Translator: Adam Seacord
The monster girl must have had much to say. Still, she obeyed Elliot and delivered me to the exit of the underground waterways. Once I was outside, I noticed that it was nearing dawn. I had no idea when it was or what happened with the parade. I must have been wanted. There may be men after me. Still, I had to return to Lambert manor. Even if I was to be punished.
It was the darkest time of the night, right before dawn, and I was familiar with most routes the soldiers on night watch took. I had lived here for years. An alleyway where I had chased down a criminal. It was an odd feeling sneaking through that same alley. There was nothing funny about any of this, but my face was distorted into what could look like a smile.
I had lost my armor. The armor that had saved me from the explosion and shrapnel was too bent up to even attempt fixing. I might have left it somewhere in the underground waterway, but it was useless. Thankfully, the lack of noise worked in my favor.
…I realized that my body was still covered in semen, even though I had wiped off with a towel. I couldn’t dare show myself to my master like this. Besides, I had lost the privilege of Elliot’s embrace.
I still couldn’t figure it all out. Why did I stab Olivia? Why was Elliot in her place? Why did Daria disappear? …Why didn’t Elliot kill me? On my hands, there remained the gloves I was wearing under my gauntlets. I noticed the detailed floral pattern on them. Come to think of it, Elliot had lent me these, too. I couldn’t keep them on. With my trembling fingers, I finally got them off, and threw them on the ground. Although they were just a thin pair of gloves, my fingers felt unbearably cold.
I decided that I had to go home and change, first. I wondered if Nunna was worried. Did I make her weep? I had no idea what to say or how to act to her. But I just wanted to hear her voice. I wanted her to scold me.
I had no assets to speak of, but the last thing I wanted was for Nunna to be labeled a criminal. I would have to give her everything I had, and give her time off.
It must not have been that long, but it felt like a long, winding journey to me. Then, I arrived to my sweet home. The room where children had gathered every day would never again be filled with such cheer.
I stood in front of the door, and inhaled quickly before knocking softly. It was supposed to be locked, but the door creaked open. Was Nunna worried sick, staying up all night? But the lights were out.
As soon as I walked in, the mystery was solved.
Nunna was dead. In the room. Alone. My heart froze as I began to understand what had happened. Lighting a candle, I looked over her body. She had been killed. There were marks on her neck, and a few of her finger nails had broken off. The breakfast table was half cleared, and there were dishes in the bucket. She must have dropped some when she was attacked.
That was the only mess in the room, so it wasn’t a robber. Clearly, someone had meant to kill her.
But who would…?
Then, something burnt out.
「…Nunna… Why, you… You, haven’t, done, a, thing…」
There were no tears. Not even sadness, whatever that was supposed to mean. I couldn’t feel my face.
Layla, who had been sitting by the body for several seconds, stood up without another word. She didn’t change. She didn’t pack. She simply walked out of the house. The door closed, leaving behind only the unspeaking corpse.
How long has it been?
By the notification that a stranger had entered the pathway to the room, my mind was finally clearing by a little bit. Anyone who would come in without a word is someone I know who doesn’t think they have to… Or an enemy who doesn’t want to.
At this moment, I was alone. Miyabi hadn’t returned, either. If this was an attack, my chances didn’t look good.
…Daria gave me this life. I’m not about to lose it so easily.
In a desperate attempt to prepare for an attack, I grabbed an enchanted dagger.
Could I make it to the escape route…?
…By the time I had started thinking of that, the figured had walked right in.
Astarte was there, smiling. I relaxed for a moment. Until I saw who was behind her. A slender woman, something different about her from the last time, something monstrous showing through her disguise…
Before dawn, a small chaos had erupted in Lambert manor. Emergency lanterns were lit in the stone-floored room, shining in the darkness void of sunlight. The throne, which had been ceremoniously vacant before the parade, was now occupied by Lubreo, and all of the remaining knights had gathered in the room. All of them were glaring down the woman drawn up to the center of them.
…Layla had expected to be treated like a criminal. Even death, she had somewhat accepted. But what was the staining stench of blood brooding in the manor? She couldn’t tell what the blood-thirsty, grinning men were thinking.
Moreover, what was Lubreo, who ignored the rest of the world as he stared at Layla, thinking in this moment? Layla and Lubreo had spent most of their time together growing up. Over time, Layla could no longer peek into his mind. The only master she had vowed her sword to. He had an expression of an adult watching a toddler crying.
「Lord Lubreo, no need to hesitate!」
「The gull, to waltz right back here.」
「All because of you, we’re…」
The insults were continuous, but distant to Layla. She couldn’t spot the few knights who didn’t attend the parade and remained at the manor. Besides, now that the parade was over, Lubreo’s father should be occupying the throne, not him.
She was terrified to ask, but she knew that she must.
「You, Layla. The night before the parade, you killed my father. My staff. Everyone.」
Lubreo said, as if to tell a story. It sounded like Lubreo himself knew he was lying. The door opened and Gratina entered before she stood next to Lubreo without a word.
Layla understood instinctively.
「You… Gratina, if you never…! Master Lubreo, and Lord Lambert…! Nunna…!」
Like a dam breaching, words came pouring out. Immediately, the men stomped on Layla, pinning her to the ground.
「Layla, I’m not a child anymore. It’s true that Gratina planned this thing… And that they can’t hear it. And that they follow me knowing it full well.」
Lubreo said with a sigh.
「As a knight, as a warrior, as a woman… You’ve served me well. One different move, and I could have made you my left arm… But it didn’t work out that way.」
Layla stared at the man she loved. At her childhood friend. Her future master whom she respected. She didn’t understand what he was thinking. She didn’t even understand what he was saying anymore.
「When you’re father was assassinated, I was just a little brat. I defied Gratina and dad, who said you should be stripped of your knighthood and put to work in the bedroom. But… I was mistaken.」
Lubreo had protected her. Layla was grateful, but he now regretted his decision. Why?
「You were too unyielding. In your efforts to remain the best knight you could, you pried your eyes away from darkness… Except when you became mine.」
Layla easily recalled the first time Lubreo had taken her. He held her behind the steeple, and pushed her down to the ground. She liked it. As Layla tried to forsake her womanhood for her knighthood, she kept that intimate memory deep in her heart. Even if she was but a face in the crowd of women in Lubreo’s clutches.
「Layla, if you weren’t a knight… If you were someone who got your hands dirty in the shadows, like Gratina, things might have been different. Maybe my dad, may he rest in peace, thought the same of yours.」
He sounded more like he did when he was a child, but…
Rest in peace? Lord Lambert was fine before the parade. Then…
「One different weave of the sting, and it wouldn’t have been you, but… Dad was supposed to die in a murder-suicide by one of the maids he bedded. If that was the case, you could have lived longer as a knight… But Blare was better than we thought.」
「Luby… Your father…」
She called Lubreo by her childhood nickname for him. Something she had decided never to do again on the day she decided to be a knight.
「Layla, you lived your life for me, until the very end. I know that. Even if no one else does. So… I am revoking you of your knighthood. Thank you for your loyalty.」
Lubreo stood up. The same lips that kissed behind the steeple now whispered words of farewell. Layla could feel her younger self weeping. A sword was drawn from its sheath. Layla pictured Elliot’s face, about to spill over with tears.
Shone by the light of the torches, the blade glared. Layla remembered her father and brother leaving. The knights roared in the room. Layla remembered Nunna making breakfast, and calling her from the kitchen…
The sword swung, and blood showered. Vulgar cheers echoed, as fists thrusted high, and feet stomped the ground.
「…Gratina, you’re late.」
Lubreo finally turned in spoke to his housekeeper beside him.
「An unexpected complication arose… There were some losses, but the plan is unspoiled. There are some good news as well.」
Almost intoxicated by the scent of fresh blood, Gratina spoke as she concealed her jubilant expression. Lubreo chucked the sword without even sheathing it.
「Take care of the body. That’s all it is, now.」
With that, the new head of House Lambert left the room. All that was left, were the exhilarated men, Gratina with a touch of pleasure on her expression, and a single female corpse.
The sun rose, breaking the dawn.
An ordinary day was about to start.