeven’s mind.
And then, after sifting through his memories, he could conclude that what Renner said — what she had gleaned from the conversation and gossip traded by the maids — was on the mark. The girl before him had sifted through a mountain of dross and picked out the diamonds in the rough, which she had fashioned into a jewelled necklace.
He quietly intoned the word that most suited the woman known as Renner.
Renner should have heard that loud and clear, but all she did was smile, without rebuking Marquis Raeven for his rudeness. He abandoned the line of thought he had been following until just now.
She deserved his honesty. And his recollections of the past were correct.
“—Your servant understands. Then, I seek to bare my heart to you. Do you object, my Prince?”
After seeing Zanack nod, Marquis Raeven straightened up and looked Renner in the face. His attitude now looked quite similar to Gazef when he had his sword raised.
“However, before that, your servant wishes to address the real Renner-denka. Is that permissible?”
“What do you mean?” Renner asked innocently, as though she had no idea what was going on.
“A long time ago, your servant once saw a girl. With incredible insight, that girl spoke words of invaluable wisdom. However, your servant took a long time before he understood the meaning and value of those words.”
Marquis Raeven’s voice echoed through the silent room.
“…She was a girl whose words taxed the understanding of others. When your servant saw this girl, who was viewed as incomprehensible by others, for a fleeting moment, your servant saw a dangerous individual.”
“A dangerous individual?” Renner asked calmly.
“Yes. Your servant had merely glimpsed a fraction of it and had thus written it off as a baseless worry. However, what your servant thought at the time was: ‘those are a pair of hollow eyes which do not care about the world and hold everything in contempt.’”
The mood in the room was vastly different from before, and a chill seemed to spread through the air. Marquis Raeven hunched his shoulders as if to protect himself.
“However, when your servant saw that girl again, she had the aura of a child about her. At that time, your servant believed that he had been mistaken… therefore, your Highness. I was wondering if you could show me that cleverly concealed true nature of yours.”
Their eyes met. It looked as though a pair of serpents were writhing and struggling against each other.
And then, Renner’s eyes lost their shine.
Marquis Raeven smiled coldly, as though he had seen something nostalgic.
“Ah, as I thought, it was actually…”
Zanack broke out in a cold sweat as his little sister, who had a pure and lovely smile on her face, suddenly turned into a frightening monster. No, in truth, he had already sensed her disgusting true face beneath her beautiful looks. However, he had guessed that Renner wanted to seize power for herself, or to shatter the Kingdom that held her prisoner.
It would seem those guesses had been off the mark.
This was a being that was fundamentally different from himself, something alien to him.
“As I expected, Renner-denka. Your Highness’ eyes are just like the ones I recall from my memory. Were you merely pretending ever since then?”
“No, Marquis Raeven. I was not acting. I was satisfied.”
“…Does Your Highness perhaps refer to your soldier, the man Climb…?”
“Oh yes. All this is thanks to my Climb.”
Oh. To think that that boy could actually change Your Highness… your servant thought of him as nothing but a — a child… what does he mean to Your Highness, if I might ask?”
“You mean Climb…?”
Renner’s gaze trailed off, staring into the air. She was thinking about what words she could use to describe his value to her.
♦ ♦ ♦
Renner Theiere Chardelon Ryle Vaiself.
If there was only one word to summarize her entire being, that would be “Golden”. That word derived from her blinding beauty. However, very few people knew that she possessed a talent that far outstripped even her good looks.
Her talents lay in thinking, insight, observation, innovation, understanding and the like. All her mental faculties were abnormally well-developed — in other words, she was a genius.
Her talent could only be described as a gift from the heavens. Her deductions might seem to have come from flashes of inspiration, but the truth was that they were pieced together from countless scattered fragments of information, gathered by her extraordinary powers of observation.
In all likelihood, nobody on the continent could match up against her mental abilities.
If one were pressed to find an equal for her, then one would have to look beyond the human race. However, very few entities were on her level, even among these superhuman beings.
In Nazarick, only Albedo — the Guardian Overseer who could manage the vassals of every single Floor — as well as Demiurge — who possessed a fiendish intellect and was hypercompetent in every aspect of national administration, be it military, domestic and foreign affairs — could be considered on par with her.
Human beings often considered matters from their own perspectives. From that point of view, one could say that “strange” or “wondrous” people were merely labels applied by plebeians.
♦ ♦ ♦
That said, she had a flaw. She could not understand why she could understand these things, but others could not. Perhaps someone on her level might have been able to appreciate how gifted she truly was. If that were the case, the outcome would probably have been different.
However, there was nobody like that around.
In the end, when a little girl spoke of things that baffled those who heard them, the reaction to her was fear. Renner was very cute as a child and so she was not hated. Instead, she was cherished, to a certain extent. However, the fact that nobody could understand what she said had an extreme effect on her mental development. The girl’s heart began to warp as time went by.
Perhaps it might be easier to describe this phenomenon as “the loneliness of genius”.
Trapped in an environment where there was nobody else like her, the stress she had to bear grew and grew. For a time, she could not keep anything down; she threw up whatever she ate.
Those who saw the princess become skinnier and skinnier by the day felt that she would not be long for this world.
If not for that puppy of hers, that prediction might well have come true. Even if she had somehow endured it, what returned might well have been a Demon Queen. She would have made decisions through cold, mathematical logic, making the few suffer for the sake of the many.
♦ ♦ ♦
At that time, it had only been a passing fancy. She had gone out with her guards on a rainy day to lift her spirits, and then the girl had encountered a dying puppy.
The dying puppy looked at her — its master — with a strange expression in its eyes.
What a weighty gaze, she had thought.
The expression in its eyes was one of innocent reverence.
She was used to others looking at her like an oddity, and she was used to people looking at her with adoration. However, she could not understand the look in the puppy’s eyes. In those sincere eyes, she saw revulsion, surprise, delight, emotion, and — a human being.
Indeed, in those eyes, she saw a human being like herself.
The puppy which the girl had picked up became a boy, and then a man.
Whether he was a puppy, a boy or a man, those eyes peered through her with the same blinding purity.
However, it no longer bothered her.
Thanks to those eyes, she could speak to others like a normal person. She could coexist with the vulgar, inferior lifeforms around her.
And now, Renner’s world was complete so long as Climb was in it.
“Climb… hm. If I could join with him… hm — and if I could chain Climb up and take care of him like a pet, and make sure he couldn’t go anywhere, perhaps that might be better.”
The air in the room froze. Even Marquis Raeven was shocked, to say nothing of Zanack, Renner’s half-brother.
They had thought the most beautiful woman in the Kingdom would spout some childish fantasy. No, they should not have expected any such saccharine-sweet simpering from the true Princess Renner, but they had not expected her to go that far.
If only she had been bothered by her deviant passions. What she said flew in the face of all common sense.
“I, I see. So that is your true nature. How shall I say this… when you were young, I felt something was off, like I had mis-fastened a button. But now I fully understand your abnormality.”
“Really, onii-sama? I do not think I have done anything abnormal.”
“Take care of him if you will. Nobody will object to Your Highness’… no, it might still be difficult. Unless you had help.”
“Indeed. It’ll be quite hard to fulfil that dream while maintaining the facade of a proper princess… and there’s no point in forcing him to look at me. I want to chain him down and take care of him like a dog, while he looks at me with those eyes of his…”
Few people enjoyed hearing about the sexual fetishes of others. Marquis Raeven could not help but want to stagger a few steps back after making contact with the soul of the woman called Renner.
“Like a dog… does that mean you do not love him, Your Highness?”
Renner turned an incredulous, scornful gaze on the Marquis.
“Of course I love him. I like the way he looks at me. And I love how he clings to me like a puppy.”
“Forgive me, but I do not understand it. That is not called love, my sister.”
“I think love can take many forms.”
“…A thousand apologies, but I find this topic very hard to follow.”
“I do not need you to understand me. All you need to know is that I like him, and that I love him.”
They had sensed something twisted about her mind, but they had not expected her to be this warped.
The two of them glanced at each other, before the eyes of the Princess with the abnormal mind. Both of them were at a loss for what to do.
They had heard that the Princess had fallen in love with a common soldier, and had expected that it might blow up into a matter of national importance. Yet, what they had heard was far more ridiculous than they had expected.
“Well then, the problem of fetishes…”
“It is not a fetish. It is simply love.”
Renner sounded like she was reproachfully interrupting Raeven’s words, and he resisted the urge to shoot back.
“Very well, love it is, then… right. Although under the present circumstances, the union of Your Highness with Climb… -kakka is a little—”
“It’s impossible. Not just that, if word got out, you’d be married off immediately to some noble. If it was Aniki, who’s in deep with the Noble Faction, he’d probably pick one of the nobles from the Noble Faction.”
“Indeed, onii-sama. If our eldest brother took the throne, my marriage would be the first thing he would push through. I believe they’ve already discussed the matter beforehand. After all, there’s a noble who looks at me like his personal possession every time we meet.”
“Your servant is aware that a certain nobleman is willing to join the Noble Faction, but he requires an appropriate inducement.”
“Still, when you think about it, it’s not likely that I can be with Climb, no…? Even if he received a title, he’d be a Baron at best. And even if he somehow received a higher title, there’s no way they’d let a princess marry someone beneath her station like him.”
“I fully understand that. Given the current state of the Kingdom, that dream of yours cannot come true no matter what methods you use.”
Zanack smiled thinly. He was certain that this was the best move he could make.
“How about making a deal with me? If I gain the throne, I will match you to Climb.”
“That was fast! Are you sure?”
“There is no reason for me to refuse. After all, that bet has the highest probability of success. When you came to my room with Marquis Raeven, I had thought of asking you the same thing myself.”
“…That is to say, you had already worked this out ahead of time?”
Zanack smiled bitterly by way of reply, but his heart was in a different state from his face. While he had guessed that his little sister was smarter than him, he had not expected to have been so completely outclassed by her.
When he thought calmly about it, there was no need for Renner to be so honest with him. No, it was understandable if she had done so in order to evoke this exact response from him.
He cursed his sister in his heart: you monster.
“Also, onii-sama… or rather, this should be a matter for Marquis Raeven.”
“What does Your Highness command?”
“Marquis, I believe you have a son, do you not?”
“Indeed I do. My child is five this year. Is something the matter?”
The image of his darling son’s face appeared in Raeven’s mind, and he fought the urge to squish his cheeks. He thought of the look of disgust on Zanack — who was sitting next to him — and forcefully swallowed the urge to sing his child’s praises.
“Please wed your son to me.”
“Absolutely not! How could I turn my child over to a woman like you?!” Raeven exclaimed. Then, he met Zanack’s icy gaze, and looked at Renner’s still-smiling face, and he blushed crimson at his gross misconduct.
“Please, please forgive me, Your Highnesses! Your servant was momentarily confused, and…”
He coughed, and then turned to Renner.
“Your Highness, forgive my intrusion, but could you tell your servant the reason for that?”
“You should know well the reason for that, no?”
“Oi, oi, sis. You were the one who brought it up—”
“You would marry your servant’s son and bear Climb’s child. Your servant’s son would then bear a child with the woman he loved — and that child would carry on the family name. Your Highness would then be his mother in name only… am I correct? It is quite a good plan. Your Highness would be able to bear a child with the man you love, and although it would be a deception, your servant would be able to continue his bloodline.”
“I have no interest in domains or the succession. All I require is a stipend for my trueborn child. I will not make a claim upon your family estate.”
“In this respect, your servant has the utmost faith in Your Highness.”
“…Even Father will not be able to easily reject a proposal like this from a loyal vassal like Marquis Raeven. The Marquisate will gain the royal bloodline and you can be with the man you love. And I will have you as a collaborator. Nobody loses out, and any betrayal means we all go down together… ah, it’s quite a perfect plan. Still, you shouldn’t be talking about this sort of thing in front of me…”
“Ara, I merely wanted to be sure you were on my side, onii-sama. Besides, I doubt you’d want to know after the fact, am I wrong?”
Zanack did not answer. This was because Renner was correct. In addition, he could not possibly refuse a proposal like this which had so thoroughly ensnared each other’s weaknesses. She might have a screw loose, but someone as excellent as herself was an indispensable talent for the future of the Kingdom.
“Now then, that is enough about ourselves. I hear Your Highness has clashed with Eight Fingers? And captured the head of their slave-trading enterprise?”
“Indeed. It is as Climb has told you. Thus, I wish to press the attack before Eight Fingers retreats back into the shadows. I have learned about the activities of Eight Fingers within the Royal Capital, and I wish to attack these locations by today. The only problem is a lack of manpower. I called upon you, Marquis Raeven, because I wished to borrow your strength.”
Zanack and Raeven looked at each other, and Zanack was the first to speak.
“And which locations will you be attacking?”
Renner handed them the transcribed parchment, and the two of them went over it.
“And this information has been verified?’
“Naturally. I had Lakyus investigate it for me. I’ve just received reports that these are Eight Fingers installations. The problem is that all these locations are in the domains of different nobles.”
It was not a problem of extraterritoriality yet, but charging into a noble’s domain was essentially challenging the noble in question.
“That should not be a problem. If we can find evidence connected to Eight Fingers, we can apply pressure on the nobles.”
“Even if we don’t find it, we just have to search harder. At least we’ll know where they’ll go to dispose of documents that are troublesome to themselves.”
The three of them laughed. There was no warmth in that laughter.
“Then, sister. I have a question; or rather, an important suggestion.”
Zanack looked around. This was the first time he had checked to see that nobody else was present. In other words, this was a very important topic, of the utmost secrecy.
“Actually, our elder brother has been taking money from one of Eight Fingers’ divisions. We were hoping to use this to oust him from the succession, so we were checking to see if that division had headquarters in the Royal Capital. Now, we have received confirmation that this division does have a base here. I was thinking of adding it to the list of targets.”
“Certainly. We might as well take them all out in one fell swoop. After all, who knows when we’ll have another chance like this if we miss this one? And which division is this?”
“The drugs division.”
“That’s quite unfortunate. Several days ago, I had Lakyus attack three of their drug-plantation villages. Therefore, you’ll need to make your move soon, or the opposition will make their escape.”
“What… I see. Marquis Raeven, can you move right away?”
“That would be very difficult. Your servant is aware of which nobles are not involved with Eight Fingers, but not all of them are reliable. There are probably only two households left. I will need time to persuade them, but there is another problem.”
“What is it, Marquis?”
“Our forces might not be enough to overcome Eight Fingers.”
Some powerful adventurers could take on an entire army by themselves.
There were many theories as to why there were so many superhuman individuals among the ranks of adventurers.
The most reliable explanation was that under extreme circumstances, the body — some might say the brain — would become abnormally active and trigger a super-recovery phenomenon, causing one’s physical parameters to increase non-stop. Other explanations included some form of blessing, evolution through the absorption of mana, and so on. However, what they all had in common was that the physical, mental and magical attributes of the body would increase rapidly.
There were higher chances of this improvement phenomenon happening when facing powerful opposition. Given the fact that adventurers often faced powerful monsters with varied abilities, it was very easy for them to trigger such phenomena.
If the enemy had personnel like that, regular soldiers would be useless against them.
“Your personal guard ought to be able to handle it, am I wrong, Marquis?”
Raeven’s answer to Zanack’s question was a shake of the head.
“It is true that they are retired adventurers, and all of them are above mithril-rank. However, the enemy also counts incredibly powerful people among their number. The Six Arms are the direct action department of Eight Fingers, and each of them is said to be the equivalent of an adamantite-ranked adventurer. If they took the field, things would be very bad for us. Of course, things might be different if we could gang up on them.”
Zanack’s speechlessness was only to be expected. It was said that each of these highest-ranked adventurers could take on a thousand enemies and win. One could even say that no amount of normal people could begin to oppose them.
“Then I’ll ask Lakyus to have Blue Rose split up and take action, with each of them taking a single location. It should work if any one place does not have two or more members of Eight Fingers in it.
“…Your servant recalls that Blue Rose has five members, but the enemy has six people in Six Arms. That being the case, having them act separately might incur the cardinal sin of splitting one’s forces up… although, I doubt all six of them are in the Royal Capital. If the members of Blue Rose do not mind, then we can attack five locations at once.”
“I’d like to take them all out at once, but that would be difficult. What a shame; eliminating them all in one stroke would be the best outcome.”
The parchment Renner held listed seven locations. Including the one Zanack and Raeven knew, that would make eight targets. However, they did not have that much manpower.
“It angers me that we’ll have to let three targets go, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”
“How about having those who have finished their attacks proceed to the remaining three locations?”
“That ought to be the best solution. Your Highness, mobilizing troops in the Royal Capital will be problematic. How should we handle that?”
“I’ll talk to Father about it. Don’t worry about it for now. You’ll have to give it up in the end, no? I’m a little greedy…”
Just then, there was a knock on the door.
The maids should have gone to answer the door, but today they were not around. Therefore, it was Raeven who made to stand up, but Renner tugged on his hand to stop him before walking without hesitation to the door and opening it.
After checking to see who was outside, Renner was all smiles as she looked back to the other two.
“We have someone who might be able to help us with attacking the sixth location.”
The confused man that Renner ushered into the room was the Kingdom’s Warrior-Captain, Gazef Stronoff.
Lower Fire Month (9th Month) 4th Day 21:00
Climb held a black object in his hand. This wobbly black object would have been perfectly spherical, but it was so soft that it was deformed, as though it had been squashed.
He took this mysterious black sphere, which seemed to be filled with a black liquid, and splattered it on himself — his armor.
The sphere splashed open, staining Climb’s pure-white armor with black spots. After seeing this, people would assume that the sphere Climb had just been holding was filled with some sort of black dye. However, that was not all.
The droplets of black dye staining Climb’s armor quivered, and began flowing over the surface of the armor, as though to cover its entire surface. Within seconds, the brilliant white of Climb’s armor turned a gloomy black, without missing a single nook or cranny.
The sphere Climb had just splattered on himself was a magic item known as a Magic Dye. Apparently, higher-grade dyes could resist acid, fire, ice and other kinds of elemental damage, but the only thing this particular dye could do was change color.
The reason for why he used this went without saying — it was because his pure white full plate armor was far too conspicuous.
Lakyus had gathered the leaders of the various teams and Climb stood before her as well.
In the center of all the leaders was a female warrior dressed in a glittering array of battle gear.
First was the magic sword known to all — the Demonic Sword Kilineyram. It was the size of a bastard sword, but nobody could see its dark blade — which reminded onlookers of the night sky — since it was sheathed. However, the hilt alone spoke of its exquisite craftsmanship. Of particular note was the huge navy blue sapphire on the pommel, in whose depths flickered a flame-like brilliance.
The full plate armor she wore gleamed with the radiance which only platinum and gold could produce, and it was inscribed with countless depictions of Unicorns. This suit of immaculate armor — pure as the driven snow — could only be worn by a virgin.
In contrast to her shining armor, the cape on her back was made of some sort of cotton cloth which resembled the gray of a mouse’s pelt. This was the Cloak of Rat Speed, which improved its wearer’s movement speed, dexterity and evasive abilities. It was a deceptively powerful magic item.
However, her Floating Swords — another famous magic item — did not seem to have been activated.
Unlike Climb, Lakyus was conspicuously dressed because she probably intended to settle the matter with her own magic.
Beside her were other familiar faces.
There were the members of Blue Rose, and Gazef Stronoff.
Climb felt very awkward and out of place as he stood beside them
Lakyus explained the details of the operation, which was to attack and capture eight installations run by Eight Fingers.
However, there were only seven teams, so after those teams had taken their objectives, the team leaders and Marquis Raeven’s bodyguards — former adventurers, each ranked above mithril — would proceed to the last location, while the rest of the team members would continue to hold their objectives. They had to destroy as much of the enemy’s fighting strength as possible and do their best to take prisoners. Failing that, killing them would be the next best thing.
That was all.
Lakyus then warned the others again that they were going up against a crime syndicate that controlled the criminal underworld. They might encounter traps or very powerful individuals, so they could not allow themselves to be careless.
Climb’s body trembled.
This was not fear, but stress from being given responsibility in such an important operation.
Climb was much weaker than the other team leaders, but he had been chosen to lead a team anyway because he was stronger than an average soldier, and the sponsor for this operation had recommended him.
In addition, Marquis Raeven’s personal guard — a team of former adventurers who had previously held the orichalcum rank — had been detached to help him out.
How could he back out when everyone had bent over backward to accommodate him?
In addition, when he realised why he had been selected as a team leader, he could not hand that duty over to anyone else.
Blue Rose, Marquis Raeven, Gazef Stronodd, and Prince Zanack, who was in charge of firefighting during a civil disturbance. None of these people were connected to Renner. It was precisely because of that reason that Climb — Renner’s bodyguard — had been chosen as a team leader, to show that Renner was deeply involved in this operation.
It seems this was the brainchild of Marquis Raeven and Prince Zanack, but why would they do this?
Climb had no idea of their reasons. Even so, his heart gushed with courage as he resolved himself to complete this great task, in order to let more people know of Renner’s contributions to the nation.
They were dismissed after the briefing was complete. The man who had been waiting in the back called out to him in a casual tone.
That man, whose name was Brain Unglaus, was the helper Gazef had brought along, and he was also Climb’s assistant team leader.
“The team’s ready, we’re just waiting for the word. Also, this is the path we’ll be taking. That guy picked it.”
Brain handed Climb a map of the Royal Capital with a red line drawn on it, while Climb looked in the direction where Brain was pointing.
There stood one of the former orichalcum-ranked adventurers. He had been assigned to Climb’s team. The man seemed to have noticed Climb looking his way and waved to him. In turn Climb nodded to the somewhat aged man. Perhaps he should not have done so, being the team leader and all, but it was a natural gesture for Climb, given that his strength was nowhere near enough to qualify as a team leader.
To Climb, he was not so much leading everyone as he was counting on everyone else to help carry his weight.
As they were talking, a hulking person approached them and called out to Climb:
“Oi, cherry boy.”
Could you please not call me by that name, Climb thought as he sensed a change in his teammates’ eyes.
Fortunately, nobody was looking at him with scorn. Someone seemed to be smiling on him from the side, someone with a strong attachment to him, like a parent doting on their child.
“What’s the matter, Gagaran-sama?”
Unlike how she had been at the inn, she was decked out in first-rate magic items.
The breastplate of her reddish-black spiked full plate armor was inscribed with eye-like patterns. This was the famous suit of armor known as [Gaze Bane].
Her gauntlets were also somewhat unique, carved with patterns of two intertwining snakes. This relic could restore the health of those it touched. They were called the Kerykeion Gauntlets.
The long, massive spiked war pick at her waist was called Full Iron. The luxurious crimson cape she wore, — reminiscent of royal garb — was called the Crimson Guardian. Below her armor was a Vest of Resistance, a Dragontooth Amulet and a Belt of Greater Power. In addition, she wore WInged Boots and a Twister Circlet, while the rings she wore also possessed powerful magic.
This was the full battle attire of Gagaran, one of the Kingdom’s topmost warriors.
She possessed this many jaw-dropping pieces of equipment because she was an adamantite-ranked adventurer. Much like her, Evileye, Tia and her sister Tina were outfitted with similarly potent magic items.
“Oh, it’s nothing. I just thought the cherry boy might be feeling nervous, so I came by to smack your ass.”
So she was worried about me…
Still, Climb hoped that she would not keep calling him “cherry boy” He could go to any old brothel and get rid of his virginity anytime he wanted. He simply had not chosen to do so.
Just as Climb began weeping inside, Gagaran turned a keen gaze upon Brain, who was standing by his side Climb’s side.
“Brain Unglaus. The man who fought the Warrior-Captain to a draw… I see, so those reports weren’t exaggerated or made up.”
“So you’re Blue Rose’s warrior, Gagaran. I see… incredible. You’re definitely worthy of being an adamantite-ranked adventurer team’s warrior. In that case, do I pass?”
Climb had no idea what they meant by passing and not passing. He looked at Brain, who shrugged and told him what Gagaran was thinking.
“She came to see if I was a warrior worthy of taking care of you, Climb-kun.”
“As if… What happens to you doesn’t really matter to me. I just felt that it would be a shame for you to die a virgin, so I thought that if we had the time, maybe I could break you in. Still, now that I know that you didn’t beat ‘Illusion Devil’ by chance. You really are an incredible warrior. Even without crossing blades, I can tell that it’ll be easy with you around.”
“Thank you very much. On my part, I now know the rumors were true as well. Still, it’s best not to get careless. There’s a lot of monsters out there who can kill us in moments.”
“Oh, aren’t we careful. I don’t mind men like that. While you’re not a cherry, how about a quick tumble?”
“I’ll pass. It’ll probably get squashed.”
Climb did not ask which part of him would get squashed.
“Really? What a shame. Be careful, Climb.”
Gagaran waved farewell and then strode off. As Brain watched her leave, he quietly said, “I didn’t expect her to be so nice, given the way she looks.”
“It’s not just Gagaran-san, but everyone in Blue Rose is very kind. Evileye-sama’s the same way too. She might dress like that, but she’s a very nice person.”
“A masked magic caster, huh…That’s right, Gazef said he met a guy called Ainz Ooal Gown who was also like that. Could it be that wearing masks is a trend among magic casters… hm? Looks like they’re moving out.”
“Seems like it. The teams that have to travel a long way need to set out first, otherwise they won’t be able to coordinate their attack timing with us.”
Both of them looked forward, at the teams which were heading out before the others.
Climb looked around, searching his surroundings for a certain woman.
Naturally, she was not there. She ought to be moving with Prince Zanack now. He knew she was working hard, so was it selfishness on his part for feeling lonely without the chance to see her?
“We’d better go too, Climb-kun.”
“…Yes! Let’s go,” Climb told his team.
Climb. The assistant team leader Brain Unglaus. The four former orichalcum-ranked adventurers. 20 house troops from Marquis Raeven’s estate. They were then accompanied by a high-ranking priest, staff from the Magician’s Guild and various support personnel, all of whom had dealings with Marquis Raevens. In total, 32 people quietly set out.
Lower Fire Month (9th Month) 4th Day 20:31
“To think we could put together such a team… I must give thanks to Ainz-sama.”
That was the first thing Sebas said when he saw the people assembled in the house.
Shalltear and Mare had been dispatched from the Floor Guardians, led by Demiurge. The forms of Entoma and Solution of the Pleiades battle maids were also visible. Then, there were many of Demiurge’s high-level vassals — the Evil Lords. This was a staggering amount of fighting power. One could consider it overkill.
“To think the first and second strongest of the Floor Guardians would be here…”
“Mm — and they are under my command, in accordance with Ainz-sama’s wishes. Sebas, do you object?
“Of course not.”
“Then I hope you will not misunderstand me. Ainz-sama commanded us to rescue the human (Tsuare) but the fact is that we have assembled these people for a higher purpose — namely, to slaughter the foolish members of Eight Fingers who dared spit upon the faces of the Supreme Beings. Is that clear?”
“Perfectly. Rescuing Tsuare is a secondary objective, am I correct?”
“Indeed. However, I do not believe she will be able to endure a resurrection spell, so I approve of your suggestion to rescue her while she is still alive.”
He said so in sour tones.
“That said, dealing with her if she is dead is a legitimate question. In addition, if I were the enemy, I would surely toss the head of my hostage at anyone stupid enough to walk to their deaths.
“But if the hostage taker were you, Demiurge, surely you would abuse the hostage in front of the enemy in order to frighten them into submission, no?”
“I am forced to admit the rightness of your words. The thought of immobilizing would-be rescuers and then having them watch as I tortured their hostage… ah, what a moving sight it would be.”
“And what part of it would move you?
Sebas hid his irritation below his smile as he asked his question. Needless to say, Demiurge’s perceptive gaze had probably seen through Sebas’ false smile, so it was nothing more than going through the motions.
“All of it, Sebas. All of it.”
Demiurge smiled thinly, and there was a penetrating gleam within his faceted eyes.
“Of course, if it were me, I would even let the humans who came to mount a rescue escape with their hostage. First, I would let them rest at ease and believe they had escaped, and then I would turn the tables on them. After all, the greater one’s hope, the deeper one’s despair.”
“That does seem quite fun. Let us try that next time, if we have the chance.”
“B-but, if the enemy really got away, w-wouldn’t that be really bad?”
Demiurge and Shalltear both laughed at this.
“Mare, you say the most interesting things sometimes. The point is that the enemy does not escape. Well, if they did manage to escape, I would have to praise them for it.”
“As expected of you, Demiurge. You can afford such arrogance because of your absolute certainty that the opposition will not escape.”
Demiurge was cheerfully talking about his hobby of tormenting others despite the limited time. Sebas decided to ask a question to cut that discussion short.
“Demiurge, you said you were going to slaughter the Eight Fingers. Does that mean you have information on them?”
“Mm, there will be no problems at all. I have secured that intelligence.”
“Ohh,” Sebas breathed in awe. On this point, Sebas’ respect for him was genuine.
Demiurge should only have spent a very short time in the Royal Capital. However, he had managed to obtain the relevant information. Sebas had no idea what methods Demiurge had used to do so. Given that Demiurge was acting in accordance with their master’s wishes, this was surely not idle talk, but he had concrete proof to show for it.
“Then there’s the matter of the location — there’s quite a few of them, so we’ll just have to attack them all. Of course, we need to capture people from several locations who might possess intelligence, and then we must let Eight Fingers understand the full extent of their idiocy—”
At this point, Demiurge paused to glance at Sebas before continuing.
“—In order to mete out the appropriate punishment to those who abused the person which Ainz-sama pledged his protection — and in his own glorious name, no less — we must have them tell us everything they know. Everyone, are there any objections?”
“N-not at all!”
“They will pay with their bodies for disrespecting Ainz-sama.”
“I have no objections, of course.”
Thus did the two Floor Guardians and the butler of Nazarick answer Demiurge.
The two Pleiades and the Evil Lords did not answer, but bowed deeply to Demiurge.
“Very good. Then, Sebas. Could you tell me where the opposition has summoned you? I wish to see if that location is listed in the information I was given.”
Sebas told Demiurge the location given in the parchment left in the house, and Demiurge smiled.
“How fortunate. Or perhaps I should be sad that there is one fewer place to assault. The address of the location you have is a perfect match for a point I have scouted. Then I shall hand that area to you.”
“I have no problems with that. However, she might be hurt. I would be grateful if I could be assigned someone who can use healing magic.”
“Ainz-sama wishes for us to save that human… Solution. I had thought to keep you as a mobile asset thanks to your exceptional sensory abilities, but would you be willing to assist Sebas?”
“And then there are the other humans in that building, the ones who kidnapped Tsuare…”
“If you dare aid any of those humans who trod Ainz-sama’s name into the dirt, I really will kill you this time.”
“Don’t worry, Demiurge. I will slaughter them all.”
“I have been watching from the side since just now… but would it trouble the two of you to speak more cordially?”
Sebas noted that Demiurge had an expression on his face which was difficult to describe in words. At the same time, he mused that he probably had a similar look on his own face.
Still, why did he dislike Demiurge so much? It was quite surprising when he thought about it. He did not dislike Shalltear — who was a sadist much like Demiurge — yet he could feel anger burning in his belly every time he spoke to Demiurge.
That said, not going along with Demiurge for this matter would be like spitting upon his great master’s kindness. Sebas silently apologized to his master and then bowed to Demiurge.
“You came to help make up for my mistakes, yet I was so rude to you. I sincerely apologize for that.”
“…I did not take it to heart, Sebas. In any event… once you rescue Tsuare, you will swiftly evacuate her to the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick. Will that be acceptable?”
“Naturally. However, have preparations been made to receive her?”
“It’s fine. We’ve already made preparations in that area~”
Sebas nodded in acknowledgement as he heard Entoma’s honey-sweet voice.
“I trust that there are no other problems, then? I do not think so. Then, I shall divide us into seven groups, and then decide which of the locations we will assault. Naturally, Sebas and Solution have already been allocated. And Shalltear, I need to remind you of one thing!”
The sudden firmness in Demiurge’s tone made Shalltear tremble.
“W-what is it, Demiurge.”
“I am placing you on mobile support duty, so you will be on standby for a while. You lose your senses when you’re splashed with too much fresh blood, and having you lose control when fighting a mass of mooks will be troublesome.”
“It, it’s fine! As long as the Spuit Lance drains them dry, it’s much less likely to trigger.”
“That is still unacceptable. We need to be very careful in this operation. Risks must be avoided at all costs. Also, let me get this out of the way first, Sebas. Rescuing Tsuare and punishing Eight Fingers is only the first stage of the plan. However, I cannot reveal the details of stage two to you, much less the details of the entire plan. This is because you will be returning to Nazarick after Stage One is complete, and at that point you will no longer be involved. It is better to reduce the number of people who know in order to reduce the chances of information leaking.”
“Understood. Then I shall prepare to move out.”
♦ ♦ ♦
After Sebas left the room, Demiurge turned to the people who remained:
“Alright, first things first. I have something very important to tell you, so pay close attention. Entoma, you can create illusions, am I correct? Can you create an illusion as I direct?”
Heeding Demiurge’s directions, Entoma created an image in the air. The free-floating illusion pleased Demiurge.
“You are absolutely forbidden from killing this person. Minor damage is fine, but it is fundamentally prohibited. I hope you all remember. This goes double fory you, Shalltear.”
“There is no need to keep harping on it. I know that…”
Shalltear pouted as Demiurge needled her, while Mare smiled bitterly.
“Ah, is, is it really alright to, er, not tell Sebas-san?”
“Don’t worry. Given his personality, he won’t harm people out of hand… although, just in case, could you help me stop him in case something unusual comes up?”
Demiurge nodded in satisfaction.
This operation was closely linked to a plan that would reap great benefits for Nazarick. Any serious errors might set back Nazarick’s… no, the Supreme Being Ainz Ooal Gown’s stated goal of world conquest.
Since his master had said “I will turn the matter over to you”, failure was no longer an option.
Albedo had also sternly added that due to Shalltear’s, Cocytus’ and now Sebas’ mistakes, any further errors might lead to the abilities of the Floor Guardians themselves — the most powerful entities created by the Supreme Beings — coming into question.
Of course, their master had not displayed his displeasure at these mistakes, and the matter of Cocytus seemed to be proceeding as their master had planned, but relying on their master’s kindness was most definitely not the right attitude to have.
I wish to demonstrate the usefulness of the Guardians to Ainz-sama through the success of this operation.
What value did foolish subordinates who could not satisfy their master possess?
And then, if their master were thoroughly disappointed by his pathetic minions, would even the last remaining Supreme Being vanish as well?
Even someone like Demiurge felt his body run cold with fear as he contemplated that possibility.
We must not fail. In addition, we must succeed brilliantly enough to erase our past mistakes.
With an iron will in his heart, Demiurge surveyed everyone in the room.
“Also, I hope none of you will forget that the person who brainwashed Shalltear might still be watching hungrily, waiting for a chance to strike. Therefore, none of you are permitted to leave your operation areas without permission. I hope you will all keep that in mind. When any Guardian — including myself — questions you, you will immediately put up your hands or the equivalent appendages and refrain from suspicious movements. Any such movements will be met with death, for safety’s sake. Does anyone have any questions?”
“Er, ah, I asked a question just now, but can I ask again?”
Demiurge smiled warmly to Mare, and then made a gesture to indicate that he should continue speaking.
“Al-alright. I, I remember that Sebas-san does not have a World-Class Item like we do. Is that alright?”
“Ainz-sama has considered that point before. Sebas will serve as bait. Ideally, the enemy will take it. Albedo is standing by in the Throne Room for precisely that reason. In addition, those who cannot use the [Message] spell must be more careful and not act on their own. I will be overseeing the entire operation, so please contact me if you have any questions. In addition, I have already informed Mare about everything, including my plan, so if an emergency arises where you cannot contact me, Mare will direct the operation.”
“Then… what about myself?”
“Forgive me, Shalltear. However like I said earlier, I cannot trust you completely, so you will be standing by for now. Ah, what I mean is that I am worried about your Blood Frenzy.”
“I got it! I! Got! It!”
“Once Stage One is complete, we will begin Stage Two. I will now begin explaining this stage, which is the most critical stage. Thus, I hope you will pay close attention — what is it?”
A Shadow Demon appeared out of Demiurge’s shadow and whispered a report to him.
“Is that so? Well, it is sudden, but it cannot be helped.”
This matter was quite troublesome for Demiurge, but he could not leave matters at that.
“Forgive me, Mare. According to the latest news, there is one more Eight Fingers base to attack. I apologize for this, but I hope you will change your target. I believe you will be sufficient by yourself, but for safety’s sake, take Entoma with you.”
“Al-alright. Er, ah, please leave it to me.”
“Well answered. Then, we shall discuss the details later. While everyone is here, I will begin explaining the plan for Stage Two — Gehenna. This is the most important part of our operations in the Royal Capital, so I hope you will pay close attention.”