A Stand-in Exacting Revenge
Thunder rumbled and lightning crackled with the pouring rain. Each drop made white splashes as it hit the cobblestones. Hikaru was out in the cold without a coat, soaking wet. Soon he arrived at his destination: Count Morgstad’s villa.
He thought about going through the back, but the entrance was locked, wasting five minutes of his precious time. So Hikaru opted to sneak in through the front. The front entrance wasn’t locked for the night guards to go in and out.
Under some eaves, Hikaru squeezed the water out of his cuffs then opened the door.
「The guest the other day was filthy rich…」
「Oh, the day I took a leave…」
Talk about bad luck. Two servants passed by.
But they simply went on without stopping. Hikaru was inside, but the two didn’t notice him at all. Unbelievable. Here I am, striding in boldly and they didn’t even notice. He now realized that the three Skills he learned under “Stealth” were more incredible than he imagined. Turning the Skill on and off was possible. It was an odd way to put it but Stealth would activate when Hikaru was fired up. He felt an odd sensation, like his body was dissolving into thin air.
The inside of the mansion was dark. There didn’t seem to be any night-light. Even with his Skill, Hikaru elected to creep in through the shadows. He climbed the stairs to the third floor.
Two men – who looked like guards – were walking towards him. They were knights in plain clothes, swords hanging from their waists. Count Morgstad was a noble with considerable influence in the kingdom so it wasn’t surprising for him to have knights as guards.
One of the men stopped.
「What is it? I can’t really tell.」
「It could be an intruder.」
The other knight reached for his sword.
「…There’s no one around, though.」
One of them crouched down and touched the floor.
「Of course it is. It’s pouring out there.」
「Did someone return from outside?」
「Well someone went out for an errand to the Alchemists Guild for that girl’s examination.」
「Ah, yes. Now that you mention it.」
The man got up with a sour look on his face.
「Are you sure?」
「I was just imagining things. Anyway, that Count pisses me off so much, I don’t even feel like doing my job properly.」
「Come on, don’t say that…」
Both men left.
Standing in the shadows of a pillar, Hikaru drew a long, deep breath. I thought I was done for. But his Skill seemed to be doing a very good job. He was right in choosing “Imperceptibility”. It wasn’t a detection type Skill that set the guard off, but his experience. Hikaru was certain of that now. The man simply relied on his scent and sensed something in the air.
Hikaru was lucky about one more thing. When the guard practically spat out the word “Count”, he shot a glance behind him. That meant the Count’s room was in that direction
There was still time. Actually when Hikaru heard the words “20 minutes” a while ago, he got scared out of his wits. He was worried the guards might’ve heard the voice while they were getting closer.
Hikaru continued on. The knights did not turn to look back. As soon as the lamps they carried were far enough, darkness settled once more around Hikaru. Windows for lighting were set on the ceiling that gave a bit of illumination each time lightning flashed across the sky.
It would be great to have a “Night Vision” Skill, but alas, I’m out of Skill points. He was fortunate that it was dark. It was easy to tell which rooms were occupied from the faint light that came from within. And there was only one such room up ahead.
Hikaru strained his ears just right outside the door. The sound of the rain made it difficult to hear anything, but…
「That stupid, pigheaded baron…」
The voice belonged to an elderly man. The Count Morgstad in Roland’s memories had white hair all over his head. My target’s in here. Hikaru’s hand was shaking as he reached for the doorknob.
Quickly, he grasped his trembling hand tight. It’s okay. It’s okay. I can do it. After getting this far, fear gripped his heart.
You’re gonna do it. You’re gonna kill him so you can live on, Hikaru desperately tried to tell himself. Soon enough, he gradually grew calm.
He felt sorry for Roland. He was interested in this new world. His whole being ached from his thirst for knowledge.
But it was his death in his previous life that finally drove him to commit murder. Humans die easily. What’s more, this world was different from modern Japan. It was a world where one had to kill in order to live on.
The moment he heard Roland’s countdown, Hikaru opened the door. Count Morgstad, with his body facing the entrance to his room, sat at his office desk, reading something under a lamp.
He shot a glance at the door. I thought I heard the door open, the Count thought.
「Who’s there? A guard?」
Or perhaps the butler? he thought. But he wouldn’t come to his room this late at night unless he was called. He certainly wouldn’t invite himself in without knocking first either.
The door closed.
「…I guess I’m just hearing things.」
He turned his eyes back to his hands holding a bunch of written reports. When he skimmed through the last piece of paper…
「So they succeeded.」
On it was a coded message that read “I’ve put out the fire on your land”. But its actual contents meant “I’ve killed Viscount Zaracia’s son”.
「…He surprised me for a while there. I didn’t expect him to be in Pond.」
The Count received word that Viscount Zaracia’s son was in town. He suspected he might’ve come to kill him. He was fortunate to have located the boy first and send his guy to end him.
「Like parents, like son. They all have to be so annoying. But now the Zaracia family is gone and my era will soon come.」
Morgstad was caught dumbfounded by the sudden voice. But there was nobody else in the room.
Opening his table’s drawer, he reached for the bell inside. Once rang, every guard in the mansion would be alerted by the sound.
But his hand stopped just on top of the drawer. Someone had stabbed his palm.
Pain and fear seized him. By his side was someone who was supposed to be dead.
「It’s Roland N. Zaracia… Well actually, I’m his stand-in. I’m taking your life.」
Blood dripped from the dagger as Hikaru pulled it from the Count’s hand. The blade pierced flesh almost too easily, but he thrust it into Morgstad’s heart without any hesitation.
With a twist of the dagger, Morgstad coughed up blood before collapsing on the floor.
Count Morgstad’s lifeless body lay before Hikaru’s eyes. His whole body felt as if it were aflame. He wanted to run and scream.
For a moment, just a split second, Hikaru’s body froze. Roland wanted to take over. He used up the ten minutes he had left to contain Hikaru’s will and kill the Count himself.
(…You just had to stop me.)
Roland sounded annoyed.
「I wasn’t gonna let you do it. I decided that I would do it.」
Hikaru made up his mind. He made his decision to live on. If he had to murder someone to do so, so be it. He had no other choice.
And yet he was surprisingly calm.
Roland’s voice held more warmth than Hikaru had heard so far; a mix of deep regret and satisfaction.
「…I’ll disappear soon. I can’t give you money or honor, but you may have my body…」
Hikaru felt Roland’s soul leaving his body.
「…What’s your name?」
「…Thank you, Hikaru. My… The Zaracia family’s redeemer. I’ll keep on praying for your bright future.」
With that, the last piece of Roland’s soul disappeared.
Hikaru didn’t feel much accomplishment in keeping his promise. The grim feeling that he killed someone was too overwhelming. He wanted to sit down right then and there.
「Did you kill him?」
In that moment, he realized the door was open. A girl with silver hair, pale skin, and blue eyes stood there. Her beauty was out of this world.
Did she see me? No, not exactly. What now? I can’t talk my way out of this.
「The bell has been rung. Knights will be here soon.」
Hikaru failed to notice the Count’s finger touching the bell as he pulled the dagger out of his hand. The bell rolled and made a faint sound inside the drawer. He could hear footsteps approaching the room. What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? Can I escape with my Stealth Skill?
The girl raised her fingers and pointed outside.
「There’s a rope ladder on the balcony. You can get down to the first floor from there.」
For real? Why is she telling me this?
I can’t afford to hesitate right now. Hikaru dashed to the door leading to the balcony and opened it. The rain had stopped and only the wind blew hard. Are the rain clouds gone? There was indeed a rope ladder that was most likely for emergency use. He threw it outside over the balcony and started climbing down. His hands were trembling and he had a hard time descending. Loud voices came from beyond the closed door.
「Miss Lavia, what are you doing here?」
「Did you come here after hearing the bell?」
「H-Hey! The Count is down on the floor!」
The noise turned into an uproar.
The moment they arrived at that conclusion and opened the door that led to the balcony, all that was left was a rope ladder swinging in the wind.
「I should be… fine here.」
He was completely exhausted. Hikaru couldn’t return to the hotel for two reasons: One, there was nothing left in the hotel room. Anything valuable was taken by the assassin to make the assassination look like a robbery. So there was no point in going back there. The other reason was… his face.
「…This is my body…」
It was around four in the morning. During summer, dawn would start lighting up the sky past four. Hikaru stared at the face reflected on a water puddle. It had dark brown hair and equally dark brown eyes. There wasn’t much left of Roland’s features. The face gradually changed into that of Hikaru’s. Brown slowly turned to black. His soul was adapting to the body.
「…Man, I’m beat.」
Hikaru was in a particularly deserted part of town. A graveyard. Leaning back on a big tree that stood on the cemetery grounds, Hikaru closed his eyes.
…That’s right. Why did that girl let me escape?
It was his first sleep in another world and he didn’t dream of anything.