Meanwhile, in a hut along the main road, there was a red-haired youth overlooking his fallen subordinates.
Bright red wine dripped from a strewn glass, spreading blood-like stains across the floorboards.
A beastkin mustered the last of his strength to reach out to the youth. The youth simply stamped down on the hand that attempted to grip his leg.
“Why? Such is the way of things for everything to continue moving smoothly.”
Although it was a necessity, even he felt bad for having to go this far.
The youth’s goal was to take advantage of Lunéville’s new arena and release monsters there, sprouting mayhem.
The first barrier for him was securing monsters, but he was able to complete that rather easily through a collaborator.
The second barrier was ferrying the monsters into Lunéville.
He’d managed to successfully accomplish that thanks to the fact that the youth pretended to be an ever-moving peddler coming in and out of town, as well as the fact that Lunéville’s citizens were generally used to peace.
However, he hadn’t foreseen that the Branch Vice Manager, someone he’d spoken to about this and that, would suddenly disappear. He’d initially thought that the man’s existence was a hindrance, but the fool leaking information about the guardsmen and what was going on in town had turned out to make him a beneficial acquaintance.
For him, someone who was eventually able to enter the town without any hindrances, the final obstacle was to ferry them into the arena, but while all of this was to make it easier for the youth to escape unnoticed, he was ready to release the monsters immediately if he’d been found out en route.
And now, having safely escaped Lunéville, the youth shifted over to dealing with the loose ends.
In this case, that meant having the people involved drink wine that had been laced with poison in order to destroy anything that could connect him to the crime.
Although he’d also planted suicide bomb stones into their luggage just in case anything unexpected occurred, they hadn’t detected the poison, allowing him to save on not having to activate the rather expensive stones, so he was happy about that.
Everything was for the sake of constructing a world for humans and humans alone.
“And that’s what you lot helped with.”
The amiable smile on the youth’s face vanished, his face turning into cold indifference as he looked over his fallen subordinates.
They were people who’d grown to resent Lunéville’s prosperity due to themselves losing their jobs in other areas of Rondéville.
As far as the youth was concerned, nothing of value was lost with their lives. They’d actually managed to do something helpful by dying for him.
“Goodbye, you unsightly beasts. You’d always wanted to die in nature rather than some dim arena, right?”
A fire lit to battle the cold of winter being left unattended and causing a fire in a hut wasn’t so rare.
The youth started to recite the incantation of the only fire magic he could use and—
“Oookay, that’s enough.”
—was interrupted by a sudden voice.
The youth was surprised by suddenly hearing a voice after not noticing any signals of their arrival, but he quickly managed to recover his composure.
“Th-this place is… I’m sorry. It looks like someone forced them to drink poison, so I was going to lay them to rest…”
If one were to judge the youth on his tone and expression alone, most would have believed the youth’s tale.
However, this man… Claude, merely laughed.
“Kukuh, yeah, sure, sure. It loooooks like it.”
“… Err, I’m not sure I…”
“I heard everything. Saw it, too. You can drop the act~”
Claude waved his hand at the youth, who’d started attempting to keep up his act, in dismissal.
Seeing Claude act so confidently, the youth let out a sigh and looked at Claude once more.
His eyes were cold, ridicule pasted on his face.
“You’re a human too yeah? So could you just not get in my way? If you heard it all, you should get it. I hope that you won’t take this the wrong way.”
“You know, I can’t just overlook what you perpetrated in Lunéville~”
“…. Hmph. Even if you catch me, that won’t stop the monsters. You should hurry up an—”
—head back to do something about them.
Those words never made it past his lips.
“… What’s so funny?”
Because he saw Claude holding his own mouth, his shoulders bouncing up and down.
Finally managing to settle down, Claude spoke.
Not understanding what the man was talking about, the youth frowned in bewilderment, but the man didn’t seem to be worried at all… rather, his smile seemed to deepen as he continued.
“Man, I didn’t think you’d fess up so easy. Thanks for the confession, really. You saved me a lot of time.”
The youth reached for the sword at his waist, assuming a battle stance.
The distance between them was much too short, so attempting to recite an incantation would give him an opening.
In the instant Claude went for his own sword, the youth’s blade went for Claude’s neck. However—
The one to be surprised was the youth.
He only realized that his target had managed to unsheathe his sword at some point once his own sword was repelled.
However, in the amount of time it took for his eyes to blink once, steel struck steel and sparks flew. The youth’s sword was severed practically at the hilt.
“Although you choosing to rely on your sword given the distance… going with a thrust was a mistake~”
The pressure he felt coming off Claude, who was clapping himself on the shoulder with the brunt of his blade, was something he didn’t even see coming from strong guild members or powerful monsters.
That being the case, he couldn’t see any situation where he could safely escape this man who just kept smiling leisurely.
(… In that case.)
He just had to not run away.
The youth put his hand into the bag at his waist and took out a stone.
The worst possible outcome would be he himself letting out the information he wanted to stay hidden.
The youth had chosen to take his own life.
“Oh come now~”
Before he was able to say the incantation and fill it with mana, the youth’s fingers and the stone they were holding were sliced straight through. The fire elements being unleashed by the stone disappeared.
A stunned utterance came from the youth, blood spouting from the stubs of his fingers.
Enduring the chill that assaulted his body and the scorching pain in his hand, he attempted to remove another stone from the bag with his other hand. However, that didn’t work out either.
When the youth shifted his attention behind him, he saw someone gripping his arm—a dog beastkin girl.
“Oh, nice, Katie.”
The youth tried to shout something out, but Katie gagged his mouth. Given that his bag had also already been taken from him, he no longer had any means to resist.
Claude, who’d caused the youth to faint through a restraining magic normally used by official knights and tied the youth up, turned to see Katie staring fixedly at him.
“… What’s up?”
“Mmm… well, I know what it looks like but I was just a bottom feeder in the knights.”
Claude said it as a joke, but Katie’s gaze seemed to say she wasn’t convinced at all.
Katie, who’d belonged to the Thieves Guild, had seen the might of the country’s knights and army many times.
Even among them, Claude’s strength seemed to be rather high.
“… So, why did you tell me to wait on standby?”
Claude, looking a little hesitant, scratched his head and opened his mouth.
“I don’t know what you and Bard have done until now.”
Just by seeing the way they carried themselves and how strong they were, he could tell that they’d done dangerous things.
“But whatever you guys did do, you two are now part of the branch’s personnel. You don’t have to do things like this anymore.”
“You don’t have to go back to what you were doing.”
Claude looked ahead as he said that, looking as though he were seeing some other place.
The memory playing through his mind was the war that he and Hector had participated in.
Grief bore grudges, grudges invited hatred, people turning inhuman, killing each other.
The reason he’d asked her to wait this time was simply for his own self-satisfaction of protecting someone who’d escaped from that.
Self-aware of that, Claude smiled in self ridicule, as though he were trying to avoid his own dark feelings.
“Whaaat, do I look a cooler now?”
“… A bit.”
“A bit huh~”
Seeing Claude smile so bitterly, Katie continued.
“I want to fight too. Same with Bard. Because we, we’re part of the team.”
They had a right to fight for the place they could belong.
Her eyes shone with strength as she spoke, her smiling face shining with aspiration.
Just then, she lacked any of the fragility she had when she’d first come to the branch.
“… Really? You’re strong, Katie.”
No, she probably grew stronger.
Katie smiled at Claude, who’d thought that and began to fall into self-hate.
“If we went head on, you’d probably win, Claude.”
“Ah, that’s not what I meant…”
At a loss for how to respond properly, Claude looked up into the air.
The serene sky seemed to help keep Claude’s heart from sinking even further.
“… But alright.”
With neither self-hatred nor self-deceit, Claude just smiled weakly at Katie and walked together with her back to Lunéville.