Ouroboros Record – Chapter 7 – The Contractor’s Price

A gentle reminder that Tullius is, at the end of the day, a villain.

This was a long chapter, but next chapters in the series are as long as this. I wonder if I should just split the chapters in order to bring you folks faster releases.

EDIT: Apparently the consensus is to keep the chapters released as it is. Thank you for your input. Fixed a few silly mistakes (there was one misplaced comma and I dunno how I ended up with that slip). If you have the time and you spot a grammatical/spelling/miscellaneous error, please drop them off in the comments so I can fix that. Much obliged.

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Translation: Sychev

TLC/QC: Wyrr

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Chapter VII – The Contractor’s Price

The sky was clear blue.

The sun was in its highest altitude in the sky, it was noontime.

A major highway that spread all over from the kingdom’s capital, Broussonne. The jurisdiction of the Royal Guard, the finest knight order in the country honoured with the duty to defend the Royal Capital. With them being a stone’s throw away, who the hell would do something like a robbery?

Nonetheless, there’s an exception to everything. To put it the other way, on this arterial road that’s responsible for goods circulation in the kingdom, prosperous trade caravans with great appearance come and go, and thus it is a great hunting ground. While the merchants has been assured by the authority of the Royal Guard, if you put your fangs in an exposed, unprotected flank, you’d get to taste this delicious sap that you can’t get anywhere else.

It goes without saying but, if you just strike without giving it a thought, you’ll inevitably meet the misery of being quickly dispatched by the Royal Guards and you’ll have no time to flee. Therefore, one would have to combine the intellect to understand how things work in the vicinity of the Royal Capital to avoid the present threat that is the Royal Guards’ patrol time, the patience to wait for the gaps and the passing of a prey to overlap, and the swiftness to finish the act before the authorities notices and reinforcement arrives.

“Chief!”

Along with an agitated call for their chief, the bandits begun their work.

While threading through the woods along the highway, the scouts responsible for observing the Royal Capital’s vicinity raised their voices and cantered their steeds. They were lacking strength and bravery, but they were tactful, on top of being well-versed in horseriding. It was actually because of this that they were able to breeze through the offroads. Truly, they were men who were born to do reconnaissance work.

“Yeah, what is it!?”

The horsed scout’s call was met with the chief’s deep bass voice.

The scout was grouped with a cowardly and crude bunch within the troupe, but the chief was highly appreciative of this man. The man was originally a slave that was bought by a rancher, but after his master’s sudden death he struck his collar and fled on horseback before his master’s successor could get a hold on him. The chief thought that he might turn out to be the bravest man in his troupe, so he picked him up. So this’d be a report from this dear, still-incompetent-but-shows-promise, subordinate of him. Maybe he caught a big one or something, the chief thought so in anticipation without showing it on his face.

“Chief, there’s a prey! A nobleman’s carriage is passing through the nearby highway! There are two freight wagons! They are coming this way!”

The answer was beyond the chief’s expectations.

While holding his cheek which was seemingly about to fall off with one hand, he asked him one more time just in case.

“A nobleman’s carriage? You sure? And they have no cavalry escorting them?”

“Yes! There’s only the carriage! The frght wagons are loaded with cargo, and even if there’s people in there their number should be few! Their number wouldn’t exceed ten!”

The chief could not suppress his smile anymore at that time.

A nobleman was rushing through the highway without being guarded by a cavalry, and there’s a lot of cargo in its freight wagons tagging along. It’s pretty much like a beautiful lady walking naked by the pool. It’s a marvelous prey.

Other members were also excited.

“OOOH! Three days after holding it off on the highways, today’s finally the day we get to hunt our prey!”

“Moreover, it’s a shitty nobleman, this is just the best! We sure do have a lot of grudges stacking up against ‘em!”

The members were imploring the chief to start the raid.

But there was one newcomer amongst them who quietly said,

“But… if it’s really THAT loaded, I just can’t believe it’s so lightly guarded. Can it be that, they just hired an incredibly skilled adventurer?”

To that word, the troupe went silent at that very moment.

The ones they call “adventurers” are some sort of a bunch of lunatics. They are the ones who fight monsters who are deemed to be a threat to humanity, and as they train themselves with those battles, the battles shape them up. Some of them can single-handedly eradicate a small-time bandit troupe.

And if someone so skilled were really present there, it’d be a very difficult task but—–

“… Kuhuhu”

“… Hahaha”

“… AHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

They were all old-timers who managed to live through battles against those kind of people.

“Hah! You, if you don’t know a thing about adventurers, then don’t say it.”

“Yeah yeah, their strength depends a lot on their party’s cooperation, right? If the scouts weren’t mistaken, the amount of people there is only ten at most. But these noblemen sure are pretentious, they sure do bring a lot of vassals with them!”

“If we take those people out from the ten, then there are probably two or three adventurers with them. No matter how strong they are, our numbers are far superior! Even if we can’t win on numbers alone, we can just wring them out and nail them down by targeting their escort objective.”

That’s how it is.

There certainly are adventurers who could crush a band of bandits with just a handful of people, there’s also amongst them who could do it solitarily. But that’s only true if it were a situation like subjugation where they are in the offensive. But since they’d be in an escort mission, they would be forced into a defensive position, and unless they are a party of at least five or six they would have a hard time noticing everything. Even if there were adventurers who would accept an escort mission with such a small party, they must be either a bounded fool who would’ve thought that they wouldn’t get robbed if they pass through road or an unqualified outcast. No threats there.

Then, what if it was an adventurer that actually has the confidence to pull the job off? It’s common sense that they would receive more favourable quests from the guild in the first place, that’s why there’s a rank system for adventurers anyway. A prized nobleman and a menacing adventurer. For the old timer troupe who have the complete knowledge of their habits, even for those who fancy themselves as a very cautious person, it would be the height of folly if they were to let this chance slip by. It would be nothing but sheer stupidity. The chief thought so as well.

“Yeah, that’s why this is a rare chance. This’ll be one hell of a job. That’s why to any extent I can’t forgive any error here. Why don’t you quietly observe how us old timers do it and learn properly!?”

Watching the youngsters innocently voiced their stiff replies was like staring at the sun that was hanging on the sky at that time.

The time was just after noon. According to the information bought from the frequenting peddlers, the knights were about to take their lunch. No one would disturb them for a while.

“… It’s time! Time limit is exactly half! Anything more than that means the knights’ patrol would come! Quickly kill them and take their stuff!”

TL Note: you read that right, the raw only says “half”, which can mean half a minute, half an hour, half a day, or half whatever arbitrary time measurement standard these people use. Though speaking realistically it’s probably half an hour.

“OOOOOOOOOH!”

As to vent out their frustration after having had to wait repeatedly for their big heist in the capital’s vicinity, the band raised a shout to voice their desire to get the loot they would get after the job.

“Well then, we’ll be killing a nobleman, and later their vassals’ response will be scary. I must carefully decide an escape route now…”

While watching his subordinate jumping out to the highway like a pack of wolves, the chief was full of such calculations.

The unprotected party that was heading over would surely enough have something ridiculous with them.

————————————————————————————————————-

“Ora, ora! Get the hell out you worthless noblemen!”

“You guys, don’t get dazzled by those horses! Kill it, stop it from its track!”

“Take out your precious stuff, quickly!”

They could hear incessant calls of intimidation from outside the carriage window, The numbers of bandits that attacked them seemed to be considerably large. There were at the very least no less than twenty people. If they can pull an ambush with a large number of people like this, what has become of the security here near the capital?

“There are about thirty of them, right?”

“Thirty two, to be exact. Correction. Due to B-01’s counterattack, they are now reduced to thirty one.”

So calmly stated by the two escorts…. Yes, unfortunately my analysis doesn’t seem to be reliable in battlefields.

TL Note: the original word for “this sort of place” in the raw was 鉄火場, tekkaba, which the dictionary defined as “a gambling den”. But that came out weirdly. If you take apart the kanji in it it’d mean a “field of red hot iron”, which would be a little more appropriate. But in the end I used simple interpretation instead. Credit to Wyrr for translating this one into “battlefield” instead.

Well it’s not like I’m not ashamed of the fact, but, to put it into words, “you should get mochi in a mochi store”. I should pull myself together and ask Due, who seems to be brimming with motivation.

TL note: the proverb pretty much means, “if you want the best result, then go to a specialist/expert.”

“By the way, how confident are you?”

The he fearlessly smiled,

“Oi, oi, Milord. Even if I look like this, I’m actually on top of Rank B, y’know? As long as your remodeling doesn’t get in the way handling bandits of this degree would be just like a walk in the park.”

He gave me a reassuring word.

Now that I reflect upon it, it was a stupid question.

Bandit subjugation is a typical quest given to parties ranked E to C. The reason why the quest is given to a wide range of ranks is because the nonuniformity of a bandit troupe’s size and nature, but putting it away on that part—–and there’s Rank B, amongst them there are those who are very close to be ranked as A-Class adventurers, and these people can undertake subjugation requests that normally would require a few ranked-C class adventurers all alone. In the discovered data before Due’s remodeling in the laboratory, Due was evaluated as indeed belonging to the top tier in the B-Rank. There were neither exaggerations nor fabrications in his words.

“So that means, despite there being the disadvantage of being on escort duty, this degree of enemies is nonetheless ideal for the test?”

“I humbly agree with your highly reliable judgment.”

Uni issued her endorsement, too. Then there’s no problem. No reason to hold the green light off now.

“Fine, Due. It’s a bit sudden, but this’ll be your real battle test. While guarding our horses and luggages, eliminate all of the enemies. The mass-produced ones can fend for themselves so you can leave them as they are.”

“Are you going to use these guys as materials for your experiment?”

“Thank you for your thoughtfulness, but I’m afraid there’s no means to transport them. Besides, if I, a new lord, were to bring these bandits into my territory, that wouldn’t look good now, would it?”

“No doubt there… Well then—-”

The nature of Due’s smile changed.

Added to his fearless and confident mad smile were murderous intent and battle spirit.

“Just, as you ordered! You want total annihilation, right?”

While carrying a two-handed sword that gave him his nickname in his hands, wrapped in black armor and tattered mantle, my second masterpiece jumped off the carriage.

Well then, what will the endgame be? Let me carefully observe.

——————————————————————————————————–

The bandits were bewildered, they should’ve attacked an unescorted carefree aristocrat but the reality was out of line with their preconceived outcome.

First of all, they have sent several people to stop the horse’s feet, they stretched a rope as a trap to stop the horse’s movement on its tracks. But the driver of the leading carriage apparently saw through it and stopped immediately. The following freight wagons also stopped immediately, as if they were in sync. It was a splendid show of preemptive evasion there.

In addition, the drivers of the carriages were all curious existences.

Despite their road being blocked and being surrounded by more than thirty people, they didn’t show any emotion. But that was still fine. Before, they had demonstrated the capability to see through the bandits’ traps, avoided it and handled it immediately. So such was to be expected from these definitely-not-ordinary people.

But, their appearances were strange. They were dressed in those fine black butler clothes, and that was fine, but winded on— no, fixed on their necks was a silver collar. It was a cursed trinket commonly known throughout the continent as a slave symbol.

“… Slave coachmen…?”

All the bandits who saw that had a question mark over their heads. Naturally, aristocrats are creatures that wear vanity like some sort of a cloth and walk around with it. For positions like coachmen or butlers that are typically seen as the face of a noble house, it’s customary for junior noblemen to employ commoners or their affiliates. But when you’re going to other noble houses, you can’t do that. In other words, your surroundings will despise and reject you. It’s almost as if it can be said that you’re betraying origins. To put it shortly, for aristocratic societies that deem pride and tradition as their bill of exchange, it was a serious fault that could be a blunder.

“Oi, oi, can it be that?…. A piss-poor noble’s daytime flight, because they couldn’t flee by nighttime?”

“Now that is just a masterpiece, isn’t it? But, that means I can’t get shit from this job?”

With that conversation opened, their confusion turned into contempt.

And as if to make things worse,

“Look! That one other wagon, there, they made a maid to hold its reins!”

“She’s a slave too! Oh hell there ain’t no money to find here!”

“Hehe… her face sure gets me going though.”

Such conversation came from those who were heading to the back rows.

As it turned out like that, no one was able to keep their spirit after they felt that they had been tricked.

A nobleman, accompanied by only slaves, was leaving the capital without being guarded by cavalry. Someone like that must have fallen from grace and hence fled from the capital. The gains from the operation would be much lower from prior expectations, but—– there was another freight wagon that seemed to be fully loaded even when seen from a distance. Perhaps it was the last of the noble’s properties. If they were nobleman’s furnitures, even the lowest grade amongst them would have a significant value, there were also slave maids that can’t be sold without much problem. It was certainly a disappointment, while it wasn’t exactly a big loss, it was pretty close to that…

That was the inference that the bandits drew.

“… Ora, what are you standing there for, you bastards! Things we must do here don’t change much! Kill the men! Deal with the horses! Tie up the maids!”

“Chief! What if there were other women inside?”

“If she’s a maid, then take her to sell. If she’s the nobleman’s wife or daughter, they’d probably be heavy and there’s no way to take them so just kill them on the spot. Then you get to fuck women or taste some goods with the money from the gain of selling them….. Got it?”

“Yea, yea!”

These women would normally be called as “unattainable flowers”, but even if you try to sell them no store would take them, and even when they do, that’s when you’ll get traced. Even if you try to take them as a hostage for ransom, most noblemen wouldn’t sit down and negotiate with the likes of bandits. With that also, taking them would take too much time and they wouldn’t successfully flee if their vassals decided to give a chase.

Consequently, you should just take only the things you can deal with, if you can’t then cut them off. You wouldn’t be able to escape easily with excessive baggage on your back. A woman is a particular reason for an inferior troupe to destroy itself. If you can’t sell the woman, don’t lose to your desires and don’t kidnap them, you should man up and kill them there. That was the secret to remain in the robbery business for a long time.

The once-dampened bandits rekindled their desires and started to attack the carriages. Their first target would be the horses, their feet must be struck in order to let no one escape. Led by a hunter wannabe in the troupe, they readied their bow hand, pulled their bowstrings and released their arrows.

It was at that time.

“B-01, now entering self-defense mode.”

“B-02, now entering self-defense mode.”

“M-01, now entering self-defense mode.”

“M-02, allied engagement into combat confirmed. Commencing support.”

“M-03, allied engagement into combat confirmed. Commencing support.”

The slaves began their counterattack.

“”Huh?””

Again, confusion and bewilderment struck the bandits.

As they thought that the drivers’ arms looked hazy, the arrows that were released to shoot down the horses and the men were all knocked down. They used their second, then third arrow, but the result was the same. All of them were warded off. As if it was a magic trick.

The first amongst the bandits that realised what the drivers’ held in their hands widened his eyes in surprise.

“T-they ward off the arrows with a whip?!”

A long whip to hit the horse from the driving seat. That was the identity of what intercepted the arrows.

But sure enough their common sense couldn’t take it as how it is.

“D-don’t be stupid! It’s a bloody whip? Just by using a thing to hit a horse, they can stop this number of arrows… who the hell can do such a thing?

“You just saw someone did it! Heck, it can’t be, all three of them can do it?”

“Archers, aim more! You guys haven’t ran out, right?”

Such a thing couldn’t have happened. As they turned their eyes from reality, the bandits again ordered their archers to ready their bows.

But then,

“… B-01, commencing counterattack.”

The couchman of the first carriage threw something from inside pocket in advance.

Something flew with a speed that couldn’t be perceived by naked eyes.

“Uwah!? Agh…. guh……”

“Oi, what happe—– hiiiih!?”

Something stuck on of the archer’s skull.

It was a throwing knife.

The fact that most of blade was stuck inside gave off how quick it was when it flew.

Its damage had surely reached the brain. It was an instant death.

The dead body, with a slight delay, slowly fell to the ground. As if it had just realised it was already dead.

“Now you did it, you bastard!”

“Shit! …. If projectiles can’t do the job, then just behead him to kill him! Strike him to kill him!”

The death of their fellow member had an impact on them. And now to turn that impact into an impulse to attack, the bandit chief shouted so.

But it was too late.

—– The door of the carriage opens.

“Wh—”

Before the questioning voice could finish itself, blood splashed up.

The highway dust was blown away by a black gust.

At the time it jumped off the carriage, another one died.

That was the limit of their understanding.

They couldn’t perceive the moment of attack this time too.

It wasn’t reflected in any of the thirty pairs of sixty eyes.

“Huh…?”

When they finally able to realise it, there was a man clad in black, he was still in the posture of having just swung his sword.

As if to check its response, the man fixed the sword’s grip, two, three times.

It was as if he wasn’t at all concerned that he could be slashed or hit from the back.

… Was it this guy who killed him?

The bandits had just perceived it only now.

“Not enough warm up, eh… Looks like the adjustments weren’t that effective.”

When he killed one of them as he appeared, it was as if he had cut a bundle of straw.

As if being struck by fear, the besieging encirclement was pushed from the inside.

The man who appeared seemed to be an adventurer.

He was a tall man. His build, rather than simply big, seemed to be irresistibly tough.

A black mantle. A black cuirass. And a long two-handed sword.

Everything of him was crude. Just now, something peeled off from the remains of his weather-beaten attire. But the bloodlust that seeps from the cracked black iron was something else. As if he was an evil dead spirit that roams around old battlefields.

They finally understood that it was someone they shouldn’t have encountered.

“Gyah!”

“S— Stop—-!”

Strange shouts unbecoming of a man broke the stagnation as they echo. And they  were coming the bandits.

If you see it now, even the slaves that were dressed in butlers’ and maids’ uniform were handling some of the bandits.

The man noticed that and clicked his tongue.

“— Hold it.”

With just that one command, he stopped anyone who had the intent to pursue the bandits.

Why?

Such question branched out before any sense of relief.

He daringly ordered a halt before those who were raiding them and out for their blood. What was the reason for that?

Was it to negotiate? Did he show his power to use it as a leverage and force them to withdraw that way?

If so, for those who were being dominated by terror and confusion beyond what they could accept, this was a supreme glad tiding.

However,

“I’ll be using these guys to warm up. You guys, just quietly stand back and protect the carriages.”

The reality of it was heartless.

The man pretty much said that he’ll be their match, in other words, he was out to kill them.

As the bandits trembled before his declaration, the slaves dropped their stance.

“B-01. Confirmed the commencement of battle test for superior unit, Opus-02. Now shifting to passive defense mode.”

“B-02. Likewise.”

“M-01 to 03. Likewise. Over.”

“Yeah, yeah, over, over.”

After he uninterestedly finished his incomprehensible exchanges with the slaves, the man raised his sword for the second time.

The bandits were all bent back in hesitance.

As the man slightly advanced and took a step, the bandits took another ten back.

Looking at that, the man sighed in disappointment,

“Oi, oi, can’t help it huh…. Guess I’ll just slash your fleeing backs as a warmup… Oh, that’s right.”

As if he came up with something crafty, the man raised the edges of his mouth.

He raised his voice so everyone in the field could hear him.

“Oi, you people! Why don’t we do this instead? If you can kill me, you can safely leave this place. You can take the slaves with you while you’re at it.”

“Huh—-?”

“W-what did you say—?”

The bandits were again confused, but the man uncaringly carried on,

This time he turned his face towards the carriage from whence he came out.

“You’re okay with that, right, Milord?! It’s only this much!”

“You’re asking for an ex post facto approval, and I can’t be pleased with it.”

From the door of the carriage, another slave-maid appeared.

Some people forgot that they were in the brink of their life and held their breath. The slave was that sort of beauty.

The maid carried on,

“However, the master has generously forgiven you and said, ‘I’ll leave it to you, so feel free to do your test”. Please be sure to seek approval first next time.”

“Thought so.”

The maid who was finished talking returned to the carriage, the man intensified his smile.

The bandits were all,

“G, GET HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIM!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

With the chief’s inside-out scream as their order, they went for the man.

There were twenty-four of the bandits remaining.

The noble’s party consisted of seven people as far as they could confirm, but only one would participate in the battle.

It was the beginning of a curb-stomp battle, it was for the fewer against the many instead, however.

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Here, let us move to the point of view of one of the bandits. He was the first one who discovered Tullius’ group, the one with the magnificent riding skills.

(“Why—”)

He held his head as he crouched inside the bushes.

He had disobeyed the chief’s order, he secretly hid without challenging the man, and now he found himself frightened.

(“Why—”)

In the first place, he never wanted to be a bandit.

It all began when his family sold him as a slave, then due to miraculous luck he could free himself from his slave status. However, even when he was finally free, for him there were no place to go. So he got picked up by a troupe of bandits while he was wandering around with the horse he took when he escaped.

The chief took him in for his riding skills and his eyesight, but for him, such expectations were nothing but a seed of trouble that have made his surroundings to be jealous of him.

Nonetheless, he chose to follow them anyway because he had no other means to live.

He knew that his orders would make him die in his teens, so he didn’t really want to obey.

(“Why—”)

In his sight as he looked up, the sight of a bandit attacking the man in black only to die instead was repeating itself.

No matter how many of their colleagues die, the others would continue to do the same thing and follow after their dead colleague.

The scene was beyond what the boy could ever imagine, and he refused to try to understand it as well.

He once heard that in a land further south, once in a dozen of years a group of rats who ate too much bait would somehow eventually go insane due to extreme starvation and drown themselves in the seas or the lakes. Now he couldn’t help but to recall that rhetoric which he haven’t actually seen for himself.

(“Why—”)

One of the bandits jumped at the swordsman in black.

— Like cutting a bamboo apart.

His dead body was cleanly split apart from his head to his crotch into two, his innards scattered and fell to the ground.

One of the bandits jumped at the swordsman in black.

— A cut slantwise to his shoulder.

The contents of his bisected corpse, like that of a crushed pillow, flew somewhere else.

One of the bandits jumped at the swordsman in black.

— His abdomen.

His corpse was divided from his belly, his intestines jumped out and wrapped itself on his companion’s body.

… The man, the swordsman in black, was indeed on a trial.

And true to that word, one by one. Carefully, carefully. To affirm his varied set of skills, he slashed and killed everyone in a different manner. And each time he killed another one, his skillful swing was nothing but a nightmare fuel.

(“Why—”)

For what reason did he continue to kill?

For what reason did the others continue to try just to get killed?

The answerless questions kept going around and around inside the boy’s head.

But the biggest question was not of the swordsman, who kept killing, nor his companions, who kept getting killed.

Truthfully, he didn’t care much for either.

The question that confused him so was…

(“Why—”)

As things stood, the man continued to slaughter the bandits.

There, standing by the side of the wagons, were the slaves who would beat down those who occasionally were trying to flee and send them to the man to be dealt with.

And amongst them,

(“Why, are you, there!?)

Was his younger sister, who got separated from him when they were sold as slaves.

——————————————————————————————

It began five years ago.

This country—- the land of black soil and fine arts, the Kingdom of Arquell, the continent’s largest agricultural power, is by no means free from cold and drought. No, if you go to the rural areas, you’d find that the nobles, who are mostly far away from the capital’s control, run their territories arbitrarily. Heavy tax, forced labour, neglected home affairs. Something like a peasant famine can happen over and over again.  The boy’s village was in one of such territories that the corrupt lords govern.

That year, cold summer struck, and as a result barley yields have fallen to an unprecedented degree. Impacted by that event, the boy’s house was forced to pay a tax while they were themselves in a troubled position. His poor parents sold two of their children, who were guaranteed to be able to work, and were around the ideal age that could sell the highest as a slave, to a slave merchant. These two children were him and his sister.

As they were crammed into a wagon, on their shaky journey, the boy and his sister kept encouraging each other, ‘if our luck is good, then we’d be bought by the same master’. But once they reached the capital Broussonne’s slave market, the siblings were heartlessly separated into different departments. She has had a rare magic latency, and appearance-wise, she has good looks, even from the biased eye of his as her brother. He, meanwhile, seemed frail for a boy, so he was sent to a certain narrow strip on the storefront to be sold as cheap as possible due to his circumstances.

He was later told by his jailer that his sister was bought by a certain Count house at a surprisingly good price. The jailer, who apparently found his purpose of life in torturing the helpless, told him that the children in that Count house were sick bastards that kill their slaves every so often, and that while his sister was dragged by another slave from that house, she was crying and calling for me until the very end. The jailer let him hear such narration with great joy on his part. The boy was enraged and began to uncontrollably hit his cage door. He got himself beaten by a whip repeatedly after that.

TL note: Original word was senior slave  (senpai dorei, 先輩奴隷), to indicate the slave was bought by the house earlier than her sister. It’s a bit hard to translate to english, so I changed it a bit.

Shortly after that, he was sold to the owner of a large ranch. His master pretty much loved him, just in the way that would make oneself hold their breath in nausea, however. In the days, he would take care of the livestocks day from dawn to dusk, and in the nights, he would be taken to his master’s bedroom. Every night he would be dirtied by the same smell that stained the sheets. He would be ordered, with the force of his obedience seal, to lick a certain bitter liquid, along with every finger on both of his master’s hands and feet, countless times. That master of his was suddenly struck by intense agony during his nightly routine and died all too soon. Despite being so out of shape, he continued to unreasonably exert himself and so he was caught by a heart attack he secretly had. He pretty much asked for it.

The boy realised that the clamp of his collar went loose soon after his master’s death, and so he struggled to get rid of it, and then his body was finally free. The first thing he did when he achieved his freedom was to spit on his terrible master’s corpse, then he took a horse that he had under his care and set off from the ranch—– while he was wandering he was later picked up by the head of a bandit troupe by chance,  which lead to the present.

He thought his sister was already dead. Considering the place she was sold to, she was bought by a noble who was known to engage in slave-killing, and he had no choice but to think that she must have had been exposed to a crueler fate than he had.

Unlike other people who sold themselves and said it was for the sake of their family or their village. For him, his sister, who spent rough and painful times and shed the same tears together with him, was his only genuine family. And that boy, with a weary heart, paralysed by intense feeling of sadness, had finally accepted her passing.

That is how it was supposed to be.

And yet there she was, his sister, who he thought was already dead, with her body still alive and well, staring at him with her deathly eyes….

—————————————————————–

The battle— no, the massacre was finally over.

Human remains were scattered under the clear, noon sky.

The swordsman in black had suppressed all of the bandits without getting a single wound. Anyone who tried to escape was either taken down by the slaves or slain from the front as the swordsman overtook them.

The only one left was the boy.

The swordsman was staring at the boy. Although he had crouched himself in the bushes, for some reason he was looking straight at him. There were no killing intent nor fighting spirit from him, but there were no signs of mercy or tolerance that could be sensed from him either. The slaves were also looking at him.

If he tries to run away, he’d be cut down. He unconsciously realised that, but he didn’t know what might become of him if he decided to come out right there.

He was at loss as to how to advance at this point. His mind was loaded by the fact that his life was now on the hands of the unknown slaughterers. There was no space for him to try out what he could do with his own powers.

Then, at the very least….

“……”

With his feet trembling, he stepped into the highway.

The swordsman kept his eyes on him still. His eyes were somewhat lethargic. The exhilaration he had when he struck the bandits have already went elsewhere, and now it seemed to be embracing some sort of emptiness. There was no tension that would make him strike the boy and kill him right now.

But that was no time to be relieved, and then the boy approached one of the collared maids.

No attack was directed against him.

“…. Emily?”

For the first time in what had been a long span of years, he muttered his sister’s name.

He called the inorganic person with her former name, without all that “M, Zero, Three” thing.

There was a slight reaction. The shoulder of the collared girl dressed in maid outfit trembled ever so slightly.

“You’re Emily right?”

He called the name one more time.

The girl returned his gaze.

With a veil covered her head. Like seeing a lie, her eyes, that were as blue as the clear skies, reflected the boy’s face.

Her facade was beautiful. When he was a child, he had thought that the girl would grow into a beautiful woman. She grew even prettier than what he had imagined at that time.

But the light in her eyes, that was just a lie. It was so out of place in her beautiful face. That made the boy sad.

“It’s me, Luc.”

He told her his name, his voice trembling.

His sister’s expression was as serene as a winter lake.

There, he saw small ripples fluctuating about, was it an illusion?

“M-02 to M-03. Requesting response to the following query. What is the identity of the individual presently in contact with you?”

One of the maids threw a question while staring at the boy. Her eyes were cold. It was almost like she was looking at an insect, and for a short moment it seemed to be trying to figure out whether she’d better pinch and crush the insect or let it escape. Her actions had the impressions of a screw-wound clock. Like a machine that only performs predetermined movements according to the force it had loaded. His sister too was apparently treated as that sort of mechanical, hollow tool. At that fact, the boy felt his anger, and fear, rushing in.

“………”

Her sister didn’t answer. Perhaps she couldn’t answer.

“M-02 to M-03. Repeating query, response requested. What is the identity of the individual presently in contact with you?”

Towards the repeated question, the sister’s body shuddered.

She corrected her posture in an attempt to subdue her shuddering, and slowly opened her mouth.

“… M-03 to M-2. Responding to query——–”

“… E, Emily?”

The boy trembled. The insides of his chest were coloured with anxiety and expectation.

Will she recognise him as her brother now?

Or will she end up like the other mechanical maid standing nearby her?

And the result was,

“—— He is my older brother.”

She remained to be his sister.

“A……………….”

Tears ran over the boy’s cheeks.

The tears were warm, unlike the other tears he had flown before that was mixed with his cold sweat.

She remembered.

It never changed.

That one thing, the fact that she was his sister.

“M-03. Submitting proposal. The threat level of the remaining target is estimated to be level E. Target deemed insufficient for a battle test. Proposing to conclude the test and collect the remaining subject.”

“M-02 to Opus-02. Judgment required.”

“Hah? Me?”

The swordsman, who was suddenly drawn into the problem, violently scratched his head.

The boy, with his battered body, continuously shifted his gaze between the swordsman and his sister.

Will you, help me?

“Certainly he won’t be much of a match, and I’ve grown tired of this pointless killing…. Oi, Milord! What do you think!?”

He raised his voice towards the carriage.

The boy couldn’t fathom how things were progressing.

—– what happened to my sister?

—– in the end was I really saved?

—– So, can I and my sister be happy now?

Several thoughts ran around inside his head.

And there was,

“Oi, oi… why are you passing this to me there?”

Before him, there stood true fear.

“Ah…”

Even his trembling went into a freeze.

… What, is this?

Along with the figure of the maids’ head, while being cared by the slaves, a man descended from the carriage.

His physique was mediocre. Nothing can be said about his face. He didn’t have any frightening weapons.

All he did was just stand there, and that already made the boy feeling sick.

From all things that happened to him, in his mind this was the absolute worst.

The time when he was torn down by a bully in the village. When he was scolded by his parents as he wasn’t able to work in the field due to his frailness. When he and his sister were sold to slavery, the abject pity and the menial sense of superiority that were directed at them. The treatment of his slaver and jailer. The parting with his sister. Every single day when he was sold to the ranch. Rough life after the bandits picked him up.

Add them all up, and multiply them by a hundred. It was that sort of an overwhelmingly terrible feeling.

“HIIIH..!??”

“Let me see, let me see?”

Without minding the frozen boy, the man quietly observed him.

As he looked at the man’s eyes, he realised it.

This guy is actually a monster. The village bully, adults, officials, nobles, merchants, his former master, the bandit troupe… they had always been trampling on him from as long as he could remember, but at the very least his guts could recognise that they were really themselves.

It’s a monster that couldn’t live unless it is trampling down on something. Even if the world is completely filled to the brim with wealth, honour, power, knowledge, love, dreams, hope, it’s still a creature that couldn’t live unless it makes a sacrifice out of something.

A genuine scum. Such was his true identity. The only people who could accept this thing would only be its victims which it had twisted around so they belong to it.

The boy couldn’t put what he felt into words. But he could still understand it.

He must came to terms with this blasphemous, human-shaped, speaking piece of shit.

“Well, I don’t really mind.”

Words he couldn’t understand flew over his head.

“I’ve gathered enough relevant data, and killing him isn’t the only way to seal his mouth… If you’re not in the mood to kill, then I don’t mind if it’s just taking this one you left alive. It’s troubling that he stands out, but, if you can take care of the trouble before his treatment, then I don’t really care… Okay, M-03?”

With that said, the man give his sister his permission.

The sister responded with some sort of salute.

“Thank you so much for your leniency, Master.”

“M-02 to M-03. Congratulations. Thank the master, for he has bestowed mercy upon petty beings like us.”

“M-01, likewise.”

“B-01, likewise.”

“B-02, likewise.”

Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.

What is this dry noise? Applause? The slaves’ applause?

He felt like throwing up. It was almost like a vulgar puppet show. The dolls, that were made of humans, were honouring their shithead of a creator for its erratic favour, and the farce was carried out in the worse possible way.

The boy couldn’t hold off from vomiting.

“What is it, Luc-niisan?”

“Emily…”

“When in front of the staff, please call me M-03. Are you feeling sick somewhere?”

The hand that was touching his back was gentle and warm.

And with that hand, his sister had killed. The ones she killed were the bandits who, from his point of view, were his companion. They were rascals who wouldn’t complain even when they’re dead. But, as long as that bastard orders it, even if it’s the saviour who gives his blessings to all beings, even a if it’s new born baby, she would without a doubt do the same thing.

“He… he made you do this much?”

“Nii-san?”

“If you stay with that guy, there’s no way for you to recover… It’s already the worst for you now, but surely it’ll get even terrible in the future.”

Other slaves have started to clean up the corpses that was slain by the swordsman. While looking at it from his side glance, he pleaded to his sister,

“If it’s now… surely, if it’s now we can still fix this. Make me remember, if you make me remember that I need to help you, then we still can. But if we were to stay on that thing’s side, even that would surely be erased…”

“By that, are nii-san referring to the master?”

“Ah, yeah… that’s why, let’s run, just the two of us—-”

“I conclude that to be impossible. The tracking ability of the superior unit exceeds your survival ability.”

“O, of course it won’t be now. Surely we’ll see a gap someday. See, I don’t have my collar with me. There’s a way out from the obedience seal.”

While he said so, he showed his neck which had collar marks on its skin.

As she looked at it, there were no emotions in her eyes. As if she didn’t believe it.

“Warning, remarks close to an act of treachery confirmed. Requesting withdrawal of remarks. M-03 is the master’s property, nii-san.”

“That’s not your name! You are Emily, my sister, right?!”

“Indeed, however. M-03 considers that as a concurrent concept——”

“No, don’t! If you acknowledge that you belong to him, you’ll eventually think that I’m not your brother!”

“Insults against the master is not permitted. Swear your allegiance to the master. That way, together we—”

The sister repeated her mechanical refutations on her true brother’s plea.

Each time she repeated it, he was filled with despair.

Had his sister’s soul been fiddled around until the point that nothing could be done about it?

That noble was nicknamed as a slave killer. But did that refer not to the killing of his sister’s body, but of his sister’s heart?

Tears blurred his vision.

… That is why, right?

Towards the living organism that was showing hostility against its master before its eyes. The doll, which had sworn its loyalty to its master, towards the potential enemy body that had overlooked its persistent plea to change its mind.

“Never! To that man… You think I’d ever submit to that guy who never thought slaves as human!”

“….. Understood.”

—- Stab.

From his chest, he could hear a casual sound that was so faint it he could’ve missed it.

“Eh…..?”

The boy’s knees fell to the ground.

His heart is hot. His body is cold.

His field of vision that was blurred by his tears became even fainter,

He held a hand on his chest, there was a hard thing stabbed there.

Is this? A knife? Who did it? ……… My sister?

“E, mi…. ly?”

“Oi……… what are you doing?!”

He could hear the swordsman in black, his footsteps were getting closer.

His sister faced him to give him a hint.

“M-03. Reporting to superior unit, Opus-02. Enmity from the target towards the master confirmed. Persuasion to reconsider was concluded to be impossible. Appropriate measure—-”

“That, I can tell just by looking! Tell me you didn’t do that, tell me you didn’t do that!”

He heard a strange conversation.

The man who seemed to take pleasure when he killed a while back, somehow seemed to be upset at the fact that the boy got stabbed.

The edges of the boy’s mouth tightened. Did he find the contradiction of the man’s action to be amusing and tried to laugh, or was it just spasms to show that his body was dying? He himself didn’t know.

“—- Appropriate measure taken, is the a problem?”

“… Problem, hell, there sure is a lot of them! Wasn’t it you who said, help him out!?”

“That is correct—– I thought that, if I and the target— nii-sa… nii-chan can serve master well, together—- he would, finally give, my beloved nii-chan, happiness too…”

“………..”

Ah, the boy finally realised.

My sister was trying hard to help me.

She did it desperately, her face was suffering——

But, how could he mistake it as an expressionless face of a doll?

“?…….. Oi, you’re sweating terribly. What’s wrong you—-”

“A…… e, M-03. Urgent report. Abnormalities detected in, heart rate, body temperature, sweating rate. Body, trembling. Autonomous behavior, problematic. Requesting relief from nearby units…….. help………… master, help oniicha—”

… He couldn’t hear the end of that voice.

His consciousness, he could feel that his self was fading away.

Is that so. Had I believed in my sister, could I get to live with her…?

To think that he overlooked that in his stupidity, the boy laughed.

… At the same time, he thought.

For that sake, they would’ve had to worship that monster as their lord.

Let their hearts fiddled with, live as a doll.

Or reject it, and then get killed by the hands of someone who has turned into a doll?

Cursing the world that only allowed such two options,

The boy was swallowed by the darkness of death.

—————————————————————————————————-

“Have you come to regret it?”

From the seat across, the maid, who was lending her shoulder to her lord who had fallen asleep, asked. Due did not respond quickly to the question.

The carriage have since moved again.

Tullius Oubeniel have conducted initial treatments for unit M-03 who was struck by a panic attack, after he finished the treatments, he complained a few times about a series of accidents before he decided to snooze. Having gazed upon that sleeping face, Due had several doubts.

“Regret, what regret…”

“The question’s premise was ambiguous. My apologies. Have you come to regret being saved by the master?”

As she lowered her head a little bit, Uni repeated his question.

For Due, it was the top question he didn’t want to hear at this moment.

“Hee. If I were to answer ‘yes’ then what would you do? Would you eliminate me for, er, ‘potential enmity’?”

Due asked Uni back as if to jeer at her.

This Oubeniel’s maid was one who would go as far as to exterminate your immediate family if you were to show harmful intention towards her master.

If you value your own life, then shouldn’t you answer her question with a ‘no’, though.

It was uncharacteristic of him to vent out his anger like that.

Due himself realised that, but his irritation was ever so increasing. .

“What a nonsensical question. We do not possess such functions. Discontent, distrust, disgust. While these emotions can still happen, they have all been adjusted so that they may not lead to a hostile action against the master.”

Her answer made Due shudder in revulsion. So once Tullius gets to mess with your head, even if you came to mourn and hate his snakey guts, those feelings would not fade away, and they would still serve him anyway. Of course, by him, he meant this efficiency advocate, although if the impact he inflicted upon his subjects goes beyond a certain negative threshold, that might not still be the case…

“What a troublesome thing…”

“If you have no capabilities to express dissatisfaction or desire towards a certain status quo, then even if you advise or remonstrate the master, what you wish wouldn’t be granted.”

“Yeah, but that only applies for us… didn’t he say he removed emotions from the mass-produced type?”

Uni sighed. She didn’t show a particular emotion, but it felt like she was treating him like a little idiot.

“The master said that he ‘restricted’ it, not ‘removed’ it.”

(“I require uniform performance from them, there’s however a considerable restriction on their emotion due to that though.”)

Ah, indeed, the lord indeed said so.

“There is this story. Master had once created slaves that have went through complete elimination of emotions in his experiments, but it was too poor of a workmanship for the master to actually use. He left the slaves’ five senses as they were, but even when he gave them pain, they would not respond. Even when they feel pain, they wouldn’t do anything about it. So that even though the senses remain, if there’s no emotion attached to it, it would not lead to an action. Of course, you can still set instructions in advance to deal with the resulting sense, but…. do you get what I mean?”

“Yeah, as much as I loath it——”

A doll that would avoid pain.

A doll that would eat when it is hungry.

In order for them to do such ordinary operation, on these puppet dolls instructions needed to be written one by one.

Rather than making such a thing,

“Rather than having to do such a troublesome thing, it’s better to use their emotions in the first place. Something like that?”

“Yes, that is correct. By leaving emotions tied to their senses, their emotions would be maintained, in turn, motivated by their emotions, actions would occur. So instead of excluding their emotions, a system method that limits their autonomy and fidelity to the extremes was adopted. However, this also inevitably impairs the flexibility of their self-action and thoughts. For that reason, as we would deal with situations that would need require more discretion from our part, for us superior units, such method cannot be utilised .”

So it’s just like how soldiers work, he added.

Due is a former adventurer. Solo was his creed, but he knew how to be a leader. If he couldn’t think on his own and follow a single pattern of predetermined thoughts, the party would have no future. Himself or Uni would therefore assume the leadership role, and the mass-produced type would be the members of the party who receive instructions. Tullius would be…. the guild or the client who would send themselves in harm’s way, probably?

“Then, why just didn’t he just simply write obedience and eliminate hostility towards him like what he did to me? It seems that a surgery like that would easier, and their heads won’t get all stiff like that, right?”

You’re already stiff as you are anyway, he couldn’t say that though.

“Besides, that way they wouldn’t do something so unreasonable like trying to save someone at one time then stab them at the very next moment. That sort of deliberate method of treatment—”

“Please do not misunderstand. Our process was much more complicated. The master had to keep a large portion of our emotion intact, while ensuring our obedience and eliminate our hostilities towards him—- to put it in an example, it’s like picking bad eggs from two baskets of eggs. It would take a lot of time, but a very large omelet could be made that way. The mass-produced type, on the other hand, is like picking a fresh egg out of the baskets then throwing all the baskets’ content away. The omelet would be smaller, but it’ll save a lot of time.”

It was a very maid-like parable.

If Due had to make a parable on his own, then it’d be like this. Like that of a bag and gold coins. The powerful units such as their own would be a big bag filled with money. In order to settle a large amount of transaction at once, the bag must be overturned first to separate the bad coins from the good coins that had mixed together in it. The mass-produced slaves are like a wallet used for smaller transactions, even when bad coins are mixed in, one can simply get the good ones at the time of payments and you can avoid issuing bad coins to the other party. You can’t spend a lot, but it sure is easier.

“That sure was a revolting metaphor… even though there’s still a heart in their body, that’ll just be thrown away in the name of efficiency, huh…”

“That is quite the late remark. After all, we’ll be our master’s possession for a long, long time.”

Then, Uni repeated her question,

“I will return to the earlier question, have you come to regret it? In exchange for keeping on living, you have become the master’s possession.”

“—— A bit late to talk about that.”

He tilted his head and shifted his gaze to the scenery outside the window. There was no figure of the boy in that passing scenery. Nor of the bandits he had cut off. Before they rot and spread diseases over, and before they got reanimated and become undeads, they were all properly already treated and buried.

Even if you deduct that last one, that act of slaughter in the name of test wasn’t a pleasant one. He did get drunk on euphoria in the first half of the battle due to the feeling of moving his enhanced body, and there were some sense of achievement as well. But after that he got bored with the lack of response, and he held his sword only by inertia. It’s like a handicap for a bully. He didn’t even know for what he wielded his sword for. To live for the sword and the sake of become stronger were his purpose of life, but now…

As Tullius had said. In exchange for life, he had to give everything. He had to swing his sword for the sake of his lord.

The contract with the devil has begun to reveal its price, a price that he begun to think he couldn’t bear.

“Well now, I’m regretting this, but…”

He cut apart his regret out of the window and faced the passenger seat,

“—- The thing I have now is my life, right? I believe it’ll cancel out someday, as long as I can continue to live.”

It was a casual answer unbecoming of the boorish Due.

It was unbecoming—- in the sense that he was playing it tough.

But, it was hard to say that it was a complete lie.

If you’re alive then you’re being lucky, that’s not an uncommon way of thinking for an adventurer. But if Due had to die, then he’d want to die a satisfying death as a swordsman. He wasn’t going to get it. So he accepted the invitation of the devilish alchemist, that way he can live long enough to get that.

As long as I can continue to live, I believe it’ll cancel out someday…………. Really?

Even so, all that Due could do was to continue to swing his sword. As long as he lives, even if he has to deceive his conscience and cut his honour down.

“Is that so.”

As she listened to the response to her answer, Uni sent a gentle look on the lord who was resting on her shoulder.

Although she was expressionless, her eyes reminded him a lot of his mother.

Was it out of adoration for Oubeniel, or was it out of the fact that she saw through Due’s bluff.

“The reason why the master noticed you, I think I finally understand.”

“Ah?”

“Surely, somewhere, he felt in you a part similar to himself.”

Her expression still didn’t change, but the way she breathed had some sort of special emotion in it.

Apparently, his reply was favourable for her and her subject of loyalty.

He would never meekly pleased with this, and with that pain in the neck, the swordsman who fooled Death shrugged his shoulders.

“To be likened to the lord of the ‘Silver Wolf’, that’s quite the honour.”

“You misunderstood something, ‘Two-Handed Sword’. When I say you’re similar to him, it was in a different sense of word. Even if you and the master have some degree of resemblance, you can never be him.”

With that, their conversation stopped.

The sound of the horseshoe that echoes regularly, the sound of the wheel that shakes occasionally, and the quiet breathing of the lord dominated the narrow space.

Can we get there a little bit faster? Though I don’t feel that I’m exactly looking forward to it.

“Next…… experiment…”
As he heard that sleeptalk, his anxiety grew even larger.

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Ouroboros Record – Chapter 6 – Zweihander

A few words before we begin.

I’ll be taking over this project from yAmi so s/he can dedicate his time for his/her other main project. I must say this story interests me enough to the point I actually want people to read it. And so here we are.

This will not be the only project in this site. I will eventually pick up other projects (and you get to suggest me new projects to pick up). But I will do it only after we catch up with the latest chapter of the Ouroboros WN. I do commissioned LN translations from time to time and if the commissioner give me the green light I’ll put them here as well.

Regretfully, due to my job (I work part-time as a translator in a certain firm and do some freelance jobs as well), I must say that I can’t update this WN regularly, though I will at the very least try to deliver one chapter a week. On the flip side though, if you’re in luck I may, from time to time, give you back-to-back chapters in a very short interval.

That said however, while I work as a translator I am still learning Japanese and may make mistakes from time to time. I do have a senior back in my firm to do a QC for me in my professional capacity, but here I don’t have any. So I’ll be depending on you readers to correct me if you spot a grammar/spelling mistake. Just post your correction directly in the comments. I can get yAmi to do it for me, but that’ll take too much time so I’ll just do skythewood’s approach to QC instead.

Big thanks to yAmi for introducing me to the series and of course, to the author for writing this “wonderful” story.

Well then, without further ado, enjoy this horrific ride.

———————————————————————————————————————————–

TL: yAmi and Sychev

QC: Sychev


Chapter VI – Zweihander

…….It’s raining.

With the leaves covering up the sky, it was as dark as the night inside the forest.

Within the darkness, the gentle and slow drips of water cruelly stole heat from an emaciated body.

—–I made a blunder.

The man mumbled noiselessly.

“It seems you’re quite capable. There is a difficult mountain to cross, but won’t you go with me?”
Those were the words that started off everything.

The party leader who was of the same rank as him called out to him. He was a person who seeks the thrill of adventure and would travel between different cities to try something new. He talked with gusto. Something about high ranking adventurers forming an alliance– a union of party members or solo adventurers — to challenge a high-level dungeon together. Laid waiting for us there were vast rewards, rare resources, legendary treasures and formidable foes itching for a fight.

I’ve been making it a personal principle to be solitary and not rely on others, but being baited by the talk to help that other party was the limit of my luck. It was all good up until we got into the dungeon and took down the boss guarding the treasure. But what awaited after that was a sneaky deceit from that very same guy who sold me the talk.

Now that I reflect upon it, apart from the core members of the party, others, including me, were mostly solo adventurers. There must had been plans to cut these solo folks off once they’ve taken hold of the treasure. Now, it’s a widely established theory that compared to adventurers similarly ranked as me, I am stronger as a lone wolf, but that’s only true in a perfect world where the battles are one on one. So when they sneakily push troublesome things on me along the road, and once I’ve exhausted myself they sneakily ganged up on me, at that time I couldn’t resist them. On top of that, there were these folks in uniform they’ve had been hiding all along and they went all gung ho on me. Out of the solo adventurers joined that alliance, I’m the only one left alive.

—I was a fool.

The adventurer was a man classified as a veteran. He was still young but he has trodden in this path for very long. Born as a commoner, he sharpened his skills at the town’s vigilante corps. He abandoned his seemingly unending monotone life by leaving his hometown seven years ago. If you can manage a year in this promising world, you must be sufficiently talented. Well, this is the result.

Killing fellow adventurers is a dastardly act– I should’ve never shown my back to fellows I know I couldn’t trust. I broke my cardinal rule due to some unnecessary greed and here I am paying the ultimate price.

I crushed those turncoats in that ensuing battle. That’s good and all, but as a result, I’ve received wounds that’s definitely not shallow. I’ve used up all my recovery potions and what’s left in my hand is only the sword I’m carrying. And it seems that I’m about to meet my vain end holding this very sword.

—-To think I’d end in a place like this

Intense regret filled my chest, along with it, intense pain.

No. I don’t want to end this way. Dying in a forest where there is no one, dying and turn into a skull. That’s still fine by me. But there’s no way I want to die in a half-assed way like this.

I want to wield my sword more! I want to master the sword more! I want to fight with my sword more!

When all I did was passing meaningless time in a certain small town, I had thought upon reaching the highest height of the art of sword. It was all I have as a man. Money, women, alcohol, food— nothing is as important to me as winning with this sword-carrying arm. I’d swing my blade in every free time I had, I’d slash my enemies with it if there’s one, and never there was a day when I don’t improve my skills. But this day, at this time, all of it just went to nothing.
This is too much, I thought to myself.

I have tried to build a stronghold of sword, it was like picking river pebbles and stacking them up until this very day, and now with just this one mistake, it’ll collapse without a trace. How regretful I am. If the one who ended it was a master in the art then I can still accept that, but to think that it’s a traitor’s blade that would send this body to meet its demise, it’s regrettable. What a pity.

—- I don’t want to die.

Finally, the remaining regret fills the rest of my line of thoughts.

I don’t want to die, ah, I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die.

Rely on the sword, and without being carried away, swing it. Such was the pride I’ve imposed on myself. Even if one tries to overturn or bend this principle of mine, all I wanted was to live singlemindedly according to it. I wanted to life more as I slash and kill under that belief while I send all dead bodies to bite the dust. If you think that’s pathetic, go ahead and laugh. If you scorn me for being a man without honour, then go ahead and do that. My only honour from the beginning were only this arm and this sword of mine, anyway.  I will never bear the fact that this would all be scattered away by a foolish brute who did not understand the path of the sword.

—- Let me live
—- Grant me the power to ward away these arms of Death
—- Now, for that, I’m willing to do anything
—- I’d cast away my pride, I’d sell my soul
—- Just for me to live by the sword once again!

It was at that time.

… It was then.
What he heard was the sound of horseshoe as it hit mud. And with that, the sound of wheels traversing over rough grounds.

—- A carriage?

He came to realise that he’s currently on a highway. Apparently as he unconsciously crawled in dirt and hanged on to what little life he have left, he had finally cut his way through the forest. And now a carriage is coming over his direction.

With a horse’s loud neigh, the carriage stopped before it could run the man over.

A figure alighted from the carriage. The ground was wet and muddy from the rain, and yet the figure made no sound as it descended.

As the man inadvertently doubt his eyes, he lets a sound.

“Huh…?”

What appeared there was a young woman.

In this darkness, the woman’s white, delicate skin stood out even to his hazy eyes. The pair of eyes staring down at him was like a pair of large grain of emeralds. Fascinating as it was to behold, there was a certain coldness and rigidness in it. Her elegant features were breathtakingly remarkable. But while she possessed such an insuppressible beauty to gaze at, it was not the only thing that surprised the man.

She was wearing a one-piece dress with elaborate embroidery on the cuffs, and a white apron that seemed to shed light into the darkness of the forest. A piece of white cloth adorned her glossy black hair. One her left arm was an armband that jokingly read “la premier servant”.

Maids. Servants that work in households of noblemen or select wealthy merchants. Why is someone like that currently here, in a rainy road by the forest, standing in front of a dying swordsman?

It was a strange sight. Certainly it isn’t weird for a person that can afford to be carried in a carriage to be accompanied by a maid, but, normally if one encounters a collapsed person in injuries on the road, they wouldn’t get off their carriage first and foremost. Well, he thought he was seeing things, as what he saw before him was making no sense.

The man thought he was going senile at that time, but then he came to a realisation.

—- She’s carrying a sword with her.

Hanging by the woman’s left hip was a sheathed sword. The make was of a double-edged blade, the width of each blade was probably about sixty centimetres. But although it was indeed a suitable weapon for ones with slender arms, it was still strange that a servant woman would carry it about.

On her left chest, over her apron, stretching over like a name tag was the adventurer guild’s plate tag.

—- And that shiny silver colored thing on her neck, is it a slave collar?

A maid with a sword, and on her the adventurer guild’s ID, and a proof of slavehood.
There was only one woman that meets such specific characteristic that the man knew.

“‘Silver Wolf’…?”

It was a rumor that he had heard in the neighboring country’s capital of the Kingdom of Arquell, Broussonne. Among the adventurers based on this town, there is a certain slave-maid kept by a nobleman.

She was known by the name “Uni, The Silver Wolf”.

She wasn’t one that can simply be made light as a collar-tied bitch. Her true nature was of a silver coloured cursed wolf. She was named as the sort of a hellish beast who would decapitate one without fail once she sees the other party as an enemy.

“… … It has been a while since people called me that, such a nostalgic name”

To the man’s words the woman replied.

Her tone was dry and inorganic, but her voice was one of a very young woman. Age can’t be discerned from her extremely gracious look, but what from he observed, she was in the middle of her teens. It was all consistent with the features of the “Silver Wolf”.

“You called me with that name… Who are you?”

The woman observed the man with the likes of the watchful eyes of a hound dog.

She’s strong. The man’s hunch tells him so. Her height is lower than him by two heads, and she should be quite light, probably half his weight. Even so, he could feel her bloodthirst even when she wasn’t actually letting out her fighting spirit, and such feeling of intimidation resonated with his wounds. Perhaps, even if he were in a perfect condition, he wouldn’t get far if she were to be his opponent.

There’s no mistake. The woman must be “The Silver Wolf”.

With such conviction, tales of the woman’s deeds floated in the man’s mind.

She became an adventurer at the age of ten, and she was promoted to D-Class Adventurer within just a year.

At that time, she slayed three Class-D adventurers who insulted her master for their rudeness without giving them a chance to fight back.

After she became Rank-C, she stayed at that rank, but she was one of the few special cases, one of the two names, awarded for exceptional rate of request achievements…..

But out of all those stories, this one is the best. There was this wretched party who tried to monopolise a good hunting place by driving out a few good B class adventurer out of town and occupying the town’s dungeon. Then something came along and slaughtered the party in the blink of an eye and left. The Guild was caught up in it and was all like, oh good gracious, did a high-ranked monster appear there or something, it was then when one of their receptionists jokingly said:

“This monster you people are talking about… could it be, perchance, a silver wolf?”

Like that.

Just before the incident, someone said that they saw The Silver Wolf’s figure heading for that dungeon.

Those stories might have been unlikely tall-tales, but here, the man’s vivid sense of reality is pushing against him. The sound of rainwater mingled with the sound of cold saliva ringing through his throat. He thought to himself, so this was the sensation of holding my own breath.

To the rigid and trembling man, the woman asked another question.

“Do you wish to die?”

“Ha…..?”

“If you’re not one that would bring harm to Master, he might grant you mercy, and that way your life may be saved.”

Those words caught the man’s heart.

“………!”

Can my life be saved?
Can I avoid my death?
This woman, she said that right?
The man clinged to the hope that was reaching him like a stretched straw

“I will ask one more time, who…..”

“Are you”, but her voice was cancelled out.
The man let out his true will.

“… Don’t…”

“?”

“… Don’t want, to die… “
“First, I’d like to ask who you are though…”

“… Don’t, want, to die!…. I, don’t want to die, at all!”

His voice, filled with anxiety, resounded in the dark forest.

For the man who was turned a blind eye by both god and saviours, it was a desperate, pathetic plea.
But that plea seems to be granted,

“— Eh? Do you really mean that?”

There, before his eyes, was the Devil himself.

“…. Master?”

The Silver Wolf looked up to the alighted man thoughtfully.
Master, she said? Is the person The Silver Wolf’s lord?

He was a young man. Apparently he wasn’t in his twenties yet, but while he might be in his later teens,  he retained most of his youthful, boyish looks. His eyes were blue, in contrast of his red, copper hair. His facial features was all in a good order, but it didn’t give off any sense of individuality. Like a cheap doll, his looks was a balanced one, one that would not invoke any impression upon a glimpse.  No matter how the man him, he could only see a mediocre-looking aristocrat in front of him.

Is this awfully average-looking young man really the Silver Wolf’s master?

The young man, slowly, took another step closer to approach the confused man.

“Please stand back, I have yet to discern this individual’s identity.”

“Isn’t he just an injured person? He seems to be an adventurer.”

“There is a possibility that he could be an assassin pretending to be one”

The woman repeated her statement to the young lord whose looking at the man without a care.
But the woman’s master treated her words like a passing wind and continued to approach the man.

“Even if that’s true, what can he do in this state?”

His words was full of calm confidence.

If he were another normal man, even if the other party were out of blood or in deep wounds, even if he was in the presence of the Silver Wolf, it was an insult that could get him killed by the opponent.

But the man realised it. The ambience that the youth in front of him carried was not of a careless contempt at his half-dead self. Even if the man was in perfect condition, at the very least by no means the youth would let himself get wounded.

The Silver Wolf quietly backed down, perhaps she understood this too.

“— I have overstepped my bounds.”

“It’s fine. I don’t mind it anyway.”

While waving his hand to his servant, he crouched down beside the fallen man.
Then, he whispered with a gentle voice.

“‘I don’t want to die’. You certainly said that, right?”

“R-right”

The man responded to the question in affirmation.

“No matter what the price, you don’t want to die, right?”

“Right.”

The man responded to the question in affirmation.

“Even if your sword is turned against anyone, you still don’t want to die, right?”

“Right….!”

The man responded to the question in affirmation.

“Even if you turn into anything, you really don’t want to die, right?”

“Right!”

The man responded to the question… in affirmation.

“Don’t, want to die! I… don’t want to die!”

As if to wash away mud on his face, his tears flow.
Slush mixed in with the snot he sniffed.
It truly was a pathetic sight. Is that how an adventurer, a swordsman, supposed to look like?
Even so, no matter how unsightly it was…

“Even…. even if I have to abandon my pride! Even if I have to sell my soul! Don’t want to die! … I don’t want to die!”

“—- Very well.”

The Devil acknowledged his answer.

“That answer, is more important than who you are, and more than anything you have invoked my empathy.”

“Will you… help me?”

“Yes, of course…. Uni, help me carry him to the carriage. I thought this was going to be a boring business trip, but it appears that I’ll be picking up an unexpected thing on my way back.”

“As Master wills it.”

“Well then, first of all I must do the emergency treatment I suppose. B-01, if you have a moment. Fetch me the following from the piled tools. Disinfectant for powerful anesthesia, bandages, splints, and haematinics.”

The young lord issued orders to the maid and the man who terribly lacked in presence.

To his profile, the man unconsciously asked,

“Hey, you…. if I were to reply… ‘I didn’t say that’, then what were you planning to do?”

At the verge of his death, he accepted his obsession with life and reached out to the first party that offered a helping hand.
If the man were to refuse the youth, what would happen then?
It was a question that he could not stop minding.

“Hmm? Let’s see… If you answered that way, then…”

And the youth indifferently returned a terrifying answer,

“— I’d grant you death that you would’ve wished for. Then I’d do experiments on your dead body.”

“… Is, that so?”

The man closed his eyelids without prying too much on the meaning of those words.

“You really don’t have anything to be afraid of, you know…? Your answer was the correct one….”

And then his consciousness sunk to the darkness.
As the men fell asleep, he prayed that the next time he woke up, he’d be alive, as his usual self.

The man’s wish will be granted, partially.

That is, even if he’ll be alive and he’ll open his eyes once more, he will not find his own unchanged.

————————————————————————————————————-

“Ah, what fine weather…”

While holding up a hand towards the sun, I stretched myself as far as I could.
With that I deluded myself into believing that the fatigue in my joints and muscles that went through work last night melt away in the morning light.
Well, a delusion can only be a delusion. But this weather sure is comforting.

“Sure is an ideal morning to set off for a trip, don’t you think so, ani-ue?”

I said so as I look behind to the the very man who spent all night packing up my stuff.
To that word, my brother, Linus Streinn Oubeniel, returned me a radiant smile.

“Ah, that’s right Tullius. The sun sure is spectacular today, it’s suitable for the day when my little brother finally sets off from this mansion.”

“It totally is! Ahahahahaha…”

“Ahahahaha…..”

Even on the day of the parting, our laugh cheerfully intertwine with each other at this time for us two brothers.
It truly was a heartwarming, wonderful sight.
Despite that, why is it for some reason the vassals’ faces that went out to send me off were all straight or frowning?
Probably it was because the exchange was full of hypocritical sarcasm, couldn’t be helped though.

“Are you all set? Well, off you go then.”

Said my brother whose face turned serious again.
His mood was unexpectedly good, I revised my evaluation at that moment.
Well, while it is better than dragging it out, I did expect a little more sensible response.

“Yes. Well then, I’ll see you later.”

“Oh my, Tullius. It’s a bit embarrassing that you used the wrong expression here at this time. You should’ve said ‘good-bye’”

“Ahahaha! Ani-ue sure is harsh. But, didn’t you use the wrong expression too?”

TL Note: I think it’s easy to catch the subtleties in this exchange but since some meaning was lost in translation I’m gonna explain anyway. What Tullius said was “ittekimasu”, which implied that he’d be off temporarily and will return to the mansion. Linus corrected that by saying that he should’ve said “sayonara”, which pretty much mean an indefinite farewell. Linus sure hates him.

“Hm? I don’t think I have another word to say to you anymore.”

“Ah there you go again. I thought you wanted to say, something along the lines of, like…”

I showed and moved my lips without making a voice.
Go. To. Hell.

“—- Like that, right?”

“…. This bastard, ahahahaha!”

“Ahahahahaha!”

With the tension after staying up all night incessantly nonexistent for the joking me, my brother laughed casually while showing a thick blood vessel on his forehead.
Ah, that’s not good. Due to what I’ve done, the mood over there is starting to put too much pressure on his body.
As expected being sleep-starved just won’t do, so I thought while looking ways to end our conversation. But then,

“Are you brothers done with your two-people skit?”

A low brazen voice broke in.
It came to our notice that by the mansion’s main entrance, a man was standing there while leaning on the doors.
His black mantle was full of holes here and there, and there were many cracks on his cuirass. The brigand-looking man was clad in tattered black. On his back, however, rested a crossed Zweihander. The intrusive atmosphered it created gave an impression that he was not an ordinary person.

TL Note: Since the author used the word “crossed” here I’m assuming that there are two Zweihanders. But then again I could be wrong as the author didn’t mention any number. For now I’ll take the conservative approach and say it’s one.

“… Who are you?”

My brother asked him with a rough voice. Of course. He never saw the man in the mansion even until yesterday. That said, he didn’t seem to be a person that belong in a place like a nobleman’s house.

The way my brother looked at him was a dangerous one, like at those times when he’d occasionally pick a fight with me. At this rate, he might call the guards and order them to knock him down.

I decided to stop him before that happens.

“He’s an adventurer I hired to escort me. Or not, since he’ll be working exclusively for me from now on, I suppose a former adventurer would be more proper, then?”

There was no need to spout a lie, so I told him the truth. As a response, bluntly,

“It’s not like I would mind accepting a request for another escort from you, you know that?”

He put his words in.
My brother knitted his brows.

“Wasn’t the departure order issued yesterday?”
“Indeed. I know it’s absurd of me, but he’s just the right man, he was in the neighborhood and he was acquainted with Uni. Although I felt sorry for him because my request was sudden, I decided to ask him to escort me anyway.”

To my brother my explanation may only suspicious but apparently he judged that there wasn’t a lie in my words, he humphed as he snorted.

“Apologies for my rudeness, my little brother’s guest. If possible, can I know your name?”

Although he said he was sorry, he didn’t seem to be at all compunctious. Well, he’s an high aristocrat and an acting Count. Probably he doesn’t see the dirty-looking adventurer folk as a fellow human.

The man probably understood that as well, so after he shrugged his shoulders lightly, he asserted his name.

“Due. Due Schwarzer. Rank B Adventurer. If you’re familiar with the industry, I go around with the name ‘Two Handed Sword Due”—”

“Pardon me, but it’s the first time I heard of that name.”

Right, said Due as he let out an exaggerated sigh. My brother might have put out a request at times but probably he just went straight to the receptionist, laid out his terms and pay out the rewards. Usually noblemen would either do that or hire their own exclusive adventurers, so they wouldn’t care about other adventurers.

In the first place, it’s commonplace that aristocrats would see other commoners, except for those in the priesthood or a few merchants, as livestocks and naturally look down upon them. Of course, they see slaves as lesser than that. If you kill a livestock, you can still get indicted, but when it comes to slaves you can actually hunt them as some sort of a prey. But as you can see from the infamy that is mine truly, it’s not actually a completely accepted practice.

And so, my brother’s elusive attitude pretty much falls in the category of a common sense in this world. Due wouldn’t be angry. Or at least I think he won’t.

“Have you finished profiling him, ani-ue? Then, Due, you get into a carriage too. I would suggest you use mine, there. There is another carriage for my escorts, but its ceiling is low and I suppose your prided sword would get stuck and we don’t want that do we?”

“Alrite. Truly is an honour to accompany the new Viscount.”

Due headed towards my carriage as he said that.
My brother carefully watches over his back as he went.

“To think that you’d hire an adventurer other than that girl, do you find your prided dog lacking?”

Perhaps he wasn’t done with his sarcasm.
It’s annoying to let him say that, but for now I’ll swallow it and let it slide.

“I received a great peerage and I don’t think her hands are enough to help me around. So I thought it’d be better to increase the number of hands available, else her beauty may get impaired, you see?”

The face of my brother when he heard my answer was quite a sight.

—————————————————————————————————–

“But this sure feels weird.”

As we spent a while treading the highway spanning from the kingdom’s capital, Due opened his mouth.
He was stroking a part of his forehead, just above his eyebrows with one fingertip, while I was looking at the scenery outside the window.
“You said you tinkered with my head as you liked it, but what I feel is oddly refreshing. I thought there’d be more…. dizziness, nausea, things like that.”

“That is because I did my utmost to avoid such aftereffects.”

While leaning on my cheek and leaving my body to the vibrations of the carriage, I entertain myself by talking to him.

Truthfully, I’m really, really sleepy and I can’t stand it, to the point that I want to sleep all the way until we reach our inn. But the data for my new work of which I have completed adjustments upon is also valuable. As a result, I instead  decided to draw out various responses from our conversation.

That’s right.

The swordsman clad in black, adventurer Due Schwarz. He is the “product” of my most earnest efforts that I hadn’t been doing for a while now and thus he is now my second masterpiece, Opus 2, following Uni, my Opus 1.

The remodeling given to Due to improve his abilities, compared to Uni, who were strengthened by medication from her childhood along with growth nurtured by efficient training, took a contrasting approach.

With reference data taken from the slaves’ forced remodeling procedures of mass-produced type, such as the M-Series, he was thoroughly remodeled after his body has reached adulthood. I reinforced the strength of his skeleton to optimise the placement of his muscle tissues, and improved the transmission rate of his nervous system and so on. That would make his physical ability to jump dramatically in a short period of time———- well, it should be. I don’t know since I have yet to conduct the product test.

So to speak, the contrasting approach were between Uni, whose modifications took a long time by utilising medicine and training, and Due, whose remodelling surgery took a very short amount of time. Regarding which approach is better, well, probably it’s better to say both of them has their own advantages and disadvantages. In Uni’s case, her brain was modified during her early childhood during its developmental stage, and as a result of multidisciplinary education she has become exceedingly versatile as one individual unit. It did take time to train her, but as a result, she is now a prodigal generalist. Meanwhile, in Due’s case, he has already accumulated experience in one particular field over so many years, and therefore to fully utilise this specific advantage, adjustments were made to make him a specialist. While it means that it’d be hard for him to be flexible in combat, it can be expected that he’ll exceed further in his field of specialty. On top of that, as long he meets the conditions in his prime field, sooner or later the immediate disposition that he may develop will be his selling point. However, Uni still has a hidden card—

As I think about various things—

“That said, we and our lord sure are bad with people”

So said Due with a laugh and a wide grin.
“What are you talking about?”

“When you introduced me to your older brother, you see. How to say this, you did make quite the big lie there.”

“The Master did not lie, not one bit.”

Uni, who had silently been documenting our conversation in the corner, raised her face and started to argue.

“I was the one to met you first, and your body was kept in the basement of the mansion, which means you were in fact in the neighborhood. Your final adjustments were done in haste due to our sudden departure, and thus, while it is rude to infer the Master’s will, in a way we do owe you an apology.”

Then, she continued, “though I’m being presumptuous, in my opinion that wouldn’t be necessary though.”

As expected from my childhood friend (can I call her that, though?). She understands my intention well. Certainly it was Uni who first found Due, who fell down in the way of our carriage, when we were getting back from St. Gallen after we returned the investigator. He wished to avoid death no matter what I do to him, so I remodeled him as my personal guard and he gets to hold on to his life. And of course, when I said he was around, I meant that he was in the lab, which was emptied before today’s daybreak. Just as she said, I didn’t lie when I explained it to my older brother. There were just, more or less, some missing facts.

Due opened his mouth widely and laughed.

“Hahahaha! You sure are a smooth talker, ah? Silver Wolf-san. Or would you prefer me to call you ‘senior’?”

“Call me as you please.”

“Anyway, you. It came to my attention when we met but, you sure are cold huh, senior. Is it because of that? The difference in the way our heads were tinkered, the generational gap of our surgery?”

“No. I did the same thing.”

Perhaps he misunderstood something, as he kept his jaw open.
“… Huh?”

“As I said, the substance of both her and your brain surgeries is exactly the same, I wrote obedience and eliminated hostility towards me. There were few differences in the detail, but as there are some distinctions between a man’s brain and a woman’s…. But other than that, you can say that everything else is pretty much the same.”

As I finished my explanation Doue looked like a pigeon that got struck by a bean gun. That said, there are neither beans nor a thing that you can call a gun in this world yet.

TL Note: “a pigeon that got struck by a bean gun” is a Japanese expression that can simply be translated in English as “dumbfounded”, I kept it as it is as the second sentence would make no sense if I were to simply translate it in that way.

“After all, if you tinker the brain too much, there would be more demerits, you see? Especially in Uni’s case, I went into the trouble to educate her from her childhood while raising the basic performance of her brain tissues. I can’t afford to mess up with it, that’s just stupid, right? Well, in the case of the mass production types, I require uniform performance from them, there’s however a considerable restriction on their emotion due to that though.”

“Eh? then… then, basically, their personality is like that of the mass-produced type over there? This guy here.”

That’s right. To simply put it, it’s an archetypal character which I educated, restrained, and trained in its entirety.

“Uwaaah. I can’t believe it.”

“As for me, I can’t believe how insolent you are. Master, I propose another readjustment to implement alterations on his language field later.”

“Oi, oi, give me a break here, senior.”

“Give him a break, Uni. Think about it, reservedly speaking, Due may look a bit scruffy, but he’s terribly punctilious and behave with an excellent standard of conduct.”

“… I see. Indeed someone that can still tremble in fear would be quite the spectacle. For failing to see Master’s farsightedness, my humblest apologies.”

“Don’t think emotions like that as an appeal, okay!?”

Seeing Doue splendidly playing the straight man and Uni being a little more talkative than usual, I felt my cheeks a little bit loosened.

As he is capable to express rich emotions, it’s safe to say that there’s no sequelae after his surgery.

… It was when I indulged in that feeling,

“Uwah!”

“Master?!”

“Whoa there!”

Suddenly, with the horse’s loud neigh, my body swayed greatly and I was thrown out from my seat. Fortunately, thanks to Uni who quickly caught me, there’s no problem here. No, even though she left it like that, I won’t get injured as I’m wearing this dress.

I stroked Uni’s head in exchange of a word of thanks, then I let go of her, returned to my seat and asked away,

“B-01, what happened?”

“There’s a raid, Master. Perhaps it is a bandit troupe.”

Bandit raid. Not at all an impossible situation. It’s because of this there’s the escort business between adventurers and individuals in this world.

For a moment, I thought for a moment that this might’ve been instigated by my brother, but considering yesterday and today, this hastiness just doesn’t suit his preference nor his principle. It’d be reasonable to consider this as a coincidence.

“Even though we’re still very close to the kingdom’s capital, they sure are brave. Do they fear not the knight order’s patrol?”

The Royal Capital is just around the corner. And we’re within the reach of the Royal Guard, the kingdom’s finest. Their force can cut off the likes of a bandit hands down.

“Perhaps it’s the type of bandit that regularly move their base.”

Uni supplemented a conscientious remark as a response to my monologue. As expected from a titled adventurer. Up until a few years ago, she must’ve done this kind of thing with her clients.

“I see. So they quickly rob valuable things and depart as quickly before they can get caught by the authorities. I suppose they’d repeat this in every place they go?”

“Indeed. In order to maintain simplicity, they typically wouldn’t negotiate or abduct for ransom. In their case they would simply kill everyone and take away the goods.”

Damn you, historical plays. A murder-robbery like in my previous world? Certainly, if there’s an emphasis on time constraints, it is quicker to kill everyone and take their goods away.

As expected, I just can’t keep my calm when dealing with these kind of people. In a fit of annoyance I scratched my head a little roughly.

“To think this’d happen on my day of departure. Sigh—”

—- Is this luck, or misfortune…?

With that implicit remarks in mind, I looked at the untested “product”, who currently is standing by for orders and is raring to go.