Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
Sensing hostility, I stopped in my tracks. An arrow hissed through the air and barely hit my toe. Then more arrows rained down on us. Covering Zero, I rolled to the ground and dove into the nearby bushes.
Explosives were thrown into the bushes to cut off our escape route. I turned pale. As I rolled out into the open again, the blast hit me from behind. I bent down to protect Zero from the stones and pieces of wood.
I froze as I felt a sharp object—the tip of a sword, most likely—thrust at the back of my neck.
There were more than ten of them, and they were lying in wait to ambush us.
“Check their things!” the man holding a sword to my nape ordered.
A different guy snatched my bag away. I thought they were bandits, but judging from their attire, that did not seem to be the case. They wore matching cloaks with the same crests. Iron armor. Ornamented swords. They looked more like knights than bandits.
Zero stirred. “Mercenary, what is happening—”
“Don’t move!” I pinned her down. “Just stay put.”
If they were really knights, then it would be better to stay still. If we resisted and killed them all, they would chase us endlessly until they got their revenge.
Checking our stuff meant they were searching for some evidence of a crime. Maybe there was a robbery around here. They set up a perimeter along the supply route, and we jumped right into it.
Go on. Check my bag all you want. You’re not gonna find anything.
“Found it! A map of the supply route!”
I was shocked. I tried to look up, but the tip of the sword dug into my neck, and I quickly got down again.
A map of the supply route? Why would knights be looking for it? How do they even know I had it?!
“There’s no doubt about it. This is the leader of Fort Lotus!”
At that moment, everything clicked. When Cal handed the map to me, he said it would serve as proof that I was a friend of his. He sent a carrier pigeon as well. Cal never once mentioned who he sent the message to or what the message said.
Maybe he wrote something like, “The head of Fort Lotus is heading to Ideaverna to ask for help in the saint’s assassination. Wait for him.”
Doing that would divert attention away from the fort, making it easier for them to move. It all made perfect sense.
Perhaps rumors had already spread that the leader of Fort Lotus was a Beastfallen. Then Cal met me, a fellow Beastfallen—the perfect guy to frame.
I couldn’t help but laugh. Damn it.
“I didn’t expect him to deceive me.”
I had been a mercenary for years, spending my life in the crevice between life and death. It would take more than being deceived and used as bait to make me panic.
What do I do?
I already knew. I rolled to the ground to distance myself from the sword, pulled out my knife, and held it against Zero’s neck.
I pressed the knife to Zero’s neck and shut her mouth before she could say more.
I had to make them think that Zero was not my employer. That she was simply a helpless woman I kidnapped. Then she might live.
A few knights attempted to go after me.
“Don’t move! If you do, this woman’s dead.”
Suddenly they froze on the spot.
“Don’t bother,” a knight said.
“Lord Torres of Ideaverna has issued an order to capture the leader of Fort Lotus. Wherever you go, you can not escape!”
The governor of Ideaverna?
I glanced at the crest on their cloaks. Upon a closer look, it was an emblem in the shape of a wave and a ship, the same symbol I saw in Ideaverna’s castle.
“I thought the governor of Ideaverna didn’t like the saint. Why is he making enemies with the fort now?”
“That is nothing but baseless gossip. Lord Torres believes in Her Eminence and her ability to save the people from an unknown disease! I suggest you surrender.”
I had no intention to do that. Regardless of what his official stance was, Torres clearly despised Lia. Cal’s betrayal meant we no longer had a way to get to Akdios.
It’s all or nothing. My only choice was to bet on Torres—a risky gamble that could get me executed. Otherwise, I would have to tear these knights to pieces, ignore the problem in Cleon, and run away.
But if I had to turn tail, I would do it after I lost the gamble.
“All right.” I pulled my knife away from Zero’s neck and pushed her toward the knight.
“Arrest me. You want me alive to extract information about Fort Lotus, right? Take me to the governor’s place and torture me or something.”
I did not give Zero a chance to speak. If I kept holding Zero hostage, the knights would have no choice but to take me down for their honor. So I needed to lay down my weapon and surrender. I wasn’t completely unarmed anyway. I still had my fangs and claws.
I knelt down quietly, and the knights put metal shackles on both my arms. Zero probably realized my plan as well. She watched me anxiously, not saying anything.
“Treat that woman nicely, okay?” I said. “She’s the governor’s guest.”
Normally people wouldn’t believe such a bold claim, but Zero possessed extraordinary beauty and a proud and elegant aura to her. If she said she was a royal guest, people would believe her.
From here on out, it was up to her. Go and win the governor over, Murky Darkness Witch.
And just as planned, Zero was temporarily treated as a guest. She rode in the knight’s carriage, while I was thrown into a cage.
The inside of the iron bars bore countless spikes, and there were wheels on the underside of the cage so a horse could pull it. Frankly, it looked like a cage to put ferocious beasts in as a spectacle.
I knew I chose this myself, but I couldn’t help but heave a sigh at the depressing state I was in. I saw Zero peeked through a small window of the carriage, and I wagged my tail a little to inform her I was fine.
A moment later, the cage was covered by a black cloth and then pulled by a horse.
“We need to be back to the castle by dawn. Lights on!” one knight ordered. “I will return to Ideaverna first to give my report to Lord Torres.”
I felt relieved. If they were going to take us to Ideaverna without me spending any effort, then it was worth getting caught.
It was dark inside the cloth-covered cage, and I was fast asleep from the exhaustion. Even if I was awake, there was nothing I could do anyway. I needed to rest so I could be ready to escape if Zero failed to win the governor over.
I had been sleeping soundly in the rickety cage, banging my head against the thorny iron bars, when the smell of the sea woke me up.
The city was close. No. I could hear the waves, so maybe we were in the city already. The thick cloth blocked the light from the sun, but from the sound of people stirring outside, it was probably early morning.
We had arrived in Ideaverna earlier than planned while I was asleep. For a while the carriages drove along a paved road then split into two groups. The carriage carrying Zero was moving away, while the cage I was in headed towards the direction of the waves—the harbor, most likely.
The cage climbed a steep incline, then stopped. I peeked through a gap in the cloth to find the cage on a wooden platform placed high above the ground. A stage perhaps? I could sense a lot of people watching from afar, so it probably was.
Something was not quite right, however. This was clearly different from the standard procedure of arresting criminals that I knew of.
Why wasn’t anyone coming to inspect me? I would expect them to come extract information about Fort Lotus, and writing down my charges was also necessary.
It was common to expose criminals to the public until preparations were done, but they would have removed the cloth before we entered town and let people throw rocks or rotten vegetables at me. Were they worried about people getting too close to a Beastfallen?
Straining my ears, I heard the buzzing of people’s voices mixed in with the sound of the waves. The voices were distant, low, and too many, that I could only hear bits of what they were saying. Something about Fort Lotus and its leader—topics that were all related to me. The rest were trivial matters and random chattering and gossip about the saint and the governor. I also heard something about an execution.
The bad feeling in my gut made my fur bristle, and a shiver ran down my spine. Then with impeccable timing, I heard the sounds of multiple footsteps approaching. My heartbeat quickened.
The footsteps stopped near the cage. Some of them grabbed the cloth covering the cage, and then…