Translator: Adam Seacord
The water gate city showed different colors at night. The main streets and the parts of town facing plazas were lit by street lamps until dawn, but that didn’t account for much other than the streets by the river. The nights were dark, and not many people got out in the night, anyway. Which was precisely way some found solace during that time. Thieves, robbers, pickpockets, and forbidden lovers, along with spies and informants who sneak in and out of the city.
House Lambert held the rights to all waterways except for the water gates, and they were aware of their usage. That meant that they were more likely to know what happens where, and where unseemly foot traffic takes place.
While nearly half of the underground waterways were left untouched because of the House’s uncertainty of their entirety, once the House would grasp them, they would have in their grasp most of the intel that flows under Abram. House Lambert, by tightening or loosening the reins with the power of said intel, have been controlling various powers, thus increasing their own.
Because of that, Lubreo enjoyed strolling around the town at night. He had jumped into violent situations more than once or twice, too. Although he was a criminal, Lubreo had killed a man a whole three years before his first deployment, even before his spermarche.
He had one deep desire, which wouldn’t be understood by anyone else. And because he knew that fact, Lubreo rarely showed that desired. He didn’t dislike bedding woman, plotting schemes, playing politics, or delving into academia, which we would always end up above-average. However, none of those things captivated him. They were sobering, somehow. Even when Gratina, who now stood behind him, had tried to charm him.
His battle with Gratina was just a little bit fun. He knew that she wasn’t trying to kill him. He calculated her objective and her identity, then just as she was about to strike, he drugged and ravished her dry. At that time, he had finally realized that a part of him was controlled by her Cursing Eyes, but still… None of that had to do with his unquenched desire.
After drugging, and breaking down the housekeeper who used to be his father’s lover, he finally found a hobby.
「Master Lubreo, are you sure it was all right to tell him that story…?」
The housekeeper spoke from behind of him. Their two guards were controlled by Gratina, and couldn’t hear anything they were saying. Earlier, when Gratina had hypnotized Elliot with her Cursing Eyes to manipulate a part of his mind, Lubreo told him his dream, for the first time to anyone other than Gratina.
「Yeah. He’ll understand. He might not feel the same way, but he’ll find an answer. It took me ten years to get here. Our battleground with Rodania has grown, and it’s sloppy as ever. Everyone thinks it will just keep glowing like coals in a fireplace.」
…Then, just burn it all to the ground.
He recalled what he had spoken to Elliot a little earlier. It was a rare occasion, when the deep secret of Lubreo’s heart had leaked out.
「Hey, Elliot. Have you seen what war is like? To be honest, most of it is unbearably boring. Battles sung by bards are just a tiny fragment of history. Pull back in a disadvantage, and push forward in an advantage. The other side does the same. Most soldiers don’t want to die… It stalemates, as boring as it is.」
Elliot, lying on the bed, had slightly slower responses since he was under Gratina’s spell. Elliot always thought words through before speaking them, anyway. It didn’t bother Lubreo too much.
「…When the mining village was attacked… I watched the mercenaries burn down the village with no one fighting back… That’s about it.」
「That’s not war, that’s a massacre. A battle with a predetermined outcome is the antithesis of entertainment. …If there’s any chance for an upset, now, that’s a different story.」
Lubreo couldn’t conceal the hint of elation in those words. He must not have even tried. And Elliot wasn’t dull enough to not notice that.
「…You seem amused. I would rather not jump into such dangerous things.」
Hearing this, Lubreo burst out in genuine laughter.
「Come on, don’t be coy. You jumped onto the uphill battle of preventing Olivia’s assassination, and heroically swooped the win. I was really surprised… If I was in your shoes, what could I have done? Could I have come out with a win and my life, like you did?」
「It’s because… It’s because I’m a coward… That’s why I prevent as many risks as possible.」
「Risks… Huh? By the way, Elliot. A present, formidable threat, and a deadlier threat that would come if you forego the first threat… Which one is more difficult to deal with?」
The housekeeper shrugged, tired of the routine.
「…Depends. If you know what’s coming, and if there’s enough time to prepare, you could mitigate more damage from the latter.」
Lubreo thought for a few moments, then spoke:
「Screw it, here’s the meat and bones. The core of our neighbor Rodania has already been overtaken by Magiques. In a few years’ time, I plan to throw the Temple into the mix, and start a full-scale war with Rodania.」
Elliot didn’t answer. Perhaps knowing that he wouldn’t, Lubreo continued.
「I thought you would be more surprised. Well, long story short, my father was in talks with spies of Rodania. They want to take us and use us on their side. It’s very likely that they have infiltrated other cities in the same way.」
Then, he whispered with slight excitement.
「…Don’t you think it’s fun? They’re poking their hands into all kinds of places. They have brilliantly taken over an entire nation. They are truly monsters. They’re not in for any fair battles from the get-go. …So, don’t you think giving them a big ol’ slug on their faces… Would feel amazing?」
「Feel…? …To be honest, if that’s true, it’s a major crisis. Before slugging anyone, I would consider options on how to protect this town and this country…」
「That’s not it. That doesn’t matter to me… Elliot, I was hoping you would be the one man to understand.」
Lubreo was smiling, in an inexplicably lonely way. A calm smile that showed he had let something go.
「You get well soon. Don’t speak of this to anyone else. I’ll have you by my side, thinking up ways to get the upper hand and start beating up their faces. …I would rather burn this country and Rodania to the ground before letting them take it without a drop of blood. No matter how difficult it may be, winning doesn’t mean a thing if I don’t crush all of their win conditions and watch them grovel, first.」
With that, Lubreo ordered Gratina to put a lock on Elliot’s mind.
「I’ll be checking on you again. While I’m suspended, I’ll have all the free time in the world, if nothing else. It doesn’t hurt to start earning points from my fiancée, either.」
「…I know you have no interest in anything but victory overcoming deadly obstacles.」
Gratina whispered, feeling the night chill. Lubreo would have agreed. He sensed someone ahead, and stopped in his tracks. His heart beat a little faster. Who came out was a warrior, or perhaps a knight, clad in full armor but lacking a shield. Lubreo determined that it was a woman, judging by her body shape and movement. Her movement also indicated that she had some skills. However, she was alone.
The guards by their side suddenly collapsed, as the warrior in armor drew and charged. While she had physical prowess, her tactic seemed lacking. A charging bull was easy to handle. What Lubreo needed to watch out for were scenarios where this woman was mere bait. Even as he drew and moved through the street watching out for a second attacker, Lubreo ordered with a hint of excitement in his voice:
「Gratina, on guard and stand back. Back me up if you can.」
「…Even now, do you not consider an option to flee?」
Gratina said, whose heart Lubreo had grounded down with drugs until there was no free will left before controlling her from the ground up. He had turned this pray into his right arm, whose words sounded foreign to Lubreo. In an instant he pushed the housekeeper away. A pain shot through his side. Before being shoved back, Gratina had struck her dagger through Lubreo’s leather under armor. The wound wasn’t deep.
「Gratina… Ah, it’s you, Monster.」
The dagger hadn’t touched an organ, but Lubreo kept bleeding. He turned back to the charging woman in armor, and assessed his situation. Only in these moments where he danced on the line between life and death, could he truly feel alive.
「I thank you! Give it to me! A game of life! The burning sensation!」
The woman in armor was charging to pierce his heart. Fast, but she moved as if she had forsaken all defense. Lubreo swung his sword through the helmet. No matter how fast the charge was, once her head was blown to the side, it couldn’t possibly hit its target.
With a ring, the helmet rolled on the ground. The woman in armor was now headless. Still, her body charged.
…Even so, Lubreo would have been able to dodge the attack, if he didn’t hear the head on the ground cry out in a familiar voice:
With a soft thwick, the blade pierced his body. Crumbling, the two bodies fell on top of one another. As they did, the sword that pierced Lubreo broke in half.
Silence. No one screamed, and no one was witness to the fight.
「I never thought… What I threw away could, come back, to…」
Gratina slowly approached the fallen Lubreo. The voice that came out of her sounded like Gratina’s voice and someone else’s overlapping.
「Maybe people like you are the real monsters… I’m terrified of you. Truly.」
「…Ah. I was wrong. You were the man-eating… monster…」
As Lubreo spoke, he spewed up a bucket’s full of blood. He wouldn’t make it.
「One different move, and I would have been dead. …The man-eating monster has many heads. That’s all.」
Still, something seemed to have gotten through to Lubreo. With the same expression he held when discussing war tactics with Elliot at his shop, Lubreo continued.
「…Are you, Rodania…?」
「No, I’m not. I knew nothing about it until I pried it out of Gratina. …But I can’t say that I’m unrelated to it all, either.」
「Good. Good… Elliot, my battle is, yours. Now…」
Then, he coughed violently, and threw up some more blood. He never moved again.
The monster of the century, Lubreo of House Lambert had left the stage.
She was holding Lubreo’s body as it grew colder. Gratina handed the headless woman her missing anatomy back from the ground. After placing the head back on, she finally said:
「Goodbye, Luby… I’m sorry you couldn’t keep me with you.」
That’s all Layla, who was returned from the brink of death and made to be the headless knight, had to say. Footsteps were heard from the direction of the castle, in the dark of night. Elliot emerged, with a few others.
「Thank you, Layla… You did wonderfully.」
「No… I’m the one who should be thanking you, Elliot… My master. This is what I wanted.」
「Lubreo was powerful… Too powerful. A human who was much more menacing than any of us… I think that people like him are born to be called heroes. Unlike a monster like me. 」
With that, Elliot turned to Gratina and ordered:
「Gratina. An order from your master. Haul this body into an underground waterway. Then, start spreading rumors that Lubreo was attacked, and that his whole body has been burned. Understood?」
Gratina stood still for a moment before slowly smiling, and responding.
「Yes, Master Lubreo. Following your command is my joy…」
「Once you’re done, I’ll give you a bit of drugs. Your body won’t handle stopping it cold-turkey… But I’ll give you some magic, too. So you can really understand who’s monster you are.」
Hearing this, a flame of lust roared in Gratina’s eyes.
「Yes, my master. You’ve conquered me after I was sent here from Rodania… Use me, ravish me, over and over.」
Layla watched this in amazement.
「…I’ll explain it all to you later. Unlike you, Gratina’s heart isn’t in her loyalty for me.」
After nodding, Layla said, worried:
「But… What now? Now that Luby’s dead…」
Her master, kneeling on the ground staring at Lubreo’s corpse, answered quietly.
「Don’t worry about that. I’m the man-eating monster. Lubreo’s face, his name, his life… Are going to be mine.」