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From 122. Gettan sends his remaining Clovers to attack Mitsugoshi HQ, they get annihilated easily of course.
Gettan decides to focus his efforts on Mitsugoshi.
Alexia drags Cid to the dojo to show her sword. He realizes she's gotten a lot stronger. He says it's a good sword. It's a dry convo but cute.
Cid becomes John Smith to check up on Yukimi. She has the counterfeit notes ready and tells him to check them. He bullshits his way out of it, and everyone is sasuga. Yukimi reveals scars on her back and says that her aim is to get revenge on Gettan. John says revenge is ok.
John's job is to secure the area of their money factory. Mitsugoshi Co sends in the 664 team to investigate. John uses thread arts to defeat them without injury and lets them go.
Next, they send in Delta. She realizes it's Cid by scent right away. He promises her to do anything for her (within limits) if she goes to Outlaw City to take care of Juggernaut. She's on a Super Duper Secret Mission so she can't report back to HQ. John doesn't want Alpha to know he's John just yet.
The report reaches HQ. The presume Delta is dead. Alpha is super mad.
Beta reports to Cid. He notes down all the details related to Mitsugoshi Co. He uses some kind of mix script with Earth languages. Beta asks to learn it and he hands over a note with the script for them to analyse. Beta reports that Delta is gone. Cid tells her that she's just in a far away place now.
Gettan finds out about the counterfeit cash. He suspects Mitsugoshi Co.
Alpha finds John Smith after he's done taking care of some soldiers employed by the merchants guild to check for counterfeits.
Alpha vs John Smith. Alpha reveals new powers combining vampire techniques by turning into mist. Eventually, Alpha realizes it's Shadow. John removes the mask. Takes out his sword. Alpha is defeated. John says that 'That had to be done' when asked about delta and 'I am John Smith now.' when asked if he's just pretending for a greater cause. Alpha is left there, abandoned.
The counterfeit scheme is going well. Merchant's Guild will assuredly go bankrupt. Yukimi decides to truly reveal her past.
She and her mother lived frugally in a village. Gettan was her fiance. Some tribe war happened. Village burned and stuff. She and Gettan escaped. He reveals that he wanted power and takes out a red lozenge. Yukimi refuses and he reveals that he was the one who killed her mother. She loses consciousness and when she wakes up there's a lot of (not her own) blood and she's alone. Reminder (?): Gettan is blind with his eyes slashed. Yukimi wants to end him on every level.
Gettan is angry, they're going to go bankrupt. He suddenly suspects Yukimi could be behind this. Alexia barges into the dojo where her sister Iris is training. She reports the matter of the counterfeits. Iris says it's none of their business and none of hers. That she needs to train so she doesn't lose anymore. She's a touch frantic. Alexia is sad and disappointed.
The Seven of Shadow Garden are the only ones who know of their Master's sudden betrayer. Alpha is broken. Gamma decides she needs to pick up the slack herself. Suddenly Beta bursts in. The note from Shadow was decrypted. Alpha reads it and regains her smile. It says that he's sorry but he'll betray them. He talks about his plan to counterfeit the money and the location of the vault of gold they will accumulate via the scheme. Finally, he says that this will save them and asks them to figure it out. Sasuga all around! With the gold he has in that vault, only the merchant's guild will go bankrupt and Mitsugoshi will survive. Suddenly, Delta comes back. Says she was on a Super Duper Secret Mission. Alpha thinks she's just being a retard again. Her Master would never say that. They set off to collect the gold from the vault.
John is elated that he got to become a power in the shadows and also got enough money to last him a lifetime. He wants to bask in it and so checks the vault. It's empty. Suddenly, he gets a report that Yukimi was kidnapped by Gettan. He's mad now.
Gettan accuses Yukimi of the counterfeit money and she says yes, it was her. Gettan vs Yukimi. Yukimi reveals deepest lore nine tailed fox power. Gettan says that it's this power that blinded him so many years back. Yukimi defeats Gettan. Gettan pops a lozenge. Gettan defeats Yukimi.
She wakes up on horseback behind Gettan. Gettan says he's going to get that gold from her vault. She asks why they couldn't fight together all those years ago. Gettan says that there are some things ordinary people can't handle. He says that he's a 3rd of the Order now. He gets mad after their argument and starts strangling her. John Smith appears. He says to return the thing precious to him.
Seeing John come to her rescue Yukimi's heart goes doki doki. John keeps telling Gettan to Say what he has to say while summarily beating him. Finally, Gettan drops a bunch of the lozenges into his mouth, going berserk.
John beats super mutant Gettan easily. Says to tell him again. Gettan, returning to sanity by dying, says that John a good guy who protects his loved ones. He points at Yukimi and mutters Yu…ki (Note: Snow. Also reminder: it's winter now.) before dying. John heals the scars on Yukimi's back and tells her to be on her way, he has stuff to do.
Yukimi goes back to find her vault empty. Alpha reveals herself. She reveals the identity of the true enemy in the shadows, the connection of Shadow Garden with Mitsugoshi and proposes a partnership with Yukimi's Snowfox Co.They shake on it. (Sexy vixen joins the harem!) Yukimi decides that her revenge has yet to end.
Last chapter of Arc 6. Mitsugoshi has the gold to back up their fiat money, business as usual. Merchant's Guild has gone bankrupt. John is digging through the snow where Gettan pointing, thinking the gold is under there. Delta is helping. Delta wants to call in on that favor. He talks about Santa, and how he's an asshole that never gave him what he truly wanted. Delta calls him out and wants that favor. He decides to bullshit his way out of hit. Says he's going on a journey and to think up what she wants for when he returns. In truth, he doesn't want to see Alpha right now cause she's probably mad at him. He decides to let time resolve it and heads for Oriana for his winter break…
End of spoilers.
144. That Ordinary Boy is Revealed to be—!
In a back alley within the Oriana Kingdom, now occupied by the Doem Faction, I was surrounded by soldiers, low level grunts basically.
"He's looks shifty. Kill him." Said one of them while another pulled out his sword.
I immediately lowered my head submissively.
"P-please, spare me, mercy, please—!"
My pleas were all but fruitless and a sword was already making its way to cull my life.
I sighed, and kicked it away.
The sword broke off in the middle flew off with a clang.
"Come on, you could've at least gone "He looks shifty, capture him"." I said to the grunts who only kept staring eyes wide.
"What in the fuck are you talking abo—!?"
"All I wanted to be was a no-name citizen getting rolled up in the domestic turmoil."
An ordinary boy unjustly accused and captured.
However, soon after they captured him, the soldiers of the occupying forces began to disappear in the dark of the nights. Slowly at first, then more and more, until only that no-name boy and the leadership of the army remained.
Just who is this mysterious boy—? Sounds thrilling, right?
"On your guards, he might be trouble…"
The soldiers surrounding me all drew their swords now.
"Seriously, you guys are the 10 group already. This is getting bothersome." I muttered.
One leader-seeming soldier came up front and said, "Am I supposed to believe you're responsible for the recent assassinations of our men? A kid like you… no matter, we shall make sure now."
"Too late. That won't make me a 'no-name' boy." I told the man as I sliced off his neck with my slime sword.
His gaze, that of a decapitated head, turned to the sky. The moonlit sky from a back alley tainted with blood splatter.
"F-fiend! Kill him!"
"Hey, maybe I'll get lucky with the 11th…" I muttered after nonchalantly finishing off the grunts.
This kind of felt like being a secret assassin I guess.
The fight was over fast and the smell of blood permeated around me. I checked my clothes.
Good. Not a drop on them.
I had failed in my goal yet again, but I did manage to get some clues out of the exchange.
Currently, this royal capital was being occupied by some faction and men of this faction were being assassinated as of late.
That, might be mostly my doing.
Meaning, maybe I might get captured under suspicions that I'm a spy or assassin. Of course, I'll still be a lowly falsely charged mob.
If that's the case, maybe I should've gotten some blood on me after all. Then again, that itself could make it too obvious.
I was walking out of the alley while thinking, when I sensed multiple presences approaching.
I determined their number via sound and mana signatures… 7 of them, should be soldiers.
They might be looking for the bunch I left back there.
"Oh, this could work."
I fell on my ass in front of the alley and waited.
"D-dead, in the alley, they're…!" I pointed down the alley and croaked in a terrified voice, making sure the soldiers were within earshot.
I took especial note to be on the verge of sobbing, like a helpless mob.
"What!? Dammit, don't tell me—"
The soldiers rushed into the alley.
"Dammit! It keeps happening!"
"Fuck, once we catch him, I'm swear I'll!"
"Oi, kid! You see who it was!?"
One of them screamed at me as I was pretending my knees had given out.
"I, I, no… I didn't see, nothing…" I said, shaking like a frightened pup.
"You, you look like an outlander." The soldier's eyes turned sharp.
"I, yes. I'm a student from Midgar…"
"From Midgar eh. Why would someone like you be here now…?"
"I, I came to see if a friend was doing alright… I swear, please, please believe me!"
The soldier's eyes remained sharp.
"Very well. One more thing— Why would you be walking the streets in the dead of the night?"
"I, uh, needed some air…"
"Some air eh. Do you expect me to believe someone would try to go out on a pleasure walk in the current state of this country? And here in the capital no less?"
"I-it's true! Wait, please don't tell me you suspect me of causing that!? I, I could never do something, so, so horrible!"
"Hmph…" After a final glance at me, the soldier turned his eyes towards the alley. "All 9 of them were killed by a single stroke… You're right. You don't look the type to have done all that but… show me your sword anyway."
"Yes, of course." I presented my blade. As a mob, I make sure to equip a normal sword at my hip.
"Cheap iron… and it's clean."
"D-do you believe me now…?"
"I will admit that the chances of you killing them all is very low."
"But you're still a suspect, and the fact that you're here itself doesn't smell right at all."
"Oi, capture him!"
"Come on, please believe me! I'm but a simple and plain, innocent civilian!"
Nice. I went the mob-but-kind-of-suspect route and it worked out like a charm!
I did a mental fist pump as I was tied up and dragged away.
145. Concentration Camp
I was given a lax pat down.
The kingdom of Oriana was in a state where war could break as early as tomorrow. They obviously don't have time to spare for a mob like me.
I had a mana sealing collar put on me and was taken to a large building.
"You'll be staying in this camp."
"Lord Doem# is in the process of purging the Royalists. Prisons are all full."
"Well, good luck, kid. Whether you can live or die in here all depends on your choices."
"Huh, what choi—"
The soldier guiding me put on a knowing grin, opened the large iron door and shoved me inside.
The door was shut behind me with a thud as I took in my surroundings.
What I'd been imagining was some dreary, medieval-fantasy dungeon of solid stone, but this was certainly not that.
In very few words, it was a big courtyard surrounded by tall walls.
The floor was paved with stone, and the place was packed with prisoners.
Some of them looked to be sleeping in tattered clothes, some just sat there with dead eyes and looked at me. Still others were standing in groups, discussing something or other. Seems they've made factions here.
Our jailors stood atop the tall walls, overseeing everything.
Actually, those walls looked like they had rooms attached to them. The prisoners seemed to be granted free entry into them.
Not as rigid as I'd imagined.
First of all, I needed to secure a place to sleep. I began walking with that purpose in mind.
And, "Ho, newcomer."
Came a voice from the side.
I turned to see a tall, thuggish man with unkempt hair. My internal Bandit Radar began tingling right away.
I was 100% positive. This guy was a bandit.
"The name's Zack. Long story short, I'm a nice guy who teaches new blood like you how it works around here." Said Zack, eyeing me like prey.
"M-my name's Cid#. Thank you so much, I really don't know what to do…"
"I feel ya, buddy. Them fuzz catch you and throw you in here and there's nothin' you can do about it. I totally get that you're scared." Zack said while patting my shoulder.
He then closed in and whispered so only I could hear, "Listen, Cid. Food, bed, fun, none of that's equal in this here camp. Look over there."
Zack pointed at a group of people huddled in a corner. All of them looked thin, ragged.
"The people in this camp are largely divvied up into 3 groups. Those ones you see over there are the worst off and also has the most people. They're what we call the Trash. Useless trash who aren't worth a damn. They get a few gulps of water and even less food. Just waiting to die. They're trash who have no power, or smarts, or even info… Now, look over there."
Next, Zack pointed at a group of people who were standing and talking amongst each other.
"Those are the Royalists. They're all idiots who went against Lord Doem and are now in here. They get the bare minimum food and bed. They're also our targets."
"Yeah, our group. The Doem Camp. We got people who betrayed the Royalists to people like me, actual criminals. Us in the Doem Camp gets good food, comfy bedding, and a few other, privileges."
"I'll give you and example. You see, they don't give one damn if he beat and kill any of the Trash— like this!" Zack kicked down a nearby man.
The ragged man cried out and ran away, and the guards on the walls watched the whole thing happen.
They said not a word of warning to Zack.
Making a bemused smile, Zack once again came close and spoke into my ears. "It ain't like fights and killing each other are allowed in here. But the guys up top will ignore it. Still, doesn't mean we can go around killing every fucker that gives us the stink eye. Even Trash can be useful once in a while. And needlessly antagonising them isn't a good idea. You still with me, Cid? It's curious right? How we can get away with all this."
"Y-yeah, it is."
"Here's how it works… it's all 'cause we keep an eye on those Royalists and leak any info we get to the guards. Do that, and we easily get food, bed, and those nice privies. Sweet deal, yeah?"
"By, uh, info…?"
"Anything they don't want us to know. Get us some good info, and you're on the Doem side, pronto. And if the info is really good, useful even, you can some fun too. We even got whores."
"B-but, how am I supposed to…"
"I get it, really do. How're you supposed to know anything? Think. Jog that noggin a little. Only Royalist traitors have that kind of inside intel, right? Now, how did someone like me get in?"
"Honestly, there's a lotta ways to go about it. One, you could try capture one of them and drag him in for some good ol torture. Well, they're also on guard lately, so that might not be so easy. And the guards can't ignore it if you go overboard.
"Two, you could try getting in their faction and gleam intel that way. They're on guard for those too, so something like that can take some real skill.
"Three, eavesdrop. They won't make it easy, but you can definitely try.
"And four, there's that fact that they likely have people who're pretty willing to sell. Really, anyone would get tired of it eventually. They'd want food, booze. They'd want to get their dicks wet. But alas, they're still Royalists and the guards aren't exactly inclined to believe anything they'd say. That's where we come in. We make it so that they can get that food, booze, and whores they're starving for."
"I'm sure you do, Cid. You now understand very well that if you do nothing, you'll be part of the Trash. Useless, worthless trash. The only you can survive in here is either get us some info, or try to get the Royalists' trust."
"I'm a nice guy, Cid. So this is all I can do. Tell you what, you get anything good, and you come to me. I know some real nice guys among the guards, so we can definitely work something out." Zack said, giving me an obviously shady grin.
"Thank you, thank you so much, Zack#!"
"Best of luck, kid."
"Oh, uh, Zack, please wait!" I called as he was about to walk away.
"I— Actually, I might know something really good." I said in a whisper.
"… Huh. You know, if that info's something bogus, those jailors won't let you off with just a little beating. How about I hear you out, before you go to them."
"Can we, uh… go something a bit private?"
"Sure thing. Follow me."
Following after Zack, I went beyond the walls.
Inside were hallways of stone with cells on either side, containing prisoners here and there.
"The only guys who get private quarters are us Doem Camp and a small part of the Royalists. The Trash get to huddle down in the hallways, or just sleep outside. That said, we have our own territory in these halls and outside. You sleep there just cause it's empty and… you might not wake up. Get it?"
"… Of course."
"In here." We walked some ways into the hallway and Zack opened a door.
"This here's my crib. Not bad eh?" Zack said with grin after closing the door.
It was the size of an average bedroom#. More than enough for one person to live comfortably. There was a clean bed, a few sets of clothes, books, a board game, and even porn mags and a shelf with snacks.
"Well, this isn't the even close to what the big shots have. Heck, they say our boss held a stripper show at his place." Zack sad with a dirty grin.
"There we go, complete privacy. Now, let's hear it."
"Right, the real good info… yeah, I got nuthin."
With a single step, I got into arms length of Zack, grabbed his neck and lifted him up. His feet now dangled in the air.
"Fuh, ker, yer, gon, pay, for…" Zack croaked in pain.
"Can't work the body without food. I mean, I can easily survive going on nothing for a month, but I'll get a little weaker if I do. So I really don't want to skip meals. I guess I can go out into town and eat. And, sleeping outside isn't really a problem… Oh but, I don't want to sleep outside in the rain, I guess." I spoke while gradually tightening my grip.
"Mr. Zack#, you have two choices. Live, or die. Choose wisely now."
146. [New Volume Commemoration Side Story] His name is Kageno Minoru [Cid's Past Life]
Nishino Akane, an 11th grader in Sakurazaka Senior High, had a classmate she didn't like.
He had black hair and eyes and a plain face, yet he always looked tired, with deep bags under his eyes.
His name was Kageno Minoru. He was the boy that Nishino Akane really didn't like, and to make things worse, their seats were right next to each other.
Kageno Minoru, as his name might suggest#, was ordinary to the point of blending into the background.
With below average grades in academics and athletics, this boy had zero participation in extracurricular clubs, had almost zero friends, but wasn't adverse to talking with others.
He was normal, ordinary, the type of student you'd see anywhere.
Akane hadn't disliked him at first. But neither did she hold any special affection towards him. She had assumed to know him as a classmate and just that.
Yet, after having interacted with him on multiple occasions, Akane had discovered an aspect to their relationship that she absolutely loathed.
This aspect being, their first greeting of the day.
Both Kageno Minoru and Nishino Akane would arrive to school each morning, barely as the gates were closed. Barely on time, every time.
And as such, they would meet at the school gates and exchange greetings.
"Good morning, Kageno-kun#."
Today too, Akane greeted this most hated boy at the gates.
"Good morning, Nishimursan."
Returned Kageno in his usual monotone.
It's Nishino, dammit!!
Screamed Akane in her head, maintaining her smile as she situated herself to her shoe locker.
They'd been in the same classroom three months now. This had gone on every morning for three months.
The first month, Akane had figured that he'd correct it eventually, so when this pattern had continued past Golden Week, she had all but run out of patience.
She still remembered that conversation.
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"Um, Kageno-kun. My name isn't Nishimura, you know?"
Kageno blinked, several times, as if Akane had said something out of this world.
"Wait, wasn't it Nishimura?"
"No, it's actually—"
"Wait wait, I remember now. You're technically not an NPC, after all."
Akane wasn't familiar with the jargon.
"Uh, nevermind. Don't worry, I make sure to remember the names of any major players, but I tend to mess up at times, sadly."
"It's fine, anyone can mess up."
Akane smiled seeking Kageno was genuinely apologetic.
That smile didn't last long at all.
"I'm so sorry, Nishitani-san."
Akane wanted to knock the daylights out of this idiot. Her hand was balled up in a tight fist, barely baring it.
"My name, is Nishino."
The boy and girl looked at each other in awkward silence.
Akane then turned away to her shoe locker, refusing to speak any further to Kageno for that day.
— The next morning.
As usual, they met at the gates.
After sleeping on it, Akane thought that she might've been too harsh. Kageno didn't mean anything bad by it, and it was silly to get so worked up over someone just mistaking your name.
Considering all that, Akane made her greeting.
"Good morning, Kageno-kun."
"Good morning, Nishimursan."
It's, freaking, Nishino!! What is WRONG with you!!
Akane wanted to scream, but her perfect smile held perfectly.
She found it absolutely infuriating that Kageno was acting as if the talk yesterday hadn't happened at all.
He simply kept calling her Nishimura, and he simply kept never looking at her.
Any time they said good morning, any time they talked, he appeared to be looking at her, but his eyes always seemed to be seeing something different, as if he was looking past her.
She hated that.
That was the crux of it. It was never about getting her name wrong.
What Akane hated was the fact that he would never look at her.
That realization was what led her to completely detest him.
Hence, she decided that he was not worth her time.
They would still greet each other in the mornings but that was all.
Akane had given up on correcting him.
They sat next to each other, yet not a single conversation passed. In cases where they absolutely had to speak to each other for classwork, Akane would keep it to the barest minimum.
She wanted to just completely and utterly ignore him. But she couldn't. Due to her own circumstances, Akane couldn't do anything too obvious.
Nishino Akane was a very popular girl.
Her beautiful black hair and stunning looks made her popular to boys and girls alike.
In addition to being a fulltime high schooler, she was also an actress.
The people in her class of course knew of this extravagant occupation of hers. So if it was known that she, Akane, was in bad terms with Kageno, there was a chance that rumors, base and baseless rumors would spring up. Akane wanted to avoid that.
Akane's acting career began in her childhood. However, due to a certain scandalous event in junior high, she had to take a break from the limelight.
That incident had led to Akane always wearing a mask over her true emotions.
She kept up her grades so that teachers would like her, she was sociable as can be, so her classmates wouldn't hate her. She made sure no one would dislike her.
As such, she couldn't let that hateful Kageno hate her back. She couldn't let anyone else find out either. She killed her own emotions to achieve that goal.
And she'd maintained the facade each and every day.
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Today as well, Akane said nothing as Kageno got her name wrong for the umpteeth time.
With that piece of conversation over with, Akane spent the rest of her day in the classroom without another word to the boy.
Akane didn't participate in clubs. She would usually go home as soon as classes ended. Today however, she had remedials. Due to her job, Akane missed many days, and so she needed to make up for her attendance using remedial lessons.
Due to those and other obligations, by the time she left school, night had fallen.
"Aaand my phone is down…" She sighed once outside the gates.
She would usually call their chauffeur to pick her up, but her batteries had alas, run out.
Walking would take her 30 minutes. Not really an issue there.
The early summer night breeze felt good on her skin, so Akane decided to walk.
To be honest, it had been a long time since she'd walked home. Doing the walking bus back in elementary being the last time, she recalled.
Starting from junior high, her family had arranged a car and driver for her, and she had gone and went like that ever since.
So, after so long, walking on her own two feet felt nice, refreshing even. She didn't even care that it was dark out.
That had made her complacent.
Suddenly, a black van was behind her, and a burly man came out. She had noticed it all too late.
Before she was even aware of her situation, the man had her in a stranglehold.
Her neck felt tight, and within a few seconds, she was out cold.
The last thing she saw was an all too familiar classmate, running her way.
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Akane woke up in a dark warehouse.
Her hands and legs were tied down and her mouth was gagged.
She still felt dazed. Right, black van, the big man, he strangled her and… someone was coming, she seemed to recall.
"Mm! Mmm!!" She cried for help, or at least tried. The gag didn't help.
"Oh? She's awake." said a voice from behind her.
The instant she heard that hoarse voice, Akane froze.
"Keep quiet. Wouldn't want to get hurt now, would we?"
He was a big man, perhaps over 6 feet tall. His clothes stuck to him revealing a trained, muscular body.
Behind him was another man. He was the man who had strangled and kidnapped her.
"We already send the ransom note to your folks, Missy#. We get the money, you get out in one piece. Very simple."
The big man smiled at her fiendishly.
"Some luck eh? Precious daughter# of the Nishino Conglomerate walking all alone at night. It's like you're asking the bad men to catch you."
Heehee, he laughed mockingly while approaching Akane who was utterly unable to move.
She failed to scream.
Akane writhed in her bindings, desperate to distance herself from the man.
"None of that now."
The man grabbed Akane's slender leg and pulled her to him.
He then lifted her chin and gazed down on her face close.
"Well I'll be. That's the face of an actress for you. Pretty girl."
She tried to shake him off.
"Don't test me!"
The man slapped her, hard.
"I fucking said, none of that!"
Akane felt the texture of blood inside her mouth. Tears held back until now streamed down her face.
The big man was breathing roughly as he moved his hand from her chin to her neck, from her neck to her shoulder.
"Pretty girl like you shouldn't be so careless. Ah right, this isn't your first time being kidnapped right?"
Akane's movements stopped with a snap.
"Yeah, back when you were in junior high, right. Wasn't it some stalker?"
Memories she wanted to forget resurfaced in her mind.
Akane's whole body shook in trepid anxiety.
"Heck, I can even relate, with how pretty you are. Come on, Missy, what's gotten you so scared?"
"… Mm! MmmMmmMmm!!"
"Give it a rest, no one's coming here."
Akane used every bit of her strength to struggle, to resist the large man's bulging arms.
She screamed, and,
The sound of glass shattering echoed throughout the warehouse.
Turning, the man saw a broken window.
Moonlight entered through the broken window, shining down on the individual standing atop the broken glass.
He wore a black hoodie and sweatpants with black work boots, in addition to a black ski mask that hid his face.
This extremely shady individual in all black might as well have been one of the kidnappers.
Clack, clack, clack.
Clacked his boots as he slowly approached.
"th'Fuck are you!!" The big man roared.
"Oh me—? Well, I'm the… Stylish Badguy Slayer." He stopped walking to adjust his ski mask.
"Fuckin' wise guy! Get 'im!"
Right as the big man ordered, and his partner, who had sneaked up behind the ski mask man, swung down his bat.
Right from the blindspot— yet, as if he had eyes on the back of his head, the ski mask man dodged it easily.
"I could see your shadow in the moonlight— beginner mistake." Said the ski mask man simply. He then turned and slugged the men behind him. Due to his black clothes and the dark environment (among other things), his punch was practically invisible.
There was a low thud, and the kidnapper accomplice dropped. And stayed there.
"Straight punch to the jaw. You… you're no amateur."
The big man released Akane and stood up. He loudly cracked his neck and glared at the ski mask man.
"Too bad for you, I was in the army."
The big man drew his knife and lowered into a stance. He too was no amateur.
"A veteran… Yes, good. I wanted to fight a military man."
Said the ski mask man as he also lowered into a stance. A practiced stance.
The two men sized each other up in the dim light.
They slowly closed their distance, then—
"Die!!" The big man slashed.
As expected of a veteran, his speed belied what his large frame might suggest. His movements were swift and minimal.
The ski mask man, for his end, raised an arm to block the knife coming for his neck.
The knife connected, with a sharp clang.
The ski mask man had stopped the knife with his bare hand.
No, looking closer, he was holding something.
He was holding a black… crowbar.
The ski mask man held the crowbar almost like a tonfa.
"Y-you're using, a crowbar!?"
"Crowbars are great. Super tough, hard to break. Easy to have it in hand, and even if you're taken in for questioning, it's just inconspicuous enough to make up a good excuse. Best of all— I can use it just like a tonfa"
The next instant, the ski mask man had already drawn back his arm.
The crowbar swung an arc just like a real tonfa and struck the big man in the arm.
The big man was disarmed as his knife flew off.
The big man took a boxing stance.
Crowbar met fist.
Hardened muscles pummeled on metal pole.
The two men exchanged blows under moonlit darkness.
But gradually, the ski mask man was losing ground. Each time he would block the powerful fists of the much larger man, he would draw back. Step after step.
"Heh. I can work with his."
The big man said after a handful more punches.
"You're not bad. I can tell you've been in more than a few fights. But you can't win here. You're barely 5 foot 5. 130 pounds tops. Me, I'm 6'4 and over 250. I'm just bigger, that's it. You might have a crowbar, but I'm safe so long as I protect my head. On the flipside, you'll go down if you take just one of my punches. You're out of luck, chump."
The big man proclaimed all this with a grin.
The ski mask man replied calmly. "Correct. As I am now, I can't handle a veteran. A sad truth… So, let's get serious."
The ski mask man changed his stance.
"I saw great potential in the crowbar. It's almost exactly like a tonfa, it's light, it's tough, it's portable. It truly is a weapon with great potential. Night after night, I bashed this against the biker gangs#, finally to discover its true worth…"
"— Wait! You, you're the freak going around bashing biker gangs with a single crowbar, you're the Ski Mask Berserker!?"
It's been said that it's because of him that the local biker gangs have adopted to all wearing helmets. The helmet would protect their heads at least.
"The truth of the crowbar that I reached after countless biker gang bashings… that is, that rather than using it like a tonfa, it's better to just bash it!!"
The ski mask man then proceeded to swing his crowbar down on the big man's face.
A wide swing, but incredibly fast.
Almost by instinct, the big man raised his arms to block— there was a dull thud.
"Fuck, my, arm…" Groaned the big man holding his left arm.
"Broke, didn't it? This is the true potential of the crowbar. The trick is to bash with the corner of the L. The force gets concentrated like that."
And so he bashed.
"Gah!! Wai, no…"
And he bashed.
"Sto, shtapid alre…"
And he bashed and bashed some more.
And he just kept on bashing and bashing and bashing!
Dull thuds echoed continuously within the warehouse.
It was a veritable storm of pure violence.
The ski mask man simple kept bashing on, and at some point, the big man wasn't moving anymore.
The crowbar dripped with blood.
"Not enough… I can't even beat a veteran yet… I need, power…"
He turned to face the moon outside the broken window.
"I need more power…#"
He uttered bitterly.
It was as if he was reaching for the moon itself with his bare hands, an impossibility.
He shook his head as if struggling against the harshness that is reality.
He then picked up the knife the big man had dropped and came up to Akane.
Sensing as if her life was in danger, Akane struggled in futility to escape, but the knife was already on its way.
The knife had cut, away Akane's bindings.
Now freed, Akane looked up at the ski mask wearing, crowbar wielding, all in back shady individual.
He also looked at her.
"Take more care on your way home." He said to her, and then left.
Akane could only watch him in a daze as he walked away. It was only after he was gone that she realized that he'd saved her.
"Stylish Badguy Slayer… just who is he…"
The only sound in the warehouse was that quiet mutter.
◆ ◇◆ ◇◆ ◇◆ ◇◆ ◇◆ ◇◆ ◇◆ ◇◆ ◇
The following day, despite her parents' worries Akane attended school as usual.
She still felt frightened recalling the events of the previous day, but then, remembering Stylish Badguy Slayer caused her to smile somehow.
"Heheh… Stylish Badguy Slayer, so lame."
Passing the school gates, once again, there he was, that detestable boy.
"Good morning, Kageno-kun."
"Good morning, Nishino-san."
Stunned, Akane stopped in her tracks.
Kageno passed her by and headed for the shoe lockers.
He, Kageno, he didn't mistake her name. Also, she also felt like he was actually looking at her that time.
"Could it be… nah."
Akane smiled and followed after him.
"Wait for me! Kageno-kun!"
She figured she might as well try to talk to him, just a little.
147. Mystery Man
Zack was struggling hard with his throat in my grasp, but my fingers didn't budge.
Finally seeing fear welling up in the man's eyes, I slightly loosened my grip.
"What do I gotta do…"
"Right… I'm going to need a room, can you get me that?"
"N-not right away. I'll need a month."
I looked into his eyes as he spoke. He didn't seem to be lying.
"I see. Well whatever. Actually, suddenly getting myself a room will make me stand out. I just need a roof over my head is all. I'll sleep in the hallways I guess."
"Sure thing. I'll get you a spot…"
"Also, I'll need meals, well balanced meals. If you can't get that, I'm afraid I won't need you."
"Y-you won't need me…?"
"Nope, not at all."
I tighten my grip momentarily.
"Oh, Ok, ok ok! I can do meals, three meals a day, no problemo!"
"Thanks a bunch. Next… info yeah, I'll need that. This place looks like it'll be fun. Lots of intrigue."
"… I'll answer anything I know."
"Then, let's talk about our relationship. You said you're with the Doem Camp, yes? I don't want to pick a side just yet. I'll be Trash."
"… Then I suggest you don't talk to me in public. How am I getting you the food?"
"I'll have it in this room. I can come in without anyone noticing, so it's not an issue."
Zack had on an extremely bitter expression.
"Yeah, that's enough for now. I'll find you when I need something again."
"Yeah, you do that."
I let go of his neck. He sat down and looked up at me while massaging his throat.
"Who the hell are you? How come you're this strong when we're not supposed to have mana…"
"Who can say…"
"You're no student. A spy… no, someone from the underworld…"
"Perhaps, but would I really reveal that?" I said, putting some strength in my gaze.
"…Tsk" Zack tsked and looked away.
"Fucking politics… whatever, I ain't involved, just do whatever you gotta do."
"That I will, Mr. Zack. That I will."
"… Yeah, sure."
I turn my back to the dejected Zack and grab the door handle.
"Ah, right. I don't think I need to tell you, but do keep this on the hush hush."
"… I know."
"Just a friendly warning. You see, I honestly don't care if I have to kill you and everyone else in your little Doem Camp—" I said, momentarily releasing a strong helping of mana and bloodlust.
"—Wha!? But your mana's supposed to be…"
"As if this trinket can seal me…" I said finally, opening the door and exiting the room.
"… Fuck me with a sledgehammer. I just had to pick up a freakin' monster…"
Listening in to Zack's muttering from the other side, I did another mental fist pump.
148. Not Enough Calories At All
The Trash in the concentration camp get one meal a day.
All these hobo-like gents would line up in the in the courtyard and await their share. On the menu today, we have hard bread and soup.
As I took my meal, I noticed the surrounding gazes locking on to me.
They're thinking they'll pick it off of me, the bumbling newcomer.
They think they're not making it obvious, but it's really obvious.
I mean, I have a good meal waiting for me courtesy of Mr. Zack, so I could just make like a mob and get it taken from me, but I'm just a little curious about this too.
Welp, whatever happens.
I make a show of hiding my food by cradling it and quickly make my way away from the crowd.
Basically, I'm saying they can take it, but I'll put up a fight.
I managed to cross the courtyard without incident and made it to the spot of hallway Mr. Zack reserved for me.
"Alright, here goes nothing…"
I started with the soup.
It was garnished with vegetable scraps and just a few beans. Tasted… slightly salty.
Like, it was bad, but I could eat it.
The bread was also bad, kind of bitter too. The bigger pieces were sort of better.
Tolerable if you dipped it in the soup first.
In summary: Edible, but just bad.
The meal was utterly lacking in protein. The only source of protein would be these tiny beans.
And not enough calories at all. A paltry 500 Cals at most.
I couldn't imagine this'd be enough to cover a day's worth of energy.
No wonder they're all skin and bones… I can understand the desire to steal.
Two men approached as I was eating.
They were both thin and ragged, but their eyes still had a glint to them.
"Do us a solid will ya?"
"W-what do you want?"
I made like a small, scared animal trying to defend itself.
"Nothing much, just hand over the food."
"Eh, um, but this is the only meal we get today…"
"Shaddap and hand it over!"
So the threats began.
"Hand over the food, and you don't get hurt. Try anything and you're still in for pain after we take your food. Get my logic? Now let's just make it easy for all of us."
"Tsk… fucken retard."
One of them grabbed my collar and shoved me against the wall.
"He'll get it after a punch or three." He said and raised his fist.
"You will stop." Interrupted the voice of a girl.
"Fuck off, bitc—!?"
Standing there in the hallway, was a beautiful girl. She had on prisoner garb like the rest of us, and had pink blond hair. She kind of resembled someone.
"Let him go, now."
The two men relented to pink blondie staring them down.
"Tsk, we're done here…"
My collar was released and the men scurried away.
"T-thanks so much. You are…"
"It's all right now." The pink blond beauty smiled reassuringly.
This camp had few female prisoners. Most of them were women prepared for the Doem Camp, but I had a feeling this girl here wasn't one of those.
"Food is quite scarce for everyone. You'd best eat your fill quickly."
"You may speak to me if anything—"
"Lady Clara, this boy was seen speaking to a man of the Doem Camp."
A tough looking dude came up from behind pink blondie. He looked like he didn't like me.
"Was he… but he surely didn't know."
"Be that as it may, we must tread with caution…."
"… Of course."
"Um, I, uh, Zack just told me about a bunch of stuff and, so…"
"That is fine. Um… this isn't exactly the kindest place to be, so stay safe."
The girl, along with the tough dude, then left. As he passed me, the guy gave me another glare.
I made a show of being scared out of my wits and stayed like that until they were gone.
Then I muttered, "… Major player, right there."
Mr. Zack should be able to tell me who that is while I eat.
Her name was Clara huh, she really did remind me of… right, her.
She looked a lot like Miss Rose#. Maybe she's related to Oriana royalty?
149. When it's All Over
I breached Zack's room with him completely unawares.
"—!? Oh, it's you. How'd you even do that…"
Once he noticed I was there, Zack's eyes bulged in shock.
Hehehe, nice reaction. I really liked this guy and his totally cliche reactions.
"Here's that meal. Have at it." He said, handing me a plate full of food.
"Thanks. I'll borrow the table."
"Be my guest."
Time for the moment of truth.
On the menu this time, we have bread and cream stew, along with steak and vegetables.
Simple and plentiful.
The bread was actually white on the inside and smelled pretty good.
The cream stew had a variety of veggies and lots of chicken in each spoonful. Not bad at all.
The steak was big. An 18 ouncer I reckon. The meat was lean with little fat, cooked soft and juicy. Just how I like it.
It was a far cry from real gourmet food, but it was delicious in a normal way. Best of all was the fact that there was so much of it.
"I didn't imagine there'd be food this good served at a concentration camp."
"The country may be fucked, but it's still the Country of Art. Our average quality of food is on the upside."
In the future, when it's all over, it might not be so back to move here.
I have a dream. A dream, to be a power in the shadows.
But once I do that, once I'm satisfied with it to the fullest extent, I wonder what I'll do with the rest of my life? I'd sometimes ponder such things during my days of constant training.
I could become a power outside of the shadows, I could become a demon lord set on destroying the world, or I could become something like a master who trains future heroes. I thought on a lot of possibilities and ended up on something very simple.
I'd want a life where I could eat good food every day and sleep to my heart's desire. I'd be happy with just that much.
I'd spend my whole life at full throttle only to end up at a slow cruise.
Yes, that, just makes sense to me.
"What if I poisoned you?"
"Who do think you're dealing with? I can tell poison by smell."
I really can't.
Doesn't really matter when I can break down any poison with mana.
"Good nose on ya. Wish I had one. Especially that one time, back when I was still in the business yeah, one of my boys tried to poison me. Not a fun time, let me tell ya. Made it out of that alive, but as you can see, it all went to shit and here I am."
Zack began talking despondently.
"Gimme a sword and I can fight. This damned country, I tell ya, magiswords# aren't worth a damn. Stealing pays more than working for some retard noble. I honestly thought I'd make it like that… yeah, all in the past. Royalists didn't give a damn about magiswords and it bit 'em back in the ballsack when Doem used 'em to take over. Some irony."
"Talk to me about that Clara girl."
I was done eating now, so I went on to the main topic.
"Why do ya gotta ask me. You should know all there is to her a lot better."
"Sure I do, but maybe I don't know everything about the here and now. No loss in making sure my own intel matches up with everything else. Apt diligence, leads to a longer life…" I narrow my eyes and smile meaningfully.
"Tsk, you know your stuff. I really can't tell you a lot."
"Not a problem."
"…Hmph." Zack let out a snort and started talking. "Should be obvious from the name, but Clara Oriana is that infamous Rose Oriana's little sister. She tried to go against the Doem Faction early on, got caught, ended up here. Still, she's royalty, and they can't execute her right away. Even Lord Doem is having trouble on how to deal with her, but that ain't the real story at all apparently."
"Clara Oriana is a big face of the anti-Doem flag. She's got a lot of people listening to her. Even here in the camp…"
Zack raised a corner of his mouth in a smirk.
"Apparently, Lord Doem's tryna use Clara Oriana to gather in the people opposed to him so he can get rid of 'em all at once. That's it. What did I tell ya, it's not a lot. Don't you know a lot more?"
"Perhaps…" I hid my mouth behind my fingers and, with serious eyes, stared directly at Zack. "Care to know…?"
Naturally, I didn't know a thing, so I used some instmana release to add on the 'pressure'.
"—!! C-cut it out, I said I didn't give a damn about the politics!"
My smile was a smile that implied dark, terrible secrets…
With an attitude as if I see all and know all, I acted the part of a power in the shadows. It's not a matter of my speech but also my mannerisms from my eyes to my fingertips.
This is it, this is perfection!
"Come on, man, this ain't good for my heart…"
Zack wiped off the sweat he'd been building up and got up.
"I got business to take care of. Boss called."
"Yeah… Doem Camp boss."
Zack said with irritably before finally leaving the room.
Nothing to do other than tail him.
150. Code 0
Through empty hallways, Zack headed towards the basement.
Going past aged corridors that stank of rusted iron, he stopped before a large door. He retrieved a key from his breast pocket and turned the lock. Checking behind him to make sure he hadn't been tailed, Zack entered the room.
I heard the lock click as soon as the door was closed.
I too checked my surroundings and seeing no one there, I revealed myself.
I turned the door handle. Locked, as expected.
I jutted some slime into the keyhole and picked the lock. Lockpicking is something I learned in my past life so it was a breeze. What's a power in the shadows if he can't open a few closed doors?
Incidentally, I have my slimes hidden inside my body so they won't find anything even with a full pat down.
I checked the presences on the other side and, determining it to be safe, stealthily entered the room.
It was a large, dimly-lit room. A celler of sorts.
At the back of the room, there was a lit lamp with a number of men gathered around it.
I sneaked closer and hid behind a crate. I checked and the crate was empty.
The men were discussing something in the dark room. Zack was among them.
"Boss, we're all here like you ordered."
The man who the others seemed to defer to as their boss stepped forward. I'd imagined him to be something like a boss grunt, but he turned out to be a lot younger.
In his early 20s, most likely.
He had gray hair extending down to his shoulders and was well featured. He was no grunt. In fact, he even looked sort of intelligent.
From his musculature and posture, I could tell that he was trained in martial arts.
He didn't have the air of an prisoner at all.
I like it. Breaking the mold and all that.
"Well met, brothers. The Doem Faction is pleased with your various contributions."
The boss said with a practiced voice, casting his gaze over the surrounding men.
He then proceeded to ask each one of them what he desired.
I see, so the thing about giving it to a guard was a lie.
"Zack, what about you?"
"I want— food. Good food and more of it. Enough for two people at least."
Nicely done Mr. Zack!
"Gonna put on 'em pounds, Zack!"
Zack cringed from the surrounding jeers.
"Boss, let's have another stripper show with the boys!"
"That shit's great, boss!"
"Again? …Try to keep it in moderation, men."
Like that, Mr. handsome bossman listened to everyone's requests one by one.
And once he was done, his face turned serious for the first time.
"Brothers, we are in difficult times. Lately, there have been more attempts to cull our numbers. Why only yesterday, a coach carrying officers was assaulted, resulting in 7 dead."
For a moment, I thought that was talking about me, but I didn't leave the camp yesterday, so it must be someone else.
"He's skilled. Every time he's killed, he's done so without a sound. We've taken to calling him OWL."
OWL, eh… sounds important.
"And believe it or not, there are signs that this bastard OWL is in this camp."
That got a slight reaction out of Zack.
"Zack, something the matter?"
Zack lowered his gaze to escape from his boss's overpowering stare.
"This OWL likely wants to get in contact with Clara Oriana. We must find him before he does. Is that clear?"
All the men nodded.
"Then that is all for now… no, there is one last matter. We have a traitor amongst us."
The bossman drew a knife and poised it towards Zack.
And with surprising speed, he threw it.
Other than me, none of the men gathered could dodge a throw like that.
The knife grazed past Zack's ears and sunk into the face of the man behind him.
"This is the fool who dared to leak our info to the Royalists."
The other men simply looked on silently as the traitor bled and died.
"That is all. You all may leave."
And leave they did without a moment to spare.
Zack, however, was the only one told to stay.
"You're— not hiding something, are you?"
The bossman looked at Zack with chilled eyes.
"N-never, boss." Zack squeaked while seating bullets.
"—All right. I will believe you." The bossman patted Zack on the shoulder once, and left the celler.
Now left alone, Zack heaved a shuddering sigh and wiped off his sweat.
Which is when I decided to also pat his shoulder.
"Oo, ooooahh!? Wait what!! You!! What the actual fuck!!"
Mr. Zack got extremely freaked, and then seriously angry.
"Oops, didn't mean to do that. Thanks for keeping the secret."
"Like I have a choice. He'd kill me soon as I told."
"But damn, so you're really that OWL…"
"Truthfully, I'm really not."
"… Wait, you're not?"
Zack didn't seem very convinced.
"I never went out yesterday. This OWL is likely someone similar to me."
"Yeah, sure. You think you can pass any info about OWL to me? You saw it right? Bossman's suspicious of me. Mainly 'cause of you."
"It shouldn't take me long to find out who OWL is. I can't guarantee if I can have you know, however. There are few people in my line of business… those of reputable skill often turn out to be acquaintances…"
I said this so he doesn't ask any more questions. Since I had no clue who OWL is.
"Fuck me. You gotta help me out, man. Boss is fucking ruthless, you saw him right? You might be fine. You can use your mana. But me, I got nothing'."
"Oh, by the way, your boss's mana seal coller. It's a fake."
"Y-yer kidding me!?"
"Fuuuck… so he's even stronger than you?"
"—What do you think?"
I did the instant mana release trick causing a small gust.
"Uh, yeah, maybe not…"
"It doesn't really… oh? What's this…"
Due to the sudden wind, a small piece of paper landed at my feed.
I picked it up— and got a brilliant idea.
I muttered cryptically.
"What's going on?"
"A note from one of my agents. I know have a very good idea who this OWL really is."
"What!? That's way too fast!"
"Take a look."
I handed over the blank piece of paper.
"I, can't see anything!"
"It only responds to very specific mana signatures. Namely mine. It's also an encrypted message."
"Seriously… looks completely white to me…"
Zack scrutinized the page from all sorts angles.
"Can't you tell me something, even a hint?"
"… You're sure?"
I closed in and whispered to him.
"Zero being the first of numbers, meaning—"
"—All will begin at last."
I said while simultaneously erasing my presence and moving out of sight super fast.
"— HUH!? He's gone!? Fuckin hell, the door's still closed, how…"
Inside the empty crate, I stayed hidden until Zack left.
151. Who Do You Think You're Dealing With?
I was genuinely curious about OWL so I walked all around the camp the whole night. Results: nothing.
I'm really going at it blindly.
The only thing I know is that OWL is supposed to be somewhat strong.
I couldn't check each and every person in the camp, but I was about to determine that there were around 10 people who might fit the bill.
I did this by looking at how they walk and how they handle themselves, but that didn't mean much. Not really.
There are times when a weak looking guy is unexpectedly powerful, or when a musclehead might actually be a really weak.
So basically, I gave up. With so few clues, I couldn't do it.
Maybe I should go out into town tonight and ask around?
I'll think about it later.
Okay, that out of the way, I went ahead and had the breakfast that Mr. Zack so graciously prepared, and was currently out on a walk under the refreshing sunlight pouring down on the camp courtyard.
I very much liked the cool winter air coupled with a beautiful, sunny sky.
The sky was clear, and, I can't explain this well, but it sort of felt like my soul was being reinvigorated.
Walking past the hobo-like prisoners having their bad soup and worse bread, I noticed that I didn't look like a mob at all.
Don't get me wrong. I can pull off the mob role no problem in a town.
But compared to these people, I wasn't dirty and ragged enough. Well, I'm still new here, and blending in should come naturally with the time, so…
I noticed people shouting.
"How dare you accuse us!?"
A crowd had formed.
I squeezed my way through them. I felt like this was going to get fun and I wanted front row seats.
"Don't you dare deny it."
Said Clara Oriana facing a mobbish dude at the center of it all. The guy was some no-name from the meeting in the cellar last night.
Behind Clara stood people who were probably from the Royalists camp, and behind the no-name stood people from the Doem side. Among them, I could see Zack and also their boss.
"Royalists and Doem Camp are going at it…"
"Things might get bloody…"
The rabble chattered.
"One of ours was murdered last night. When we found him, there were signs of an assault and torture."
Mother of crap. Since I was out looking for OWL, I missed a key event.
"We dindu nuffin!!"
"He was tortured! You're about the only people who'd resort to that, confess at once!"
Clara cried furiously.
"Serves him right! I say good fuckin' riddance!!"
In her anger, Clara slapped the no-name.
Suddenly, everyone got quiet, as if time had stopped.
"Done it now, bitch!"
The guy who got slapped grabbed and raised the club at his waist.
Yeah, this be no good.
Clara can't handle that. Worst case, the club cracks her head open and she's dead.
Yeah, sorry, but I don't like it if some no-name mob suddenly kills a major character.
Muttered Clara, her eyes wide in shock.
Right before her eyes, the man who was about to swing down a weapon at her, had spontaneously collapsed. The club he was holding was flung high into the air.
"—HUH!? What just happened!?"
"How'd he just!?"
The rabble were scared and confused.
"It can't be— OWL?"
"Find him!! He's here somewhere!"
Both Royalists and Doem Camp went on guard.
I was the culprit though.
It was simple. I had a piece of slime detach from the bottom of my shoe and burrow underground. Then I had it shoot out from under the guy and hit him under the jaw.
No one noticed, but that's fine. That right there was very much was a power from the shadows would do.
Or so I thought, by Mr. Zack was glancing at me with suspicion.
I made a cryptic smile, and purposefully looked away— Perfection.
Now that's what I call a job well done.
Which was when I noticed it. The club that had been sent flying was coming down my way.
And suddenly, I had a eureka moment.
— Show ain't over yet!
My role of that of a power in the shadows is done for now.
However, I have yet to fulfil my role as a mob!
I took only an instant to determine the club's trajectory, and as it wouldn't actually hit me in my current position, I swiftly moved to the spot where it would land.
Having expected I'd need it at some point, I placed a small blood back in my mouth and looked upwards.
And the club struck down right on my nose.
I blew the prepared blood in my mouth from out my nose and fell back.
The blood sprayed out like a fountain, glistening in the light of the sun. Quite artistic if I do say so myself.
Mob Arts: Nosebleed Splasher
This is a pretty high level technique.
"Ugh! I'm gonna puke!!"
"Eghh, it's on my face!"
To you people of the camp who wished to see carnage, I present to you a fountain of nose blood.
— And there you have it.
While the power in the shadows aids the MC, some random mob gets the unfortunate role of being collateral!
"Wait, you're hurt!?"
I was collapsed on my back, completely sated, but seeing as Clara was running over, I quickly pretended to be out cold.
152. The Princess's Mob Friend
I was carried into a room and laid down on a bed.
The blood from my nose had dried due to the cold air outside, and someone was in the process of wiping it clean.
I took that as an opportunity to wake up.
"Ugh… where am I…?"
I made a show of looking around everywhere confused.
It was another private room. While the dimensions were the same as the room Zack was using, this room was a lot more modest, containing only necessities and no leisure items.
Clara was beside the bed, and one of her faction men was standing at the door giving me the stink eye.
"I'm so glad you're alright. You were struck hard so try not to move right away."
"Huh, aren't you…"
"Oh pardon me, I've yet to introduce myself. Though it's likely you already know, I'm Clara Oriana."
"M-my name's Cid Kageno. I, uh, see you took care of me. My utmost thanks…"
I spoke in a shaky voice as if trying my best not to offend the royalty before me.
"It's all right. In the first place, you were unluckily caught up between our dispute."
That was when the man in front of the door clicked his tongue.
"Lady Clara, I believe you've done enough. We have no need to concern ourselves with him any longer."
"Guin… I understand, but he's still not able to move with his injuries."
"He might be a ploy to approach you, milady. We do not have time to deal with such minor things. We have a duty to our people, do we not?"
The guy called Guin was looking at me in contempt.
"You're not wrong, Guin, but that doesn't make it fine to ignore someone so injured right in front of me."
"Enough. Guin, he doesn't know anything. And to my eyes, he seems no criminal. Is that not so?"
Clara turned her eyes to me.
"I, yes. I accidentally ran into bodies left in alley by OWL. They said I was suspicious and…"
"If I can't even help a single injured boy, how could I possibly try to protect my country?"
Clara declared and grasped my hand.
"—By your will. I shall be outside." Guin said and then left the room.
Before the door was fully closed, he gave me one last mean glare. But if I wasn't seeing it incorrectly, it wasn't just at me, but also towards Clara.
Once the door was shut, Clara let out a sigh.
"I apologize. He means well for me, it's just…"
"No, I'm alright."
"Everyone's under a lot pressure. Even I… The one who's supposed to have this role isn't even me, but…" Clara spoke glumly.
"Don't worry about that. It's really none of your concern after all. You're, not from Oriana, are you?"
"Th-that's right. I'm a student from the Midgar Magisword Academy…"
"—Eh? The Magisword Academy? Then, do you perhaps know of my sister?"
Clara turned and faced me curiously.
"Er, yes, I do know Miss Rose. I've spoken to her before."
"You have? Then do you know about the incident where she killed my father?"
"… Yes. I was among the spectators when it happened."
"Are you sure? Was it really her who did it…?"
"Yes, it was definitely Miss Rose."
"So it was…"
Clara's shoulders drooped in defeat.
"Father had been strange for some time before, and I knew that she was looking for the cause. Really, why did it have to end up like this… Everyone is calling her a traitor to the nation now. I couldn't believe it, I didn't want to…"
I was somewhat at a loss as to what I should say.
I let out a sigh and decided to just speak what's on my mind.
"The way I saw it, she had an important reason for doing what she did. I don't know what that reason was, and I can't say if you'll be able to accept it even if you knew her reasons. What I do know is that Miss Rose had done it with the utmost of resolve."
"Resolve… is that how it looked? Haha, thank you, that made me feel somewhat better. You know, I really loved my sister who could do anything and everything. I looked up to her. So when I heard of the tragedy, I couldn't, I still wanted to believe in her…"
Clara shook her head side to side, as if driving away the negativity.
"You must've gotten along with her well."
"Well actually, I faced her once in the Senbatsu Tournament during the God of War Festival."
"You have! What happened?"
"I completely lost."
"Well, you do look terribly weak."
Clara said with a mischievous grin.
"Cid, may I call you Cid? You can simply call me Clara as well."
"That's kind of…"
"Oh, no need to be shy. In here, I'm a prisoner same as you."
"Uh, well… then sure. But only when in private, please?"
"Right. If Guin were to find out, I'd never hear the end of it. That aside, tell me more about how my sister was at the Academy."
And that's what I did for the next few hours.
This might not seem like the thing a mob should be doing, but not to worry. I can fix it. I am simply one of Miss Rose's many mob friends and because of that fact, I am a mob who Clara can talk to.
153. Evil Encroaching
After leaving Clara's room, as I was randomly strolling the halls, I sensed people approaching.
Expecting a story event happen, I stayed in place.
"Newcomer! Great work getting in that woman's good graces!" Said one of them with a toothy grin while grabbing my shoulder.
These men, no-names from the Doem Camp, had surrounded me.
5… no 6 of them.
I spotted Zack standing at the back with an awkward face.
"Listen kid, we need you to do us this favor." Said the man after drawing close to my ear. His breath reeked.
Not only was my voice the definition of wimpy, I was already bodily shaking as if I was a lowly Slime being stared down by a Dragon.
"No need to be scared now. You do us this favor, and we'll be best buds."
"Here's the deal. We want to talk to the princess is all, but the bastards around her keep getting in the way. That's where you come it. You're someone she trusts so we need you to get her to meet us."
"Y-you need me…?"
"Yeah, you're the best man for the job. Do whatever you want, but get it done. You know what, here's a little something that might help."
He then took out a powder.
"This here's a little drug that helps you get a good night sleep. Mix it in they drinks and bam, they're sleeping like babes."
"Wwait, no, I, I can't…"
"Listen you little shitstain!! I'm trynna be yer friend and ya won't even listen to one favor!? Got'a fuckin' death wish do ya!"
"Hiyipe…!!" I curl in on myself looking terrified.
"Uhh, let's, not get too violent, yah guys?" Zack spoke up from the back in a stiff expression.
"The fuck, Zack. You finally goin' soft on us?"
"No, uhh… anyway, I don't think it's a good idea to, uh, do somethin' rash."
"Fuckin' pussy, we ain't gonna get nothin' done like that!! We'r gonn take the bitch hostage and that damn OWL's gonna show up right where we want'im!!"
After that outburst, the guy slugged me in the face.
The moment the punch connected, I loosened my neck, and let my body flow with the impact.
It's called slipping.
A good punch to the head can cause a concussion, but knowing how to get hit can prevent that with surprising success.
There's two ways to get hit. One is stiffening up and absorbing the strike, and the other is what I did just now, flowing with the impact.
And since it looked at if my whole head was flung away by that punch, it also doesn't detract from my mob role.
I pretended to get knocked off my feet and fell on the floor.
"Hey, I told them to stop. I did, alright?" Zack was already backing away, as if to say he wasn't involved.
"You know your job. Now do it. We'll wait 3 days. You get us the girl, and I'll get you good food. Don't do it, and…"
The man put his foot on my chest and pressed.
"Yer dead, kiddo."
He said finally, and they all left.
"I see, that's how it is. Take Clara hostage so OWL comes out to play."
How smart of them.
I stood up and brushed off the dirt on my clothes.
While I was doing that, Zack came back.
"I know you're unhurt, but we still cool yeah? I was just there, I didn't do nothing."
Mr. Zack looked awfully frightened.
"It's fine. This is all within predictions."
"What… fucking hell, you knew this'd happen!? I mean, I was surprised how you got yourself bonked to get along with the princess, but you even predicted… that we…!"
"The gears of destiny are finally in motion… all according to plan, of course…"
I casted a sidelong glance towards Mr. Zack, and grinned cryptically.
"…!! Y-you, who are you…! Y-you're on the Royalists side right? You don't look like you're on our side…"
"… I'm neither really."
"I support neither the Royalists not Doem. My true enemy—"
And right there, I speedily got out of sight, only leaving echoes.
"Is the Evil that lurks in the shadow of the divide…"
"He disappeared!? But I can still hear him, how!?"
Zack started looking around every which way in shock.
Now, whatever shall I do.
154. —Looks like We're Done.
5 men were gathered around the low light of a lamp in the underground cellar.
"You think he'll pull through?"
"Kid didn't look too bright to me. Whatever, he fails, we kill 'im. The end."
"At any rate, tonight's the big night. It's almost time. Where'd Zack go?"
"In 'is room. Stomach pains, he says."
"The hell? Bastard's been acting strange lately. You don't think, he's leaking intel to those Royalists—"
"Oi, it's time."
Signalled one of them as the door to the cellar opened.
In the dark, decrepit room, a single figure approached the five.
The figure's identity was slowly revealed as he approached the light.
"You're alone. Where's the girl?"
"Tsk. Didn't pull through after all."
The men were badly disappointed.
The black haired boy standing before these intimidating prisoners looked the definition of ordinary.
His dark eyes were looking down, staring at the shadows extending across the floor.
"Hey, you better not say you got cold feet."
One of the men pulled out a knife.
"Hey! Talk! Where's the princess!?"
He threatened, holding the knife at the boy's throat.
The boy began trembling like the weakling he was— or so the men had imagined.
The boy didn't do that. He didn't shake, he didn't even move. He simply kept staring at the shadows below.
"The princess, Clara…"
He muttered softly.
His voice wasn't loud but everyone could hear it clearly.
His eyes were yet glued to the floor.
However, his lips held a tiny grin now.
"The fuck are you talkin' about, huh!? Ya got cold feet and came here alone, that it!?"
The boy was silent.
"What now? We kill 'im?"
"Gotta at least show him not to mess with us."
"Yeah. We beat him up and try again."
The men all stood up and surrounded the boy.
"Messin' with us, eh dipshit?"
The man who had the knife at the boy's neck grabbed a fistful of his hair with his other hand and pulled his face up.
What the man saw there was the boy's eyes, pitch dark eyes lacking in emotion.
"I don't like that look."
Looking annoyed, the man grazed his knife along the boy's neck.
A line of blood escaped the shallow cut.
"I said, I don't like that look."
But the boy didn't comply. He just kept staring blankly.
No, not quite. The small smile on the boy's lips had grown into a visible grin.
"What're you laughin' at!!"
The man smacked the boy's face with the butt of his knife.
But the boy's smile didn't falter, not in the least.
"You don't seem to realize you're in deep shit, brat."
Stronger this time. Enough to break the cheekbone, maybe even knock loose a tooth.
Still no reaction from the boy.
The boy simply kept on looking at the man with a grin across his face.
"Oi, you goin' easy on 'im or what?"
From the side, one of the man's comrades came up and punched the boy in the face.
"That's how ya punch a face. Leave 'em half dead and they'll never— Huh!?"
That punch was meant to knock the boy out cold.
But the boy just stood there as if he felt nothing. The spot where he'd been battered had remained spotless.
Those emotionless eyes still peered at the 5 men.
It was freaking them out.
"— Is that it?" Finally said the boy.
"—!! You'll regret that!!"
Furious, the man began pummeling the boy with ferocious fists.
He punched like no tomorrow, until his breathing became rough.
"See, this is what happens when you— HUH?"
"— Are you done?" Said the boy, ever smiling.
His face revealed not one bruise.
"This kid's fucking strange."
"Tsk. Gimme the knife."
The man from the side took the knife and stabbed the boy in the ribs.
The knife, penetrating only the boy's clothes, stopped there. Even putting more strength into his arm, the man couldn't cut the boy's skin.
"O-oi, what're ya playin' around for?"
"Stab him, do it!"
"Sh-shaddap! Knife ain't going in!!"
The man tried stabbing again and again.
The knife never penetrated even skin deep.
His breathing had gone arid as the man stepped away. His eyes couldn't believe what he'd just witnessed.
"W-what, the hell are y—"
"— So you're done?"
That's when the boy swung his fist.
Yet, no one saw it move. Such was its speed.
What they saw was the result only.
The boy's fist had punched through the man's chest and come out the other side.
The man dropped to the ground, creating a large pool of blood.
"D-did this guy just punch a hole through…"
The boy walked on the the bloody floor.
He taunted the men, still grinning.
The remaining mens' faces stiffened.
"Goddamn… w-we'll take 'im down with all of us!!"
"D-don't mess with me!!"
"D-Die, fucker, dieeee!!!"
Four shadows converged on the boy. The flame in the lamp flickered.
— Dancing shadows.
Once the flame regained its calm, on the floor of the cellar lay 5 corpses with holes for a chest.
"— looks like we're done."
No one answered now.
Splich, splich. The boy stepped over the blood as he walked away.
155. Soul Searching
I had left the kingdom of Midgar where I was born and raised, and now, have ended up in a concentration camp in Oriana. In this unknown land where not a soul knew me, I sought to find myself.
That's what this was after all. I journey of soul searching.
All the actions I've taken in my life has been for one purpose: to be a power in the shadows.
But am I truly on the correct path to reach my ultimate goal?
Is there not something more I can do?
I've had various thoughts on the matter, and I've narrowed it down to one thing that I believe I currently lack.
That is— Overwhelming might.
A power in the shadows must be strong. That is a given fact.
The issue is how to display that strength to the fullest.
Instakill my foes— the simplest idea. But it's dull and boring.
Show them power beyond imagination— of course I will. But that's still not enough.
Be unharmed no matter what the enemy dishes at me— YES! This!
As a power in the shadows, I will let them know despair by showing that their attacks mean nothing to me, then use power beyond imagination to instakill my foes!
The point is to make sure the enemy has exhausted all their trump cards, and being fine regardless. That is the moment when they will drown in despair and truly lose to me, and any witness to such a feat would surely gain an instinctive sense of overwhelming might that is a power in the shadows.
So the question is, have I done that for my enemies so far?
Have I sent them to the pits of despair?
I have not.
This was what I was lacking all this time! Overwhelming might!
With that reasoning in mind, I tested it out with those 5 hoodlums, taunting them to give me everything they had. It wasn't enough. It was not enough.
What am I doing trying to get some level 1 convict to throw out trump cards?
I should just instakill low-level plebs like that.
Here I was expecting those last 4 could launch a special combo suicide move or something. Imagine my disappointment.
Instakill any mobs, that's how a power in the shadow rolls.
And for boss characters, I make sure they exhaust everything they have, that's also how a taepodong dongs.
Though I'd need to kill some of them faster too. Depends on how much I can handle really. Gotta always adapt to the situation and get the best out of it. That's how a power in the shadows should be.
And doing that, I'll be one step closer to my supreme goal.
Happy with the knowledge that I'd learned and grown, I was on a stroll in the camp courtyard.
The icicles glistened under the morning sun.
My breath was white in the cold air.
Oops. Stepped on a body. Dead from frostbite.
Ah, what a refreshing morning.
As such, I was blending in with the all my other mob campmates when I noticed a familiar presence.
Perhaps noticing me turning around, the other party did the same.
For a few moments, we stared at each other.
He… no, she looked like a man at a glance.
Her prison clothes were dirty and her head was wrapped up in a cloth, revealing only her amber eyes.
She was disguising herself to hide any feminine curves.
Epsilon uses her slime bodysuit to do something similar. Well, the opposite actually.
Yes, I know her.
Both of us were surprised.
After the thing at the God of War Fest, she was working part-time for Mitsugoshi Co. as I recall.
Then how come she's here….?
Oh… I see. So she's been thinking too.
You can't be working part-time forever.
She's clearly thinking constructively about her future.
And so, she's also on a journey of soul searching.
She quit her job and is here— to take back her country.
In the first place, her killing the king was the start of all this.
So her being here is not surprise at all…
"Miss Rose… So, you're…"
I was so amazed by her resolve that I was at a loss for words.
Incidentally, the mana sealing collar on her neck was a fake.
Which means that she too infiltrated this camp. And gathering all these clues, there is only one conclusion to arrive at.
She, Rose Oriana— is OWL.
156. Sorry, Ya Lost Me.
"Cid… Why are you here, of all places…" Said Miss Rose, eyes wide in surprise.
"Uh, I was worried for a friend and travelled here. Then they said I was suspicious and…" I said in mob-like stutters, trying to get across the feeling that I got mistakenly involved.
"S-so, you were that worried for me…?"
"Huh? Uh, I mean…"
I just said 'a friend', not her in particular, but, actually, isn't her misunderstanding sort of convenient for now?
"Yes, that's right. I was so worried after what happened…"
"Cid…" She looked at me earnestly. "I'm so sorry, because of me you ended up in this sort of place… Still, to think you could tell it was me right away…"
She finished with a slight smile.
"Oh, never mind me. I did this on my own accord so."
"No, this is wrong! I, I… I can't… return anymore…"
She shook her head furiously, amber eyes stained in tears.
"…Please, just forget about me."
"… I'm sorry, I can't say why. If I do, even you'd become involved…"
"Um, I don't understand."
Sorry, ya totally lost me there.
"My feelings are still the same. On the last day we spoke, I said I wanted you to believe in me. And you did. You even came all the way here. And that's enough for me. I won't ask for anything more. So… please… I, I don't want you to get hurt because of me…"
Miss Rose tightly held my hands.
"Cid, you don't need to worry about me anymore. I'll make sure you escape from this camp. So please. Just, just forget about me…"
I nodded seriously.
Yeah, she's technically a criminal after all. A mob isn't someone involved with criminals.
Still, it's surprising how far she'd go to take the throne.
Very well. I should help out in a way that she succeeds.
"Thank you for understanding. You and I don't know each other… We're complete strangers and our paths with never cross again…"
"… Of course."
She said, still smiling. The tears in her amber eyes rolled down her cheeks.
I was about to also bid farewell when,
"Oi, you the one called Cid?"
Someone roughly grabbed my shoulder and turned me around.
"Yes, that is me…?"
All of a sudden, people from the Doem Camp were surrounding me.
"You're the brat Marco hired, right?"
Do I know a Marco?
"Don't play dumb!! Yer the one those guys called out!!"
The man grabbed me by the collar and looked mad.
"Eh, please, I don…"
I really don't know a Marco. People are misunderstanding things a lot today.
I made a stealthy glance at Mr. Zack, and and he just gave me a nod.
What's that supposed to mean? Why did you nod, man?
Someone put a hand on the angry man's shoulder.
It was the gray haired handsome man I saw in the cellar. Their leader.
"I am Maximilian. I run things around here. Five men have recently approached you for a task, no?"
Oh. The drug and kidnap the princess mission.
Yeah, they all suddenly got holes in their chests so mission failed I guess.
"Those five were mysteriously killed last night."
Wait, am I a suspect?
"You will tell us everything."
Said Maximilian in a tone that won't take no for an answer.
And so I nodded in assent. And with my shoulder still held, I was about to be taken away.
Which is when,
One of the Maximilian's men shoved Miss Rose aside as she was standing blankly in the way.
"Ah…" I voiced worriedly.
"Hm? Do you know him?"
"…No." I shook my head as she hid away her face. "I don't know him."
I was then pushed to go wherever they would take me.
Behind me, I could feel her gaze on me the whole way.
157. Action Spy
Like that, I was brought into the cellar.
I was seated down on a chair with the underling's iron grip still on my shoulder. Around me were faces of the Doem Camp. In front of me stood Maximilian.
"Now…" The bossman looked down at me with cold eyes. "Those five I mentioned. We found them this morning with their chests pierced through. You don't happen to know anything about that, do you?"
I could see traces of the blood from yesterday on the floor.
"I, I don't know anything, sir… please believe me!"
"Then tell me, what were you doing last night? Were you not supposed to drug the princess and bring her here?"
Ah, looks like he knows about that.
"Yes, I was indeed told to do just that. But I… I just couldn't…"
"So the nerves got you." Maximilian said, his gaze turning sharper. "And then, a coward like you had the audacity to carefreely stroll around in the camp. One would imagine you would go into hiding… no?"
Me acting like I had this morning isn't something a mob like me should've been doing.
You're brilliant, Maximilian.
"N-no, that wasn't! I really was scared and…"
"You certainly looked fine to me. Until my men and I arrived, you looked not the least bit scared. Now, you will speak what you know."
Maximilian drew his knife. The sharp blade glinted in the flame of the sole lamp.
Right. So I've failed.
Too bad. Let's kill them now.
I was about to go Shadow-mode and unleash slime hell on them when— I sensed her coming.
Not a moment later, the lamp went dark.
She had arrived.
Wearing a pitch black slime bodysuit, with her slime sword, she launched a fierce attack towards Maximilian.
Maximilian also reacted fast to the sudden assault.
He quickly turned and avoided the blade coming for his neck, then jumped back to take distance.
It wasn't a perfect dodge however, as blood gushed from his shoulder.
"Bastard! You must be… OWL. And you're a woman."
She didn't answer.
Some of the other men were already down on the floor near her. She's gotten more skilled.
"Hmph, seems you've made it easier for me."
Maximilian took out a sword from a crate.
He fell into a loose stance and observed his opponent. Yup, he's somewhat skilled too.
"… Surround her."
The remaining men also found swords and did as their boss had commanded.
If they'd been holding guns instead of blades, it would've been like some spy movie action scene.
I gulped in anticipation.
And Maximilian made the first move.
He quickly closed the distance# and thrust his sword.
The point didn't reach her, as she had swiftly evaded with a half step and cut down a man who came from behind her.
As she did, Maximilian made his next move.
The man's swordplay was sharp and precise.
No risky, flamboyant movements. A logical sword. I didn't think I'd see this sort of sword in Oriana of all places.
The kingdom of Oriana had a culture of looking down on magiswordsmanship. The magiswords in of this country were either people of the lowest caste, or foreign mercenaries.
So what martial art does the high class practice you ask? It's called blade dancing.
Yes, that's right, I said dancing.
They take a sword, and they dance with it.
Imagine figure skating while holding a sword, that's basically what it amounts to. Being the Country of Art, in Oriana, they hold blade dancing duels and victory goes to the most beautiful dance.
It goes without saying that blade dancing is total weaksauce in a real fight.
But for the people here, it seems that beauty is strength.
I mean, I can see how it could make sense, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder as they say.
Basically, this is why I was surprised with Maximilian's swordplay. It made sense. At the very least, it made sense not in the Oriana kingdom way. One could claim it's the start of a new era for the nation.
He was using such a sword to assail OWL.
Swords sparks lit up moments of the dark cellar, and he was landing glancing strikes on the girl's body suit.
Maximilian was using numbers to his advantage to give her no space to maneuver.
"Give up while you can. You will not win."
Huh, things aren't looking too good for her. He's a handsome guy after all.
As I was thinking that, she made her attack.
Maximilian easily dodged, as he had much more space to work with. He was taking full advantage of the stage.
He was far enough that the slash wouldn't reach.
Yet, suddenly— her sword extended.
If Maximilian hadn't craned his neck to dodge, his face would've had a hole in it.
The slime sword only grazed him, and blood flowed from his cheek.
Maximilian had barely dodged, but that position broke his balance and he had to step further back.
Taking advantage of the inattention, the girl swept away the men around her, cut down the cellar door and ran out.
"After her! Now!!" Maximilian roared, and his remaining man chased after her.
"Boss, what do we do with the kid?"
One of them said, noticing me.
"OWL takes priority. We won't need him anymore if we can capture her. Do not let her get away!"
Saying that, Maximilian also ran out.
Suddenly, I was the only person in the whole cellar.
"…What to do…"
Things were getting rather busy upstairs.
158. Cut Down Anything!
It'd been much too soon to make her move.
Rose ran across the camp hallways, still sensing pursuers behind her.
Her mission was to take Clara, the flag of the Royalists, and deliver her to her faction's army waiting outside of the city.
Originally, that role had belonged to Rose herself.
However, currently, Rose couldn't be considered an ally of Oriana under any pretense.
She was, after all, the traitor who murdered their king. The public already knew Rose as such.
She held no ability to lead her people anymore.
She could only remain in the shadows, never to return.
But she still wished to devote herself to her country.
For that reason, she had volunteered to take part on this mission.
To use her life for her people.
But then, he had appeared suddenly.
The boy she had once wished to spend her life with.
That boy had worried for her, going so far as to travel to Oriana. When she learned of that fact, the emotions hidden in her heart became turbulent.
The happiness that he had sought her out.
The regret that she had caused him harm.
And mostly— grief towards his feelings that she could no longer answer.
No matter how deeply she loved him, she could no longer be with him. She was a criminal. Getting involved with her would surely lead him to misfortune.
So, she had resolved herself to give up, and yet—
They met. And Rose's feelings were raging to point of pain.
She wanted to dive into his chest without a care.
But she couldn't.
For after the momentary bliss, only cruel, merciless reality.
Thus, no matter how it tore apart her hear, Rose told him clear words of parting.
And it was supposed to be over with that, it was—
Until Maximilian took him. The inside of Rose's head had went blank.
Maximilian was a dangerous man.
He was one of the Named Children of the Order of Diabolos and held the title 'Coldblood'. He was also allied to Doem who held the reins of the anti-Royalist Faction.
On the face of it, he was one of Doem's underlings, but within the Order, their positions were that of equals. As such, they were fellow competitors.
Word was that, based on the results of their occupation of Oriana, one of them may get promoted to a seat of the Rounds.
In other words, even they were underlings to a degree.
A Knight of the Rounds apparently also has a hand in Oriana's current turmoil— one Sir Mordred.
Shadow Garden has been scouring everywhere for this Sir Mordred, without any results.
But this man held a very prominent position within the Order, that is known for certain.
The aim of Shadow Garden is to find and eliminate him.
To do that, Shadow Garden has been aiding the Royalists take back Oriana so as to drive the Doem Faction to a corner.
Which evidently leads Rose's own goal of protecting her country.
Rose was well aware of her duty. She was.
But before she had realized, she had already drawn her sword at Maximilian.
—I should still bide my time.
—I need to find Clara and take her out of here.
No matter how much she tried to reason with herself, her feelings had won out overwhelmingly.
I've got to save him!!
Which leads us to the present.
Surely, soon enough, the whole camp would know that OWL had infiltrated the premises.
Rose was still worried whether her sister Clara would believe in her.
Plus, the matter of the traitor among those around the princess. Rose had wanted to eliminate that danger before contacting Clara… that wouldn't be happening now.
"There she is!!"
Behind her were Maximilian's men, and in front of her stood armed guards.
Never stopping, Rose readied her black blade—
Cutting down any obstacle.
159. Beacon of Revolt
The camp was in a frenzy.
Guards were running every which way, and sounds of destruction could be heard from the courtyard and halls.
Clara, who was in her private quarters, spoke. "Is it true that the OWL has appeared?"
The princess's pink blond hair shook in the cold wind.
"It appears so, milady. For some time now, the guards have been shouting that they'd found this OWL." said Guin standing at her side.
Meaning that OWL was in a bad situation.
While they usually opted on the side of caution, it might also be prudent to see this as an opportunity.
Clara had to make a decision now. For Oriana, and for the loyal retainers who had followed her all this time.
"What do you all think we should do?" She queried the people of the Royalist Faction surrounding her.
"We must save the OWL and escape together! We will surely be able to join back with the army!"
"We don't yet know whether this OWL is enemy or ally! We should wait and see!"
"The guards are all busy outside! We have to make our move now or never!"
"We mustn't make rash decisions! Think of the greater cause!"
Her retainers staunchly voiced their respective stances.
Guin said calmly, "We must have caution. We do not know if OWL is an ally. And even if we do save him, there is no guarantee we can escape the camp with his aid."
Then, they all turned to Clara.
"Your highness, what do you wish to do?"
And demanded her decision.
Clara felt her chest tighten as if her heart was being squeezed.
She glanced around the room, looking at each of her people's faces.
More of them favored the wait and see approach. It was a matter of course. They wouldn't have a second chance. Failure most assuredly meant death.
And Clara understood that the chance of success was not favorable.
If they don't act now, would they even get another chance so opportune?
As things stood, they were on the palm of Doem's hand. Who knew if they'd all be sent for the guillotine tomorrow?
Was it really fine to let go of this chance in uncertain hopes for the next?
Had those who wanted to wait not realized that the chances of a similar event happening were exceedingly low?
Clara closed her eyes and contemplated. Her hands felt awful with sweat.
Perhaps it was that these people had gotten too accustomed to the camp? She was sure they had a stronger sense of danger during the time when they were first put here.
They no longer had the leisure of choosing their opportunity— was what Clara believed.
Clara once again looked at the faces of her people.
Yes, most did want to wait. They were older and better experienced, they were the majority.
Clara was but a lass of 15.
Weren't their opinions more learned and wiser than her own?
Furthermore, were she to ignore the majority outright, wouldn't they doubt her judgement as a liege?
And if that happened, the Royalist Faction would fracture.
Yes, Clara should just listen.
Yes, if she listens, then they won't…
"I, I believe we should..."
"— Your Highness." A man had spoken up, interrupting her.
He was a man in his middle years, a man with skin bronzed by years of work under the sun.
"Listening to everyone's opinion is good. But you shouldn't stare at their faces so much."
His speech was hoarse and unrefined, yet had a certain nostalgic feeling for her.
"Batt..." Clara spoke his name.
He was the gardener that Clara had known since childhood. He knew neither politics, not war. What he could do, and do well, was make the royal gardens a stunning sight to see.
Yet it was his words that rang most true for her.
Recently, she'd developed a habit of checking everyone's faces and expressions.
She wasn't confident in herself.
She was scared.
She wanted to rely on something outside herself…
"Gardener! Milady didn't ask your words!" Guin glared at Batt.
"Stop that! He too is one of us."
"How so? He's a mere gardener. What can he do?"
"He is because he's here. A mere gardener had no reason to follow me here. And yet Batt did. Because he too believed in me."
"So what if he did. It would be foolish to glean a gardener's wisdom."
"I said stop, Guin. Not another word about that."
Clara and Guin locked eyes. Guin looked away first.
"... My apologies, milady."
"It's fine. I know you always mean the best for us."
Saying that, Clara once again gathered her thoughts.
She went to the root of it, what was her goal, what did she want to accomplish.
For a single instant, she remembered her childhood, where she, batt and her sister played together in the beautiful royal gardens.
If it was her, she would…
"We will help OWL, and escape. This is our chance, we must give it everything."
Glancing at Batt, she saw him smiling.
"Very well. Men, you've followed Princess Clara until now, what say you? Are you ready!?"
"Ready as can be!"
"We've been waiting patiently for this very day. Let us show those usurpers they can't hold us down!"
The men all stood.
From a secret compartment in the wall, they picked up hidden weapons.
Even Clara received a sword of her own.
She couldn't use it, of course. But just the act of her holding a blade had meaning in itself.
"Now, let us raise the beacon of revolt."
The daily life in the camp ended at this moment.
160. I Can Hear Him But From Where…
By the time I climbed upstairs, what I saw was as expected, chaos.
"R-run 'n hide!! They got swords!!"
"No, we gotta escape, ya dingus!! It's now or never!!"
The numerous prisoners in the courtyard where shoving over one another.
I was caught up by the wave of feet and trampled.
And splendidly at that. Very mob.
Oh, this kind of reminds me of newscasts where they report people dying in mosh pits and such.
I wouldn't though.
"Urgh!! Elgh!! Buffo!!"
I was kicked around like a soccer ball and spat blood everywhere.
And once the storm passed, I lay there like a piece of driftwood.
"Hwah!? C-Cid!? What happened!?"
While I was sated of my mobly desires, Clara came and shook me awake.
"Ugh, my head..."
"Oh, thank goodness you're alive. I'm so sorry, you got swept up again because of our..."
She propped me up against an unpopulated wall.
"Don't fret, I'll come back for you soon. For now, I have to complete my duty."
She then stood up and turned her eyes towards the courtyard.
She was watching the Royalists, her people, holding weapons and fighting the camp guards.
"Show no mercy!! We're getting out of here!!"
"Move your feet, time is of the essence!!"
Swinging their swords, they cut down their captors.
And it wasn't only those of the Royalist Faction that were fighting there. Even the rabble, who didn't belong to any faction, were taking the opportunity to give the guards a piece of their fists.
"Fuck! Where'd they get those weapons…!!"
"This isn't looking good, call in reinforcements!!"
Clearly outnumbered, the guards were quickly losing ground.
To the eye, it seemed that the Royalists had the upper hand in this field.
However, I was sensing a large number of people approaching from outside the walls. Most likely, reinforcements for the guards. Some of them were magiswords too.
Magiswords are going to snuff out this riot instantly.
All the camp prisoners had mana sealing collars, after all.
A magisword against an ordinary civilian is like pitting an adult against a child. The child being the certain loser.
"Good. We're pushing them back!!"
"Now, let's get the OWL and we can—!"
And then, mere moments before they had overpowered the guards— the gates to the outside opened.
Revealing armed reinforcements charged with suppressing them.
"Halt!! Drop your weapons and surrender!!"
"Ha? Reinforcements!? Why now—!"
"This is bad. We didn't expect them so soon..."
Yeah, I also felt like they got here a bit too fast. But now that it's happened, the tables were all but turned.
"No— We should have more time still. So why..."
Clara's face was that of frustration.
Looks like she also didn't expect to be stopped at this point.
In trained movements, the newly arrived guards encircled the premises.
The factionless who had been going with the flow, all gave up instantly.
"T-that's right, we weren't planning to..."
And they were so lively just minutes before.
Anyway, only the Royalists still looked like they had some fight in them. Their faces were grim one and all, but nevertheless kept a hold on their weapons.
"Final warning, drop your weapons."
Said a man who seemed to be the head guard.
The Royalists still wanted to fight, but they had no chance.
"Sorry Cid. I need to go."
Clara whispered to me. Then she stood up, firmed her resolve, and stepped forward as the Royalist leader.
And it ended just like that… or so it should have. Making sure no one was watching, I made my own preparations.
"Everyone, that's enough..."
Standing in front of her loyal retainers, Clara spoke.
And that's when I, erasing my presence, used super speed and took on Shadow's voice.
"—Seems the fight is over."
Shadows voice resounded from everywhere.
"Huh? What was that!?"
"Who's there!? Show yourself!!"
"I can hear him but from where!?"
With my presence completely concealed, no one here should see me.
"—Do you not have a duty to fulfil?"
This is exactly what I wanted to do.
The moment when all hope seems lost, a voice from the shadows makes its entrance!
"What is going on? Is that the OWL?"
"No, that isn't OWL."
"Just find him! He's got to be close!"
The rabble are going into a slow panic. Nice.
"—Know that your sister still fights. So long as you don't falter, surely you will reunite…"
"Eh, my sister…? Wait, who are you!?"
I replied with power in my voice.
"My name is Shadow… I lurk in the shadows, hunting the shadows..."
"You're shadow!? The one who appeared at the God of War Festival…?"
"Shadow!? The man said to have defeated Beatrix, that Shadow…?"
"T-there's no way! Why the hell would Shadow be here!?"
"Shadow being here means, isn't Shadow Garden allied with the royals…?"
Yes, YES, hype it up!
"—If you lack power, let me loosen your shackles."
I said, launching the many pieces of slime I prepared underground, and breaking every single mana sealer at once.
"B-but how, it's completely destroyed..."
"So it's true, he really is Shadow… why…? No, this is our chance!"
As the hundreds of collars broke and fell, I said some final words.
"—Struggle, fight. Grasp your fate with your own two hands..."
I then let off explosive mana, dying the courtyard a brilliant purple.
161. My Time to Shine?
So began the counterattack.
The men of the Royalist Faction surged up their mana and began attacking the guards.
"Triple Tornado Slash!!"
They shouted out their special move names like the above. This one apparently required you to spin in the air three times before swiping down your sword.
The whole thing looked extremely retarded, but that's what magiswords be.
The guards weren't falling behind much either.
"Swayback Spin!!" Yelled another man, dodging a thrust from a guard. Right, good dodge, I'll give you that.
But do you have to keep spinning like a ballerina?
Both offense and defense seemed to involve lost of dance and rhythm.
I mean, sure, as an enterprising power in the shadows, I too put value in the performance, but too much is careless and unnecessary.
It seems shouting out the name each and every time is also part of it.
Let's just say it's like the "Men, dou, kote!!#" in kendo.
The type of 'strength' I'm going for is completely different from what they consider strength, but actually witnessing it is sort of refreshing in a way. Just goes to how that everyone has a different way they see fighting.
As a matter of fact, even though it looks to me like they're messing around, they're all completely serious.
But along with actually winning, they also try to present beauty in their sword.
For them, true victory consists of also beating the opponent in style.
They have mutual rules that both parties agreed to adhere to.
So honestly, I shouldn't make fun of it too much.
Anything goes in a fight, and might is right— that is my way. That is how I choose to fight.
But that shouldn't mean I can just deny any other forms of fighting.
It's been a long time since I had a chance to observe a style so different from my own. It's exciting.
Go for it!!
Yeah, you too, enemy team!!
Nice, now, a swift kick to the balls!!
What are you doing spinning there, go for the nuts!!
Argh, fine, then stab the eyes, now's your chance!!
Stop spinning already, what the hell man!!
Sink your teeth in, right in the jugular!!
Daamn, he keeps spinning… fine, you do you.
Hey, maybe striking the crotch and eyes are forbidden or something. Can't you like, bend the rules a bit, and do it stylistically?
This kind of reminds me of the martial arts tourneys I used to watch on New Years TV. I was young and immature back then.
Oh, huh, it's almost the end of the year here too…
As I was ruminating in my thoughts, the tide of battle had once again shifted in favor of the Royalists.
Most of the guards are down. They aren't all severely injured but mostly exhausted of their stamina.
With all that spinning, why am I not surprised.
Also, the Royalist guys aren't delivering any finishing blows to the downed enemies.
What, is that supposed to be some kind of chivalry on their part?
Like medieval knights, or sengoku samurai? I don't really get it, but they seem to have a 'way' of the blade dancer.
Perhaps these blade dancers have developed a style of fighting much more civilized that the rest of the world.
If all wars were fought this way, world peace might've been a lot less of a problem.
I wouldn't like it though.
I love the kind of world where pure and unadulterated violence beats all. What I was witnessing currently was frankly a bit too white dove for me.
Okay, looks like it's over.
"Victory for Oriana! Now, you shall stand aside."
"We won, we really won..." Clara sighed in relief.
Yup, all's well that ends well. Wait, now that I think about it, I didn't get much time to shine.
Ah well, it's just a concentration camp event. I'll be sure to get more chances once outside. Maybe…
So while I was considering making a forced appearance anyway, one man made his move.
"This farce has gone on long enough..."
He, one of the Royalist guys, muttered and then suddenly cut down one of his allies.
The middle aged man who was slashed down his back collapsed to the ground.
"Batt!! Stay with me, Batt…!" Clara screamed and ran over to the downed man.
"Guin!! What, why..." She thundered at the man who cut one of their own.
"He was an obstacle for my goals. That goes for you too, milady..."
"Guin, I don't understand..."
"Then let me show you."
He then pointed the tip of his sword at Clara's neck.
"I don't plan on giving my life for a clueless lass like you."
"N-No, Guin, you told me, you said that you believed in me..."
"Well, I lied. You don't have the right to rule over others. Didn't you know? All your so-called subordinates laugh behind your back every time you look at their faces for confirmation. They call you the idiot yes-girl."
After listening to his jeers, Clara held her head down in shame.
Right, I should come out sometime soon.
— And then.
"Good work, Guin."
Said the gray haired man— Maximilian.
162. The Ringleader is Here!?
Thick clouds had blocked the sun, and a light flurry had begun.
"I did it for my own purposes. Following you is at least better than listening to this foolish girl."
"Very well. I do not care either way, so long as you do as you're told."
"I'm expecting to be well compensated once Lord Doem gains the country."
"That you will."
Clara could only stare in mute shock as Guin and Maximilian casually conversed.
She thought, if it was my sister, something like this would've never happened.
If in her place it was Rose, as originally intended, they wouldn't have suffered so many cruel betrayals.
Because her sister was strong, dependable, and so people believed in her.
Clara couldn't become like that no matter how much she tried.
Because she wasn't strong, Guin had betrayed her.
Because she wasn't strong, Batt was cut down.
And now, they were at the end of their rope.
"It should've been her, not me..."
Wasn't that the root cause?
She, a girl who knew nothing, couldn't have stood leading others. Her sister would've at least suspected Guin.
Even she had heard talk that a traitor may be in their midst.
But she couldn't even imagine that it'd be Guin, this man who'd served her family for so long.
Thinking back, there were many points where he seemed to be scheming something, but she'd waved those thoughts away as imaginings.
Her people had fought so hard, and they'd even gotten aid from Shadow. Yet, she still lost.
Clara was already shedding tears. She felt horrible for the people who'd put their trust in her, she fest horrible for Batt.
"Do you see this, OWL! Reveal yourself now! That is, if you care for the fate of this girl!"
Only Maximilian spoke in the courtyard slowly filling with snow.
The wind grew stronger and the snowfall increased along with it, creating a curtain of white.
"There is no one else to lead the Royalists once this girl dies. After all, all her other blood kin are gone."
Blood, that's right, blood. Maximilian was right. Clara was only chosen for her royal blood, not because she was a good leader.
Still, there were those who genuinely believed in her, and stayed with her.
Clara wiped away her tears and looked at the cold ground where Batt lay. The blood that had spread out from under him colored the snow red as it fell.
His back was slowly moving.
He was still alive.
She might still be able to save him.
So, the fight, Clara's fight wasn't over yet.
"I will wait 10 more seconds. 10… 9… 8… 7… 6..."
Clara began thinking. What can she do?
Something, anything, she just needed to find…
"5… 4… 3…"
Clara looked around herself, and then she noticed something.
Behind Maximilian stood a man of the Doem Camp. The man who had warned her about the traitor among her people.
He was looking at Clara, he was awaiting her order to strike.
Yes, there was still someone who believed in her.
Maximilian stopped counting.
"...What is the meaning of this, Zack?"
Zack was holding a knife at Maximilian's throat.
"See that gardener lyin' bloody over there… That's my pops." Zack spoke with wrath wreathing his voice.
"Oh, so you were our traiter after all… Perhaps a survivor of the secret royal guard? I recall they were all executed."
"I'm still a trainee."
"A weakling then… I should've been more thorough I suppose."
"I might be weak compared to you. But even us weaklings have ways to fight. Now, kindly let Her Highness free, boss."
Zack had her knife at Maximilian's neck, which Guin had his sword at Clara's.
"I wonder, should I…?"
Said Maximilian in a bored sigh.
163. Sigh, really didn't want to make a scene, man~
"I didn't quite plan on making a scene, quite frankly..."
Maximilian took in his surroundings with just moving his eyes.
He saw Clara at Guin's mercy, Batt bloodied and laying still, and of course, the knife at his own throat.
"Well, aren't you calm. I can slit your throat anytime I want, buddy."
"Kuku… I suppose you think you have the upper hand now. Sad to say, I don't quite see it like that."
"You ain't makin' sense."
"My only concern is how much of my power I should reveal to you lot. I'd sincerely wanted to end this maintaining the face of a minor villain."
"The face of a minor villain…? Wait, so you're involved with them… the real Evil lurking in the shadows…?"
Zack took a quick glance at the black haired boy laying propped up a side wall.
"Ho… Zack, you seem to know something you shouldn't… how unfortunate."
"Yes, indeed very unfortunate… since now I must kill everyone here."
Suddenly, Maximilian had vanished. Having lost sight of his mortal foe, Zack's knife was now stuck in thin air.
The next instant, snow flurried upwards and blood rained down.
Multiple bodies fell to the white ground, dying it red.
At the center of them stood Maximilian with a sinister smile. He flicked his sword to shed off the blood.
"Y-you cut your own allies…?" Clara uttered in shock.
The ones that Maximilian had cut down were indeed-- the guards and other member of the Doem Camp.
"... Indeed. They were closer as well as complacent. If I must kill everyone other than you, then the order matters not much."
Maximilian said easily with a shrug of his shoulders.
"What, in the blazes! I'm on your si--!"
"--You're no exception, Guin."
Guin's head flew.
Warm blood spray hit Clara's face, and the sword at her own neck clattered to the ground.
Slowly, Guin's headless body fell backwards.
Clara fell on her arse trying to move away.
Just when they were supposed to be at a standstill, the situation had changed instantly and dramatically.
Prisoner and guard alike had been cut down without distinction… as if their lives held no value whatsoever.
They'd fallen powerlessly all by the hand of one man.
"W-what kind of… monster are you..."
"Me a monster? Surely I'm but a simple criminal, put here as punishment for my crimes. Just your average prisoner."
"T-there's no way… you're no prisoner..."
"Kukuku… whatever do you mean?"
Maximilian looked down gleefully at Clara.
"Fuckin' 'ell. Yer Highness, please run!!"
Zack picked up the sword Guin had dropped.
And without delay, he charged at Maximilian.
"I plan to leave you for last."
Maximilian's form blurred, and Zack's blade struck only air.
Zack was knocked off his feet.
Blood sprayed from his back.
"Z-Zack--!!" Clara screamed.
Zack fell on the snow in agony.
"Yes, I will kill you last. Writhe in agony and watch. I will now begin culling all your comrades. I will bring you Royalists true despair..."
Clara's retainers stood before her.
"L-Lady Clara, you must escape..."
Their trembling swords told all too well their fear.
All of them knew-- they wouldn't survive Maximilian's slaughter.
"Right… suppose I shall take my time with this. Come out now, OWL. The more you hide, so much more will they die. Come out if you wish to save them. If you can defeat me, that is..."
Maximilian looked over each of Clara's people one by one.
Clara was shaking in the knees, desperate to escape.
As for Zack--
He, despite his carved back, was crawling along the snow.
He sought only one thing.
To go where he lay… at one corner of courtyard, the black haired boy.
Even as blood dripped out from his mouth, Zack clawed the snow with trembling fingers so as to approach the boy.
"Please… you're… our last, hope..."
As for the boy, he was already half covered in snow.
"Just, do something… whatever your goals are… just help us, for now..."
Finally, Zack reached where the boy lay.
"I'm beggin' ya, just save Her High..."
He swiped away the snow covering the boy.
-- And saw,
Only a lump of black slime taking his shape.
A vast burst of mana shook the earth.
164. The Power of Diabolos
Violet mana tinted the blizzard sky.
"Kuh… what monstrous mana...!!"
Maximilian grimaced feeling the raw blast of mana.
In the middle of the snow storm, one man landed onto the ground before him. A man in a jet black longcoat.
He wore a deep hood, and covered his face in a mask. He was--
"My name is Shadow… I lurk in the shadows, hunting the shadows..."
A voice as if from the depths of the abyss.
Shadow Garden was a recognized threat to the Order. An hidden organization that boldly opposed them.
They had exposed the existence of the Order to the world. They couldn't be taken lightly.
Even the combat potential of Shadow Garden rivalled that of the Order. Their leadership, known as The Seven, are rumored to house individuals of equal measure to a Knight of the Rounds.
And within this shadowy organization, most mysterious of all was the man Shadow himself.
Every member of the Order said to have fought him had been eliminated, and the only places he'd been witnessed, to date, were at the Goddess' Challenge and the God of War Festival.
His strength was measured at… Undefeatable.
Maximilian suddenly recalled what Doem, who had witnessed Shadow first had, had said: "It's hard to believe that thing is even human. He's like Diabolos... No wonder he noticed our existence..." Doem had rambled on like that one drunken evening.
Maximilian had dismissed it as the alcohol talking.
But now, after feeling that vast magic, he was starting to understand his colleague's fears.
"Your mana, it is certainly interesting… it far surpasses anything mere mortals can contain. And it is dense. Far denser than anything I've seen."
Maximilian calmly scrutinized the mana that kept gushing out of the man like the blizzard was carrying it away.
"Indeed, you're as impressive as the rumors claim… Greetings, Shadow..."
Maximilian's lips curved upwards.
Shadow still stood there coated in violet mana.
"I welcome you to the kingdom of Oriana. I do not know what your goals are in this land, but your luck has just run out. I am Maximilian 'Coldblood'. I specialize in people boastful of their mana such as yourself… As such, I shall dissect you thoroughly to find how exactly you hold so much!"
The next moment, Maximilian disappeared.
The ground settled snow surged upwards and a figure blurred into existence behind Shadow.
"Behind you, fool."
Maximilian slashed Shadow clear down the back.
He felt his sword strike.
Shadow simply stood there, unfazed.
Then, as if that attack had been an illusion, the man in black turned and faced Maximilian.
"Oh, were you doing something…?"
"--Tsk, manahouses are always so painfully slow."
Maximilian clicked his tongue and took distance.
"That coat must be an artifact. A good one too to have blocked my sword. I shall relieve you of it soon enough..."
Once again, Maximilian vanished.
Maximilian was approaching from behind.
--But before that.
Before Shadow could turn, Maximilian appeared from under him.
Maximilian's strikes came from all directions, and even from above, successively and without pause.
Shadow couldn't even react as he was cut away at from every which way.
"It is done."
One last powerful blow sent Shadow to the ground.
Shadow rolled on the snow before crashing on the camp wall.
"All artifacts have a limit to their endurance. Now your precious coat is finished."
Maximilian moved his gaze from Shadow to something to the side.
"So you finally show yourself-- OWL."
At some point, a female form had been already standing where Shadow lay collapsed-- dressed in her pitch black bodysuit, it was OWL.
165. Where is He?
"How sad, OWL. You're all but too late--"
"Kindly, shut up."
OWL turned to Maximilian.
"... You dare." Maximilian's tone raised in ferocity.
"You're of no concern now."
"Foolish. Shadow is finished, and the same fate awaits you next--"
"You don't seem to realize that you've been played."
"Lord Shadow, please allow me a question."
OWL asked Shadow who was buried rubble.
"... You may."
Shadow answered after a pause.
Violet mana then blew away the debris, and Shadow slowly stood up.
"You! So you have that much power still--!"
Maximilian was half in a panic but in contrast, OWL was calmness itself.
"Sir, why do you not show your true power?"
"... I wished to fully judge the power of that man. For reference, as it were..."
"For reference… I understand now. I have one more thing I must ask."
OWL asked with a tinge of anger in her tone.
Shadow nodded his assent.
"What is the meaning of this…?"
OWL blew the snow at her feet away with her sword. The powdery white pulled away to reveal a black form.
This was-- the lump of slime that had taken the form of Cid Kageno.
"Please answer truthfully. Cid… where is Cid!?"
OWL roared as if to overpower the howl of the blizzard around them. Her voice contained fierce resolve.
"That voice..." Clara stared at OWL as it to ascertain something.
OWL's attention was wholly towards Shadow however.
Shadow took a moment before answering.
"Cid is safe..."
"But where is he?"
"... Must you know?"
Shadow and OWL stared at one another for some time. A silent tension rising between them.
"You have saved my life, granted me power, and have shown me the path I must tread. I… do not want to doubt you. So I shall trust those words… But."
OWL paused her words to glare sharply at Shadow.
"If the words you said are false… If you've put Cid in danger… I will not forgive you!"
Shadow gave OWL as sidelong glance.
"I do not need your forgiveness. Regardless of what you may learn or think of me, my path shall not waver..."
OWL narrowed her eyes to that.
"Now… I shall return to the fight."
Shadow looked away from her, and silently drew his sword.
"I shall return to my mission as well."
OWL approached Clara.
"Princess Clara. My charge is to deliver you to the Royalist base of operations."
"OWL, you… I heard say that our people had a secret plan, is that your role in all this?"
"I am not alone. We are currently aiding your faction. I had wanted to provide a proper explanation, but time is of the essence. Please follow me, this may be our last chance to leave the capital."
Clara stared at the hand OWL had offered.
"Are you… No, nevermind… Let us go, I will trust you."
"Your Highness, are you sure it's safe to trust her…?"
Her retainers were agitated.
"I am. After all, she should be much more..."
Clara's voice petered off on that line of thought.
"Then please follow after me. We will be heading underground and meet allies en route."
OWL hoisted Batt onto her back and headed for the camp gates.
"Halt. You will not pass me!"
Maximilian was about to charge at OWL.
Which was when a powerful bloodlust assailed him to the core, halting him in place.
"What-- this is unreal--!?"
Maximilian jumped from his spot in a panic.
"-- But can you pass me?"
This bloodlust that seemed to cause tremors in the earth-- was of course that of Shadow.
He had managed to arrest Maximilian to the spot with but a glare.
Maximilian glared back, rage building on his face. That was all he could do.
He could only watch in spite as OWL left the premises together with the Royalists.
And once the last of them, Zack, was also leaving, the bloodlust became even more fierce.
Zack shivered and turned around.
Shadow was looking at him.
Zack was dripping in sweat and repeatedly nodded at the man in black.
A silent conversation seemed to take place.
Then, Zack left, ran away as fast as his feet could take him...
166. Demon Lord Unleashed
"Is that your p-plan, to intimidate me? Foolish, you don't stand a chance--!"
Maximilian braved the out-of-this-world bloodlust and rushed at Shadow.
His sword followed a straight path to the man at incredible speed. Its tip surely to pierce the throat.
That tip was caught between Shadow's fingers.
"Let me bestow you some advice..."
Shadow spoke in a soft voice.
Try as he might, Maximilian couldn't dislodge his sword from between the man's fingers. It was as if the blade was stuck into a boulder. It moved not no matter how much he pushed and pulled.
"Show me all your power-- if you don't wish for a swift death..."
Shadow released the sword, causing Maximilian to pitch over and fall.
He quickly stood up and glowered at Shadow.
"You will not underestimate me…!"
He then pulled out a red lozenge and swallowed it.
"Now you'll pay for that attitude. I will have you know despair."
Maximilian's mana surged and his eyes were dyed blood red.
"Behold-- It is your death that will be swift!!"
He was suddenly behind Shadow.
"-- An afterimage."
A slash faster than sound cut Shadow from behind.
It wasn't able to cut through Shadow's longcoat.
Shadow turned around.
Faster than that, Maximilian once again blurred.
"That too-- an afterimage."
Yet again, Maximilian cut Shadow from behind.
"As I thought, you have no means of reacting to my speed. Yes, that is inevitable. I am not your average Awakened I'll have you know..."
Seeing how slowly Shadow was turning back, Maximilian spoke.
"I am no 3rd-- I am a 2nd." He sneered and blurred once again.
"Slow! You're too slow, Shadow!! Now taste the power of a true 2nd of the Order!!"
Maximilian's voice came from all directions.
Relentlessly, he made slash after slash upon Shadow.
His afterimages seemed to be everywhere at he did.
"This is my sword-- the Coldblood Kaleidoscope!"
The myriad Maximilians in the fierce blizzard truly appeared as if he came out of a cold and deadly kaleidoscope.
"Soon enough, that artifact of yours will be exhausted! That will be your end!!"
The endless slashes had numbered to more than a thousand now.
Shadow couldn't do a thing, he just stood there and took it.
Each slash caused the snow to jump, turning everything white.
And finally, it ended.
"Huff… huff… fool."
Maximilian wrested control of his breathing.
The ground around him was gouged.
Coldblood Kaleidoscope tended to have that effect on the landscape.
It was impossible to stay standing after a relentless onslaught like that.
Maximilian was about to sheathe his sword, when,
Beyond the veil of snow, stood a form.
As the uplifted snow slowly drifted back to the ground, the identity of the form was made clear.
"It's not, possible..."
That form was of course-- Shadow.
Shadow was standing there, having withstood Coldblood Kaleidoscope-- without injury.
Without a scratch on him, the man in black stood as if the fierce rush from just now was but an illusion.
"How are you uninjured after my Coldblood Kaleidoscope!? Th-this is impossible, no artifact like that could exist..."
"Artifact…? Might you be curious about this?"
Shadow said indicating his garment.
"There's no other way! I am stronger than the likes of you! Just because you have that ridiculous artifact, don't think…!"
"This, is no artifact. It is made of Slime."
"Th-that is absurd! No Slime can withstand what I did!!"
"Correct. By itself Slime is very weak as material. However, what would happen if it were to be infused with mana of incredible proportions…?"
"H-hah, idiocy. Indeed Slimes are said to have high mana conductivity. However, handling it as material is impossible. The mana paths aren't even similar to that of a human's."
"All too true… In that case, what if we mix in human flesh…?"
"Combining a great number of Slimes with one's own flesh. It is similar to attempting to mix oil and water. But it is possible to fuse them using mana."
"Impossible… you merged human mana paths with that of a monster… You would need an unimaginable level of control to achieve such a feat!"
"Verily. To my knowledge, those in this world who can perform such a task-- is I and I alone."
"-- Y-you lie! You lying scoundrel, do you think I will believe that..."
"Oh? Even if I show you this…?"
Shadow's longcoat warped.
Within the white blizzard, the jet black garment expanded to both sides like wings.
No, they were wings.
Jet black wings like that of the devil had manifested out of the coat.
"T-that… isn't, no, that's not..."
Maximilian could think of only one material able to change shape so freely.
And nothing else.
"M-monster… you're, you're no human, you monster!!"
His expression warping, Maximilian rushed at Shadow.
However, the blazing speed of his sword was easily stopped by the now transformed devil wings.
"N-no… you can't react to my speed..."
Despair dyed Maximilian's face.
The pair of wings had split into four.
They flapped once, allowing Shadow to be lifted into the air.
Maximilian was speechless.
"Know this. The quantity of my mana is not so different from your own."
Jet black wings flapped in the white blizzard sky.
"If well compressed, it only appears hundred-fold more powerful when released. I simply do that whenever I use it… like so."
Shadow gathered mana in his wings.
The violet mana collected on the wings and appeared as small feathers.
"Hyii… Monster… no, Demon Lord…!"
"Quality easily trumps quantity when it concerns mana. And quality comes from control. To that end, the amount of control you can exert while you release… determines everything."
Those feathers, were beautiful yet cruel as the devil himself--
"I. AM. ATOMIC RAIN."
As they fell on Maximilian.
Violet mana rain dwarfed the raging snow storm.
Its light enveloped Maximilian, erased the snow and swallowed up everything.
As it fizzled out, having ended everything, only a large crater remained where the walled camp once stood.
All was quiet for a time.
Then, the jet black wings flapped, taking their bearer high into the snowy sky.
Rose was quite familiar with the intricate underground escape tunnels under the capital.
After all, she'd been taught how to navigate them if it ever came to it. However, these tunnels were not connected to the concentration camp, and so, the other members of her squad had patiently dug a hole nearby to connect to it.
Rose, Clara and several others were now walking along those tunnels having jumped down the hole.
Shadow would have ample strength to deal with Maximilian. Rose couldn't imagine Shadow losing to him. If there wasn't that issue considering Cid, she would've trusted him fully even. She might've even been in awe and respected Shadow for his strength alone.
But Cid-- was he truly in a safe place?
It was worrying.
But for now, she just had to trust that Shadow wasn't lying. She couldn't abandon her duty and go searching for Cid.
Still, if Cid really was safe as Shadow claimed, it raised even more question.
Why was that Slime there? What reason did Shadow have to make a faux Cid?
Rose didn't understand.
Could it be-- Cid and Shadow were connected somehow…? Rose thought back on her image of Cid. She couldn't see anything about him that would be related to Shadow.
Before long, they had made it to the location where her squad members would be waiting.
Small holed leading to the surface was the only source of light in these tunnels.
There was a figure in black propped up against a wall.
Rose let down Batt from her back and slowly approached the figure.
"Where is 665? What…!?"
The woman in black who was sitting with her back to the wall was definitely her squat leader, 664.
She was injured. Blood had drenched the wall behind her.
"664!? What happened here!?"
Rose quickly crouched down to her.
"...-un." said 664 in a weak voice.
She was breathing, at least.
"I'll help you right now!"
And then, something came.
From a direction where no one was supposed to be, one man suddenly came walking.
He had practically no presence. Rose couldn't comprehend how he'd appeared as if from thin air.
It was almost as if he was there all along.
"Seems Maximilian failed."
Said the man, looking at Clara and her troupe.
It was a cold voice.
He was a tall man, with hair white as snow swept to the back of his head.
He had a sort of chilling beauty to him.
Rose's cry echoed into the tunnels.
The man was holding 665 in one hand.
"She was a disappointment too."
He said as he threw down the beaten woman at Rose's feet.
Rose quickly caught 665 as she fell and checked her breathing.
She was unconscious but breathing, yes.
"I'll make you pay!!"
"S-stop, don't fight him, 666!"
664 cried out to her as she was drawing her sword.
"You, can't beat him… he is… Mordred."
Rose was aghast and stared at the man, who in turn gave her a curt bow.
"I am indeed Mordred. It is a pleasure… Princess Rose."
Behind Rose, the people following Clara stirred. Rose asked Clara to lead them a safe distance away.
"... You have the wrong person."
"I see, if that is how you want it, I shall comply."
Rose glowered at Mordred, who in turn looked at her with a bemused expression.
"Shadow Garden… so the organization opposing us has come here too. Rather than the Key of the Oriana, I personally find you bunch much more interesting."
"... Key of Oriana?"
"Did Shadow Garden not intervene in this war for the sake of obtaining the Key? Oh, perhaps you didn't know?"
Rose didn't answer.
She had become a member of Shadow Garden, but that didn't mean she knew everything. Shadow Garden was a large organization. The Seven who lead them all held unbelievable strength, and the special forces known as the Numbers all had strength equal or surpassing that of Rose. Rose was only a single cog in the machine.
Still, this Key of Oriana seemed to be something that could concern her personally. Would they fill her in on it if she asked?
"I will not reveal anything. We need to be somewhere."
They had many injured. Mordred was clearly stronger than she could handle, but she could at least buy time for them. Rose drew her sword.
"Don't fight, leave me and go..."
"Y-yeah, I'm your squad leader, and that's an order..."
664 weakly got to her feet and stood in front of Rose.
Mordred observed the two with cold eyes.
"I am interested in Shadow Garden, as I've said. Much more so than the Key..."
"... So you will block our path?"
"As one of the Order, I mustn't let you run free. But I believe letting you go now would be quite beneficial to me."
"My interest in Shadow Garden is quite deep. I'm specifically interesting in your leadership, The Seven."
Mordred said with a cold grin.
"... Yes, she was quite enjoyable indeed."
"Yes, very. So much that I'm willing to let you go past me."
Mordred retrieved something from his pocket.
As he opened his palm, something drifted down from it. Bright like spring water-- they were strands of hair.
And rose happened to know someone with such beautiful and strange hair.
That clear springwater hair was that of Epsilon.
"She was… quite enjoyable." kuku, Mordred chortled.
"Go on, pass at your leisure. The Doem Faction and Royalists will clash soon enough. However, this is not your ordinary civil war."
Mordred was beginning to shimmer into the background.
"This is a proxy war between the Order and Shadow Garden… how fun."
He disappeared, leaving only dry laughter.
"So that's, Mordred..."
It will become an increasingly difficult battle with him around, Rose thought.
The text is made white. Highlight to reveal rough spoilers of untranslated sections.
The 8th arc isn't over, but here's what happens after this.
Cid contemplates how to be a mob and ends up joining a recruitment drive for the royalists.
Problem is, the people organizing the drive fully know that most of the new recruits will die on the next mission.
To prevent that, Cid does some mana puppetry, making normal people as strong as magiswords.
He then met up with Epsilon again and went into some ruins were the hero Freyja was sealed up.