After the Attack
Hikaru was taken aback, almost stopping in his tracks when the princess called him by that name. But he somehow managed to hide his discomposure.
Guards carrying magic lamps were running about. Hikaru walked past them at a brisk pace. He didn’t bother hiding himself. He’d already confirmed it a number of times that they wouldn’t be able to see him.
How does the princess know Roland? She wasn’t in his memories, either.
For Hikaru, it was his first time meeting the princess. No face popped up in his mind when he saw the name on her Soul Board.
I don’t even know what’s going on anymore. It’s pointless thinking about it. We won’t see each other ever again anyway.
He fulfilled his goal. Now East will not receive a death sentence. To be more accurate, there was still a possibility of that happening, but if that happens then there’s nothing more Hikaru can do. He could break the knight out of prison, but considering East’s earnest nature, he wouldn’t wish to escape.
I guess we can leave soon.
The next day, the princess summoned an inquisitor to her office. It was the man who was in charge of the investigation on Lavia’s whereabouts. His once slender face gave him an air of intelligence. Now he looked clearly haggard, his cheeks hollow and sunken.
「Are you okay?」the princess asked.
「I heard he had to give a report directly to His Majesty yesterday. Now Your Highness has called for him. I can see why he’s on the verge of breaking down.」a high-ranking official, who was in the same room, told the princess.
「You must be exhausted. I apologize for calling you here.」
「Y-You don’t need to apologize, Your Highness!」
The inquisitor felt ashamed that the princess apologized to him.
「Can you tell me exactly what you said to my father yesterday?」
「Yes, Your Highness.」
The inquisitor pulled himself together and gave his report. It was pretty much the same from what Lawrence told her.
「What did His Majesty say when he heard your report?」
「He said I was useless.」the inquisitor said with much pain in his voice.
The princess sympathized with him. She thought the amount of information he had gathered in that short time was impressive. But what the king was looking for were clues to the young lady’s whereabouts, and the inquisitor had nothing to report about that.
「Why does my father want that girl so bad?」
The king’s blatant actions made Kudyastoria think that this wasn’t just about the murder of a Count – that the girl held some sort of secret.
It must have something to do with the war. There’s no reason for me to pry deeper into this.
「I wanted to ask you something.」the princess said.
「What might that be?」
「I believe the son of the late Viscount Zaracia was at Pond. Did you happen to see him?」
The inquisitor was deep in thought, trying to remember. On the side was the high-ranking official, keeping a watchful eye on him. Princess Kudyastoria had just uttered a name that no one had brought up before. The official knew that Count Morgstad destroyed the Zaracia family. He had no idea what happened afterwards, however.
「I apologize. I don’t know anyone with that name.」
「I see… Very well. Thank you for coming here. You may leave.」
「Yes, Your Highness.」the inquisitor said, and left.
「Princess, are you interested in this child of Viscount Zaracia?」
「Yes, a bit. Anyway, how did the imperial conference go today?」
The imperial conference was a meeting held at ten in the morning that the king attended. It was a chance to speak with the king directly and since people in important offices participated as well, government officers and generals brought up matters to discuss in this conference.
「It was a mess.」
No surprises there, the princess thought. Today’s agenda was, of course, the captain’s defeat.
「If I told you, would you tell me about Viscount Zaracia?」
「Sure, I’ll tell you anything I know.」
「We have an agreement, then.」
The high-ranking official was quite the ambitious fellow. He wanted to collect any information regarding nobles. Where should I start? he thought for a moment.
Kudyastoria didn’t attend the conference as her father and brother were there. She had never before wanted to participate as much as she did today. Lawrence suffered grave injuries in the knights’ own facility, after all. How did everyone react?
The princess actually returned to the castle secretly that night. As a member of the royal family, she knew several secret paths, and she was wearing a cloak to hide from people’s eyes.
「The meeting started with a report that the captain of the Order had been injured and wouldn’t be able to move about for a while.」
She acted surprised. The official had no idea that Kudyastoria was actually there when it happened.
「Apparently an enemy infiltrated the walls, and that the captain managed to drive him off. The fight was quite fierce as the knights’ training facility was destroyed.」
「So what happened to the intruder?」
「He’s hiding in the nobles district. Security at the gate was immediately strengthened so he’s not going anywhere. The nobles district should be in an uproar right now as they search for the suspect.」
No, Kudyastoria thought. That boy, who I called Roland by accident, is no longer in the nobles district.
In two consecutive days, he managed to sneak into the knights’ quarters easily and even made it near the castle. He wouldn’t wait around in the nobles district. Her mind was in turmoil whenever she thought about him. Who was he? Why did he save her? How did he find her when even Lawrence couldn’t see her? Now that I think about it, he can’t be Roland. His features, hair and eye color were different. Roland didn’t know who she was, though.
「Fortunately, the captain’s wounds healed immediately with healing magic. The king will send him to the front lines as originally planned.」
「Is something wrong?」
「Can the captain fight?」
「Yes. His wounds were not that serious. I’m surprised anyone could actually injure him.」
The wound wasn’t big, yes. It was just one cut, after all. But he lost a lot of blood. Healing magic couldn’t restore that.
Lawrence must’ve understated his report so as not to cause panic.
If he insisted he was fine, everyone would be at ease. All he had to do then was put up with it as he was sent to the front lines.
「Since the suspect is still in the nobles district, I expect we’ll be on high alert in the next few days. Please refrain from going outside the castle too, Your Highness.」
「I know. Is that all that was discussed in the meeting? That doesn’t sound like a mess to me.」
「By “mess”, I meant what happened afterwards. The nobles started quarreling among themselves about who sent the assassin. They were all like: “Count this has friends in a certain country.” “Baron that wants his son to be among the Order’s top brass.” “I’m absolutely loyal to His Highness.”」
What an abhorrent scene that must have been. They were willing to put down others to curry favor with the king.
Kudyastoria felt dizzy. Now they really wouldn’t be able to find that boy. At first, she thought his goal was to test his abilities. But seeing how he acted, she thought that wasn’t entirely accurate.
If he simply wanted to test his abilities, he wouldn’t save her – a complete stranger. If he wanted to get famous, he would’ve given his name. If he wanted money, he would’ve snatched her jewelry.
His motives were unclear.
「Now, then. Please tell me about Viscount Zaracia, Princess.」
「I don’t know a lot about him, though. I hope you’re okay with that.」
Will I see him again? That thought was in one corner of her mind as she started talking about Roland. About how after his family was destroyed, he was supposed to be sent to the countryside. And that he was most likely in Pond during the time of Count Morgstad’s murder.
That was all. The official looked disappointed, thinking the information he got wasn’t all that promising.
「Let’s go back to work.」
And so they went back to finishing the piles of paperwork.
In one room of the knights’ private hospital, Lawrence was wearing a frown. He was out of his bed and sitting on a chair with arms folded. His face was pale, his lips chapped from lack of blood.
Sitting in front of him were eight knights. Among them were East and three commanders. Each one of them had their bones broken by Hikaru, but they’ve already healed thanks to healing magic.
「I lost as well. We’re ill-matched against the enemy.」
「His methods are disgraceful! When I think about how he hurt your reputation by resorting to petty tactics, I—」
Everyone gave a start.
「A loss is a loss. If you waste your time criticizing surprise attacks in the battlefield, you’ll die.」
The commanders hung their head low. They were that much affected from the captain’s admittance of defeat.
Lawrence was optimistic, however. Healers and doctors declared him to be in critical condition from too much blood loss, but he was able to get up and move about after a night’s rest. He was so famished that he finished ten portions of food. His body was busy producing blood.
No. More like his body wanted to live. It couldn’t let itself die just yet and leave the score unsettled with that boy.
Oh, right. The princess was there last night, but she hasn’t gotten in touch with me. She probably wants me to keep my mouth shut.
「We must reflect upon our failure. That intruder… No, he’s more than that now. He excels in eluding people’s senses. We need something to detect him. And there’s one more thing. Does anyone have any idea what it is?」
East raised his hand.
「We need to make sure that our heavy gear is usable at all times.」
「Yes, that’s roughly it. Modify the plate armors so they can be worn immediately, or develop a foldable shield that can be deployed from the hands. That man’s attacks are weak, perhaps because he specializes in stealth.」
The commanders nodded in agreement.
「That man reminded me to be combat-ready at all times. 」
Lawrence staggered a bit as he stood up. One of them tried to help the captain, but he stopped him.
「This means I’m still lacking in training. Those who fought against him and lost have a duty to inform others of his threat. East.」
「I planned to push for your death sentence just because you lost to that man. Forgive me for being so thoughtless.」
「You don’t have to apologize, Sir.」East said, gritting his teeth, his voice trembling.
Tears streamed down his face, perhaps from the bitterness of losing against their assailant. Maybe they were tears of relief from having escaped death. Or perhaps envy that there was someone out there who could defeat the man he looked up to. It might be all of the above.
Lawrence saw his tears and nodded.
「Listen up. The next time we meet that man, we’ll make him regret that he ever went up against us. Until then we must grow and develop ourselves even more.」
「To the battlefield we go.」
Though he was in bad condition, Lawrence headed to the frontlines.
「Ugh… my whole body hurts.」
「Are you okay?」
「I’ll be fine. I just have to think of it as some horrible muscle pain.」
Hikaru was walking around the capital with Lavia. The place was so huge that if they didn’t pay attention, they would surely get lost. Blacksmiths were gathered in one place and so were the clothes stores. Shops that specialized in one particular kind of product were everywhere, so they had no choice but to walk all over the place.
Hikaru’s body ached from the fight with Lawrence. The full power of his Power Burst 2 was too much for him. He would need to put more points on Strength, Flexibility, Balance, or Stamina so his body could keep up.
Maybe I need to actually work out rather than rely on my Soul Board.
There was no harm in working out. He wasn’t planning to get ripped, though. A bit of muscle would be enough.
Hikaru might be in pain, but he learned a lot about his limits last night. Sure, he could’ve died, but the experience was worth it. It was a high-level battle, a fight with the strongest, and his Stealth was effective on him.
「Thanks for waiting, Mr. Adventurer. I take it I sign here?」
As soon as Hikaru received the signature for his delivery, they headed back to the guild to process his promotion. He had just completed the prescribed number of quests for it.
「Congratulations. You are now rank F.」
It was a different receptionist from the other day who congratulated Hikaru.
【Adventurers Guild Card】
【Registration】Pond Adventurers Guild, Kingdom of Ponsonia
Hikaru left the job class blank. He would only be bombarded with questions if he set it to Civilian. Setting it to Stealth God was just absurd too.
「I can get promoted to rank E even if the only jobs I take are gathering materials, right?」
「That’s correct. But it’ll take some time. Unless you can defeat tougher monsters, gathering materials won’t be easy.」
「Is that so?」
「You look confident. Please come to me if you get rare materials!」
Do they get something from purchasing materials? Like a bonus? The guild was so deserted that the receptionist could waste her time talking. The adventurers were probably recruited for the war.
「As you can see, I’m an adventurer from Pond.」
「There’s no drawback in changing your base of operations. You can transfer here in the royal capital. There’s no monsters in the immediate vicinity, but there’s lots of bodyguard missions. Since you’re rank F, you can take a few of those. Plus the reward is good. Above all, there’s plenty of ways to spend money here in the capital!」
「I feel indebted to that place.」
「I see. That’s a shame. People seem to be flocking to Pond. What’s so good about that town anyway? Oh, I’m not making fun of the place, by the way.」
「People? You mean adventurers like me?」
「Yes. Rank B adventurers affiliated with the royal capital branch are headed there.」
Hikaru was intrigued after hearing about their ranks.
「Can you tell me what kind of people they are?」
「Sure. It’s actually a party of four women with a hundred percent job success rate!」
The receptionist told him their name.
Four Stars of the East.
It didn’t take long for Hikaru to realize that those women were the ones who were supposed to escort Lavia to the capital.