Translator: Adam Seacord
Lubreo, Gratina, and mostly Layla reacted at once, raising their guards. I couldn’t blame them. No monster has been spotted in Abram for years… On the record, of course. Outside of the city, in the farms and mountains, stories of kobold attacks were regular, and most people knew (at least from stories) about some small imp or goblin settlements in the swamps or mountains. Still, perhaps due to the strong presence of the Church in this country, there were barely any large-scale attacks by monsters, and monsters seemed to pose less threat to people’s livelihoods less than bandits or any other wild animal did.
In ruins and old cemeteries, the undead army, comprised of golems and skeletons crated in the times of war, still roamed. Adventures journeyed to those locations, too, in search of any remaining treasure. Still, there weren’t many of those locations left, and even most of the labyrinths that have taken the lives of countless adventures had been conquered and destroyed. People have been saying that the adventurers’ era was coming to an end.
When travelling in this country, as long as you stayed on the road, the chances of being attacked by a monster was less than that of being attacked by bandits. Even an adventurer’s main source of income had shifted from excavating ruins to guarding and championing, which overlapped with the work of mercenaries. Some said that the two jobs would soon become synonymous. All of this contributed to the infamy of the mining village’s Man Eating Dungeon.
Layla, despite her face turning white, immediately jumped in between Lubreo and I. Since she was in the city, she naturally wore no armor. Still, her habit as a knight turned her into a wall to protect her master. Her short sword was already drawn and pointed at me, although with a slight tremble. While I wanted to say something, I couldn’t. I met her eyes with mine, and… Realized that I didn’t know what expression to make. I must have looked like one confused idiot.
「Layla. That may can neither move nor speak. Don’t you worry.」
Said Gratina. She may have lost the slightest bit of cool earlier, which was already restored. Her confidence in her Cursing Eyes were evident. …Of course, I couldn’t prove her wrong in any way.
「I didn’t expect to unveil you so soon… Elliot, answer me. Are you a monster?」
While I had no intention of answering, my lips moved on their own:
「…I’m half a monster. I like to think the other half of me is human.」
Hypnotized, I was conscious but unable to control myself. While Gratina’s questions were general, it seemed that so were my answers. But once she started asking detailed questions, they would know exactly who I was. Worse yet, I had no idea how Lubreo would react. I could have died at any given moment.
While I didn’t know if it would get through, I kept commanding Daria to run out of the back of the shop. At this rate, we would both die. I sent distress signals to Astarte, Shiro, Sara, Diana, Nem and Nubia, as well as Miyabi, but I wasn’t sure if my thought had ever escaped the shop. Also, while I could telepathically speak to women I had turned into monsters directly, but as for Nubia (who I had turned through Nem), or Miyabi (who was already a monster), I didn’t even know if they could receive my commands. While I did turn Dora and the girls at Spider’s Web, since they didn’t know my true identity, I didn’t intend to let them in on my situation.
…In any case, it was pointless for me to try and send help to the shop.
Wait a minute. If I killed Gratina and Lubreo now, the backbone of the organization trying to kill Olivia. I can’t call Sara, who has her position in this society… But is it worth a shot…?
「Elliot…? A half-monster…?」
Layla’s voice rang with sorrow of disillusionment.
「Layla, he was using you… Elliot, answer me. Is your servant girl a monster?」
「…Daria is a monster.」
Layla expression hardened. Lubreo pondered for a moment. Gratina paused, then changed her line of questioning:
「Elliot, answer me. Are you…」
At that moment, a loud sound echoed from the back of the shop, from the direction of the hidden door to the underground waterways. It sounded like a stack of something being knocked down.
Lubreo commanded with a cool tone, and Layla immediately ran towards the back, still with a painful expression. Sometimes, she had helped Daria prepare tea while they talked. Her pleasant memories may be inhibiting her from reading what was about to happen… It wouldn’t have taken her long to find the door to the underground waterways.
「Elliot, stay there.」
Gratina followed Layla, along with Lubreo.
…Is this my chance? Wait. What did Daria do!?
Since I had turned Daria into a monster, I could control her body if I wanted to. However, that required a lot of concentration that I couldn’t produce while being controlled by Gratina.
Then, a separate cacophony sundered from below the ground. Layla’s pained yell, and what I assumed to be Miyabi’s scream. A rush of water, and an explosion. With that sound, Gratina’s curse was broken. My body rapidly regained its freedom, causing me to lose my balance and kneel on the floor.
As soon as I tried to head down to the underground waterway, I felt a presence at the entrance of the shop. Immediately, someone grabbed the back of my head and slammed my face into the floor.
My vision was suddenly twisted, where I could only see the floor. Then an unfamiliar pair of shoes. A faint scene of chemicals. I my nasal cannel warm up. I might have cut the inside of my mouth, judging from the salty taste of blood in my mouth.
「Hee hee hee… Hee hee hee hee?」
The voice I heard was echoing as if we were in a dungeon, but I could tell that someone was laughing quietly into my ear. An androgynous, high-pitched laughter.
It took me a few seconds to realize that, someone had come in from the entrance, made it behind me, and slammed my head into the floor before I even realized. By the time I had realized that, my arms were already bound, and some weight was on my back. I couldn’t still breathe, but I couldn’t get up.
「Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee… Can I slice it? Your ear? Please?」
With a whisper, something cold touched my right ear. A blade. Rather than slicing it off at once, I could feel it cutting into one layer of skin at a time, and at several spots around my ear… As if they were enjoying the process.
…What happened? What is happening?
While it didn’t hurt much, the inconceivable situation rattled my brain. This figure was holding my head with one hand, holding my arms with another, and cutting my ear with… It didn’t make sense.
It doesn’t add up. How…?
A chill rose from the pit of my stomach. It was fear. A fear quite different from the tense emotion I had felt within the conversations that took place… An instinctive fear of pain and the unknown intrude.
Stop it. Panic is exactly what they want from you.
「Who are you!?」
Layla shouted close to me. They had returned from the underground waterway.
What happened to Daria? And Miyabi? Are they hurt?
The hand grabbing the back of my head was far from loosening.
Oddly enough, Gratina was one who saved me from my binding.
「Hee hee hee? …No fun…」
With that, all hands were released from me.
「Number Three, get back to work.」
「Hee hee hee…?」
All I could see was a small man slipping out of the gap in the shop’s front door. He was wearing oversized clothes, which prevented me from seeing his body type… And number of arms.
「Lady Gratina, who was that man…?」
「That’s nothing you need to concern yourself with, Layla. …Just know that he’s not an enemy.」
Said Gratina, without even looking at Layla, as she stowed her wand that looked like the one Sara had.
I see. That “Number Three” must be one of the ones who killed the Assassin’s Guild member I had sent in to investigate.
Most likely one of Gratina’s assassin’s. He came in in anticipation of me making a move… Gratina must have had him hidden as back up.
That’s when Lubreo, who had been standing back, spoke to me again:
「I apologize, Elliot. We had some suspicions on you, so we had some back up in addition to Layla… Who apparently was a little bloodthirsty.」
I didn’t care about the apology, but that they “had” suspicions about me. Of course, I knew that already.
Had? Not anymore? It wasn’t a slip of the tongue.
And that wasn’t something that they needed to let me know of.
「You might have figured it out already, but you were being used.」
What does he mean?
Then, a bad feeling… A possibility assembled in my mind that was hard to swallow. Layla was a little hurt. For some reason, she held the shop’s books in her hand instead of a sword. Lubreo and Gratina were unscathed, other than some dust. The loud sound was made on purpose. Miyabi attacked someone. Gratina had her wand out… To perform a curse.
Since they returned immediately, even if there was a battle, it was over quickly. Judging from how they look, it wasn’t a severe battle. Then why?
Easy. Daria watched and learned how I do things. Right by my side.
「Elliot, I apologize for our conduct earlier. We don’t have any further questions for you, for the most part.」
Gratina smiled. Not that I could trust it for a second.
「Sadly, I have bad news for you. You might understand it already, but…」
Gratina, despite her ostentatious sympathy, grinned with her eyes. She was enjoying this. She was looking forward to my reaction after I would hear what she was about to say. Layla was clearly upset. As for Lubreo, I couldn’t tell. I hadn’t spent enough time around him to read his expression. While I hated to give any joy to Gratina, that’s not what Daria would have wanted.
「You were manipulated by your servant. Well, more accurately, that girl had tricked you into acting like her master. …Despite your lack of my skill.」
As she said so, she brought her face closer to mine. She could easily hypnotize me with her Cursing Eyes again. I kept my gaze low as to avert her eyes, and answered:
「…What do you…?」
Gratina took the book from Layla and showed it to me. …I knew it. It was my second set of books that was supposed to be hidden. The details are written only in symbols, but it tracks all the income from the dark side of my businesses…
「Is this your writing?」
「…No, Daria had been handling the books for a while, now.」
「Now, this is just my guess… And correct me if I’m wrong. You had some talent for enchanting magic. So, you started a business. But that girl was mostly in charge of keeping the books, placing orders, and buying materials… Right?」
「I used to buy the materials myself, but I had left that to Daria for a while, too. You’re right about the books.」
Gratina nodded in satisfaction, and gave a look to Lubreo. Lubreo, unenthused, grunted in agreement before watching us with no particular emotion. Gratina continued, letting a crack of excitement through her tone:
「You may not have known this, but you had two sets of books. That girl dropped these down in the underground waterway.」
Judging from the sounds I had heard, I was almost certain that Miyabi was there too, but Gratina doesn’t mention a peep. I figured that she didn’t think it was necessary.
「That girl cut you off and ran away. I doubt she’ll ever return.」
Oh, to hell with. I can’t act for the life of me.
I just couldn’t stop the realization that Daria had planned this to happen. That was a terrible read. The only way I could ever be an actor was to hide my face with a mask.
「I’m sure you left her to manage the safe, too. You just crafted these items and put them on the shelves… Exactly to her will. Of course, you would make business calls, and I’m sure you’re a fine artisan… But your little fame here was all just a cover for someone else to roost in Abram.」
I pursed my lips. Gratina’s eyes widened a bit, and her words sped up as she continued:
「That peasant magician girl being left alive, you saving that magician… It was all part of her scheme. Just like you said. You haven’t accomplished anything, except dance to the strings of someone else.」
Layla seemed angry, and had something to say, but she clenched her fists without saying a word.
「But, still, Daria…」
What was I supposed to say? Even through my anger, I had to watch my words.
「On top of that, your memories have been tampered with. …I looked up the list of residence in Grandle before the incident…」
…Hold on. How can such a thing exist?
Even if it was just on paper, Earl Abram and his House Blare were in charge of the mining village. How could Gratina, who worked for House Lambert, have such a document!?
「Your name was on the older documents, but not on the last one before the incident. So, it does look like you left the village before it happened. But… Daria, was it? Her name belonged to a villager who was at that village right before that fateful day.」
I knew that much. After my mother’s death, even as I remained in the village, I wasn’t treated as a resident.
「…What, do you mean?」
「A girl named Daria was at the village when the monster attacked. And there were no survivors… She died. That girl is something else just using that poor dead girls name… She must be the monster that lurked in the Man Eating Dungeon.」
…Any residual fear inside of me had turned into ice cold wrath. Now I knew.
You made a mistake, Gratina. You took your clear upper hand for granted, and didn’t even try to conceal your sadistic taste. You took the documents for face value without trying to investigate the truth. So, now you don’t have a clue that Daria has pulled wool over your eyes.
Of course, I had made the same mistake, and it would have been impossible for Gratina to uncover any details about Grandle the Mining Village when there were no survivors… But her cockiness in her assumption was a big lucky break for me. That’s what told me that they had commanded to burn down the village using the mercenaries.
Oh, Daria. You may have just become the master.