Know your Enemy
Hifumi had previously bought some magical tools that functioned like lamps. Separating from Pajou and heading back to the hotel, Hifumi continued learning his letters from Origa after dinner. Since he had made this a habit after coming to the town, he had a general grasp of the basic letters and their readings.
Incidentally, the magical illumination tool was at a great buy, being better than a candle. He bought a total of five pieces; one each was given to Origa and Kasha at the hotel.
The tutoring went somewhat like this: the letters were read aloud so so as to grasp their pronunciation. They were written in a horizontal fashion and repeated them aloud while writing helped memorising them.
Since constant repetition was a shortcut, though this method used up a lot of expensive parchment, Hifumi bought it regardless.
「 Master, is upto here sufficient today? 」
「 Hm, I understand the general characters and pronunciations from this. No words or grammar right now. If necessary, I will ask later. 」
「 Please leave it to me. Seeing master’s speed, it won’t take too much time. 」
Kasha was carrying out her weapon maintenance during her free time. She watched the two get along quickly and felt a little lonely.
Should I mingle more with Hifumi? thought Kasha, but she didn’t want to disturb Origa.
While Kasha was pondering these deep thoughts, all the while cleaning nonexistent marks on her sword, Hifumi had cleared up his study material and stood up.
「 Because of Pajou’s troublesome state of affairs, we have to enter Vichy tomorrow. Since we’re taking the carriage, I’ll have to ask you two to be the coachmen again. 」
「 Understood. 」 (Kasha)
「 Of course. 」 (Origa)
Hifumi nodded at their responses and retired to his room after breakfast.
Origa waited until the door to their room was completely closed and undressed facing her bed. A flimsy dress of rather thin material covered her slim body. Though it was usual for Origa to sleep like this, Kasha vaguely noticed her figure.
Slender arms and legs. She really does give off a “womanly” impression. (Kasha)
Understanding her master’s kind treatment, Kasha sighed and tensed, gazing at her own arms and legs.
She sighed again.
「 What’s wrong? 」
「 It’s nothing. We have to leave early tomorrow, go to sleep. We’re travelling with master, so it’s definitely going to be a turbulent day. 」
Origa laughed gently in agreement and turned off the illumination tool.
The next morning, Sabnak was at the gate that faced Vichy to see off the trio.
A thin fog had come out, softening the morning light.
Though Sabnak was pleased at the arrival of the reinforcements, since all the Knights that came along were senior to him, the paperwork had not decreased even though he had an attendant helping him. The dark circles under his eyes kept thickening.
A man riding a horse and a carriage came from the direction of the hotel.
「 Good morning. Something wrong?」
「 Just seeing you off. From here, continue along the highway for two hours till you reach the stronghold at the border. Since there are troops on both the Orsongrande and the Vichy side, please show the permit to both. 」
「 Got it. Well then, see you. 」
Hifumi continued on, the horse-drawn carriage followed slowly in his wake, both slowly vanished into the mist covering the highway.
Sabnak continued staring for a while at the spot where they disappeared. Pajou’s voice rang out from behind him.
「 Hifumi-san? 」
「 Now it’s possible to leave this place…. Something wrong? 」 (Sabnak)
「 It’s the incident of the magician from Horant, the one called Strauss. The analysis of his body, except for the dagger, there was no indication of high social standing. However… 」
Visibly penetrating Strauss’ chest was a magic tool, possibly of an evil goal.
Based on the build of the body, it seemed more than 50 years old and considerably thin. The movements displayed in the Marquis’ mansion, as heard from Hifumi were hard to believe. Though not completely clear, it may have been a body strengthening type evil magic, surmised Pajou.
「 The corpse can be sent to the capital today for further investigation. 」
「 Body strengthening magic….. Could it be, the one that set Gothras free was Strauss? 」
「 No, the timings are wrong. 」
「 Then how… 」
「 Gothras might have used a similar magic tool, but he was frisked before being put into prison. Did someone pass it to him for him to escape? ….. In any case, it is necessary to search within the royal capital for this possible accomplice. 」
Even as she said this, Pajou was at her wit’s end to even start looking for clues.
As the carriage rolled on in a leisurely manner, the fog gradually cleared up. The stronghold on the edge of the road came into view.
Seeing that the so-called demon seemed to have left already, Hifumi felt let down.
「 That’s the border? 」
There were no walls or fences or such, the highway just ended at a 2-storey stronghold. Both sides had just one large building each, nothing else.
According to Kasha’s explanation, if one left the highway, they are immediately attacked by monsters. As a result, it was unnecessary to build walls.
The central building functioned as a checkpoint for both countries. The large buildings on each side housed their respective border security soldiers. According to a treaty, 10 soldiers from each country could be assigned there.
Seeing the stronghold come into view, Hifumi had an uneasy feeling.
「 …… It’s too quiet. I can’t feel any indications of a single person inside, much less 20. 」
「 Eh? 」
「 Arm yourselves immediately. I smell blood. 」
Kasha and Origa did not understand, but believing in Hifumi, did so instantly. Their reactions were a result of constant training.
The carriage was stored, horses were dismounted.
Drawing nearer cautiously, several soldiers were visible on the ground in front of the stronghold.
The trio did not rush forward, carefully approaching the bodies.
「 This…. 」
Seeing the state of affairs, Kasha gnashed her teeth.
An inspection of the path leading to the stronghold showed soldiers lying dead everywhere on the stone pavement. At first glance, it was obvious that their limbs were pointing in strange directions, completely motionless.
Amongst the bodies, some limbs were cruelly ripped off, exposing a gruesome sight.
「 Everyone…. Dead? 」
「 No, one person is alive. 」
Smoothly moving among the corpses, Hifumi crossed the border and crouched down near a fallen soldier.
「 Oy, get up. 」
A young woman, a soldier from Vichy, judging from the armour, lay facedown on the ground completely unresponsive. She had disheveled red hair in a berry cut.
「 As expected, she’s dead. Master? 」
「 No, this fellow is uninjured. 」
While saying that, Hifumi took the woman’s wrist and jabbed his finger at a vital point located on the thumb side of the wrist.
「 Adadadadada!? 」
The female soldier jumped up because of the sudden acute pain, with teary eyes put some distance between her and Hifumi.
That agile movement was similar to a cat, but the teary-eyed wrist-rubbing didn’t improve the impression.
「 Why did it fail?? 」
「 I know if you’re dead or not even if I can’t see you. 」
「 That doesn’t explain anything! 」
「 I wasn’t explaining. 」
To Hifumi’s cold response, the female soldier clenched her teeth and placed her hand over a sword at her hip.
She made to draw her sword, but Hifumi was much faster. Instantly, Hifumi’s katana was pointed at her grey left eye.
「 I have questions. Explain this situation. You die if not. 」
「 …… Understood. 」
The girl, Alyssa, was an inspection official of Vichy. There seemed to be a constant number of women soldiers on the border.
「 This happened a little while ago. A powerful man suddenly started acting violently. The soldiers here and Orsongrande’s too were instantly killed. I managed to survive because I played dead when a colleague was thrown against me and I fell. 」
Noticing that Alyssa spoke with a strangely lovely voice for a soldier, Hifumi assessed Alyssa with an expressionless gaze. Seeing he did not so much as raise an eyebrow at the mention of the Orsongrande soldiers being killed, Alyssa pouted.
「 Though your colleagues have died, you don’t seem to be affected. 」 (Alyssa)
「 Doesn’t matter. Leave that, what about the violent and powerful man? 」
「 That one. 」
Hifumi turned his gaze to a tall man grasping a thick bludgeon, collapsed on the ground.
「 Who killed him? 」
「 I don’t know, while playing dead I had my eyes closed. However once everyones voices died out, I heard someone’s footsteps approaching. I heard a voice say “Still lack control” and then the footsteps faded away. I saw neither the face nor the form. 」
「 I see. Origa, Kasha. Return to the town by horse and bring Pajou. 」
「 Understood. 」
Seeing Hifumi see the two off, Alyssa asked timidly,
「 Um…. the sword, could you-」
She stopped mid-sentence when Hifumi returned his katana to it’s sheath.
「 Th-thank you.. 」
「 If you have time to thank me, you have time to run. 」
「 Fue?! 」
Alyssa tilted her head in confusion on seeing him disregard her. Hifumi returned his katana to storage, replacing it with the kusarigama.
「 Wh-what….. 」
As Alyssa muttered that, the atmosphere grew heavy. A shadow rushed out from the stronghold towards Hifumi, with the intent to strike.
It was the escaped Gothras.
「 In the past few days you’ve become considerably sickening. 」
Hifumi sneered, easily avoiding the incoming fist.
Gothras’ appearance was very dirty, to the extent that one would not think he was a former Knight. A body bulging with swelled up muscles, drool dribbling down a face twisted in pain.
He grasped a weapon tightly, blood dripping from the fists.
「 Kill…. KILL… 」
「 He’s lost his sanity huh. How boring. 」
While saying this, Hifumi had thrown the counterweight of the kusarigama, capturing Gothras’ arm. Faced with the abnormal strength pulling the kusarigama, Hifumi easily let go of it.
「 Hm, brute force huh. Pretty good. 」
「 B-but the weapon! 」
Alyssa yelled at the carefree Hifumi’s back.
Facing Gothras’ barehanded second strike, Hifumi too was empty handed.
A simple head movement dodged the fist to the face. An elbow met the fist.
Bones were definitely broken, but Gothras continued his strikes without hesitation.
「 No sense of pain either eh. 」
Stepping some distance away in consideration for his opponent, Hifumi was wearing a huge grin.
Seeing that, Gothras attacked furiously, shouting incoherently.
A few palm strikes to Gothras’ sides broke his ribs. Just that alone did not stop him, but a well-placed kick to the broken ribs did the trick. Gothras’ movements noticeably slowed and he was throwing up blood, his internal organs seemed to have been damaged.
「 Pain and fear are valuable sensations. This guy has lost them, he’s a boring opponent now. 」
Gothras’s throat was crushed, courtesy a finger strike from Hifumi, a two-fingered strike to the eyes immediately followed. The onslaught was complete with a pulverizing kick to the now-prone Gothras’s chest.
Gothras trembled for an instant, his movements then stilled permanently.
「 …… Amazing 」
Alyssa was unable to take her eyes off Hifumi.
Pajou and Sabnak arrived with Origa and Kasha just as Gothras died.
It seemed that a sentry in Fukaroru had seen someone resembling Gothras heading towards the border, and the report had made it’s way to Pajou. Eventually, they had given chase, but overtaking a single fugitive was impossible on the highway.
「 This…… Sabnak, return immediately and bring soldiers immediately for emergency border security. And then send a report to the capital about this incident. 」
「 Roger. 」
Receiving Pajou’s backing, Sabnak turned back immediately.
Hifumi briefly told her the situation, Pajou approached Gothras’ corpse to inspect his equipment.
「 As expected, Hifumi-san is proactive…… In any case, this is a completely changed form of Gothras…. This is..! 」
On tearing off Gothras’ shirt, there was a tool resembling the one on Strauss’ chest. However, the shape was a little different from Strauss’. There was a portion that had collapsed, a result of Hifumi’s pulverising kick.
「 This thing, was it the cause? 」 (Hifumi)
「 I fear that is so, there was something similar on Strauss’ chest as well. 」
「 In that case, there may be something like that there. 」
Hifumi was pointing at the corpse of the large man who was acting violently earlier.
While Pajou was looking at Gothras’ corpse, Hifumi observed the large man’s body. A magic tool similar to that of Strauss and Gothras was slightly ensconced in the chest area.
In front of everyone, a hand was thrust into the large man’s chest.
「 Uee~…. 」
Alyssa unintentionally squeaked, unable to look away.
「 Wh-what are you doing? 」
Kasha asked timidly, Hifumi wiped his hand on the large man’s clothes and answered,
「 A thought came to mind. There is a wound reaching his heart. My strike was not the cause of death. 」
Hifumi turned his gaze to Pajou.
「 Judging by the shape and depth of the wound, It’s probably a weapon like Strauss had, similar to the size of that dagger he had…. 」
Origa brought a cloth soaked in water from a nearby well for Hifumi to wipe his hand on.
「 Besides, Alyssa, this man seems to be an official from your side. 」
「 Ueh? H-how…. 」
「 That fellow’s clothes have the same seal engraved in the handle of your sword. They are issue-only goods, yes? 」
「 That is…. 」
「 If you simply think about it, people from Horant have slipped into both Orsongrande and Vichy for something, wouldn’t you agree? 」
Listening to his conclusion and the question that came to light, Alyssa and Pajou both began to understand the sheer weight behind it.