Translator: Adam Seacord
「Elliot! It’s not good! The church window is open, and someone inside with a bow!」
The communication from Nem had confirmed my worst suspicion. Someone in the Church was colluding with the enemy, and they had provided a sniping spot. Not that the thought hadn’t crossed my mind, but I could still feel my stomach tightening.
「Nem, can you intercept? If they spot you, you’ll be in danger so stay high as much as you…」
I had always kept my eye on the church as an effective sniping spot. I purposefully had Nem flying around that area for that very reason. I just didn’t have enough hands on deck. While I had given her a little heat, Nem couldn’t stop them alone. Astarte, Diana, and even Shiro, whom I had stationed near the church at first, were all on a different mission. Nubia was too recognizable, so I couldn’t send him out on the street. I had given him an illusionary item that makes him less noticeable and stationed him around the entrance to the underground waterways, but it was too late to have him head to the church now.
Then, an explosion and screams. They made their move. From where?
「Knights of Blare! The Knights of Roland and Lambert will guard the parade…」
I gathered the general scene from the loud voice through my magical item, along with what they were after. They must have planted gas or something in the parade crowd. The same method Arachne used in the dungeon of the mining village. Cause a panic and halt the parade. They must have considered the bonus of peeling the guards away from the carriage, and they had actually accomplished that. Sniping from afar in this kind of situation was only natural. I had to let Sara know, outside.
「Sara, in the church…」
「Magician! Watch the crowd, three o’clock!」
Layla’s voice echoed from the item connected to that in Sara’s hand. That’s when I found out that they had made an additional move to the sniper. …The piece they hadn’t played yet was Three Arms.
「Come forth! My Salamanders!」
With that shout, I felt a small impact and heat wave from the other side of the curtain in front of me. An unintelligible scream let me know that the life of the assassin (who must have been Three Arms) had ended. Sara did well. It helped a lot that Layla jumped in, too. To be honest, I was thinking that it was likely for Layla to be given some kind of order today, but she seemed to be oblivious. It looks like even Lubreo couldn’t alter her stoic determination. I almost let myself relax, but trouble was still brewing. The sniper was still up there.
As soon as the door of the carriage was pried open, three or so of them were blown away with the sound of an explosion, slamming them against the wall straight ahead. Gratina, the housekeeper of Lambert emerged from the carriage.
「Monsters… When did they infest the town…? Well, I should have seen it coming.」
The coachman and guards were already killed, but Gratina was unaffected. They must have been feeling pain, at least. The men slammed against the wall were groaning and the ground, but perhaps they have all been wiped clean of their fear. The other citizens rushed Gratina. The tight alleyway prevented too many of them from rushing at the same time, but…
Throwing darts penetrated one of them in his arms and face. Someone emerged from behind Gratina, and started glaring around them from atop the roof of the carriage. He was hiding his face, but one could tell that he was of a Northern origin.
「Deku. Slaughter them all.」
No matter how many, and no matter how fearless they were, they were just a horde of untrained citizens. She held absolute dominance when it came to combat, and that left the lot of them to be trampled.
An eye was watching this unfold from above. Not as high as up in the sky, but above the roof… No, the wall. It flew out without a sound, and approached them with gravity on its side. The Northerner guard tried to dodge it without looking up. It wasn’t the wrong move, but all too late. The one who dove down with the thread she wove with her powers of Arachne as a lifeline was Diana. She put her weight into the short sword already gaining momentum from the drop. Her target reacted, but not in time. A completely unexpected surprise attack from above. He was sliced open from his neck down to the gut. As Diana retracted her thread and pulled herself back to the wall, Gratina’s magical arrow whizzed past her nose, but Diana pulled herself up the thread, and kicked off the wall to disappear on top of the roof. With a tiny sound, numerous holes opened up on the walls.
「Arachne… No, that thing is dead. Did she turn the spy into a monster…?」
Gratina’s expression changed a little. Her magical powers weren’t bottomless, and she wasn’t completely aware of the powers the monster of the mining village possessed.
Then, the man-made wall of the alleyway creaked open, revealing a woman in a nun’s clothing. Her parasol hid her face, but one could imagine her attractive appearance from her mouth peeking out of the bottom. Gratina instinctively understood. It either couldn’t or didn’t conceal its sense of monstrosity and the subtle flow of magic from itself to the citizens here.
「…I see. You’re the monster.」
「Call me Astarte. Housekeeper Gratina of House Lambert… Or should I call you the spy from Rodania? …I have a question for you.」
With that, Astarte hardened the nails of her right hand, and outstretched them like a sword. Gratina scrunched her brows ever so slightly, and concentrated her magic in the wand behind her back.
The standoff had begun.
「Sara! Layla! Get out of there!」
After I shout that out, I threw on the pendant I had been holding in my hand. Enchanted with illusionary magic, of course. I hoped not to use it, but I had to expect the worst. Concentrating, I jumped onto Nem’s Eye. I could see the church’s tower, and a single open window. An older, bearded man with an eye patch was aiming a large ballista. The arrow equipped on it didn’t have a normal color. It must have been enchanted with some sort of gem or rare metal. …No ordinary mercenary could obtain such a thing.
「Hey! Don’t you dare shoot!」
Nem shouted purposefully to divulge her location. The sniper with an eyepatch grumbled and turned to us. This was bad… Nem was making herself the bait.
(Nem, use the thing. Now. You’re going to get hurt)
「Elliot! Okay, let me get a little closer…」
I had given her a small, thin glass bottle. Thrown against any surface would easily break it, erupting a sea of flames and smoke. A little smoke bomb. Barring a direct hit, it would only burn the enemy at best. But I thought blocking their field of vision was a worthy advantage. …I now regretted that I should have given her something more damaging, but it was too late for that.
A moment before Nem could throw the bottle, the man let go of the ballista and threw a concealed dagger. …He was quick on his feet.
Shock, then pain. Nem lost her balance, and the bottle missed the window where the sniper was, crashing against the wall directly below it.
「Ow! Ow ow ow ow!」
(Nem, get out of there! We’ll handle it from here!)
The pain was coming from the right leg. He had accurately thrown the knife at where Nem was holding the bottle. Because of it, her wings were unscathed. She could still get away.
(That’s an order!)
My vision shifted, and I could tell that Nem was flying behind the church to get out of the sniper’s field of view. Her injury wasn’t anything to ignore, but she was well on her way out. The smoke screen should help with blocking the sniper’s view a little, too… I couldn’t hope for him to miss, but it should slow him down a little.
I left Nem’s Eye, and my vision and consciousness returned to my own body. The tiny room was rocking, and the cheers were pouring in through the walls that weren’t exactly thick, along with the continuous screams and yelling. It wasn’t over. At that moment, a thunderous roar echoed through the carriage as it shook violently.
The citizens all around were mere bricks in the wall, with next to no ability in combat. The only threat around were the hidden spider and the woman in front of her. Since Gratina had used her Eyes against Elliot, she had to assume that they were expecting it. It was a loss that her secret guard had been taken out by an ambush, but she had to count her losses as she didn’t end up in his shoes. He was a rare piece of her game, but not irreplaceable.
「Think, think think… How are you going to get out of this? Can you count on anyone to swoop in and save you?」
She was trying to extract some information. Gratina was under no obligation to answer anything. In fact, it was proof that they didn’t have all the answers about Gratina that they wanted.
「I don’t need to answer your questions nor get away from here.」
Not accurate. But right now, it wasn’t a lie, either. If things continue according to plan, there would be a big shift soon.
With no movement, incantation or any prior indication, a magical arrow flew. It wasn’t as powerful as it could be, but it could serve as a deterrent. Her parasol was tossed in the air, hiding her for an instance. Gratina looked to her left, right and above as she slid back a step. No matter where she was, all Gratina needed was eye contact.
So, it took a little longer than she should have for Gratina to react to Astarte when the parasol was blown away as Astarte dove into her range. Bleeding from both of arms crossed in front of her chest, Astarte flew, straight towards Gratina. She thrusted her fist, which was stopped by an invisible barrier a hair outside of Gratina’s body.
Although her punch had lost some force, it still blew back Gratina along with her barrier, albeit a miniscule distance. The residents behind her outstretch their hands in attempt to hold her down. The merchant-looking man who grabbed her left hand first was glared at by Gratina, and fell to the ground spewing blood from his ears.
Even if Astarte went to grapple, Gratina would slip out in no time. Astarte took out the vial she had kept hidden, and poured the contents all over Gratina and everyone around her. She attempted to writhe away, but couldn’t help getting splashed by a few drops of the liquid, along with the residents grabbing her. She made sure that it wasn’t acid or volatile oil, then turned her attention elsewhere. She barely aimed the next few magical arrows, striking some of the residents who cried out.
「Oh, you’re in a tighter corner then you’d like me to think if you’re firing off magic willy-nilly.」
Mocking words. She hid her expression to keep her opponent from noticing her slight panting, and scouted:
「…Very funny, Monster. Rodania, you said? Why would you think such a thing?」
「Nice try, but you’re breathing heavy, magician. If you’re trying to buy some time..」
「Indeed, I am. I don’t enjoy manual labor. It’s just that… My objective is already complete.」
That wasn’t just bravado. Number Three and One-Eye will make their move any minute. And Gratina also observed that Astarte was drawing attention to her right hand, and inconspicuously holding something in her left hand. A trump card? A lifeline?
Gratina finally realized that her body wasn’t coordinating as usual. With a glance, she saw that the residents who were splashed with the liquid, although without a scratch, were sitting on the ground as if they were exhausted. A permeable paralyzer that some venomous spiders and some beasts possessed. Gratina now understood that her opponent, too, was trying to buy time. With time, the venom would circulate throughout her body, and Gratina would be immobile. Her opponent must have guessed that, although as a magician Gratina was more immune to magic, she was just as susceptible to unknown poison as anyone else. Her opponent wasn’t wrong. Gratina didn’t have much time less.
Sensing the slightest will to kill, Gratina concentrated her strength to dodge the attack. It wasn’t her forte to use her magic to strengthen her athletic capabilities, but she lacked the luxury at the moment. Silently, an arrow flied passed the space she was just in, which ricocheted off the cobbled street. Astarte’s expression slightly shifted. The spider was above the roof. As quickly as possible, Gratina had to take care of at least one of them.
「Your Cursing Eyes… Won’t affect me. I came prepared. Besides, it must hurt to move by now. You’ve fought well. Join us, and we will keep you alive.」
Astarte slowly approached. In her left hand, she was holding a pendant containing powerful magic. Gratina could see that it was a counter for her eyes… A magical item for some sort of resistance to magic or curses.
Astarte’s expression conveyed her assurance in her own victory, along with a sadistic smile, but Gratina, who spent every moment of her life in politics, could see that it was all an act. Astarte didn’t believe for a second that Gratina would surrender.
At that moment, another thunderous crash was heard from the direction of the parade. The sniper from the church had shot through Olivia’s carriage.
For an instant, Astarte was distracted. That was all it took. Gratina flowed magic back into her body, and jumped. Gratina had no skill to take down an enemy with one shot. Even her magic arrows, although it could handle an ordinary soldier or two, couldn’t kill a heavily armored knight or a monster. All she could do was deceive, manipulate, and control.
So, she aimed for Astarte’s left hand.
She must have completely underestimated the poisoned magician. The pendant was no longer in Astarte’s hand, but in Gratina’s. Robbing the opponent of a magical item would always tip the scale enormously, as it simultaneously drained the opponent of strength as it boosted one’s own. Furthermore, once she would control that opponent…
Gratina’s eyes glowed with red. Robbing her opponent of any thoughts, she changed Astarte into her marionette. This, was Gratina’s trump card. She released her magic, close-range.
…In that moment, the world fell silent.