Translator: Adam Seacord
「…So the shop is coming up in flames, but don’t worry.」
In the tiny room, I was contacting everyone at mesmerizing speed.
「So we won’t have the house anymore!?」
That was Shiro’s primary concern. Come to think of it, she was in love with the soft bed there.
「I think we can salvage the second floor if we clear off the ashes, but… They’re going to burn all of the shop down. They said they’d be careful not to spread the fire to the neighbors.」
「Olivia, and Daria… The quiet girls are the scariest when it comes down to the wire… You’re really rubbing off on her.」
Although she was whispering, I could hear Sara clearly. I assumed she was covering her mouth with her sleeve from atop the carriage.
「Olivia looks like she wants to say something, but she’s not in a place to talk right now. I’ll just let her know.」
Of course, she couldn’t make a wrong move on that carriage. She could still hear me, so I talked to her:
「So, Olivy. Seas are rough but we’re still smooth sailing. But the real storms up ahead, I’m afraid… I haven’t seen that three-armed guy yet. He was guarding Lubreo, so he must be around… It would work out for us if he sticks to guarding him.」
A small clearing of her throat in response. She had heard me.
「Excuse me? We will finish early, I think… But, tolerance for poison no work so good unless long time spent like you.」
Chana’s voice was muffled, perhaps because she was underground. In anticipation for the poison used to kill the members of the Assassin’s Guild, I had Chana working on antidotes. All of us, and the knights of House Blare had already taken a dose, but I wanted to have more produced, just in case.
「Chana, what about the other one?」
「Already gave to messenger. What poor girl you going to use that on, Mister Villain Man?」
My other order was not for an antidote, but a poison. Not to take a life, but if I could create the right situation to use it, it could be our beacon of hope.
「…That girl’s starting to act a lot like you, too. She’s getting more daring by the day.」
Astarte giggled with amusement. I knew she was exhausted too, but the single word had the effect I had expected… More than that, actually.
「Right. Daria is soaking up my methods and my thought process. You can count on her much more than you can on me. And… Like I’ve already said, we know where Gratina will hit, for sure. According to intel from Old-man Jemma, Gratina the Magician is long dead. She most likely died in Rodania two decades ago.」
There were a few things I had found out. After Gratina the Magician had graduated the Academy, she had worked for a lord in the country of Rodania. After that, she served in the invasion Rodania lead into the land of magical creatures… And lost her life there. On paper, anyway.
Gratina had come to Abram at least a decade ago. Around the same time as Layla’s father’s assassination, she was taken on by House Lambert.
「Astarte. Did you know a magician named Gratina? …Who served in the war?」
I was hiding another fact from Astarte. The fact that Gratina was most likely an ex-Rodanian noble, and that I was looking into that… As well as the fact that I had almost arrived at the truth.
「Not that I remember everyone’s faces and names. It wasn’t uncommon for a noble to have a female magician in their camp. If that information is accurate, however…」
Right. The real Gratina was already dead, and an imposter was in the city. Although, there was another possibility. What if Gratina was a human-turned-monster, just like Astarte? What if she was lending her powers to House Lambert, just like Astarte was doing for me?
「That would mean she’s like me… And she’s probably a Rodanian spy as well.」
It was only a guess that Gratina was connected to Rodania, but it made sense. Through the battlefront against Rodania that was at a standstill for a decade, where a clever move by either side had always been intercepted, resulting in a battlefield full of compromises. In Abram, House Lambert was the name that grew through those battles.
Ironically, I was told of this by Lubreo of House Lambert, who was evidently bored of the decade-long stalemate. Gratina was obviously an ally of Lubreo’s father, the current Head of House Lambert. So, what was her relationship with Lubreo? Had she been able to control that menace of a man?
「There’s still something I don’t understand. Lubreo clearly wants to break through the frontlines to expand the war. Gratina knows that. She was there. Doesn’t that contradict the opinion of the current Head of Lambert? Or has he changed his mind?」
「…Master Elliot. This is just my idea… But perhaps Gratina and Lubreo’s relationship is similar to ours?」
That made sense, somehow. Gratina met Lubreo a decade ago, which meant that she has taught him many things. A portion of his menacing powers must have come from Gratina’s guidance. While I doubted that she was had mixed blood like me, it wasn’t impossible that she had been turned into a monster. So…
「Lubreo is Gratina’s puppet…?」
That image didn’t seem right. In reality, it was very likely that Gratina was pulling the strings. Still, I couldn’t picture Lubreo being so easily manipulated. Had I overestimated him?
Another voice chimed in to my sea of thought.
「Elliot! No one was on the roofs of churches. And there’s smoke coming from your house, but that’s okay, right?」
Nem, who had been watching from above. While they would see her flying if she was too low and didn’t have too much stamina to keep flying high constantly, but she was doing her best.
「Okay, thank you Nem. That’s not a problem… I have to cut my losses.」
「Okay! So, it sounded pretty complicated… What were you talking about?」
It seemed like she couldn’t hear us while in flight. While I wasn’t sure is she would understand it, I summarized it for her.
「Hmm… Seems complicated.」
I had expected that answer. Anyone other than Astarte must not have had any real sense of the details.
「Gratina and Lubreo are both our enemies… Right? Then why does it matter who’s more powerful than who? We have to take care of both of them.」
…I must of looked quite dumbfounded. Nem was right. What I needed now wasn’t the details of their operations, but how to handle what was coming ahead.
「…That’s right. Thank you, Nem.」
「Hee hee… I’m smart, aren’t I? …Oh, it’s almost at the house you mentioned.」
The cheers continued outside. The parade had made it through the plaza, and into town. In there was the house where some of the adventurers were last, as far as we knew. It was a house with a large window to the street, where storm covers must be covering it now. The road wasn’t too wide. If someone were to jump out of the window, it would take them less than ten strides to reach the parade. While there would be a crowd along the way, that wasn’t much of an obstacle… Besides, they would most likely use a range weapon. All that was left after this point was a bridge across a large waterway that lead to the return route. If they were going to make a move, it would be here.
「Everyone, it’s almost time. It looks like they didn’t make it, so we have to do what we can. …I’m counting on you guys.」
After several wasted trips, they had found whom they were looking for. After a friendly apology, they returned to the main street, and whispered to a middle-aged salesman as they passed him.
「Found it.」「Over there?」「Without a doubt.」「Very well.」
Before I knew it, many faces in the crowd, some familiar and some not, slowly started to make their move. Taking over, they followed them slowly. Watching the parade, they kept moving. Soon, an unfamiliar face with the necessary cargo would arrive. While the final order hadn’t arrived, it was clear. They slowly blended into the crowd.
Along the street, inside a house close to the waterway, behind closed storm shutters, men were at work. A large ballista that they had snuck in somehow was aimed out through the storm shutters. Two men holding crossbows emerged from the back of the ballista. All of them had similar facial features, and one would assume that they were related. They grimaced at each other in the dark room.
They were mercenaries dubbed the Four Brothers. Although they were independent and violent, they also made a living by assassination. This was the biggest job they had ever taken on, but they still retained a sense of calm under the pressure.
「After this brother, we’ll be on our way out of the waterway in the basement. …Man on the inside. Dangerous by easy work.」
「Hey brother, once the crossbows are set, you’re up. Show me that doll of yours, won’t ya?」
Giggling could be heard in the house. The youngest brother had some talent in magic, so he had dabbled in necromancy. His arsenal was full with the unfortunate residents of the house, and the unfortunate adventurers who had knocked on the door. While he couldn’t make any detailed commands, it was easy for him to make the corpses run. They took some time to prepare, but they were just corpses. The perfect disposable tool for buying time.
「We’re good, brother. This one can run pretty fast. The kid’s staring to rot, but I can still use it. Heh heh heh…」
「All right, let’s do it. Keep your faces covered, boys.」
「Aye aye, brother.」
The Four Brother put on simple helmets and covered their faces with their hoods before getting to work.
The window flew open. The citizens on the street who had heard that from behind them were astonished by the armored men and ballista jumping out of the window. They retreated like a pulling tide from the window.
Of course, it was aimed at the carriage in the center of the parade, and Olivia sitting atop it. The soldiers who had noticed this tried to run over, but were delayed a few steps by the fleeing citizens. Arrows were shot at them, too.
「Why would anyone work alone? This is how we’ve survived.」
With a cackle, they aimed at the carriage (right on schedule), and froze. Between them and their target, the heir of Abram, there were several knights holding up their shields, as if they had known where the attack was going to come from.
He glanced at the quite utterance beside him, to see a thick arrow penetrating his brother’s face. He didn’t stand a chance. He looked back to see a few soldiers approaching them, holding up crossbows. Even if they were in the parade, it was too lucky for them that they happened to be at the right place at the right time. It was more improbable that they would have the time to react and fire back with crossbows so quickly… They had to have known that the attack was coming from this house.
「It can’t be…」
「Brother, one’s charging at us! 」
Pulling away from the parade, a more lavishly armored knight was charging at them on his horse. While his spear would produce formidable force, a horse would never fit through the window.
「Making this difficult… Die, already!」
The speed at which a large ballista would fire its arrow from a close distance was inconceivable. No matter how thick the armor, it would penetrate or blow it away. As fast as they had envisioned the knight blowing up to pieces, they witnessed the unthinkable.
The horse jumped. The men were professionals, who had dodged death before, more than once. They weren’t taken aback. Even though their aim suffered, the ballista was fired… And struck the horse. The horse should have been blown back, and there should have been nothing more to it than the rider being crushed by the dead animal. In reality, however, the knight had jumped off the horse.
The last thing the oldest brother saw was a thin blade rushing towards him, and the sigil of a griffin and a tower on the shield. He never found out that the sigil belonged to the force behind his employer…And he didn’t understand the voice he heard at the last moment of his life.
The knight who had flew, Lubreo of House Lambert, albeit under his breath, shouted:
「Let the battle begin. It’s life or death. Entertain me!」
Blood sprayed the interior of the house. A massacre took place before anyone could scream, adding four to the count of corpses in the house. Lubreo wiped the blood off of his sword, and looked around the room. No one was hiding, and there were no more men there than what was told to him. While he already knew it, he couldn’t help but utter in disappointment:
「…Not even a fight… Not even a thrill.」
With a ring, one of their heads was off, and the Head of House Lambert jumped inside. The horse had taken the blow of the ballista, and couldn’t be saved. The people had forgotten to scream as they were entranced, watching these events take place from afar. As they had just realized that they had been forgetting to breathe, the door opened. A knight with blood-stained armor emerged… Lubreo of House Lambert.
「The assassins have been vanquished!」
With this exclamation, the crowd went wild. The parade, which had sped up in attempt to pass the scene, returned to its normal speed. At that moment, an explosion erupted on the other side of the street. The smell of burning fleshed assaulted the crowd. The people cried out again, fracturing the sea of people.