This week’s chapter ^^
Also~ if you guys write ‘thank you’ I can only answer with ‘your welcome’ ;-; but I like reading comments~ I do it in class XD, so any other thoughts you have ;-;?
Chapter 3, Episode 3: Halfway Point
The network of highways which connect various towns is essential to the people who live on the central continent.
Merchants need to transport their goods smoothly, blacksmiths need to meet their deadlines, and farmers need to buy consumable goods in town.
If anything unusual occurs in a town separated from soldiers, they use the roads to quickly rush over.
Bandits, thieves, and even monsters are no exception.
In order to maintain their way of living, they attack caravans, burn down villages, and kidnap people.
Imperial Year 1023, September 27.
It was a still night.
The full moon and the many stars in the sky tried to gently shine their light on the earth, but an anxiety inducing darkness dominated the surface.
The outskirts of Horen, in the eastern part of the central region— a street off to the east of the Schein Highway.
There are men here running at full speed.
They varied in age and appearance, but all of their faces were taken over by fear.
「Haa, haa, haa, damn it all, why did this happen?!」
As he said this, the head of the bandits— Claute shouted to his underlings behind him while still facing forward.
「… H-Hey, are all of you all right?!」
「We’re okay, but… the others were taken out!」
「What about him?! Is he following us?!」
As Claute turns the torch around in his hand, the pathetic faces of his underlings stand out in the darkness.
「I don’t know, but it looks like we’re the only ones here!」
Claute held his hand to his side and stopped. He then looked up to the sky and exhaled heavily.
「W-We’re going to rest a bit. We should be okay with this much distance between us.」
Feeling a little more at ease now, Claute surveyed the area around him with the torch in hand.
「Are there no other survivors?」
Four of his underlings were sitting on the ground.
Claute clicks his tongue.
To think that his thirty underlings would dwindle this much in number… No doubt it’s going to hinder the future of their thieving business.
「No… there might be some others who managed to get away. We’ll wait just a little bit.」
Claute decided to at least wait until they caught their breath, and he sat down on a rock nearby.
As he does, he hears a sharp, accusatory voice from one of his underlings.
「I told you we shouldn’t have!」
「Shut up! You guys ended up getting into it, too!」
They knew the Imperial family’s party was heading to Horen, away from the Schein Highway. They also knew that they had security on a scale never before seen…
It’s not hard to imagine what would happen if thieves or bandits appeared before them.
But thanks to that, the nearby villages were thin on personnel, so Claute thought it was a good opportunity.
「Who would’ve thought they’d help commoners?!」
The Imperial family and commoners.
When comparing the lives of these two, there isn’t even a need to think about whose would weigh heavier.
Even if a nearby village was attacked, it’s likely the soldiers would prioritize protecting the Imperial family.
Even if a village was burning down, or the people sought salvation, they would turn a blind eye.
The same goes for the Imperial family. Those who live in the Imperial court think only of self preservation.
Even if anyone tried to help the people, it would be after securing the safety of the Imperial family.
「If we kidnapped a few people during that time, we would’ve been set.」
But with nothing to lose in being cautious, Claute decided to strike when everyone would be asleep.
The result was as you can see— a failure.
He even ended up losing a large number of his underlings.
「If I knew this was going to happen, I would had some alcohol or something and waited for them to leave… Even if we could’ve kidnapped just one girl, I wouldn’t be so frustrated.」
Although there was no point in saying this now, he couldn’t help but vent.
「But what was it with that guy?」
Thinking back on it now, he still couldn’t understand what happened.
The moment he stepped into the village and shouted to begin pillaging, the heads of his underlings flew into the air, one after another.
At first, he didn’t know what was happening and fell into a state of confusion.
By the time he was able to clearly take in the scene before him, the earth was dyed a dark red— He was surrounded by the corpses of his underlings, and one young boy stood in a pool of blood.
Such a sight would crush anyone’s ego in an instant. Without any concern for how he might look, Claute ran.
And so— we come to the present.
「That’s no normal kid…」
If someone who can decapitate dozens of heads in the blink of an eye is human, then what the hell are they? The more he thought about it, the more he felt like he was being dragged into a pit of darkness.
Claute shook his head to drive away the fear in his mind.
Then, he suddenly notices something.
He felt like someone’s gaze was wrapping around his body.
With a face gone pale, he looks around his surroundings, but there’s nothing but an endless darkness.
An eerie presence causes his body shake.
「Hah… We lost him, I know we did.」
Claute stands and snorts at the implausible thought in his head.
「We’re done with the break. Let’s head back to the hideout.」
He just saw a bad dream today. He’ll return to the hideout, drown himself in alcohol, and forget all about it.
— As he thought this…
Some wind caused the darkness to sway. No— there was something standing between his underlings.
His underlings turn to the torch with a surprised look on their face. That which stands out in the darkness is the face of a young boy.
He has the face of a child. He’s a fine specimen which those nobles with a particular taste would enjoy.
But, covering half his face— an eyepatch unbefitting his age sends a chill down Claute’s spine.
An underling who was once a farmer threw his torch down and raced off.
In an instant, he disappears into the darkness. At that moment, it looked as if the young boy’s right hand moved.
A noise that sounds like bones breaking hits the ears.
They can tell, even without looking. The underling who ran was dead.
The young boy faces them, and dread races through their bodies.
Claute looks shaken as he points his hand at the young boy in an attempt to keep hold him back.
「H- Hey! Hold on! I want to ask you something!」
「What might that be?」
After replying, the young boy shook his hand. Without even having a chance to groan, the heads of two underlings went flying.
There’s no doubt the young boy did something. No, it’s apparent that he attacked them.
But what’s not apparent, is what he used to make his attack.
From Claute’s point of view, the young boy was no longer human.
He was outside the scope of a human being— You could even call him a monster.
「Noooo, I don’t want to die!」
The last underling tried to run too, but he’s beheaded as well.
The sound of firm footsteps on the grass shakes Claute’s ears, and by the time he realized, the young boy was standing right before him.
He’s going to kill me. Sensing this, Claute dug his head into the ground.
「W-Wait! Let me say something! Please, I’m begging you!」
「I know what you’re going to say. The same thing every thief says before they die— let me go. Is that about right?」
「They always say that when they’re driven into a corner, don’t they? I wonder why.」
「N-Nobody wants to die. Isn’t that why they beg for their life?」
「I see. You may be right. But that’s not enough to get me to agree. Answer me one thing. I might let you go depending on your answer.」
The young boy raises his pointer finger and peers into Claute’s face.
「How many people have you killed until now?」
Claute was unable to answer.
It’s been four years since he’s fallen into this trade. He’s killed innumerable people.
He indulged in all his impulses— stealing, killing, raping. He spends his days doing as he pleases.
There’s no way he can remember them all. So Claute had no choice but to say this…
「F-Forgive me… I repent!」
「I’m sure the people you killed begged for their lives in this same way.」
The young boy stepped down on Claute’s head.
「You’re shaking, aren’t you? Are you scared?」
The young boy pulls out a sword from an empty space. He deftly rotates the sword in his hand, switches it to his other hand, and swings down with great force. The blade grazed Claute’s head and stood pierced into the ground.
The blade shines oddly amidst the darkness. Catching a glimpse of it in the corner of his eyes, Claute’s lips tremble.
「Haa, haa, f-forgive me… Please forgive me.」
「All right. Seeing such a pathetic sight kills my thirst for blood.」
The young boy’s monotonous voice falls down on him.
He can tell the weight above his head is gone, and Claute lifts his face with glee.
A tepid wind blows by between the two.
The fire from the torch in the young boy’s hand sways, causing shadows to rise up on his face.
「Do you swear to walk a proper path from now on?」
「I swear it! I’ll quit being a thief!」
「Good. Then get out of my sight before I change my mind.」
「Th-Thank you. I’m in your debt!」
The young boy waved his hand as if shooing away a dog. It was his way of tell him to hurry up and disappear.
Claute was overjoyed. He stood and turned his back to the young boy.
Soon after he started running— a sharp pain assailed his leg.
Unable to stand the pain, his legs get tangled up, and he tumbles violently across the rough ground.
He soon found the cause of the intense pain. An arrow was pierced through his femur.
「Sorry. I was trying to aim for your heart, but it’s been a while since I used a bow so I missed.」
While Claute tried to pull the arrow out, the face of a young boy with a composed expression appeared above his head.
He said he would let him go. So what is the meaning of this?
「Wh-Why? Weren’t you going to let me go?!」
「I never said I would let you go.」
His response was spine chillingly detached.
The young boy drops his torch and readies his bow.
Claute tried to cover his head, but his hand flew into the air.
The second arrow fired by the young boy pierced through his arm. Claute’s scream reverberates throughout the night sky.
The young boy accurately swings his foot down onto Claute’s chest as he was rolling around on the ground.
His bones let out a creaking sound.
No— the sounds resounding inside him are dull and make you want to cover your ears.
「I’ll kill you quickly.」
Before Claute can finish his sentence, a third arrow penetrates his lung.
「It really is hard to see in this darkness.」
His words are transparent.
The young boy clearly aimed for Claute’s lung.
「Haa… urgh… pfft.」
You could see Claute’s face quickly being covered in red.
His breathing was irregular, there was blood and bubbles spewing from his mouth, and his body began to shake.
「You can meet your end while exposed to the fear of death. You should at least have a taste of how the people you killed felt when you die.」
The young boy’s expression didn’t change one bit, as if all his emotions had been crushed to death.
Claute’s bloodshot eyes were fixed on the young boy as he mouthed that he didn’t want to die.
「Speaking of which, I heard there were vicious monsters in this area. Maybe the smell of blood will lure them over.」
Claute’s heard about them, too.
They are monsters that abduct villagers every night. They took out some of his underlings, too.
They could have suppressed them, but there were many times when they didn’t know what to do with the corpses after attacking a caravan. But if they left them alone, the monsters took care of it for them.
Because they could make it looks like the monsters were responsible in this way, they left them alone.
「I don’t know if you’ll be eaten alive or not, but I think it’s a fitting end for a thief.」
Claute wanted to scream at him to shut his mouth, but his consciousness was beginning to fade away.
「It’s good that you were able to be of use to people in the end, huh. I’ll be suppressing the monsters that come to indulge in your flesh.」
The young boy— Hiro muttered indifferently. He takes his eyes away from the stubborn thief and turns around.
As he did, he saw a mass of fires swaying in a corner of the darkness.
「Your Highness Hiro Schwartz! Where are you?!」
The sounds of hooves cut through the night air and a rough voice is carried over by the wind.
The mass of fires— Hiro heads for the group holding torches, and as he shouts, he is immediately surrounded.
「Here you are!」
Said one of the head cavalrymen from atop his horse.
They dismount from their black horses, drop one knee to the ground, and lower their heads.
「Are you hurt?」
「Not at all. You don’t have to worry.」
「I am glad to hear that.」
「He is waiting in the village.」
The light of the torches verify their affiliation.
Their equipment is uniformly black.
There is no coat of arms carved into them, but they are Hiro’s private soldiers, the 「Raven Army」.
「What’s the damage situation in the village?」
「There are a number of injured villagers, but they are all minor injuries and no one is seriously hurt.」
With the soldiers in tow, Hiro headed towards the village.
The village which is away from the highway is surrounded by a waist-high fence, but it’s such a simple one that it’s only slightly better than having nothing at all.
Though it is a quiet place during peace times, currently, there are many soldiers burning campfires and patrolling the area. They also just experienced a threat, so the village gave off a dangerous presence.
As he walks through, the soldiers on patrol salute him.
「Keep up the good work.」
Hiro added words of appreciation as he hurriedly returned the salutes.
After passing through the storm of salutes, he arrives at the village entrance.
There stood a large man— Gahda.
「It seems you are unhurt. I am relieved.」
He thought Gahda would say something sarcastic, but maybe because of the watchful eyes around them, he took on a courteous attitude.
He’s seen this sort of reaction a number of times now, but he’s still not used to it.
Hiro reflexively took three steps back, readied himself, then answered.
「I-I’m fine. Just a scratch.」
「I’m glad to hear that. But I was worried when you suddenly rushed out of the village.」
「I don’t think you were worried though.」
Hiro shrugged his shoulders.
Gahda knows full well about Hiro’s abilities— he’s actually fought him before, so it’s a given— He probably wouldn’t think some lowly thieves could get the better of him.
In other words, considering his position as a subordinate, he had no choice but to say he was worried.
「But that aside, I’m surprised you were able to sense this village would be attacked.」
Gahda said in wonderment.
「It was because the reception from the lord here, Sir Lauth, wasn’t normal.」
When Hiro and his party were right in front of the town of Horen— on either side of the road were Sir Lauth’s soldiers in set intervals, speaking words of blessings, and when they arrived at the main gate, a band welcomed them with a grand tune.
「Isn’t that natural for welcoming the Imperial family?」
「There was something that didn’t make sense.」
「The fact that Sir Lauth himself was waiting in his mansion when there was such an extravagant reception.」
Sir Lauth wasn’t on the road or the main gate, but in front of his mansion.
While a servant wiped the sweat from his brows, he welcomed Hiro and his party with flowery words.
「Sir Lauth is a central noble, so I even thought of the possibility of the Krone house coming up with the idea of having him wait at the mansion.」
Considering the position of the central nobles, he would be reluctant to go out and greet him on his own.
But he wouldn’t want to displease the Imperial family. He would at least put on an extravagant reception with a vulgar ulterior motive in mind.
「Which means Sir Lauth had a number of insurances.」
「Yeah. But that was wrong, too.」
After refuting Gahda’s statement, Hiro looked towards the town of Horen.
They’re likely holding a banquet right about now.
He asked Liz to let Sir Lauth have his way in order to distract him.
It was to keep him from finding out about their activities, but…
「It wasn’t necessary. I guess he isn’t the type to think that far ahead. He was a foolish man who fell to greed.」
With clothes spun from threads of gold covering his fattened figure, and various jewels adorning his body, he turned out to be just as he appeared: a corrupt noble.
Thanks to that, Hiro was able to investigate him without any problems in no time flat.
His servants don’t trust him, his soldiers have no confidence in him, and his people hate him.
「When I questioned the servants, they answered me without hesitation. They said a band of thieves numbering over 20 men was prowling the town’s surroundings. It seems there was even a petition from the village.」
「In other words, he mobilized the army to protect the Imperial family, and he waited inside his mansion so he wouldn’t be exposed to danger?」
The latter is correct, but the former is not.
「We’re a large party of 3,000. He’s not thinking about our safety. He just wanted to hide the fact that the public order was worsening. Which such tight security, thieves would probably be too scared to make a move.」
Hiro struck his own neck and spoke.
「But his neck was sliced open because he was stupid.」
After Hiro finished his sentence, his shoulders trembled. He laughed as if he were enjoying himself deep down.
Gahda sighs. He shrugged his shoulders as if to say, here we go again.
「What are you thinking?」
「I don’t know if he’ll be of any use, but I’ve definitely obtained a pawn that can easily be manipulated.」
「So that means you won’t just crush him.」
「It would be simple to report him to the military department and take his land from him. But there are any number of replacements for Sir Lauth. They’d probably choose another lord from among the central nobles right away. We can’t hope to weaken the central nobles that way.」
But having said that, with the current situation, they can’t hope for him to change either.
They’ll deal with him as soon as possible. For the sake of the people as well, that would be preferable.
He wants to hand it over to a trustworthy noble, but unfortunately, Margrave Grinda is too far away. In which case he has no choice but to leave it to the eastern nobles— to the widow of the Kelheit house.
(Well… she probably chose to meet here hoping for that.)
Tomorrow, the widow of the Kelheit house will arrive in Horen.
He was able to quickly obtain a means to shave off a piece of the central region. She’ll probably be overjoyed.
All that’s left is to return to the mansion and extort Sir Lauth, but— there’s still something to be done here.
「I want to leave the suppression of the monsters who’ll come for the corpses of the thieves to someone…」
「I don’t think I can do it. I should probably return with you in case we have to fight against Sir Lauth’s private soldiers.」
Said Gahda before calling for two officers.
「I’ll leave the suppression of the monsters to your units. It’s not certain that they’ll show up, but… can you do it?」
「Leave it to us! Though I would be fine on my own!」
A man who had an air of a former mercenary kneels. Hiro knows him well, too.
His name is Hansel. Twenty and a half years old. He is a stern man with dark skin and a scraggly face covered with scars.
Contrary to his outer appearance, this man has an easy going personality, and he lacks any tension.
Nevertheless, he worked as Gahda’s right hand man while they were in the slave liberation army, his skill with the sword is certain, and there is nothing lacking in his abilities.
「I feel the same way. I alone am enough.」
This one is a girl in her late teens. She is Hansel’s unyielding sister, Gretel.
She was Milieu’s bodyguard while in the slave liberation army, and it seems she took care of her daily needs as well.
Because she uses the bow, she altered the light equipment provided to her, and her current equipment is unique and modified for agility. And so, there are many parts which expose her skin and troubles people as to where to direct their eyes, but maybe because of her muscularity, she gives the impression of a brave woman with a healthy beauty rather than that of a one who is seductive.
Gahda smiled obstinately at the two who talked a big game.
「You seem displeased. Then exterminate all the monsters that catch your eyes in this region by tomorrow morning.」
「Oh, are you going to tell me you can’t do it?」
They will depart for the Imperial capital tomorrow afternoon.
Even if they returned after finishing their suppression, if they fall behind in preparing for their departure, they likely wouldn’t have time for any sleep to recover from their fatigue.
Perhaps because they heard the conversation, their subordinates focused their unamused gaze at the two.
With a troubled look on their faces, they exchanged glances with panic in their eyes.
「— What are you going to do about this? This happened because you get so competitive.」
「… You said it first, brother. That’s what made Big Brother mad.」
「Don’t give me that. You’re the one who—」
They shift the blame to each other. Gahda is about to open his mouth to point out each of their faults.
Hiro pat Gahda’s shoulder with a sigh. There’s no doubt this would drag out if he got involved, too.
Gahda turns to him, and Hiro shakes his chin then lowers it.
After he does, he walks towards the two.
「Once we deal with Sir Lauth, we’ll dispatch Horen’s soldiers here. Until then, I want you two to suppress the monsters. Of course, there will be a reward prepared for you.」
「Depending on your work, we can prepare carriages for both units to be used until we reach the next town. So you can recover from your fatigue.」
The panic suddenly gone from his eyes, Hansel rubs his hand with an uncouth expression on his face.
「That’s his Highness Hiro for you! He’s understanding, unlike another stubborn someone! I’ll follow you for the rest of my life!」
Behind them, all their subordinates shout with joy, and both units start getting worked up about who will defeat more monsters.
Mixed in with the clamor, Gretel mumbled in a voice that was unlike her usual self.
「No… for me… Wise Brother’s words of appreciation alone are…」
Hiro tilts his head in confusion seeing a totally unfamiliar demure side of Gretel.
「Did you want something else, Gretel?」
「N-No… That’s not… umm… well…」
Hiro’s looking down at Gretel, but her face is lowered and he can’t make out her expression. If he could, he would be able to tell her now limp face was red in color.
「Oh? What’s the matter, little Gretel?」
Also kneeling next to her, it seems Hansel’s sharp eyes noticed what was going on, and he began to tease his little sister.
「Hey, hey, what’s the matter? Could it be that—」
After striking her brother with her fist, Gretel stood.
「Then for Wise Brother’s sake, I will annihilate the monsters without leaving behind a single trace!」
「Ahh… okay. Don’t push yourself. Be careful.」
「Oww… You split my lip. You know… there’s this thing call taking it ea—」
「Shut up. Let’s head out for the suppression already.」
Gretel grabs her brother’s nape and starts to head towards their subordinates.
She suddenly stopped and turned around.
Hiro furrowed his brows wondering why, but then she turned to Gahda and waved her hand.
「And Big Brother! We’ll be back!」
She said to her Big Brother— to Gahda, as if he were an afterthought.
「Yeah… be careful.」
Hiro looked at Gahda’s face, and he had on a strange expression that looked like there was something stuck between his back teeth.