Chapter 5: Extinguished, Sword Sparks of Fire
Lower Fire Month (9th Month) 3rd Day 12:07
“The brothel is just behind this door. According to the assassin, there ought to be an entrance in the building over there too.”
Sebas stood at the entrance to the brothel, in front of the door where Tsuare had been thrown out. Then, he pointed at a building several houses away. Brain and Climb had been present when he was questioning the assassin, but they had not been to the brothel before, and they accepted Sebas’ explanation at face value.
“Indeed, that is so. The entrances can also serve as escape routes, and that person said they’d be manned by at least two people. If we’re splitting up, we should let you handle the main door, Sebas-sama, while Climb and I take the other entrance. What do you think?”
“I am not opposed to that. How about you, Climb-kun?”
“I have no objections either. Still, what will we do after we break in, Unglaus-sama? Shall we search together?”
“Call me Brain in future. This one also humbly requests you do the same, Sebas-sama. Then… usually, we ought to move in pairs for safety’s sake, but there might be secret tunnels which even the assassin hasn’t heard of. We should search the interior as quickly as possible while Sebas-sama makes his assault from the front. Also, there are usually passages which only the boss knows,” Brain added quietly.
“In that case, should we split up after going in?”
“...We’re taking a risk just going in anyway. Might as well try for the best results we can.”
Sebas and Climb nodded at Brain’s statement.
“Could I ask you to search the interior, Un— Brain-sama? You’re stronger than me, after all.”
“Very well. Then please watch over the exit over there, Climb-kun.”
One was more likely to encounter enemies when searching the inside of the building. It went to follow that the task would thus be more dangerous. Therefore, it was best left to Brain, who was much stronger than Climb.
“So that’s it for our final checks, then?”
They had already discussed this matter on the way to the brothel, but there were some decisions which could only be made after seeing the place in person. They would hash out the details here, and nobody contradicted Sebas’ statement.
Sebas stepped forward, moving up to the solid-looking metal door. Climb would never be able to budge that door, but to Sebas it was little more than tissue paper.
The defenses were bound to be heaviest in this place, but neither of them were worried about Sebas charging in there by himself. After all the aggressor was someone whom even Gazef Stronoff — renowned as the mightiest warrior in the surrounding nations — and Brain Unglaus — who could fight Gazef to a draw — could not hope to defeat even if they joined forces. This was no longer within the sphere of human ability.
“Then let us proceed. According to the assassin, the secret signal at the other entrance is knocking four times on the door. I doubt either of you have forgotten, but I doubt a reminder will hurt.”
“Thank you, Sebas-sama.”
Climb had not forgotten, but he thanked Sebas anyway.
“Also, I will try to take them alive, but if they resist, I will slay them without mercy. I trust there will be no problems with that?”
Brain and Climb felt a chill down their spines as they saw Sebas’ gentle smile.
His methods were perfectly sound. Both of them would probably have done the same if they were in Sebas’ shoes. Even so, a thrill of fear pierced their backs, because Sebas’ expression and his words made him seem like he had a split personality.
He was both a kindly gentleman and a cold-blooded warrior. He contained both humanity and heartlessness within himself to an extreme degree..
They had a premonition that if Sebas went in like this, he might end up slaughtering everyone inside.
Climb nervously told Sebas:
“I feel that taking a few lives is unavoidable, but it might be good to avoid needless killing. We are few in number, after all. Still, if you encounter someone in charge who looks like they’re from Eight Fingers, could I trouble you to try and capture them? If we can interrogate a big figure among them, we can reduce the number of lives lost in the future.”
“I am not a mass murderer, and I did not come here for a massacre. Please be at ease.”
Climb was relieved to see Sebas’ smile.
“Please forgive me. We shall leave the rest to you.”
♦ ♦ ♦
“Now then, destroying this place in one go ought to buy some time.”
Sebas felt that wrecking this brothel ought to put a stop to their interference with his life. If things went well and he managed to obtain secret documents or the like, they might end up too busy dealing with the fallout to bother about Tsuare at all.
However badly things went, he could give Tsuare a chance to escape as long as he managed to buy some time. And who knew, he might be able to find a better solution.
“There was a merchant in E-Rantel who approached me for a cordial chat. I wonder if he could help?”
Tsuare would still need someone trustworthy to aid her even if she managed to pull herself together. That was the only way she would have a better life.
Sebas turned to face the heavy steel door once more. He remembered that day when Tsuare had been dumped here as he touched the door’s surface. It was made of wood sheathed in metal plates, making it both thick and heavy. It was immediately apparent that an ordinary human being would have a lot of trouble breaking this door down without tools.
“I wonder if Climb-kun is alright.”
He was not worried about the man called Brain Unglaus. Even if he crossed blades with Succulent, he probably would not lose. However, Climb was a different matter. There was no way that Climb could beat Succulent.
It had been Sebas’ idea to storm the brothel, so as one volunteering his assistance, Climb should have been prepared for his own death. However, Sebas could not help but think that the young, compassionate man who only wanted to help would end up losing his life for nothing.
“I wish young men like him could live longer…”
Those words were characteristic of a senior citizen. However, Sebas had been made in the form of an old man. He was technically younger than Climb, if one counted from their moment of genesis until right now.
“It would be best if I took down Succulent by myself. That would be the most ideal course of events. I hope they don’t run into him.”
Sebas prayed to the 41 Supreme Beings for Climb’s safety.
If Succulent was the strongest fighter here, it was very likely he would be pitted against Sebas. However, if he were a bodyguard, he might be assigned to escort his charge to safety.
Feeling a little anxious, Sebas grabbed the door’s handle and turned.
It stopped halfway through its turn. Naturally, the door to an underground enterprise like this would be locked.
“I am not adept at opening locks. However… it can’t be helped. I’ll do it my way.,” Sebas muttered to himself in frustration. Then he lowered himself and folded his right hand into a knife-hand, moving his left hand forward as he took a stance. Said stance was immaculate, as stable as the mountains and as picturesque as a thousand year-old cedar tree.
What followed next was an unbelievable sight.
His arm sank into the metal door, at the hinge. No, the arm was still making grinding noises as it bored its way into the door.
The hinges shrieked as they were torn from the wall.
Sebas opened the unresisting door.
“What… the hell...?”
Inside was a passage which ended at a pair of double doors. In front of that stood a bearded powerhouse of a man. His mouth was open and he had a retarded look on his face.
“The door was rusty, so I had to use a bit of force to open it. You should probably oil the hinges.”
Saying so, Sebas closed the door. No, it would be more accurate to say that he leaned the door against the frame.
While the man was still frozen in shock, Sebas stepped inside without any hesitation whatsoever.
“—Oi, what was that?”
“The hell was that noise?!”
More male voices came from behind the first one.
However, the man facing Sebas did not bother about them. Instead, he addressed Sebas:
Completely baffled, the man stood stock still as Sebas walked up to him. The people working here were used to violence. However, the scene before him far exceeded what he had encountered in his accumulated experiences.
The man smiled to Sebas in an ingratiating manner, ignoring the shouted queries of his colleagues from behind him. His survival instinct told him that the best choice here was to get into Sebas’ good graces. Or no; perhaps he had reacted like this because he had deceived himself into thinking Sebas was the butler of one of the customers here.
The sight of a big, bearded man trying to keep a twitching smile on his face was quite hard to bear.
Sebas smiled back at him. That smile was gentle and compassionate. Yet, there was no trace of goodwill in his eyes. It was more like a deadly, entrancing gleam of light playing along a razor-sharp sword’s edge.
“Could I trouble you to let me pass?”
Thump. Or rather, it was more of a splat. A nauseating sound echoed throughout the interior.
He was a muscular man in armor. He weighed 85 kilograms at the very least. He now spun through the air like some kind of joke, flying to the side at speeds invisible to the naked eye. His body savagely impacted the nearby wall with a wet splattering sound.
The entire building shook violently, as though a giant’s fist had struck it.
“...Oh dear. I should have killed him deeper inside. That way he’d have made a better barricade… ah well. There’s more coming anyway, so I just need to be more careful afterwards.”
After admonishing himself to go easier next time, Sebas walked past the corpse and headed within.
He flung the doors open and entered the room beyond. It was an exquisitely-furnished viewing room. It felt more like he was walking through an empty house than invading an enemy base.
There were two men within.
Their eyes goggled open and their jaws dropped as they looked behind Sebas, at the enormous blood splatter that had painted the entire wall red.
The smell of cheap alcohol hung in the air — a scent which one would never find in Nazarick. It blended immediately with the stench of fresh blood, viscera and internal wastes, brewing up a revolting odour.
Sebas went over the information he had obtained from Tsuare and the assassin, then tried to figure out the building’s structure. Her memories were spotty and she had not recalled anything important, but she had told Sebas that the actual establishment was located underground. The assassin had not gone underground himself, so his information would be no good after this.
He looked to the ground. However, the trapdoor leading underground was cunningly concealed, and Sebas could not find it.
Still, if he could not find it, then all he had to do was ask someone who knew where it was.
“Excuse me. I’d like to ask you a question…”
The man he addressed immediately responded with a hoarse scream. It would seem that he had no intention of putting up a fight.
That relieved Sebas. Whenever he thought of Tsuare, he could not control his fists, and he would slay his opposition in a single blow.
Since he had no intention to fight, breaking both his legs ought to be enough.
The terrified man backed away from Sebas, trembling against the wall as he did. Sebas looked impassionately on the man’s shameful display, and smiled thinly with his mouth alone.
That frightened the man even more. The stench of ammonia filled the room.
It would seem he had scared the man too badly. Sebas wrinkled his brow.
The other man had collapsed to the ground. His eyes had rolled up in his skull so all that could be seen were the whites. Apparently the extreme pressure had been too much for him, and he had passed out. The other man looked on him in envy.
“Ah… Like I was saying, I’d like to ask you a question. It’s like this — I would like to go underground. Could you tell me how to get there?”
The man was too afraid to betray his organization. Sebas could see the fear in his eyes. Much like those assassins, this man seemed to be afraid of reprisals from his organization. Sebas recalled the man he had met that night and how he had run away with Sebas’ money. The retribution in question was probably synonymous with “death”.
The man was still hesitating over whether or not to speak when Sebas cut through his reluctance with his next words.
“There are two people who can speak here. I don’t necessarily have to ask you, you know?”
The man’s forehead broke out in oily sweat, and his back shuddered.
“Th-th-here! Over there! There’s a hidden door there!”
“Over there, hm.”
Sebas looked where the man had indicated. At a closer look, there was a tiny crevice in the ground, separating part of the floor from the rest.
“I see. Thank you. Your usefulness to me is now at an end.”
Sebas smiled, and the man realised would happen to him after those words. His face turned gray and he trembled uncontrollably. Still, he clung to a faint hope and cried:
“Please, please don’t, don’t kill me!”
Sebas’ prompt answer froze the room solid. The man’s eyes went wide, in the way humans did when they were trying to reject a reality they did not want to believe.
“But I told you, didn’t I? Please, I’ll do anything, just spare me!”
“Indeed you did. However…”
Sebas sighed deeply.
“Are… are you kidding me?”
“You can take it as a jest if you wish. However, the outcome will still be the same, no?”
Sebas recalled the tragic state of Tsuare when he had rescued her, and he narrowed his eyes.
What right did villains have to beg the gods for aid? More to the point, Sebas’ gods were the 41 Supreme Beings. The man’s plea was like an insult to them.
“You reap what you sow.”
Those words, as cold and hard as steel, slashed through all hope and made the man painfully aware of his own demise.
Would he choose to fight, or would he choose flight? Given only an instant to decide, the man chose immediately — he chose flight.
He would meet an unspeakable fate if he dared fight Sebas. That much went without saying. In that case, he might as well flee. Doing so would grant him a faint possibility of survival.
He was correct to think that way.
By doing so, he had prolonged his life by a few seconds… or rather, a few tenths of a second.
The man ran towards the door. Sebas caught up with him in an instant, and his body whirled. A swift wind blew across the man’s head, and his body collapsed like a puppet whose strings had been cut. A ball hit the wall and slid to the ground, trailing blood in its wake.
A moment later, the man’s headless body spewed a geyser of blood from its neck, covering the ground in gore.
That technique was nigh-unto divine. Just the feat of decapitating someone with a roundhouse kick would have required incredible strength and speed, but the most impressive thing was that Sebas’ shoes had not been stained at all.
Sebas’ leather shoes padded across the ground to the other, unconscious man. He raised his leg and stamped, hard. There was a sound like dry branches breaking. The man twitched several times, and then his body went still.
“...When you look back on everything you have done so far, is this fate not to be expected? Still, be at ease. Your bodies will be used to make some small amends for your sins.”
Sebas reached for the corpses.
His plan was to mutilate the cadavers and arrange them on the steps as a warning to frighten anyone who intended to flee via the stairs and leave them unable to advance or retreat. Sebas to do so since he could not wreck the exit.
After arranging the collected corpses, Sebas walked towards the hidden door in the floor.
First, there was the sound of metal components breaking. Then, there was a large hole in the ground. The smashed door slid down the stairs below with a resonant crash.
“I see… if I destroy this staircase, they should not be able to escape through here.
♦ ♦ ♦
It was a small room.
The only furniture in this almost-empty room was a cabinet and a bed.
The mattress was not a simple mass of straw bedding, but an actual cotton-stuffed mattress. It was well made, of the sort that noble homes might use. However, this mattress was designed for functionality and so it looked plain, without any decorating.
A naked man sat on the mattress.
He was well into his middle years, and gluttony had made his frame flabby.
His looks had originally been average at best, but putting on the pounds had made him that much uglier. He looked like a pig from every angle.
Incidentally, pigs were intelligent and cute animals who loved cleanliness. The word “pig” in this case was a derogatory term used to describe stupid, boorish and filthy people.
His name was Stefan Havish.
♦ ♦ ♦
He raised his fist — and punched down onto the mattress.
The sound of flesh striking flesh rang forth.
A look of delight blossomed on Stefan’s face. The sensation of smashing flesh travelled up his arm, and his body shivered even as goosebumps of pleasure sprouted on him.
He slowly raised his fist, whose knuckles were now stained with sticky gore.
Stefan was pressing down a naked woman.
Her face was swollen and bruised, and the skin was flecked with spots of blood. Her nose was broken and the blood leaking from it had clotted on her skin. Her lips and eyelids were similarly swollen, completely distorting her originally beautiful face, There were bruises on the rest of her body, but the damage was worst on her face. The sheets around them were stained with old, dried blood.
She had been trying to protect her face with her hands until just now, but now her arms lay limp on the bed. Her hair spread out messily on the mattress, like it was floating in water.
“Oi, what’s with you? Tired already? Huh?!”
The woman seemed to be unconscious.
Stefan raised his fist and punched downwards.
With a thud, his fist connected with her cheekbone, and pain surged up Stefan’s hand.
His face twisted.
“Cheh. That hurt, you bitch!”
He angrily punched her again.
The mattress creaked in time with the thud of flesh striking flesh. Her swollen skin split, staining his knuckles with blood. Said blood splattered stickily onto the mattress, dying it with carmine spots.
The woman no longer struggled despite the beating. There was no response from her body.
Non-stop bludgeoning like this could end up killing someone. However, the woman had survived, but not because Stefan had been merciful. The woman clung to life because the mattress had dissipated the force of the blows. Had she been beaten while lying on a harder bed, she might well be dead by now.
Stefan had been brutal, but not because he knew about that effect of the mattress. Rather, it was because the woman’s death did not concern him. All that was needed was to pay to dispose of the problem.
In truth, Stefan had beaten several women to death in this place.
However, he had to pay for the cleanup every time he killed someone, which strained his wallet. Thus, he unconsciously went easy on them.
As he looked down at the woman’s unmoving face, Stefan licked his lips.
This brothel was perfect for satisfying unique sexual fetishes. Normal bordellos would not permit their customers to do such things. Well, perhaps they might, but Stefan did not know of any such places.
Life was good when slavery had been permitted.
Slaves were a form of property, and people who manhandled them had been scorned. It was just like how others would roll their eyes at people who threw their money around.
However, slaves had been the only way for someone like Stefan — with his special sexual preferences — to satisfy his desires. Without them, Stefan had been forced to slake his lust in this place. Who knew what would have happened had he not known about this establishment?
There was no doubt that he would have committed a crime and gotten arrested.
Stefan was practically tearing up in gratitude towards his noble master, who had recommended this place to him. Naturally, it was so that he could use his power for his master’s benefit.
“Thank you — my master.”
A look of calm came over Stefan’s eyes. It was hard to imagine that he could be so grateful to his liege given his personality and his sexual proclivities.
The embers of a flame blazed up in the depths of his belly — the flames of wrath.
This emotion was directed at the woman who had deprived him of slaves with which to satisfy his lusts.
His face turned red with anger, and his eyes were bloodshot.
He imagined the face of the Royal whom he should have been serving — the Princess — on the body of the woman beneath him. Stefan gathered the anger within himself into his fist, and laid into the helpless woman.
Fresh blood flew with every blow he struck.
“If only, if only I could smash that face of hers! How good would that feel!”
He rained punch after punch into the woman’s face.
His fist struck her cheek, and a surprising quantity of blood spurted from between the woman’s swollen lips. Perhaps she had cut the inside of her mouth on her teeth.
The woman’s sole response to this beating was to tremble slightly.
After a few more strikes, Stefan was panting as his shoulders rose and fell. His body and forehead were slick with sweat.
Stefan looked at the woman he had pinned underneath him. Her condition could only be described as “tragic”, and she was close to death at this point. What lay there was a puppet whose strings had been cut.
Stefan swallowed audibly.
Nothing pleased him more than to rape a battered and bloody woman. The prettier she had originally been, the better. There was no better way to satisfy his sadistic desires than to destroy something beautiful.
“If only I could fuck that woman like this...”
Stefan thought of the haughty features which belonged to the young lady of the house which he had just visited. She was as beautiful as the Princess, who was herself known as the most beautiful woman in the Kingdom.
Of course, Stefan was very clear that he would not have the chance to abuse such a high-class lady. The only people Stefan could indulge his fetishes with were the dregs of humanity who had been dumped into this brothel, to be used and then discarded.
Such a beautiful woman would surely be bought up by a wealthy and powerful noble for a huge sum. She would then be spirited away to his domain and live in seclusion, in order to keep her sale from becoming public knowledge.
“How I wish I could beat up a woman like that — beat her to death.”
How happy and satisfied would he be if he could do that?
Of course, that was nothing more than a madman’s ravings.
Stefan looked down at the woman crushed beneath him. Her bare bosom was moving slightly. He smiled lewdly as he confirmed that fact.
Stefan reached down to grab the woman’s breasts, deforming the soft flesh between his fingers.
The woman did not react at all. She was on the verge of death and could not respond to such trivial pain. The woman Stefan was squeezing differed from a doll only in the softness of her body.
However, Stefan was somewhat dissatisfied by her lack of resistance.
The woman’s cries echoed in Stefan’s mind.
Should he have fucked her while she still had the strength left to scream?
Stefan continued squeezing her breasts, a vague sense of regret in his heart.
Most of the women who had been sent to this brothel were no longer in a right state of mind. They had chosen to run away from reality. When one took that into consideration, the woman chosen to serve Stefan today had been better off than most.
“Was that woman like this too?”
Stefan imagined Tsuare. He had no interest in what happened to the brothel employee who had let her go.
However, when he thought of the butler he had encountered during his visit, Stefan could not suppress the mocking laughter in his heart.
That thing had coupled with countless men, and even with female or nonhuman partners. There was no point in protecting her at all. And yet that old butler had said he was willing to pay hundreds of gold coins for her. It was a miracle he had not laughed out loud on the spot.
“Ah, the woman who ran away screamed very well too.”
He searched through his memories and recalled her wails. She had been fairly normal by the standards of the girl sent to this brothel.
Stefan smiled lewdly, and began to slake his bestial lust. He seized one of the pinned woman’s bare legs and spread it wide. Her emaciated, slender leg was thin enough that Stefan could encircle it with one hand.
Stefan pressed himself between the woman’s legs.
As he grasped his tool, now turgid from the burning desire that consumed his body—
—The door behind him clicked, and slowly opened.
Stefan hurriedly turned back, and a vaguely familiar old man appeared within his field of view. Then, he remembered who that old man was.
It was the butler he had met at that mansion.
The soles of the old man’s — Sebas’ — shoes clicked neatly as he walked into the room. Stefan was speechless in the face of his casual, natural movements.
What was that house’s butler doing here? Why had he come to this room? Stefan’s mind went blank in the face of this inexplicable situation.
Sebas walked up to Stefan. Then, he saw the woman crushed beneath Stefan’s bulk.
After that, Sebas directed an incomparably frigid glare at Stefan.
“You like to beat people, do you?”
The strange mood in the air drove Stefan to rise as he went for his clothes.
However, Sebas moved faster than him.
A thwap resounded in Stefan’s ears, and then his vision shook wildly.
A beat later, Stefan’s right cheek caught fire as burning, stinging heat radiated out from it.
He had been struck — no, in this case it would be more appropriate to say he had been slapped. It took a while for Stefan to realize that.
“Damn you, how dare—”
A ringing thwap resounded off Stefan’s face. It was soon followed by many more.
Left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right—
Stefan had always been the one who hit others. Nobody had ever hit him.These few blows left him in tears.
He raised his hand to protect his face as he stumbled back in retreat.
His cheeks throbbed with pain, as though they had been scalded.
“Dah, dahh hyu! Howh dahhe hyu do hiss hoo meeeh!”
His swollen, reddened cheeks hurt whenever he spoke.
“Is there a problem?”
“Orhhh courrhh herr ihh! Ihiot! Hoo oo hyuu hink hai ahhm?!”
“Just another moron.”
Sebas closed in on the retreating Stefan and with a thwap! he dealt out yet another resounding slap.
“Hop ihh! Pleeehe hop ihh!”
Stefan covered his face like a child being struck by his parents.
He liked using violence, but he had always used it on those weaker than him. Even if Sebas appeared to be just another old man, Stefan would not dare raise his hand to him. He would only make his move when he was absolutely certain that his victim could not fight back.
Perhaps he had sensed Stefan’s craven nature, but Sebas lost interest in him and looked back to the girl.
Stefan ran past Sebas as he stood over the girl.
“Youh ihiot!” Stefan fumed.
What a foolish old man.
He was going to gather everyone in this place to teach this old man a painful lesson. How dare he strike someone like himself! He would not go easy on the old man. Stefan would make sure he had his fill of pain and fear.
The image of the butler’s mistress, the angelic-seeming girl, appeared in Stefan’s mind.
The mistress would have to take responsibility for her servant’s mistakes. He would have her bear the burden of the pain that the old man had caused him. Stefan would teach that old man exactly who he had hit.
As those dark thoughts went through his mind, Stefan charged out the door as his beer belly jiggled violently.
“Homeone! Homeone help meehh!” he shouted.
Surely an employee would come to check on him if he called for help.
However, his hopes were dashed the moment he stepped into the hallway.
The passage was silent.
It was as though nobody was around.
Stefan looked around nervously, still naked.
The bizarre silence of the hallway filled him with fear.
At a glance, there were several doors on both sides of him. It was only natural that nobody would answer him. This place catered to clients with exotic tastes — dangerous ones, in fact. Thus the rooms were all soundproofed.
However, there was no way the employees would not have heard.
He had seen several of them when he had been brought to his room just now. Each of them was a burly man with bulging muscles. How could an old man like Sebas compare?
“Why’h hobodyh homingh?!”
“—They are all either dead or unconscious,” said the calm voice which answered Stefan’s cry.
Turning back, Stefan saw Sebas standing serenely behind him.
“There were apparently quite a few of them… though most of them are asleep now.”
“Thah.. thah impohhible! Howh mahy peoperh do hyu hink arhe herhe ahywahy?!”
“...There were three who looked like employees on top and ten more down below. There were seven others like you.”
What nonsense are you babbling?! Sebas looked incredulously at Sebas.
“In any case, nobody here, upstairs or downstairs, can save you. Even if the staff did wake up, I have already broken their arms and legs. All they can do is crawl like caterpillars.”
Stefan’s expression was one of utter shock. Impossible, he thought but the air within the brothel proved the truth of Sebas’ words.
“Alright, I do not think there is a need to spare your life. That being the case, please die here.”
Sebas did not draw a sword or ready any sort of weapon. He simply walked up to Stefan in silence, like it was the most natural thing in the world. That nonchalance only served to frighten Stefan, because he knew Sebas truly wanted him dead.
“Wahe! Wahe!! Aih khen gihe hyu… uh… Aih khen gihe hyuu ha hot ohhh muhnehh!”
“...I do not quite understand what you are saying. I believe you are attempting to offer me an inducement, am I correct? I see… not interested.”
“Whah harr hyuu dhoing thihh?!”
What have I done to deserve this? Why do I have to die? Stefan finally got his message across to Sebas for the first time.
“...Do you not know, even after searching your heart?”
Stefan considered everything he had done until now. What had he done wrong?
As he said that, Sebas savagely kicked Stefan in the gut and sent him flying.
“So that is what they mean when they say that something is not worth keeping alive.”
Stefan was wracked with incredible pain as several of his internal organs ruptured within him. THe agony was such that a man might writhe and suffer until he died, but Stefan remained conscious, though his mind was a blur.
He wanted to scream and roll around on the ground, but he was immobile from the intense pain.
“Rest in peace. Or not, as it were,” a cold voice said to Stefan’s soon-to-be corpse.
Stefan wanted to cry out for help, but his throat would not respond.
A drop of sweat trickled into his eye and his vision became blurry. Still, he could make out Sebas’ receding back.
Please save me!
I’ll pay you anything you want, so please save me!
Nobody could answer his silent plea for help.
In the end, Stefan Havish suffered unimaginable pain in his abdomen as he slowly died .
Lower Fire Month (9th Month) 3rd Day 12:12
“Climb-kun, we should kill everyone up here. I don’t have anything to bind them with, and if they raise the alarm we’ll be in trouble. Even if we knock them out, they might wake up. Under the circumstances, it’s just too risky to try and subdue a location we don’t know anything about… is something wrong?
“Ah, no, it’s nothing.”
Climb shook his head to chase away his uneasiness. His hearted pounded within his chest, but he tried his best to ignore it.
“Forgive me. I’m alright over here. Ready to go at any time.”
“Really? ...Hm, looks like you’re a different person. You’ve been acting strange ever since we got here, but you’ve got a warrior’s face on you now. I do understand how you feel, because there’s a powerful enemy here that you can’t beat at the moment. Still, don’t worry. I’m here and so is Sebas-sama. Focus on staying alive to keep your spirits up.”
Brain patted Climb on the back, then knocked on the door four times with the hand that was not holding his sword.
Climb clutched his weapon tightly as well.
The sound of heavy footsteps came from behind the door. Then they heard the sound of locks disengaging — three, to be precise.
In the instant which the door opened, Climb pulled it wide open, in accordance to the plan.
Brain had already slashed his way in before the people inside could even cry out in surprise. There was the sound of a body being cut apart, followed by that of a heavy object hitting the ground.
Climb was a step behind Brain as he charged inside.
He entered just in time to see Brain cut down his second man. There was one more person within the room, a man in leather armor and carrying a short sword. Climb rushed him and closed the distance in an instant.
“Ah! Who the hell are you?!”
The man stabbed at Climb with his blade, but Climb easily deflected it with his sword.
After that, Climb raised his sword high, and brought it down on the man from above.
The man tried to block it with his dagger, but a mere short sword could not withstand a strike with Climb’s full weight behind it. Climb’s sword deflected the short sword away and his blade sank into the man’s shoulder, carving through his larynx.
The man cried out in pain as he collapsed to the ground, and Climb could not believe the human body could contain that much blood. His opponent twitched and spasmed on the ground as he lay dying.
After verifying the wound he had dealt was mortal, Climb rushed deeper into the room, riding the flow of the battle while remaining alert. No enemies came out from hiding to meet him. He could hear Brain running up the stairs to the second floor behind him.
The furniture here was plain and ordinary. Climb made sure there were no enemies here before moving on to the next room.
A minute passed.
Having checked their assigned floors and satisfied themselves that there were no other enemies, Climb and Brain met at the entrance.
“I went over the first floor, but I didn’t see any enemies.”
“Same with the second floor. They didn’t even have beds there, so that means they don’t live in this place… I’m sure of it, there has to be a secret passage leading to the place where they’re staying.”
“Did you find it? I’m pretty sure it’s not on the third floor.”
“Nope, nothing like that. But if what you said is right, it ought to be on the first floor, Climb-kun.”
Climb and Brain exchanged looks, and then looked inside the building.
Climb had not learned any thief skills, so he could not detect secret doors just by looking. If there had been some flour here, and they had the time, they might be able to thoroughly scatter it around to find the hidden passage.
The flour particles would fall into the seams of the secret doors and make them easy to spot. However, they lacked both the flour and the time to scatter it. Therefore, Climb produced the magic items from his waist pouch.
These were the handbells given to him by Gagaran of Blue Rose. She had said, “It’s dangerous to adventure without a thief buddy, but you have to do it sometimes. In those situations, having an item like this can make a huge difference.”
Climb looked at the designs on each of the bells, and picked the one he needed from them.
The magic item he selected was called the Bell of Detecting Secret Doors.
Climb sensed Brain looking interestedly at the bell, and he shook it. The bell produced a pure note which only its holder could hear.
In response to the bell, a corner of the ground glowed with a pulsing pale white light, telling him that there was a secret door there.
“Oh, that’s a handy magic item. Mine all enhance myself; they’re only useful in battle.”
“But any warrior would obviously choose such items, right?”
“A warrior, huh…”
Climb left Brain, who was smiling sadly to himself. He memorized the position of the hidden door and then he walked a circuit around the first floor. The effects of that magic item would only last for a short while, and he had to make the most of that time to search the area. However, after he had finished walking, no other place had reacted to the magic besides the place where he had started.
After this, all they would have to do was open the secret door and pass through. However, Climb narrowed his eyes and looked at the door. Then he sighed, and reached for the three bells again.
This bell had different patterns on it from the previous one. He shook it like the one before.
A similar, but different chime filled the air.
This was the Bell of Removing Traps.
It paid to be cautious. As a warrior, Climb could neither find nor disarm traps, and there was nothing he could do against their effects. Perhaps if he had a magic caster with him, he might be able to recover from poison or paralysis, but he and Brain were only two warriors. There were apparently some martial arts which could delay the effects of poison and the like for a while, but Climb had not learned them and neither did he have any antidote potions on him. He had to consider being poisoned to be a fatal condition.
This magic item had a limited number of uses per day, but it would be better to use them without hesitation than risk falling for a trap.
A heavy clank came from the secret door.
Climb wedged the tip of his sword into the gap between the secret door and the floor and pried it up.
The wooden flooring went up and fell back in the other direction. There was a crossbow fitted inside the door, a bolt fitted to the nocked string. Under the light of the lamp, its head gleamed with a strange sheen that was not metallic in nature.
Climb shifted position and examined the crossbow.
There was a very sticky liquid on the quarrel’s tip, most likely poison of some sort.
If he had opened the secret door thoughtlessly, the poisoned projectile would have been loosed at him.
Climb breathed a quiet sigh of relief and then checked to see if he could take down the crossbow. However, it was securely fitted and could not be removed without tools.
Climb decided to abandon that notion and looked beyond the secret door.
A staircase extended downwards, but he could not see down its length thanks to the angle of his observation. Said staircase was buttressed with stone blocks and looked very solid.
“Then, what should we do? Should we wait here?”
“I’m not too good with fighting indoors. I’d rather find a wide, open space to wait for the enemy to show up.”
“When it comes to one-on-one combat, you’d have a better chance waiting for the enemy at the top of the stairs. However, if you ended up fighting here, I might not be able to hear you once I went further in. Besides, enemy reinforcements might show up, so we shouldn’t try to hold this place. In that case, let’s go in together.”
“Yes. Thank you.”
“I’ll take point. Hang back a bit before following me.”
“Understood. By the way, the trap-disarming item I used just now can be activated three times a day, but it can’t be used consecutively; I have to wait half an hour between uses. So we can’t count on it for the time being.”
“Understood. I’ll be careful as I go. Let me know if you find anything.”
With that, Brain descended the stairs, and Climb followed with him.
For safety’s sake, Brain poked the stairs with his sword as he went down, advancing step by careful step.
After they had gotten off the stairs, they found that the passage before them was dressed with tightly-fitted stone, and the walls had also been reinforced with masonry. A door stood several meters ahead of them, and the surroundings were reinforced with steel plates.
Brain did not think that an escape tunnel would be fitted with a trap more lethal than a crossbow, but he had heard of pitfall traps, which could take even heavily-armored warriors out of the fight. Avoiding traps like those were an absolute top priority.
While it was only a short distance, Brain still took his time and advanced cautiously. Eventually, they reached the door. Climb was waiting at the stairs, so as to avoid being caught up if something happened.
Brain stabbed the door with his sword. After a few stabs, he made up his mind, grabbed the handle — and turned.
Then, he froze.
As Climb began worrying something had happened to him, Brain turned back with a bitter expression on his face. He said:
Obviously it was. Anyone would have expected that.
“Anything you can do about it? Otherwise I’ll have to try and hack it down.”
“Ah, yes. One moment, please.”
Climb took out the last of the three bells and shook it at the door.
A faint click came from the door as the Bell of Opening Locks took effect.
Brain tried the handle, and cracked the door open just a little to observe the conditions within the room.
“It’s empty. I’m going in.”
Climb followed behind Brain as the latter made his entry.
It was a hall of some sort.
The walls were lined with cages and crates that could take human beings within them. Perhaps this was a storeroom. Still, it seemed too large to be one.
The doors opposite them were not locked. Climb leaned in to listen and he could hear the sounds of a commotion in the distance.
Brain looked back and asked Climb:
“How’s this place? It seems big enough to me… Although it means you’ll have to face a bunch of people at once.”
“If they gang up on me, I’ll open the exit and fight near the stairs.
“Got it. I’ll be checking around the surroundings and I’ll return soon. Don’t die on me, Climb.”
“Thank you very much. Please be careful, Brain-sama.”
“Mind lending me those items from just now?”
“Of course. Forgive me for not thinking of that earlier.”
Climb handed the three bells to Brain, who put them into his waist pouch. Then, a stern warrior’s countenance came over him. With a curt, “I’m off”, he passed through the unlocked door and headed into the depths of the brothel.
This left Climb by himself. He looked around the silent room.
He began by searching his surroundings, making sure nobody was hidden and that there were no secret tunnels behind the crates. He was only a warrior, but he felt that there were no hidden doors or the like. Then, he inspected the crates proper.
He was hoping to find some information on other Eight Fingers installations. If he managed to find contraband or smuggled goods, so much the better. Of course, an in-depth investigation would have to wait for after they had taken control of this place, but before that, he ought to search as best as he could.
There were crates of all sizes, and he approached the largest one. It looked to be about two meters tall.
He checked the large crate for traps. Naturally, Climb had not spontaneously developed any detection abilities since just now, so all he could do was clumsily imitate what proper thieves did for a living.
He placed his ear to the crate and listened.
He did not think the crate would contain anything, but this was a secret society’s domain, so he might be able to find something. It might also contain an illegally-smuggled lifeform or something.
But as he had expected, there was no sound. Climb reached out and tried to open the top of the crate.
—It did not open,
He could not even budge it.
He looked around for a crowbar or a poker, but his quick scan of the area revealed no tools of the sort.
“...There’s nothing I can do.”
After that, he tried to open a crate that was roughly a cubic meter in size.
That one opened easily enough. He looked inside and saw clothes of many colors and varieties. There was everything from ponchos to dresses fit for noblewomen.
“What are these? Is there something hidden under these clothes… doesn’t look like it… Spare clothes, maybe? Or are they something like work clothes? Maid uniforms, maybe? What on earth could they be used for?”
Climb had no idea of those clothes’ purpose. He picked a piece up and looked closely at it, but it looked to be just another ordinary garment. If he wanted to link it to a crime, then at best it might have been stolen, but it did not constitute enough evidence to shut down this brothel.
He could not figure it out, so he decided not to bother. After that, Climb moved on to another crate of similar size. Just then, a loud thud echoed through the room.
That was impossible. He had searched the entire room and made sure that nobody was there.
Just then, an idea flashed through his mind.
Could it be that someone had been hiding in the room all along, using the [Invisibility] spell to conceal themselves?
Shocked by his own conclusion, Climb hurriedly looked to the source of the sound. It had come from the two-meter crate from earlier, the one that he could not open. One side of it was pressed up against the wall, and the boards opposite it had opened up.
This exposed the interior. It did not contain anything except two men. There was a hole in the back of the crate, opening up to a tunnel where there should have been a solid wall. It would seem the secret passage was linked to the crate.
A man emerged from the crate just as Climb was stunned with shock.
Cold sweat poured down Climb’s back.
One of them looked just like the man Sebas had described. That man was called Succulent. He was the biggest obstacle to this takeover operation, and the biggest prize of them all.
He was a member of Six Arms, whose prowess was comparable to those of adamantite-ranked adventurers. In other words, he was an unbeatable foe for Climb.
Succulent eased a blade out of its sheath as he looked at Climb, then narrowed his eyes and said:
“We knew there were intruders from the [Alarm] spell, and even took the secret passage to avoid meeting them… I guess we ought to make another one, huh?”
“What point is there in saying that now?” the man behind him replied in a shrill voice.
“Huh? Haven’t I seen that boy somewhere before?”
“Don’t blame me for getting mad if you tell me you bedded him before, at a time like this.”
“You’re so mean, Succulent. As if I would. Ah, I remember. He’s the minion of that damn slut, the one I hate more than anyone else in the whole world.”
“Oh, so he’s the servant of that princess, then.”
Succulent looked Climb over from head to toe.
The man behind him had a revolting look of lust in his eyes, but Succulent seemed to be appraising Climb’s strength as a warrior, much like how a serpent was sizing up its next meal to be swallowed whole.
The man behind him licked his lips and asked:
“I’d like to take that boy with me. Can you do it?”
The hairs on Climb’s back stood on end, and his anus itched.
So he’s that kind of guy!
“That will cost extra.”
Succulent turned to face Climb, ignoring the latter’s internal screaming. His stance exposed no weaknesses, and he seemed like an even more formidable obstacle to Climb now.
Succulent suddenly stepped forward.
The oncoming wave of pressure forced Climb to take one step back.
When there was a massive disparity of strength between two opponents, their battle would not take long. However, Climb had to take on that arduous task.
If I remain on the defensive and focus on blocking attacks, I ought to be able to buy time until they return.
But before that, he had to do one thing.
Climb took a deep breath.
“SOMEONE HELP ME—!”
He shouted with all his might, as though he were trying to dump out all the air in his lungs.
There was no way he could win if he fought alone. Capturing these people and preventing their escape would count as a victory for him. Allowing someone as strong as this man — in other words, someone who might know a lot of important information — to escape would be a complete loss.
That being the case, why should he hesitate in crying for aid?
Indeed, Succulent’s expression turned vicious at that moment.
Now that Climb had done this, Succulent was in a race against the clock. In other words, he might end up pulling out all his trump cards early on.
Climb continued to observe him, not daring to relax.
“Cocco Doll-san. Capturing him might be a bit difficult. I have to finish him off before his friends arrive.”
“How could that be?! Aren’t you a member of Six Arms? Can’t you beat a measly little brat like this? Doesn’t that disgrace the name ‘Illusion Devil’?”
“Now you’ve put me in a spot. Alright, I’ll do my best. But please remember that our win condition is that you escape, no?”
Climb remained on his guard and eyed Succulent, trying to find the reason why he was called the Illusion Devil. If he had chosen that name himself, it would probably not be too dissimilar from his actual abilities. That being the case, he could probably discern said abilities by finding the reason for the name. Unfortunately, he could not tell anything from his foe’s appearance and his equipment.
Climb knew the odds were stacked against him, but gave a valorous shout to steel himself.
“I will hold this door! You will not pass so long as I still draw breath!”
“We’ll see about that. Seeing you beaten to the ground in a disgraceful heap ought to be proof enough.”
Succulent slowly raised his sword and took a stance.
Climb questioned what his eyes had just told him.
That blade seemed to flicker. He was not seeing things. The flickering vanished quickly enough, but Climb was certain of what he had just witnessed.
Is that a martial art of some kind—?
That was probably the source of the moniker “Illusion Devil”. His foe had most likely used some kind of ability. He ought to be wary and remain alert.
Succulent stepped into range and swung his sword.
That movement did not look like an attack from an adamantite-ranked warrior. In fact, it looked sloppier than one of Climb’s own strikes. He raised his blade in preparation to intercept the strike — then a chill not born of the air ran through him, and he hurriedly leaped aside.
Pain suddenly blossomed on the other side of his body, and he was very nearly tossed away.
Climb stumbled back several steps and collided against the wall. He had no time to think about what had happened — Succulent was already in front of him.
The blade swung like it had last time. Climb raised his sword to protect his head and threw himself to the left to flee the blow.
His right upper arm was wracked with agony.
Climb recovered into a standing position after rolling away and thrust behind himself without thinking.
His blade struck nothing but air.
Now that he knew his foe was not going to pursue him, he looked back, clutching his right arm. He saw Succulent going for the door which led to the staircase, still mindful of Climb’s movements.
Climb ignored Succulent as he tried the door and looked at Cocco Doll. He guessed that Succulent would be hampered by the simple fact that he was here to protect Cocco Doll.
His guess was right.
Succulent stopped trying the door and put himself between Climb and Cocco Doll, clicking his tongue as he did. After that, he looked between Climb and the door, then looked back at Cocco Doll, his face twisted.
“Damn, I fell for it. Sorry, but I have to kill this little punk here.”
“What are you talking about? If we keep this kid alive, we can use him to blackmail that little bitch, can’t we?”
“He tricked me. It’s all because he was guarding the door… so declaring he would hold the line was part of his plan. To think this punk would try to screw with my mind.”
...Excellent! He took the bait. Looks like he doesn’t know what’s going on outside. Now they won’t try to flee.
GIven that Cocco Doll had only one bodyguard, trying to flee while Climb could still fight was a foolish course of action. This was because they might end up being flanked if Climb had colleagues on top of the stairs. That was also why Succulent could not let Cocco Doll flee by himself until he had dealt with Climb.
What rattled Succulent was the fact that Climb had loudly declared that he would defend the door, but he had then left it swiftly with the intention of attacking Cocco Doll. Now, Succulent was sure that there were ambushers waiting outside the door, prepared to launch a pincer attack to capture Cocco Doll. That certainty limited the tactical options he could consider.
Right now, Succulent was probably thinking that he had to finish Climb off in order to escape safely. Of course, he was operating without knowledge of the conditions outside the door. Otherwise, he would have opened it and fled long ago.
Climb had won this gamble, but he raised his sword in response to a sudden surge of killing intent.
Climb grit his teeth against the pain which came from his side and his right upper arm. He might have broken several ribs, but fortunately he could still move. No, he would have been hacked to pieces by now if that pervert had not declared his desire for Climb’s body. Even a chain shirt did not provide complete immunity to slashing attacks.
Still, what was that weird move? Did he add another high-speed slash after his initial attack? Doesn’t seem like it...
Gazef’s face flashed through Climb’s mind.
Gazef Stronoff possessed a unique martial art, the [Sixfold Slash of Light], which allowed him to continuously attack a foe six times. Perhaps Succulent was using a weaker version of that, a [Twofold Slash of Light]?
If that were the case, then Succulent was probably using some sinister martial art, where his first strike was made at normal speed and then followed up by a lightning-fast second strike.
Something’s off here. If I can figure out that technique’s secret, I should be able to deal with it… In any case I’m at a disadvantage if I’m constantly on the defensive. Time to attack.
Climb swallowed and began to run. His eyes shifted from Succulent to Cocco Doll.
Succulent’s face twisted miserably.
Given that he’s a bodyguard, he probably doesn’t want anyone to make a move on his charge, even if it’s just a feint. I’d feel the same as him, so I understand him pretty well.
Climb closed in as he tried to apply his own experience to his foe.
An Illusion Devil… If that’s true… then maybe that move’s a trap in itself… however, it’s worth making sure.
He closed in and cleaved downwards. As expected, the strike was easily deflected. He fought against the rebounded impact and swung down again. The blow was weak because he had not brought the sword up, but that was enough.
Succulent deflected the strike again. Climb nodded in satisfaction and pulled away.
“It’s an illusion, not a martial art!”
He had felt something strange when his sword had been deflected. It was as though his strike had bounced away before it had even made contact with the sword he could see.
“Your right arm’s an illusion! The real arm and sword are invisible!”
In other words, what he thought he had blocked was an illusion. It was the invisible sword which had struck him.
Succulent’s face went blank, and he calmly replied:
“...Correct. This is just a combination of an invisibility and an illusion spell. I’ve trained as an illusionist and a fencer. Once you figure it out, it’s not much of a trick, is it? Laugh it up if you want.”
How could he laugh at that? It seemed simple in principle, and he did wonder why he had not figured it out earlier. However, an invisible blade was a true terror in a life-or-death battle, where every hit might be the last. The illusion that he could see only added to the deception.
“I suppose I’m below you in raw fighting ability because I pursued two paths at once. However…”
Succulent’s sword hand turned a full circle. But was that his real hand? For all he knew, he was watching an invisible arm while the real hand had already taken out a dagger in preparation for a throw.
Climb broke out in a cold sweat as he realised the fearsome power of illusions.
“Among the arcane magic caster vocations, illusionists can only use spells from the illusion school. Granted, some higher-tier spells can inflict damage so realistic that it can trick the brain into thinking it’s dead… but I’m not that skilled.”
“Sounds like a lie. There’s no way to prove you’re telling the truth.”
“That’s right,” Succulent smiled. “Eh, still, you don’t have to believe me either. Alright, I’ve said my piece… In any case, I can’t enhance myself with spells, nor can I weaken you with magic. However… can you tell what is real and what is merely illusion?”
Saying so, Succulent’s body split apart into multiple images of himself, stacked one on top of the other.
The one in the center looked like the original, but Climb had no way to be sure.
Dammit, I gave him time to prepare!
Climb’s aim was to stall for time, but it was too risky to allow a magic caster to enhance himself with spells.
Climb shouted loudly, using a martial art to enhance his senses, and charged in at Succulent.
Part of Climb’s field of vision suddenly banished. However, the spell’s effect promptly ended. He must have resisted the magic.
Climb stepped in and swung his sword in a grand, sweeping strike. Of course, only one of the Succulents was within his reach. Moving close enough to get all the Succulents in range of his swing would necessitate entering extremely close quarters, where he would not be able to bring his sword to bear.
His sword hit one of the Succulents, which split laterally in two. However, his foe did not spew blood, nor did the sword encounter any resistance as it passed straight through Succulent’s body.
“—You guessed wrong.”
A chill rose from his guts and his throat suddenly grew hot. Climb reflexively raised his left hand to grab the heated portion.
Pain shot through the hand holding his throat and fresh blood spewed forth, bringing with it a disgusting sensation of wet clothing. Had he not sensed Succulent’s murderous intent, or if he had not promptly sacrificed a hand to save himself, his throat would have been cut open. Though glad to still be alive, he grit his teeth and bit back the pain as he swept his sword once more.
The blade met no resistance again, and the only thing it cut was the air.
It would be bad if things continued like this.
Climb realized this and decided to change martial arts. He decided to fall back while using [Evade]. He could see the remaining two Succulents raise their swords over their heads. Climb knew that the swords were illusions, and focused his attention on his hearing.
The chain shirt he wore and even the beating of his own heart were meaningless noise. All he had to listen for was the sound made by the man before him.
— Not it — that’s not it — this one!
The sound did not come from the upraised swords coming down on him. The sound of something slicing through the air came from the empty space right in front of him, at his face.
Climb hurriedly turned his head aside — and as he did, a line of heat blazed across his cheek, followed by the sensation of pain as his flesh split apart. A scalding hot liquid flowed down his cheek and over his neck.
Climb spat the blood pooling in his mouth as he bet everything on his next attack.
He had used his left hand as a shield, so now he could not feel anything except pain below his wrist. He did not know if his fingers could move. For all he knew, the nerves might have been severed. However, Climb wrapped his left hand around the hilt of his sword, in the hope of squeezing out just a bit more strength for his next blow.
Pain exploded through Climb’s body, and he grit his teeth. His left hand could still move, and it could still grasp his blade. It felt like it was swollen and throbbing, but he was probably imagining things because of the pain.
With both hands on his sword’s hilt, with all his might, he raised his sword to a high stance, and swung it down savagely.
Blood spurted. There was the sensation of hitting something hard. Fresh blood spewed like a fountain. It would seem he had struck Succulent’s real body.
It would seem Climb’s blow had been mortal, because he collapsed heavily to the ground, Climb could not believe that he had brought down a man on par with an adamantite-ranked adventurer, but it was an undeniable truth that Succulent was on the ground. Climb fought back the surging elation in his heart and turned his gaze on Cocco Doll.
He did not look like he was going to flee.
Perhaps he had relaxed mentally, but the pain from his cheek, his left arm, and the rest of his body made him nauseous.
“Can’t really call this a victory...”
If he could have captured Succulent as well, he would have no complaints. However, that was too much to ask of Climb. Even so, capturing a man who was guarded by one of the Six Arms would probably yield a treasure trove of intelligence.
Climb stepped forward, making to apprehend him. However, something about Cocco Doll’s face made him suspicious.
The man seemed too relaxed.
Why was he so relaxed?
Just then, a burning sensation pierced his belly.
He lost all strength in his body, like his strings had been cut. His vision blacked out for a moment, and by the time he came to he was on the ground. He had no idea what was going on. The pain in his belly was like a red hot bar of iron shoved into his flesh, and the pain was starting to spread. He panted heavily, and a pair of feet loomed into view of his eyes, which could only see the ground.
“Sorry about that, but I can’t let you win.”
He struggled to look up, but all he saw was an unscathed Succulent.
“That was [Fox Sleep], by the way. It’s an illusion used after taking a wound. It hurt like hell, mind you. You must have thought you’d finished me off, didn’t you?”
He moved his finger, tracing a line down his chest. That must have been the path Climb’s sword travelled when it had hit him.
“Huhhh. Huhhhh. Huhhh. Huhhhhh…”
Climb panted and gasped. He could feel the blood pouring out of his abdomen, drenching his clothes and his chain shirt.
—I’m going to die.
Climb scrabbled for the pieces of his consciousness which had been rent asunder by the pain.
—If I pass out, I’ll die.
However, his death was certain, even if he did remain conscious. His opponent would probably finish him off soon.
He had fought a man on par with an adamantite-ranked adventurer. It had been a heroic battle. Things being as they were, he had no choice but to give up. The difference in their abilities was far too great. That was simply how things were.
However— he could not give up.
He would not give up.
Climb clenched his teeth like he was trying to shatter them in his mouth.
He would not permit himself to die. He would not allow himself to lose his life without an order from Renner.
“Guh, geh! Gyuhh, gegehh…”
His growl was somewhere between a moan and a gnashing of his teeth, in order to spur on his flagging spirit, which was on the verge of surrendering to the pain.
He could not die. Not yet.
Climb struggled to remember Renner. He still had to return to her side today—
“We’re running short on time, so I’ll put you out of your misery with this. Farewell.”
Succulent pointed his sword at the groaning youth.
He had been fatally wounded. His death was only a matter of time. Still, Succulent had the feeling that it would be best to finish him off right now.
“...Say, can we take him with us?”
“Give me a break, Cocco Doll-san. He might have friends behind that door, you know? Besides, even if we take him, he won’t last until we reach safety. Just forget about him.”
“Then, at least bring his head back. I want to put it in a bouquet and mail it to that fucking bitch.”
“Fine, fine, fine. If it’s just the head I can still… ah, uwahhh!”
Succulent leapt back.
The young man swung his sword.
For someone on the verge of death, the strike had been steady and true,
Succulent had originally looked down on his dying prey with arrogant eyes. Those eyes now opened wide.
The boy had used his sword to prop himself up and gotten back on his feet.
Succulent had take over a hundred lives thus far, and he was certain that he had dealt the kid a mortal blow. There was no way he could still be standing after that.
However, the sight before him flew in the face of Succulent’s accumulated experience.
“Why, why can you get up?!”
It was a bone-chilling sight. It was as though Climb were one of the undead.
A long, thin trail of drool oozed from the corner of the boy’s mouth, and his ashen white face seemed devoid of all humanity.
“I… die… Renner-sama’s… kindness…”
His sudden intake of air froze in Succulent’s lungs as Climb’s burning gaze turned on him. He was afraid. He was frightened of how this young man had made the impossible possible.
The young man staggered, and Succulent came to his senses. Shame suddenly welled up within him.
How could he — as a member of Six Arms — be afraid of someone weaker than him? How could he possibly accept that?
“Don’t you know how to die?! Go to hell!”
Succulent advanced toward his opponent. He was certain that a single stab would finish the job
♦ ♦ ♦
However, he had greatly underestimated his adversary.
It was true that in terms of overall combat ability, Succulent was overwhelmingly superior to Climb. However, Succulent had chosen to walk the path of the illusionist and the fencer at the same time, while Climb had been a warrior all his life. Thus, in terms of martial ability, not only was there no disparity in strength, but one could even say that Climb was Succulent’s superior. The only reason why Climb could not match Succulent was due to magic. Without the aid of spells to enhance him, Succulent was the inferior combatant.
♦ ♦ ♦
There was a thrumming sound as the blade cleaved down from above, and then there was a high-pitched clash of metal.
The only reason Succulent could block the boy’s strike was because his movements were slowed from being on the verge of death.
A rill of cold sweat ran down Succulent’s face.
His foe was dying. Succulent had been distracted by that fact, and his darkened eyes went wide.
Succulent was a fencer, and he had trained for countless hours to evade his enemy’s blows. The fact that he had to actually use his blade to block Climb’s hit was quite extraordinary.
—That was not the attack of a dying man.
Those words raced through Succulent’s increasingly frantic mind.
No, it was not just that. The speed of Climb’s blade had been even faster than when he was unhurt.
“How the hell did you do that, you bastard!”
This was someone who became stronger through battle. It was not impossible, but Succulent had never witnessed anyone like that before.
He even began to feel that the young man had thrown off some kind of limitation.
“What the hell did you do? Was it a magic item? A martial art?!”
From his tone, one would be unable to tell who had come out victorious in their battle just now.
♦ ♦ ♦
What exactly had happened to Climb? The answer was simple.
Sebas’ training had scrambled the part of his brain that protected his body.
His sheer will to live overlapped with the vision of death which Sebas’ training had shown him. Thus, he had managed to remove the limits placed on his physical body by his brain, unlocking the power of the adrenaline surge.
While that training had only allowed Climb to make a single attack, without that training, he would have died without the chance to do anything at all.
♦ ♦ ♦
After blocking that mighty blow, Succulent was thrown far back.
The impact of his rough landing pierced through his back and churned his guts. While his orichalcum chain shirt absorbed some of the impact, it knocked the air from his lungs and left him unable to breathe for a moment.
What had happened? Succulent — who had taken the blow — could not explain it, but Cocco Doll had been watching from the side and had seen everything.
Succulent had been kicked.
The boy had promptly kicked Succulent right after his downward chop had been blocked.
Succulent had no idea what was going on, but he hurriedly rose to his feet. For fencers — to whom mobility was their greatest asset — being prone on the ground was a death sentence.
“Dammit! What kind of a soldier are you?! You even kicked me! Soldiers should stick to what they know and not try new tricks!”
Succulent cursed angrily as he rolled back into an upright position.
Unlike the regimented combat curriculum of ordinary soldiers, Climb’s down and dirty fighting style made Succulent feel like he was facing an adventurer. Thus, he could not be underestimated.
Succulent started to worry.
At first, he had thought that the fight was his to lose. Killing a punk like this should have been a piece of cake. However, he now felt that composure slipping away from him.
However, as Succulent stood up, he saw the young man who had become a threat slump to the ground, and he breathed a sigh of relief.
The youth’s face looked terrible, as though the series of blows had snuffed out the flame of his life. No — that was exactly what had happened. This must have been a last burst of fire, like how candles would flare up before going out. Yes, that must have been the power he had used.
Right now, that boy would die from the merest tap.
As he saw Climb’s condition, Succulent began to feel relieved, but that was soon replaced by confusion and anger.
He was furious at the fact that someone like him, a member of Six Arms, had been so hard-pressed by a miserable little mook like Climb. He was angry at the fact that he had started to panic. Still, the victor was clear. All he had to do was kill the kid and run.
“—Don’t you think you’ve done enough?”
♦ ♦ ♦
It would seem he had made it in time, somehow.
Climb was face down on the ground, his face covered in sweat, his skin so pale that it was practically white. Still, he was breathing. That said, the wound on his belly was fatal, and he would die within a few minutes if it was not immediately treated.
Brain felt that he could not relax yet as he entered the room.
There were two men inside. One of them did not look like a fighter.
“Don’t pay any attention to that suspicious-looking guy, just kill him!”
“If I do that, he’ll charge up and kill me. This guy isn’t like the punk from just now. I need to focus and concentrate to beat him. If I’m distracted or get careless, it’ll be the end of me.”
The person who answered was Succulent. Brain knew exactly who the man was. He looked just like the description that had been supplied to him. Plus, the man was holding a bloodstained blade and he had a body double out. Brain had suspected him from the beginning, and his suspicions had just been confirmed.
Without another word, Brain ran up, drew and slashed. There was no hesitation in his movements. Succulent had leapt away even before the blow had landed, and the 「Katana」only struck empty air. However, Brain had only done so to get his opponent away from Climb. He stood over the fallen Climb, planting his feet in a location where he could cover the lad.
“Climb, are you alright? Do you have any healing items on you?”
His words were quick and tense. If Climb did not have anything like that, he would have to find some other way to save him.
“Hahhhh. Hahhh. Hahh. Hah. Ye… yes… I do…”
He glanced over and saw that Climb’s hands had released his sword and begun to move.
A great weight lifted off Brain’s shoulders. After answering Climb, he glared fiercely at Succulent.
“I’ll take you on next. Allow me to avenge that kid.”
“...You’re pretty cocky. But that’s only to be expected. To think you’d be carrying such a valuable weapon from the South… I don’t think I’ve heard of anyone like you before… mind telling me your name?”
He did not intend to answer.
Climb was a comrade — a brother-in-arms. How could anyone reply calmly when one’s brother was on the brink of death?
Just then, a doubt blossomed in Brain’s heart.
Was I like that in the past?
His old self had lived for nothing other than honing his swordplay. When had he cared about anything else?
Then, he chuckled to himself.
...Oh. I get it now.
His ambition, his dream, his goal, his life, his way of living — all of them had been shattered beyond recovery by the monster called Shalltear Bloodfallen, and the cracks in his heart which had appeared had then been filled by the person called Climb. When faced with the vicious bloodlust from the mysterious Sebas, Brain had been driven to his knees, but Climb — though weaker than him — had endured through it. It was then, when Brain was filled with admiration, that Climb had worked his way into Brain’s heart. That was because Brain had seen a spark of manly radiance within Climb that he himself had lacked.
He stood before Climb, locking eyes with Succulent. Did Climb now see in Brain’s back the same determination that Brain had seen in Climb’s?
His old self would have laughed at this. His old self would have laughed at how weak he had become.
In the past, he had believed that these things were nothing more than weaknesses to a warrior. He had believed that all a warrior needed was to be as sharp as a sword.
However — he understood now.
“So that was how you viewed life… I see, Gazef… It seems that even now, I’m still no match for you.”
“Didn’t you hear me? I’m asking you again, could you tell me your name?”
“Forgive me. While I feel there’s no point in telling you, well… I am Brain Unglaus.”
Succulent’s eyes widened into saucers.
“What? You mean that..!”
“No way! The man himself? Are you kidding me?!”
“No, I don’t think it’s a mistake, Cocco Doll-san. Valuable weapons indicate a warrior’s level. A 「Katana」like that certainly suits someone like him.”
A wry grin crossed Brain’s face.
“More than half the people I’ve met recognized me… well, my old self would have been proud. Right now, it’s a little more complicated.”
Brain had no idea why Succulent was smiling at him so companionably. However, his doubts were soon answered.
“I say, Unglaus! There’s no point in us fighting, is there? Someone strong like you is worthy of joining up. Why not become one of us? You could easily become a member of Six Arms with strength like yours. It’s plainly obvious how skilled you are. You’re just like me, aren’t you? You want to become strong. I can tell by looking in your eyes.”
“...You do have it at that.”
“Right? Then let me tell you. Eight Fingers is a pretty good place. It’s great for those who are strong. They’ll give you all the magic items you want, as powerful as you like. Look at this orichalcum chain shirt! This mithril sword! These rings! These clothes! These boots! They’re all magic items! Come, Brain Unglaus. Join us. Join the Six Arms.”
“...Worthless. Is that all there is to your organization?”
Brain’s unimaginably cold and contemptuous attitude froze the smile on Succulent’s face.
“Didn’t you hear me? I said, if that’s all there is to you, you won’t amount to anything even if you band together.”
“You! …Hmph. Well, if you say that, then your strength’s nothing special either!”
“Indeed. Someone like me is nothing special. I learned that very well after witnessing a true monster.”
Brain pitied Succulent and his haughty attitude. He truly was like a frog in a well. Thus, Brain decided to give him a sincere warning.
“It’s the same with your strength. Perhaps we’re the same way. That’s why I want to warn you — we’re nothing special.”
Brain turned back and glanced over his shoulder at Climb, who had drunk his healing potion.
“Also, I’ve learned one more thing. Strength gained for someone is greater than what a person can train up by themselves.
Brain smiled. It was a kind, carefree smile.
“Perhaps it’s only a little, but in the end, I do understand.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about… What a shame, Unglaus. What a shame that I have to kill a genius swordsman who once stood on par with the mighty Gazef Stronoff.”
“Can you do it, with that sword which you only swing for yourself?”
“Of course I can kill you. That’s easy enough. And after I kill you, I’ll kill that brat on the ground. No more holding back, and no more games. I’m going all-out.”
As Brain watched Succulent begin an incantation, he sensed someone moving behind him and issued a warning.
“Climb-kun, don’t move. You’re not fully recovered yet, are you?”
Brain smiled. He was as surprised by this as he was by what he had done just now. Then, he added:
“Leave the rest to me.”
“—Thank you very much.”
Brain smiled by way of reply and sheathed his sword. Then, he lowered his stance and turned the sword and sheath over at his waist.
“Please be careful. Succulent uses illusions. What you see may not be real.”
“I see… yes, quite a tricky opponent. Still, it’ll be fine.”
Brain stayed where he was, staring silently at Succulent. He had created five illusory duplicates out of nowhere, and he gleamed with what seemed to be a magical radiance. In addition, he seemed to have donned some kind of shadowy cloak. Brain had no idea what kind of magic Succulent had used.
“Thank you for giving me time to prepare. Magic casters are more powerful than warriors when they can prepare themselves. You lose, Unglaus!”
“Hm, no need thank me. After talking to him… well, I’m pretty sure I can’t lose.”
“...Big words for a hired blade! So you’re staying there to protect that punk. How sweet of you.”
Brain heard the sound of Climb shifting from down where he lay at Brain’s feet.
Climb must have been feeling guilty about giving the enemy time to prepare himself. Therefore, Brain made a declaration, loud enough that Climb could hear.
“I said, I’m going to take you down in one strike, Succulent.”
“Try it if you can!”
Succulent charged him, wreathed by his afterimages.
As his opponent entered his attack range, Brain swivelled, completely ignoring how he was exposing his defenseless back to the oncoming Succulent. And then — with Climb in between — Brain drew with incredible speed and cut at the empty air.
♦ ♦ ♦
There was a mighty crash as the walls shook.
The still-prone Climb and Cocco Doll turned to look at the source of the sound.
Succulent lay there. He had rolled to the ground and was motionless. His sword had fallen to the ground.
Brain’s mighty draw-cut had sent Succulent flying, smashing him into the wall with tremendous force, after which he had collapsed to the ground. If Brain had not hit him with the back of his sword, Succulent would have been lying in two pieces instead of one. Even the orichalcum chain shirt he wore made no difference, so powerful was that blow.
“...My [Field] can pick up anything — even the invisible. The illusion in front was meant to get my attention so he could attack from behind… A cunning move, but unfortunately, he used it against me. Plus, attacking Climb-kun was a poor choice for you. Let me guess, you wanted to kill him and then mock me for not being able to protect him. However, you were so focused on attacking Climb-kun who was lying on the ground that you didn’t keep an eye on me. Did you forget who you were fighting?”
Brain sheathed his sword, and smiled to Climb.
“Told you, didn’t I? One strike.”
“Well done!” Climb said.
But someone else had said “well done” besides Climb, and both voices blended together. That person was Sebas, and that was nothing special. Rather, it was where the voice had come from which was surprising.
Both of them looked to where Cocco Doll had been standing.
In his place was Sebas, and beside him was the limp form of Cocco Doll.
“When did you arrive?”
Sebas responded calmly to Brain’s question:
“Just now. I believe you were both focused on Succulent and did not notice me.”
“Is, is that so.”
No way, Brain though as he answered.
I had [Field] active, didn’t I? It might have a narrow radius, but I should have sensed him if he had come running up to us. But I didn’t sense him at all… Until now, only that monster Shalltear Bloodfallen could do that. Well, I had my suspicions when he emitted his murderous intent back then, but now I’m sure of it — he’s the match of that monster. Where does he come from?
“In any case, the people locked up here have been rescued. Also, Climb-kun. I’m sorry, but some people put up fierce resistance, so I had to kill them. Please forgive me… but before that, I ought to heal your wounds.”
Sebas came before Climb and laid his hands on Climb’s belly. It was a brief contact — he removed his hand right after touching him. However, the results were plainly obvious. Climb’s face had still been pale after drinking the potion, but now he was back to a healthy state.
“My wounds are healed… Are you a priest?”
“No, I did not use the power of the gods. Instead, I infused my ki into you for healing.”
“A monk, then! No wonder,” Brain exclaimed. Now he understood why Sebas was neither armed nor armored. Sebas merely smiled as an affirmative.
“Then, what do you two plan to do next?”
“Well, I intend to hurry to the nearest guard post, explain the situation, and come back with some men. I hope you two gentlemen can hold the fort here until then. For all we know, Eight Fingers might send reinforcements.
“...Well, I’m already on this boat, might as well enjoy the ride.”
“It is fine with me as well. However, could I trouble you not to mention me? I came to this country to do business, and to be honest, I do not wish to continue interfering in the underworld of a foreign nation.”
“I’m fine. If anyone asks, just say Stronoff will vouch for me.”
“I understand. I will do as the two of you say. Then, please allow me to make use of you two gentlemen for now.”
Lower Fire Month (9th Month) 3rd Day 19:05
Climb finally returned to the Royal Palace as darkness began to spread over the Royal Capital.
His wounds were completely healed, but he was dog-tired. The fighting had taken quite some time, and so had coordinating matters after the fact. In the end, things had worked out not because Climb had Renner’s backing, but because the soldiers were afraid of Eight Fingers and did not dare handle things too eagerly. The biggest problem had been the question of taking responsibility.
The person in charge might as well become a target of Eight Fingers — to be made into an example. This was not a distant probability, but a distinct possibility. Therefore, Climb had simply written the events down and asked the soldiers to send it to Renner. After receiving her approval, he had signed his name and that of his mistress Renner as the people responsible.
Of course, there were drawbacks to doing so but there were at least two merits to that approach.
The first was that Renner’s reputation would be boosted.
She had acted against an organization eating away at the heart of the Kingdom, and they were a filthy band of slave trading scoundrels to boot. In addition, her subordinate had led the charge against that crime syndicate. That would surely boost the public opinion of Renner, who otherwise remained within the Palace.
The second was that they could protect Sebas, and the woman he had rescued from abuse in that brothel.
Now that Climb and Renner had taken credit for that, it would keep Sebas and that woman from drawing attention, and it would also avoid them becoming priority targets for Eight Fingers.
I didn’t do anything during the raid… it’s the least I can do...
As for Brain, he said he would speak to Gazef on his own account, and he encouraged Climb not to worry.
Climb thought about those things as he knocked on Renner’s door.
Renner had told him there was no need to knock and that he should enter directly. However, the hour was late, and it was still impolite to charge into her room without giving notice. Ever since he had accidentally seen Renner in a sheer silk nightie, he made sure to knock every time he visited.
His mistress had agreed on that.
While Climb waited for an answer, he sniffed himself.
He had bathed and scrubbed himself, but he was not certain that the stink of blood was gone because his nose was used to it. Frankly speaking, he should not have entered Renner’s bedchambers in this attire, but it was imperative that he reported the day’s events to Renner in his own words.
The most important thing was the people who had been locked up in that place. They were currently in the custody of the guard post, but they would need to be taken somewhere safe within a few days. Some of them were hurt, so he had to arrange for priests and other healers to go and help them.
Renner-sama is kind. She will surely lend a hand to the people if they are in need.
Climb felt his heart grow heavy as he thought about all the things he would be troubling his mistress with. He could not help but think about how much better it would be if he were stronger. It was all thanks to her that he could lead a life like this and serve such a great mistress, yet he could not do more for her.
...Strange. There didn’t seem to be an answer… There wasn’t one, right?
He had not heard her granting him permission to enter.
Nobody was standing watch in front of the door, so Renner ought not to be asleep yet. Could she have accidentally fallen asleep without informing the night watchman?
Climb knocked again.
This time, Climb heard a quiet voice granting him entry from inside the room. That put his heart at ease and he entered. He had already decided on the first thing he would do.
“Forgive my late return.”
He bowed his head low, in apology.
“I was so worried!”
Climb could hear distinct anger in Renner’s voice, which surprised him. Climb’s mistress very rarely got angry. Even when insulted, she had never displayed her anger in front of Climb. That was why he was acutely aware that Renner had been truly worried about him.
He struggled against the warm tears that threatened to leak from the corner of his eyes, and lowered his head in sincere apology
“I was really worried about you! When I thought about how Eight Fingers might have struck first and done something to you, I… then, what exactly happened? I received a brief report, but can you explain in detail?”
Climb was going to deliver his report from a standing position, but Renner insisted that he sit down.
Thus, Climb took a seat. There was a teacup in front of him, and Renner poured him a piping hot cup of tea from her Warm Bottle.
After thanking her, he sipped at the tea.
Climb then narrated the entire situation to Renner, because some people needed her help.
“What did you think of those people when you saw them?”
Climb was briefly baffled by the first question Renner had asked after hearing the proceedings. However, she had asked, so he had to answer.
“I felt sorry for them. If I were stronger, I could have saved these people from their suffering.”
“Really now… You must have felt sorry for them, Climb.”
“Is that so. You’re really nice, Climb.”
“Renner-sama, if you need me to protect them, I can go at any time. I have already resolved myself.”
“...I’ll call on you when the time comes. Let’s leave that aside for now; I have something to tell you. Tomorrow, or the day after at latest, we intend to launch attacks on the Eight Fingers bases indicated on the parchment Lakyus gave us. You can imagine how their defenses will become stronger as time goes on, thanks to the attack on the brothel.”
“My sincerest apologies! It was my fault for acting on my own!”
“No, please pay it no heed. Think of it as us deciding on a course of action. Besides, I do like how you performed this time round, Climb. You captured Succulent, a member of Six Arms, and brought in Cocco Doll, the head of the Slavery Division. That ought to shake our opponents to the core. Therefore, I want to capitalize on this victory.”
Renner lightly punched the air in a cute way.
“We’ll hit them again before they can get the word out of the Royal Capital!”
“Understood! I will go rest now, and gather my strength for tomorrow’s operations!”
“Please do. I think tomorrow will be quite an exciting day. Please keep that in mind.”
♦ ♦ ♦
Climb left the room. He felt the scent of blood had faded away somewhat.
“Thank you very much, Climb. Next…”
After finishing the now-cool tea, Renner stood up. She walked over to a handbell. If she shook it, the bell in the adjacent room would shake as well. As she thought of the face of the maid waiting in the next room, she smiled coldly. How fortunate that she was on duty today.
“My my, what kind of expression should I put on now?”
Renner went up before the mirror and cupped her face with both hands. Then she rubbed up and down. She was only human, and doing so would not change the shape of her face. It was merely a form of self-affirmation.
Renner let go, and smiled.
“No, this is the smile a princess wears for meeting others…”
Renner smiled again. She went through a variety of them before settling on a pure, innocent smile.
“This is best.”
After her preparations were complete, Renner shook the bell. Soon, a maid knocked on the door and entered.
“Could you do something for me? Could you help me boil some hot water?”
“At once, Renner-sama.”
The maid bowed, and Renner smiled to her.
“What’s the matter? You seem quite happy today. Did something good happen?”
Now that her prey had taken the bait, Renner’s smile grew ever more joyful.
“Hey, did you know? Climb-kun did really good today! It was amazing!”
She spoke like a child. It was the attitude which fit a foolish princess leaking important information all over the place.
“Well, isn’t that lovely.”
The maid hated Climb, and she tried her best to hide her displeasure. However, she could not keep her emotions out of her words.
—You should die.
—Everyone who dares look down on my Climb should die.
Renner pretended she had not heard the maid’s response, because Renner was an innocent little princess. She did not sense others’ ill intentions and took their rudeness in stride. She was a naive, innocent — and foolish princess.
“Yup! He was soooo amazing! Climb beat up a whole bunch of bad guys! And then he rescued a lot of people the bad guys locked up! He sent them to… Yeah, I think he sent them to a guard post. Now we can punish the nobles who helped the bad guys do bad things!”
“Really now? Marvellous, that’s Renner-sama’s Climb-san for you. Then, could I trouble you to tell me of his heroic deeds?”
The maid believed the princess was clueless and would not suspect anything. Thus, Renner began ensnaring that stupid woman in her scheme.
Everything sat within the palm of her hand. All this was in order to gain what she wanted.
Lower Fire Month (9th Month) 3rd Day 22:10
A strange-looking group blended into the darkness.
They were all outfitted differently, without any sense of regimentation or unity. The closest thing to them would probably be adventurers.
At their head was a stout, muscular man. Behind him was an effete-looking pretty boy and a woman in gauzy silks. Behind him was a robed person, and someone in a suit of full plate armor brought up the rear.
The group were looking at an opened door. The room beyond was pitch-dark, and they sensed that any previous occupants were long gone. A look around did not turn up anyone else.
This was quite a strange situation. Indeed, the brothel should have been stripped bare and taken to a guard post. That said, someone ought to have been posted to stand watch, even if the place was empty. In fact, if one looked along the otherwise empty streets, one would be able to see signal fires where the night watch would have been stationed.
Yet, there was nobody here. That was because this group had used their influence to temporarily get rid of the sentries..
The stone-faced man at their head — Zero — glared fiercely at the gutted brothel and growled:
“This is too big to be a mere joke. I need to apologize to Cocco Doll. I lent him Succulent of Six Arms, but to think this place was taken down so easily, and on the day I sent him over… What a joke.”
Sneering laughter came from behind him. Zero turned and fixed the source of that laughter with a razor-sharp gaze.
The woman in silks knew Zero’s personality, and she hurriedly said:
“Ah, well.. So boss, what should we do now? Should we kill Succulent, since he got captured? If we’re going with that, he ought to be at the guard post. We’re all the direct-attack sort, and if it doesn’t work it we’ll have to borrow assassins from the other departments… what about it?”
“There’s no need to go to such lengths. Even a man like him has his uses. I’ll just ask the Count to release him… that’ll cost a pretty penny, though. Go make a list of what the Count likes.”
“How about Cocco Doll?” the delicate pretty boy asked.
“He has his own connections. If he has any requests, we’ll handle them through our connections. Count it as a form of apology. How about the guest list? I heard the guards took it, no?”
“Information on that front has not come in yet. Or rather, I hear they have not learned any concrete details”
The voice from under the robe was grim. It was as though someone were speaking out of a grave. The sepulchral voice sent a chill down its listener’s spines.
“I’d like to get my hands on it. We can use it for all sorts of blackmail.”
“Don’t be foolish. If we obtain it, the other divisions will be even more suspicious of us. People are already suspecting that we were behind all of this. If we find the guest list somewhere, give it to Cocco Doll several days later and apologize. Besides, the list ought to be in an unbreakable code, so you won’t be able to use it anyway.”
The pretty boy shrugged in response to Zero’s spiel.
“In any case, we’ll investigate this matter later on. My guess is if it exists, it’ll be in the hidden vault… still, whoever broke this door down really did a number on it. How did they make this hole? I doubt they used a weapon… was it magic?”
“It was a fist.”
All eyes went to Zero’s body. Zero repeated himself — that these traces were made by a fist.
“Fists… Well, that’s quite something.”
“—Don’t be foolish. This much is nothing.”
Zero took a breath and interrupted the woman’s awed gasp, then he chopped at the door with a knife hand. His hand sank into the door like he was tearing through paper. Zero withdrew his hand, leaving a rent which matched the one Sebas had left.
The pretty boy spoke up, somewhat lamely:
“Well, you’re not a good comparison, boss… still, our enemy can break down a steel-reinforced door. While Succulent was the weakest of us, that still means he took down a member of Six Arms. Should we take him as a potential enemy, then?”
“That said, if Succulent lost, that does not indicate the foe is very strong, no?”
There was an undercurrent of mockery in the robed person’s voice.
“He is far weaker than us once you see through his illusions. He’s good against people he outmatches, but he’ll go down against any decent opposition. Did you not know that?”
He was answered by several chuckles. This was both a sign of approval, and a sign of mockery for those weaker than themselves.
“We’ve said everything that needs to be said. I’ll ask again — what should we do? Shall we pull back? I don’t think clashing with our opponent will be worth the potential losses?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
Zero’s words were laced with an anger which he could not completely suppress.”
“Our reputation will be damaged if we don’t make an example of the person who attacked this place. Screw the losses. Six Arms will move out together and eliminate the attacker. ‘Undying King’ Davernoc.”
The robed man extended a hand. Said hand did not belong on a living creature, and it clutched an orb that radiated a bizarre aura in response to its owner’s emotions.
“‘Void Cutter’ Peysilian.”
The hitherto silent man in full plate armor pounded his chest with a resounding clash of metal.
“Dancing Scimitar’ Edstrem.”
The silk-clad woman dipped her head elegantly, as the bangles on her wrists clattered.
“‘Thousand Kills’ Malmvist.”
The pretty boy clicked his heels together with a resounding report.
“And then myself, ‘Battle Demon’ Zero!”
The people around him nodded to show their agreement and understanding.
“First, we’ll bail out Succulent and question him. After that… find a good torturer. We’re going to show that attacker the true meaning of hell. We’ll make him regret his foolishness!”
Lower Fire Month (9th Month) 3rd Day 17:42
It was sunset by the time everything was over and Sebas returned home.
Climb-kun’s protecting all the captured people. Succulent, the owner, and everyone else was arrested. That ought to keep them quiet for a while. Hopefully that can buy some time.
Then, what should he do about Tsuare? Sebas felt that the best option would be to bring her somewhere safe, but Sebas knew there was only one truly safe place in all the world.
As Sebas agonized over the matter, his feet brought him back home.
Just as he was about to open the door, his hand froze. Someone was behind the door. He sensed that it was Solution, but Sebas had no idea why she was standing behind it.
Was there an emergency of some sort?
Sebas had a bad feeling about this, but he still opened the door. What he saw next defied his expectations and left him frozen in place.
“Welcome back, Sebas-sama.”
Solution was standing there in her maid’s uniform.
A chill ran down Sebas’ spine.
Solution — who played the role of a merchant heiress — was wearing her maid uniform in the presence of Tsuare, a human who knew nothing about the truth. Was it because she did not need to act any longer, or was there some reason which required her to wear her uniform?
If it was the former, that would mean something had happened to Tsuare. If it was the latter—
“—Sebas-sama. Ainz-sama is waiting for you inside the house.”
Solution’s calm, even voice made Sebas’ heart lurch in his chest.
Sebas, who could remain calm in the face of a mighty foe or a being on the level of the Floor Guardians, was actually anxious and tense when he heard his own master had come to visit.
“Why, why is he…” Sebas stammered. Solution merely watched him in silence.
“Sebas-sama. Ainz-sana is waiting for you.”
There was nothing else to be said. All Sebas could do was follow Solution into the house.
His steps were heavy, like a condemned criminal walking to the chopping block.