Everyone gathered here is as gloomy as ever!
Talma surveyed the congregation as she stood next to her seated younger sister. At the moment, Bajeel, one of the more prominent members, was giving a report on his circumstances.
As always, everyone looked up at the sisters, who were on a raised platform inside of the spacious room, with respect in their eyes.
Though, to be precise, they were looking not to Talma with respect in their eyes, but to her younger sister, Claire. As usual, nobody paid much attention to Talma, who was always the child left out of the loop. Everyone was focused on the mysterious Claire, whom they all but worshiped as a god.
That being said, Talma didn't dislike her younger sister, although she didn't have any blind faith in her like the others did.
In fact, she thought that she and her sister got along pretty well.
It was only that Talma's personality would not let her play along with these kinds of gatherings no matter how hard she tried. It was likely because there was something fanatic about them, even if they glorified her sister and herself.
There did in fact exist pagan religions that worshiped daemons as the object of their faith in the world, and Talma felt like their organization was up to par with them in terms of fanaticism. Even if the direction they were headed for differed from that of the pagans, they were still largely similar in that they carried deep-rooted delusions.
Bajeel's report neared its conclusion as Talma, fortunately ignored in the situation, pondered.
"——And so, we can now be certain that this man called Rain is indeed a Dragon Slayer. We should not underestimate his strength, since he was able to defeat my subordinate with just one blow. With someone like him at her side, assassinating the Princess was not something an assassin's guild was capable of accomplishing from the very beginning. It was a err of our judgement."
Bajeel bowed his head low after he finished speaking. His large frame, almost two meters tall, looked like it had shrunken a little at the moment.
Talma was sure that even a beast master like him was reluctant to give Claire a report like this. Indeed, after all, failure was failure no matter how many excuses he made for it. He had set an assassin's guild into action and had even sent in his own 'servant', but had absolutely nothing to show for it. His plan had been completely off the mark.
As for Talma, she had never quite taken a liking to him anyway, so she thought that he'd gotten what he'd deserved. Besides, she was actually relieved that Rain had beaten the 'servant' so easily.
She had become unable to perceive him and the princess he protected as her enemy, perhaps because they had spared her. That being said, Talma was also the sole nonconformist among their group.
She didn't harbor the extreme feeling they should "kill the Princess anyway!" like the others did. Rather, she even felt amicable toward the princess.
When Talma suddenly returned to her senses, she realized that her seated younger sister was looking up at her.
Her sister had an adorable, doll-like face with something sharp dwelling in its beauty……and snow-white hair, just like Talma's. However, unlike her older sister, Clair was blind. The fact that her open eyes were unfocused was proof of that.
Claire whispered so that Bajeel and the others could not hear,
"are you bored?"
"……I guess I am. I feel like there isn't much of a point in me being here."
"Please don't say that."
Her stern younger sister was always sweet on Talma.
"You're my one and only blood relative. I'll be lonely if you aren't here by my side. ……Besides, I always worry because you're so quick to do the most reckless things, sister."
"Yeah, yeah, I said I'd stop. I've promised you that a bunch of times, didn't I?"
I really can't say no to her, Talma thought.
Claire was ever her cute little sister. Things were a little less convenient than it was when they were alone together because Claire was wearing her white priestess attire at the moment, but she was kind to Talma nontheless.
She was always being considerate of her older sister in one way or another.
After seeing her younger sister smile, Talma instinctively wanted to hug her and rub her cheeks against her. Talma loved her sister's adorable face, to the point that it was almost perilous. It was because her younger sister had things that she didn't.
Incidentally, Claire's smile vanished completely when she turned back to talk to Bajeel.
With a beautiful, unsmiling mien, she said,
"I understand what you've said, but we must still overthrow Princess Shelfa no matter what we do to make it happen. If this Rain means to get in our way——"
She cut off her words and looked at everyone present with empty eyes. Claire could recognize them properly even if her eyes couldn't see.
Indeed, Talma's younger sister had a 'power'.
It was the very thing that drew a distinct line between the sisters.
"——We will have no other choice but to defeat him before the Princess first. It was not my original intention to bring harm those who are uninvolved, but it cannot be helped if there is no other way. Do you understand?"
Bajeel, who had made the report, and the rest of the crowd all bowed their heads at once.
But, there was one exception.
Talma was also an exception, of course, but there was still one other man who calmly kept his head raised.
There were only a few dozen people present, but he stood out quite a bit because he was the only person who hadn't bowed.
He had disheveled grey hair and a malicious look in his eyes. His piercing brown eyes met Talma's for a brief moment and narrowed sarcastically.
And then, he quickly looked away.
Roy, it's him again……
Talma furrowed her brows.
He also did not fit in well within the gathering, though in a different sense from Talma.
Yet, Claire pretended not to notice anything, though there was no way that she had failed to notice Roy's arrogant behavior, and gently said,
"then, let us end here for today. We will need to conduct thorough investigations on the characters surrounding the Princess. You understand why we must do this without me having to spell it out for you, yes? And, as for the all-important princess in question…"
Her unfocused crimson eyes rested on top of the beast master as she continued,
"I will await better news from you next time, Bajeel. Please do something about this Rain character, but don't rush in blindly and make things worse. It's quite a roundabout way of doing things, but there is no helping it."
"——Understood! I'll get this done without fail!"
The large beast master shrank back again, as if his was shrinking back in fear.
After the assembly had dispersed.
Bajeel emphasized his point to his three comrades as they walked through the dimly lit corridor.
"We mustn't worry Lady Claire any more than we already have. One of us must go in person next time. It's fortunate that we received her permission to defeat Rain, though it seems odd to say so."
"Permission, what permission?"
One person said with ridicule in his voice.
Naturally, this jeer had come from the aforementioned Roy. He continued,
"permission or no, you planned to killing Rain together with the princess from the very start, didn't you?"
Not only did Roy point this out clearly for all to hear, he even continued to make more accusations.
"It just so happened that things didn't go your way this time around. On top of that, the little scheme to provoke discord between Chandrys and Sunkwoll was enacted completely on your personal judgement. They would've gone to war anyway with or without your interference. Just what on earth were you trying to accomplish anyway?"
Bajeel, who had the appearance of a middle-aged man who worked hard at physical labor on a daily basis, sullenly stopped in his tracks.
"You can't say that for sure. At the very least, we received intel that Joe Lamberck of Chandrys was against going to war. You just weren't aware of that. My plan was a necessary measure!"
"Who gives a shit about how necessary it was now that you've gone and failed anyway? Do you really want to start a war that badly? I guess your plan was to send anyone suspicious off to Hades in the war in one go. Man, isn't that a bit too shameless to even be considered a proper plan?"
Bajeel's short hair stood up at Roy's ridicule. He just barely managed to keep himself in check as he replied in a grating voice,
"so what? Was I wrong? ——The reason that I didn't make any unnecessary reports was because I didn't want to cause Lady Claire needless worry. Lady Claire is a benevolent person. She does not approve of aimless killing, even when it's necessary."
"That so? She's "benevolent" even though she orders people to kill a mere little girl, even if she's some kind of princess? That's hilarious,"
Roy sneered. He continued,
"or maybe you were talking about how she doesn't discriminate murder targets based on age even though she's the same age as the princess. I guess I do have to agree that she's at least impartial."
"Roy! You bastard, are you mocking Lady Claire?!"
The muscle's in Bajeel's body expanded, displaying his special characteristic as a beast master for all to see.
The transformation happened immediately and bristles grew from all of the places on his body that were visible. Additionally, he began to give off a kind of stink particular to that of a wild animal's.
However, Roy didn't look perturbed in the slightest and simply narrowed his brown eyes.
"Wanna have at it, Bajeel? I don't mind either way, but you'll be the one to regret it if we do, you know? I'm not very good at holding myself back."
"Don't push your luck just because you're a bit strong! I'll rip you to shreds if you really want to keep barking like that."
Bajeel's clothes ripped as his physique multiplied in size. His impressive musculature plainly surpassed that of the servant of his creation's.
And yet, Roy was still as calm and composed as ever. A faint smile alit his face as he observed Bajeel with his arms crossed.
The others finally intervened just as Bajeel was about to take hold of Roy.
Two voices overlapped.
They belonged to Lester and Keven, the two remaining individuals in the group.
The fat young summoner and the slender old mage exchanged looks and Kevin, holding tight to his magic staff, spoke up for the both of them.
"Bajeel, you mustn't lose your temper at every little thing that Roy says. Do you really think that the Lady Suzerain will be pleased with internal discord among us?"
Bajeel apologized to Kevin sincerely and hung down his head.
He cooled down at once when Kevin brought up Claire, whom he so respected. Thus, his bestial transformation stopped midway and he slowly began to return to his original form.
Roy, on the other hand, didn't look relieved that someone had intervened, but instead looked bored and even let out a yawn.
Kevin cast a disgusted look at him and admonished,
"and as for you, Roy. Everyone gathered here today has approved of the Lady Suzerain's decisions. I'd like you to refrain from needlessly stirring up trouble by digging up matters that have already been decided upon."
"Well, too bad. Unfortunately for you, I've never approved of anyone here. I'm only here is because I'm paid to be here, and the only reason I haven't left yet is because I'm hoping that the young lady will supply me with some strong foes. Why the hell would I suffer you lot if it wasn't for that?"
The other three grew astonished by the sheer repulsion in Roy's words, which was so strong that even the dullest of individuals could have perceived it.
While there was a bit of a difference to the degree in which they expressed it, the question, "why did the Lady Suzerain hire someone like him?" was etched keenly on their faces. It was only their strong sense of loyalty to Claire that kept them from asking the question out loud. If it wasn't for that, they would have had a much larger quarrel with Roy long ago. After a moment of heavy silence, Lester, who had cheeks as plump as a babe's, took control of the situation with his shrill voice.
"Well, let's put all that aside for the time being. There isn't any point in trying to hammer in the details of our great cause to someone who just doesn't understand. Besides, our mission in more important right now. What are we going to do; who will go?"
Kevin held the large beast master, who had immediately opened his mouth, back with his staff and proposed his plan.
"It's not our style to look down upon our enemies. This man called Rain is acting with the princess. It's probably for the best that we assume he's stronger than the rumors say. I think that the four of us should join forces against him."
"The four of us together……huh. I don't want to make a big deal out of this, but that might be the best way to get this done. We'd be putting the cart before the horse if we went at him one by one and somehow managed to lose precious fighting assets while fighting him."
Lester was the first to agree to Kevin's plan.
He let his gaze roam about the distance of the cold stone corridor before lowering his voice and moving his fat round shoulders as he said,
"we'll have no choice but to defeat Rain if we want to assassinate the princess. And working together is the fastest way to make that happen. And with that said——"
"Count me out on this one,"
Roy said suddenly, taking the wind out of Lester's sails.
He addressed the flustered summoner and continued,
"the end result is all too obvious if I joined in with you guys too. The three of you can go at him for now. Go and show me what you've got."
The other three truly looked disappointed this time around.
Just like he had mere moments ago, Bajeel barred his sharp canines again and sneered.
"For all your big talk, you're actually just scared out of your wits, aren't you? You're afraid of him."
Roy didn't look perturbed in the slightest as he responded,
"I just want to fight strong opponents on equal grounds. I'll go if you guys are met with an honorable death trying to take him down. And, you're free to think that I'm just "scared out of my wits" if you'd like. I mean, I don't really care about what the likes of you lot think of me."
The faint smile never left Roy's face as he waved his hand lightly and walked away.
His decisive attitude made it plain that he would reject any attempt to stop him.
"Hmph, he's good at wagging his tongue, I'll give him that,"
Bajeel spat out in disgust.
He turned around to the other two and continued,
"I'm going to report to Lady Claire about this. Let's get the job done between the three of us without relying on that bastard for anything, shall we?"
"I suppose we have little other choice……"
Kevin nodded and Lester voiced his agreement soon after.
Finally, Bajeel beamed.
"Alright! Now that we've decided on it, all we need to do is wait for the perfect chance. I'm sure that the princess won't act on her own, but I doubt the same will be true for Rain."
"Indeed. We should take things slowly, just as the Lady Suzerain said. He won't be holing up in his castle forever. He'll move about on his own at some point. There's bound to be matters that he can't take care of inside of his castle; for instance, he'll have to go out in order to enjoy women."
"Now that's something you'd do, old man."
Kevin smiled with his wrinkles covering his entire face at Lester's teasing and readjusted his grip on his staff.
"I don't deny it. Still, women are great no matter how old you get, you know?"
Lester's meaty cheeks ballooned as he laughed at the older man's foolery, leading Bajeel to follow up with a wry smile.
The mood had finally turned bright again.
——The above was a conversation that played out somewhere far away a little before the battle of Dead Valley, and the three comrades, full of laughter, were in full confidence that they would be able to defeat Rain in the not too distant future.