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.
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.
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—–
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.
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?”
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.
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.
“… 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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?”
“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?”
“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!”
From his chest, he could hear a casual sound that was so faint it he could’ve missed it.
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.”
“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.
As he heard that sleeptalk, his anxiety grew even larger.