Translated by Kitsune547 | Edited by Cog Gear Omega
Available in Japanese at https://falcom.co.jp/hajimari/story/3and9/Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5
Chapter 1: Little Butler and Little Lady
In a port city on the east side of the Principality of Remiferia, a large passenger boat was docked.
On the pier stood two small passengers. A lady and her butler – that was the only possible description. That wasn’t a very surprising sight in a place like this, but the issue was their age. They looked like they couldn’t be more than 12 or 13 years old.
“W-wait a minute, my lady!”
Dragging a huge suitcase, the young butler followed after the girl, completely exhausted. His outfit was quite charming, but his eyes were mostly covered by his bangs, and his motions were full of exhaustion rather than vigor and drive.
“Oh you hurry up already you dunce! If you continue to dawdle like this I’ll feed your useless legs to a dog!”
With a look of bitterness, the young girl went on ahead.
Despite her lovely and charming looks, her attitude was full of arrogance and high-handedness. She looked so prim and proper she could be a doll, and her eyes were a sapphire color. Her hair was up in twin tails, and the ends were slightly curled. She was wearing a frilly, primarily black dress, but what stood out most was the roughly 50 rege long stuffed animal she held in one arm. It was as if her self-indulgent expression was saying, ‘This is fine for someone my age.’
“Ahh! Give me a break already, my lady!”
The pitiful young man meekly yelled out as he hastened his pace, and they finally reached the pier.
“Please present your invitation and boarding pass.” A staff member on the pier said with a grin as he checked for their documents.
This was a Verne company luxury ship that mainly sailed between Remiferia and the Republic of Calvard by means of the Ramieline Bay. Presently, it was chartered by Haldor Baarn, a wealthy Republic merchant, and both a personal invitation and a ticket were required from him to board. The written invitation itself carried a reservation for a private cabin, so the boarding pass was really provided just for the sake of formality.
“Grey.” The girl gave the boy’s name, presenting both the invitation card and boarding pass in her hand.
“Yes, miss? What was that?” The young butler didn’t understand her intentions when she said his name.
“What on earth is wrong with you?! Are you seriously that daft?! You trash! You worm!!”
“Whaaat?! I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry…” The young man apologized as hard as he could to try to quell the girl’s wrath.
“Hurry up and get the invitation card and boarding passes out!”
The young butler fumbled around in the suitcase. However, in his state of panic after he finally found them the boarding passes slipped out of his fingers and fell towards the ground. As luck would have it, a gust of wind picked up at that very moment and the boarding passes were both carried away.
The boy reached his arm out into the air grasping for them as hard as he could but his efforts were in vain as they fell into the water next to the dock. But that wasn’t the end of their misfortune yet.
Suddenly, the shadow of a large fish was visible from that area, and soon several fish began splashing around in the water. As they flopped back into the water and returned out towards the bay, the boarding passes were dragged under the water with them and down towards the bottom.
“AHHHHHHH!!” The boy’s cry of grief rang out throughout the area.
His entire body quivering, the boy turned his face slowly back towards his master. The girl was just standing there. She didn’t show any emotion, or say a single word. She just stared down at him.
As if it was the calm before the storm, she finally said “Well, do you have anything to say?” And once again, like a broken radio, the boy began reciting, “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry…” in a small voice.
He shrunk back almost like a criminal awaiting sentencing.
“You… you USELESS FOOL!”
Mustering all of her power, the girl delivered a sharp kick right into the boy, synchronous with her scream.
Her attack carried enough force for one to wonder where she kept all that power in such a tiny body, and the boy’s body spun around in mid air before he landed in the water with a splash. Apparently unable to swim, the boy flailed his arms around in the water seeking aid.
“S…Save me please… my lady…! gurgle…”
“No, you go find the boarding passes from there. Until you do, I will not permit you to get out of the water.”
“But… I can’t… swim… gurgle”
“I KNOW THAT!”
With a splashing sound, the young boy quickly sunk under the surface and towards the bottom of the bay. Out of concern, the nearby staff member called another sailor and the two of them heaved the boy back out of the water.
However, the young girl’s anger had far from subsided, and with another kick she almost sent him right back in.
“M-miss, please settle down!”
The staff member tried his best to pacify her.
“How on earth do you expect me to settle down in this kind of situation!? I came on urgent business in place of my father!” She turned her harsh gaze back towards the boy. “I have very important business to attend to on the ship! If I’m unable to board now, how exactly do you intend to take responsibility!?”
Hearing this, the already-pale boy felt all of the blood drain from his face. Taking pity on them, the staff member threw them a bone. “Well for now, how about you show me your invitation letter?” The boy froze before he was able to move a muscle when she stared him down, and the girl violently produced the invitation letter and handed it to the staff member.
Looking over his list, the man said, “I see this is indeed the invitation issued to Baron Cress Reinharts. May I assume you are here on his behalf, and that this is your attendant?”
“Indeed. I am Baron Cress Reinharts’ eldest daughter Celia.”
The man bowed towards them and continued. “Very well then, Miss Reinharts, please do not worry about the boarding passes. You are free to board.”
“Ah, is that so?”
“Yes indeed, please go ahead.”
Truth be told, this was something he technically was supposed to check in with his superiors about, but in this situation, he figured it was appropriate to allow them to pass.
“You barely escaped death this time, you worm.” She threw yet another frigid gaze towards the boy before walking onto the ship. Dragging the suitcase, the young boy followed after her. As he passed, he thanked the staff member over and over, who responded to him with words of sympathy and encouragement.
Once onboard, the two of them said nothing to each other and, as if they already knew exactly where to go, they headed directly for their cabin and finally arrived at their destination.
Upon entering they quickly checked around the inside, and once they finished the young girl said “Infiltration… complete~” Her tone was relaxed and devoid of tension.
“Haa~” Letting out a huge yawn, the girl’s sleepy eyes and lovely, pure expression showed no sign of the arrogance or haughtiness of earlier. It was as if she was a completely different person.
“I’m sleepy, time to go to bed.” Tossing the stuffed animal ahead of her, she flopped onto the bed. This scene was entirely appropriate for her age; in fact, she looked even more innocent than a normal girl.
On the other hand, the boy said, “Don’t let your guard down. Our mission starts here.”
His expression was devoid of all emotion, and his voice was as cool as ice. As he dried his wet bangs with his hands, he brushed his hair aside to the left and his hidden eye came into view.
It was a completely cold almost inhuman eye; it looked like he was staring down his prey. Gone was the flustered young butler from before. In his place was a young man emanating an aura of ruthlessness. It could be said his transformation was even more substantial than that of the girl.
“Your reaction was so exaggerated, it was really hard for me to keep up~ And we stood out so much too.” The girl appeared to be trying to complain, but due to her apathetic sounding voice it came across as little more than just mumbling.
This was the true form of these two.
The butler and little lady from before were all part of an act to allow them to infiltrate this place, nothing more. Causing a ruckus before the ship departed would have worked against their mission. To that end, they chose instead to disguise their social standing to infiltrate.
Based on information provided by the “Organization,” they identified an invitee who would likely not be able to attend, and designated the girl as his “daughter”. The invitations themselves were printed on fine paper, but the only contents they had were the names of the guests. That was likely due to the simplicity and efficient planning of a merchant, and as such forging an invitation was a trivial matter.
On the other hand, the boarding passes were scrutinized with the Verne Company’s latest anti-forgery technology, so presenting fake boarding passes was a high risk.
As such, the two put on a show on the dock. The boy dropping the tickets was, of course, intentional, and the gust of wind and school of fish were caused by the girl using the Orbment that was hidden inside her stuffed animal as she discreetly activated arts.
All in all, their infiltration went exactly according to plan.
The boy’s name was Three of Swords.
The girl’s name was Nine of Swords.
The two of them were assassins.
Chapter 2: III & IX
At the appointed time the ship finally left the port.
Looking back towards the retreating shore, his voice cold as ever, Sword of Three said, “I’ve confirmed that our target has boarded the ship. What about the enemy’s position and route?”
“I got it~”
His partner, the young girl, Sword of Nine, answered in a sluggish voice that was almost the exact opposite tone as his own.
Dispatched by the “Organization,” their mission was the assassination of the sponsor of the trip, the wealthy merchant Haldor Baarn.
Though it was called an assassination mission, the method of killing was irrelevant – it was fine to dispatch him quietly without anyone noticing, or they could even kill him violently in the open so long as it was out of sight of the police or the Bracer Guild. The only preference was that they chose the most efficient method.
It was imperative however that Baarn did not reach the Calvard Republic, the destination of the ship. Should he be taken under the protection of the crime syndicate Heiyue, to which he was connected, it would become very difficult to pursue him.
Aside from the engine room the ship consisted of three decks. The lowest deck was where the guest cabins were. Naturally, their room was on this deck. The second deck had a large hall where meals and parties were held. And the third deck was reserved for the noble guests and VIPs, and it was presently entirely reserved by Baarn. He was currently located all the way at the deepest part of this deck.
After completing their preparations, the two finally moved out.
First they planned to pass through the second deck, but not before helping themselves to a little treat. It was, after all, dinnertime and the second deck was overflowing with guests. Because the guest list consisted entirely of nobles and wealthy people, the menu was quite extravagant. But naturally, for his own protection, Baarn did not appear in the hall.
“It’s about time.”
The very moment Three uttered these words, the sound of an explosion rang out from the deck below them. The entire hall started shaking but the tremors died down quickly. A swarm of guards ran towards the first deck.
The explosion was caused by a small bomb Three and Nine had left in their room. The actual power of the explosive wasn’t high, but due to fire starters left in the proximity, the surrounding area would be consumed by a small blaze by now. It was more than enough to serve as bait to draw out the guards. And then –
“Over here, too~”
In her usual nonchalant tone, Nine called out to her partner. Pulling up a bit on the skirt of her dress, she rustled it back and forth causing a multitude of what appeared to be small black balls to fall to the floor.
Bang! The hall was suddenly filled with smoke.
“W-what is this!? cough cough”
“My eyes… I can’t see, they’re tearing up…”
It was a mixture of smokescreen and tear gas. It wasn’t fatal, in fact it was relatively weak in terms of efficacy, but it did serve to set all of the second deck hall into a panic.
At this, Three and Nine were finally able to move to the third deck. In order for the guards who had moved down to the first deck to get back to the third, they would have to pass by the second.
Currently, Three and Nine possessed the tactical advantage. But this didn’t mean they would be able to easily kill Baarn. Three and Nine concealed themselves in the stairwell that led to the third deck and took survey of their surroundings.
“Three… four… I see five of them down the hallway,” Nine muttered to Three.
Based on their outfits, they were neither sailors nor invitees. Evidently, they were concealing weapons and they were clearly used to combat.
“Jaeger dropouts… huh.” It appeared they were not employed by the ship, but hired personally by Baarn himself as personal protection. And there was only one straight route down the hallway to the innermost room that he was hiding in, so they had no choice but to engage them.
“Alright, I’m off then,” Nine said as she slowly headed out. It seemed she didn’t intend to hide herself or launch a surprise attack at all.
As her soft footsteps rang out down the hall, the guards took notice of her. Perhaps due to her lovely, docile appearance, or perhaps due to the fact that she didn’t appear to present any threat, they didn’t even see her as an enemy.
“Miss, this floor is off limits.”
“Yeah- I mean it does sound like something happened down below but you can’t just hide out up here. Scram already.”
Their tone of voice was rough but, considering they were Jaeger dropouts, it was actually almost on the friendly side.
“I wanna go into that room… can’t I?” Nine pointed at the innermost room that Baarn was in. Her voice wasn’t that of the selfish entitled lady from before they boarded; it was her normal sleepy sounding tone.
“You mean you wanna talk to Mr. Baarn? Sorry, but he specifically said he didn’t want to meet with anyone right now.”
“I really can’t?”
Nine tilted her head to the side and without thinking the two guards loosened up their stance.
“No. You really can’t.”
“I see… that’s too bad.”
Not showing any actual disappointment, Nine brandished the stuffed animal she was holding in her left hand before quickly shaking it out in front of her. In an instant, a silver light flashed and with a sudden snap the two guards collapsed to the deck.
Upon closer inspection, one could see that each guard had two needles sticking out of their necks.
These poisoned needles were Nine’s weapon, and she usually kept them concealed in her stuffed animal. When she threw them she always aimed for vital spots that, when pierced, allowed the poison to spread quickly to great effect.
Depending on the situation, she had dozens of different types of poisons she could choose from, and in some instances she didn’t use any poison at all. This time, she had struck the guards with a neurotoxin that paralyzed them, and while it wasn’t fatal they would be unable to move for quite some time.
Unaware of what had occurred, one more guard further down the hall suddenly caught a black shadow quickly approaching him out of the corner of his eye. Before he was able to determine what it even was, the third guard hit the deck with the white flash of a sword.
The one who had made such quick work of him was Three.
He held in his hand a one-handed longsword. The blade was thin and it had a pointed end; it resembled a Katana from the East, except that the blade itself was not curved, and the sword guard seemed to be of quite complex construction as well.
Naturally, the remaining two guards were now standing at the ready, fully prepared for combat.
One of the men raised his axe above his head and swung down hard towards him.
Three caught the axe with his sword and the two weapons interlocked. Seeing this as an opportunity, the other of the two men moved towards Three to attempt to pierce him with his sword.
Without moving his right hand he reached to his back and drew yet another sword in his left to ward off the other man’s attack. The second sword looked to be similar in design to the one he was already wielding, except that it lacked a sword guard altogether and was a bit shorter.
This sword was not for open combat but rather it was a short sword for self defense. Even still, it didn’t feel out of place at all.
However, with the added physical strain and because he was only using his right hand to support the main sword, Three appeared that he would soon lose to the man with the axe. He intentionally pulled his body and the sword back and let his strength out, and using the force the man had been exerting, he thrust his body forward at the same time he used the short sword in his left hand to stab him.
The man with the sword swung forward once again to attack Three, who promptly swung the man he had just stabbed directly into him. In the very next instant Three used both of his swords to cut down the third and final guard.
“Alright that—” About to say ‘takes care of that’, he looked back towards where Nine was, but at that exact moment he noticed the doors to the inner room fling open from the inside, right behind where Nine was standing.
Weapon at the ready, a former Jaeger was about to rush out of the room and into the hallway, and his target was unmistakably Nine, who stood defenseless. Without time to call out a warning, and too far to make it to her in time, Three tried to rush to her but the very next moment he stopped in his tracks.
And so did the man who had just emerged from the room.
“Ah~ You’re very perceptive.”
As if she had known exactly what would happen the whole time, Nine slowly turned her head around. Then, countless red stripes appeared across the former Jaeger’s arms and legs and blood sprung forth from all of them.
“It’s better if you don’t move you know~ If you try to move like that you might get torn apart into chunks of flesh.”
Her words were very much not something you’d expect a young girl with her physique and expression to say, but the former Jaeger knew that what she said was no idle threat. So he froze and didn’t try to move a single inch closer.
He was caught in a lattice of super fine wire. Manufactured by a special process, it was so sharp it could rival the sharpest of swords when it sliced, and that wire had been stretched all around the hallway right outside the guestroom door.
It was very difficult to see the wire visibly, and if you moved quickly without noticing it, you would meet your end in a bloody mess. The ends of the wire also had special needles on them.
Naturally, this was another one of Nine’s weapons.
According to rumor, though difficult, it was possible to cut down any enemy using nothing but this wire, though unfortunately Nine was still not at that level. Even so, the combination of the wire and needles could be used to set all sorts of traps with practical benefits, meaning that even like this it could be quite the threat.
As if their battle had already been decided and she was just cleaning up, Nine pulled back on the needles and with a thump the former Jaeger hit the floor.
After this, she finally noticed Three who was staring at her, and she tilted her head. “Hmm? What’s the matter, Su-chan?”
“No, nothing.” He replied curtly and turned his gaze away.
And then the pair finally turned towards the furthest room, and their target, Haldor Baarn.
Chapter 3: Assassins and Target
Even among VIP rooms, this cabin was excessively spacious.
Haldor Baarn was sitting on the sofa sipping on his wine glass, wincing in apparent annoyance.
“Useless fools. I suppose they are just Jaeger dropouts after all , they can’t even accomplish the task I paid them for.” It appeared he was completely aware of the current situation.
Standing in front of him were two children.
He had ordered that no one be allowed to enter, but he was able to conjecture what happened based on the noise coming from the hallway. While it might have seemed unbelievable at first glance, he was forced to conclude that these two were professional killers who were after his life.
Although he understood his predicament, his face showed not one bit of concern. And that was most likely because of the thing that was right in front of him. Because of its presence, even this massive room started to feel cramped.
With a height of over 2 arge, it had six legs and crawled along the floor like a spider. However, its upper half was standing upright, and had four separate arms as well. Light reflected off its entire body giving it a metallic glow, and it quietly emanated a sense of domination over the entire room.
“It’s huge~” Staring up at it, Nine let out a voice of admiration.
“It’s an archaism!” Three immediately prepared himself for combat.
“Hah, this is my favorite little pet, I won it at a black auction. I don’t know what company produced it but it was already quite high spec when I bought it, and then I spent a whole heap of mira upgrading it. It can take out an entire platoon of soldiers with strength to spare.” Haldor laughed heartily as if he was bragging about his latest toy.
“So those former Jaegers were really just patrolling, and this is your main guard then.”
“That’s exactly right. As long as I’m nearby this thing, as long as I’m on this ship, my safety is guaranteed. And as soon as I step foot in the Republic, I’ll be all set!” After saying this, Haldor laughed even harder.
It’s not that they were overestimating their own ability. Even if he was able to get to the Republic and secure the protection of Heiyue, as long as he remained a target of the “Organization,” he would never be able to escape.
“Do it!” Receiving Haldor’s command, the archaism began to move. It appeared to have set its sights on Three, and it started rushing towards him. Making use of that opportunity, Nine began powering up her arts.
In contrast with Three’s proficiency in hand to hand combat, Nine’s specialty was in Orbal Arts. However, almost immediately one of the arms of the archaism transformed into a gun, pointed in Nine’s direction, and opened fire.
She was barely able to avoid the barrage of bullets, but she ended up having to cancel the arts she had been charging.
Three swung his longsword down and the archaism turned its sights back on him. Nine moved nimbly to the opposite side from the one Three was on, and once again started powering up her arts.
“Bing bing bing—” The sound of gunfire rang out as a barrage of bullets was once again unloaded towards Nine forcing her to cancel her arts to protect herself.
It appeared that this machine had a sensor that allowed it to detect the powering up of Orbal arts, and as soon as it detected anything it would immediately open fire. After being interrupted a second time, Nine appeared a bit distraught as she hugged her signature stuffed animal.
“I’m done for now~ The enemy is too annoying~ I’ll leave it to you, Su-chan.”
There really wasn’t much reason for her to even try using her poison needles on their mechanical foe, and if she wasn’t able to even power up her arts there really wasn’t much for her to do. Recognizing this, muttering under his breath, Three readied his swords.
“Alright, just wake me up when the battle’s over~ I’m gonna get some sleep…” At some point Nine had found a nearby convenient sofa and she started to cuddle up to go to sleep using her stuffed animal as a pillow.
“Don’t just go to sleep!” Three raised his voice without thinking, but Nine showed no reaction at all.
The archaism, having also determined that she posed no threat, focused itself fully on Three. It transformed and wielded a sword, a spear, an axe, and a gun in each of its four hands and began unleashing surging waves of attacks at Three.
It slashed with the sword, and if that was avoided it would stab with the spear, and would follow up by mowing its enemies down with the axe. It didn’t make much use of the gun, but always kept it trained in Haldor’s vicinity to cover him from any other enemies who might approach.
Quick movements and slashing attacks were Three’s combat style, but with the balance given by its six legs, combined with the extreme speed and power output one would never think possible for such a huge metal archaism, all complimented by its many arms, its level exceeded Three’s.
This was an enemy against which he had no hope of showing his own skills. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as with Nine, but this was not an enemy Three could contend with using his fighting style.
Three fought back with his two swords. He held back the assault of the enemy that far exceeded him in both number of weapons and physical constitution using the short sword in his left hand.
Parrying the multitude of blows, he changed his course. When there was a gap, he reached in with the longsword he wielded in his right hand. This brutal offensive and defensive battle carried on, and a few times he was able to land an attack on the archaism’s arm or torso but with a loud clang his sword bounced right off.
“WAHAHA, it’s hopeless you little brat! That armor is a custom-made material, there’s no chance of you two breaking through it!” And it was true; Three’s attacks had absolutely no effect on the machine. Three also hadn’t been hurt yet but at this rate it was only a matter of time. At that point, Nine, who was supposed to be asleep, raised her voice.
“Analysis complete.” Her eyes closed, still sprawled out on the sofa, she continued in her usual even toned voice. “Arm: first joint, 5 rege down. Leg, second joint, up three rege. Back: rotation point is directly in the center. Left chest joint: 2/5. Right side 1/5.”
The one who reacted to her was not Three but Haldor, who spoke up with a troubled expression. “You bitch, how did you figure out his weak points!?”
Nine slowly raised herself off the couch and continued in her usual lazy sounding tone as she rubbed her eyes. “I could tell from the sound~ It does take a bit of concentration though.”
“No way, that’s impossible…” Haldor’s expression was one of disbelief.
In contrast, Three was totally collected. Naturally Three knew that Nine had been performing this analysis from the beginning. And he had been waiting the entire time for her to complete her analysis.
“Su-chan, go get him~!”
“Right, roger that.”
Three bent over for just a moment and then lunged forward with a sharp attack.
Swinging his sword with faster speed than before, he rained down slashing attacks on the archaism. And each of those attacks was a direct hit on one of the weak spots Nine had just identified. Then, using an orbiting path like he had before, without a moment’s delay he followed up with another blow on each of the spots using the short sword in his left hand – but the effect was the same as before. A high pitched metallic clanging sound rang out at each blow and there were no visible signs of any damage to the foe.
Haldor laughed so hard he had to hold his stomach.
“Even if you know the weak spots it’s totally hopeless, there is no way you lot could break through his armor!”
“That was just preparation.”
Saying this, Three took the short sword in his left hand and inserted it into the gap of the guard of the sword in his right hand. As if this was how they were meant to be all along, doing this resulted in a new, slender blade. The gap in the sword filled in restored balance as the two became one single sword.
Seeing this, Haldor was initially dumbfounded but soon after he couldn’t hold back his laughter.
“Ha… hahaha, what the hell is that toy sword? Don’t tell me you think that’s how you’re gonna win!?”
And he had a point – even with the two swords put together into one, it was not like the range or sharpness would have increased. Sure, the weight would have increased and the overall power may have gone up a bit as well, but this small increase surely would still have no effect on the armor.
Yes, this was just a toy.
Without responding at all, Three flourished his new single sword in front of him. He continued his attack from before, making slicing sweeps against the weak spots in the machine’s legs. But this time, with a loud bang, the legs burst and crumbled at the impact.
It was as if an explosion had occurred from the inside, like some kind of fire arts, but neither Three nor Nine had been powering up any arts. At least, nothing had been recorded on its sensors.
Haldor was in complete shock.
And with yet another strike and another bang, yet another one of the legs collapsed.
“What the hell is this!!!????” He screamed again, unable to hide his frantic look.
“This sword is a bit special.” Three answered, showing no emotion at all. “The sword and combat orbment are integrated into one- well, it’s not really much of a combat orbment per se, it’s more like a traditional orbment.” He continued his attack even as he was talking.
“It can only be used to cast one art – it can cause an explosion at the location it strikes. However, in order for it to take effect, both of the individual swords need to first strike their mark. It records the relative coordinates; it’s called marking.” This was the preparation he had mentioned, when he had been slashing the machine with the two separate swords. “And then, when the sword is returned to its unified form, if it touches one of the spots that had been marked, as long as it’s a strong enough blow an explosion will occur.”
Using the positioning and timing in this form, with a specially designed personal orbment, caused this process to occur automatically thereby removing the need to power up arts as usual. While the process was troublesome, if it went well, a high-level art could be unleashed without the need for any orbment activation or chant. This was the true value of the weapon Three fought with.
“How could… something like that…”
Sparks flying everywhere, the archaism had sustained heavy damage. Realizing his own defeat, Haldor began preparing for his retreat.
“Stop fighting! Quickly come grab me and get me out of here!” Receiving the new order, the archaism turned around and headed towards Haldor.
“I won’t let you~” At some point, the machine’s spider-like legs had become entangled in a complex web of sharp wire and it was totally bound.
“You’re finished.” Three made quick work of the machine, slashing once more through its weak spots. After several more explosions, parts of the machine scattered around the room and the archaism completely stopped functioning and disintegrated into pieces.
Stepping across the rubble, Three silently approached Haldor.
“Ahhh—” Haldor backed up, making pitiful noises as he went. But he was all too aware that he had no escape path.
Although the last remaining obstacle to them completing their mission had vanished, Three showed no sign of triumph on his face.
He took a step closer. Suddenly it felt like the sword became heavier in his hand.
Another step. His feet felt heavy now. He didn’t want to go any further.
One more step.
Just like always.
Become like a “machine,” a “tool.”
The final step.
“There really isn’t much point in explaining this to you, but I guess you at least have the right to know what kind of person is about to kill you.”
The person he would curse from purgatory.
“My name is Sword of Three.”
A stab through the heart.
“I’m a professional killer from the Organization.”
Having taken care of the disturbance on the first deck and having dealt with the confusion in the hall on the second, the guards all swarmed up to the third floor. Sensing them coming, and having completed their mission, Three and Nine made their way to the window and jumped out towards the sea.
“Good thing it wasn’t an airship, huh~ If we were in mid-air, we wouldn’t have been able to escape like this.”
It might be possible if you had a high-performance airship ready to jump to. Three found himself wondering if there was someone in the world who could pull off such a mission.
“Su-chan.” Nine called out to Three, quietly. “That man was a bad guy~ He was a corrupt merchant.”
They looked back towards the ship. It was obvious who she was talking about.
“Yeah. I know.” He knew that well, based on the mission briefing and materials. It was better for the world for someone who carried out such atrocities in the name of mira to die.
But… ‘that doesn’t matter to them’. That wasn’t an excuse. Whether the target was evil or good, they would kill them at the “Organization’s” order.
Just like they always had.
“Good.” Nine didn’t say anything more. She pulled something out of her stuffed animal and started blowing into it.
After she blew into it for a while, it became clear that it was a personal life raft. Again using the stuffed animal as a pillow, she curled up on the raft.
“Ok, I’m gonna go to sleep. I’ll leave the rest to you~” This basically was a command to Three to push them back to shore.
“Hey, you swim too.” Three uttered his complaint, but looking down at her as she was, his heart relaxed just a bit.
Three and Nine had been working together for a bit over a year. Three was a bit older, and since Nine could be a bit of an airhead, he saw her almost like a little sister. She was his partner on whom he could rely during their missions. However, Three knew that even though she was like his sister, and his partner,
–he absolutely could not trust her.
Chapter 4: III Of Swords
“They” are chasing after me.
All of the people I’ve killed up to now.
I cut through their heads, I pierced through their hearts, but still they chase after me.
Innumerable corpses. Politicians, nobles, merchants, wealthy people.
Don’t come closer don’t come closer don’t come closer don’t come closer!! I wave my sword frantically. I slice and I slice, I split them in half, I blow them up – but still they do not stop.
Even if they become mincemeat, even if they become skeletons, their stomachs, their lungs, their guts, their brains, they all wriggle towards me.
They become a big wave and consume me. I run, I flee, I flee, I flee, I flee – and yet, “they” are in front of me. The ones I killed.
“You thought you could just kill us?!”
They toss me around, they strangle me.
Let me go, let me go, let me go!! I struggle frantically but to no avail.
The rotten flesh drips onto my body, it dissolves my skin. And after being consumed by the wave, all I want is to become “human”.
I wake up from my dream.
Breathing frantically, sweat dripping from every pore, barely able to hold back the need to vomit.
This was always how it was on the night after finishing a mission. No matter how many times I did it, my hatred of killing would not dull. No matter how much time passed, the sensation in my palm would not fade.
But I had no choice.
We are tools. Our own wishes and desires were irrelevant. All that was relevant was our power to kill and follow orders. We killed as the “Organization” demanded. That was the only reason for existence we were given. Disobeying an order or fleeing from the “Organization” meant death.
Those who knew it paused before even saying its true name.
It was a group of organized killers from the underground. Their primary business was thought to be assassinations, but their true goals may lie elsewhere- but that true goal was not something the lower ranks, tools like me, had any business knowing.
Most members were enslaved by the “Organization” when they were children. Special children were gathered and trained for combat in a “training school.” Among those, many could not bear the harsh training and so they would “drop out,” but the lucky few who were able to survive were given a “name” and were formally recognized as low ranking members.
That’s how it was in my case too.
At seven years old, I was forcibly taken in by the “Organization,” and left the “Training School” when I was ten. My original name was discarded the moment I stepped foot in the “Training School”.
Even uttering one’s name, from the beginning, became an object of punishment. Each day we could not think of ourselves as individuals, but as one of a group of candidate tools. Once we became members we would be granted a name. But still, that was no more than proof that we were simply tools.
Low ranking members were given the name of one of the 56 Minor Arcana cards from the Tarot. In my case, it was the Three of Swords. It was a name completely devoid of human kindness, but it was better than having no name at all.
Upper ranking members who possessed special abilities were given names from the Major Arcana. Their combat abilities far exceeded that of the lower members, and it was rumored that they possessed strength on par with high ranking Bracers.
Leaving my room at the inn, I checked for a presence in the next room over. It seemed Nine was still asleep.
It was just about time for our report, so I left the inn alone.
Members of the “Organization” generally operated in teams of two people. My partner is the Nine of Swords, a girl slightly younger than me. In most cases, people took three to five years before they finished or graduated from the “Training School,” but she was a genius who finished in just a year.
Intelligence gathering, combat strategy, performance, infiltration, she was a genius in all of these categories, and with her wire and needles as her weapon, her combat style was particularly effective when fighting human opponents.
But in terms of skill with assassination, she was no match for me. At first, when she joined my team we were awkward in battle, but now she was a partner I could rely on.
And she was also the single entity I had to be most vigilant about.
The idea of teams of two was to increase the success rate of their missions, but the secondary goal was to have each member surveil the other. After all, in the “Organization” the price of betrayal was death.
No freedom, only life as a tool. However, within the “Organization” there were special rules.
One: If you suspect any betrayal from your partner, provide proof to those above.
Two: Kill your partner.
If these two rules were upheld, a member would be able to gain their freedom from the “Organization”. If they did attempt to flee, it was unknown if they would be pursued and killed by other members of the “Organization”.
To become totally free it was far better to be watchful of your partner. And in the worst case, if your partner never did try to betray the “Organization” it was also possible to fabricate proof of their betrayal and kill them to gain freedom as well.
The one a member had to be most cautious about was not his enemy, it was the partner right next to him.
Never betray the “Organization” but instead keep a close eye on your partner for signs of treachery. That was the condition that needed to be satisfied to survive. And I knew that all too well, as three years ago I had tried once to flee from the “Organization”.
Well, to be truthful, ‘we’ had tried to flee. My partner at the time was a young boy, the Ace of Swords.
He was a good-natured boy, about a year older than I was. We got along very well, and he took a liking to me, so when we became partners he was more like my big brother.
He stood taller than me and swung a huge sword around effortlessly, sometimes cutting down enemies, sometimes protecting me from enemies using that huge sword as a shield.
“Ace” was a suitable name for him. And like me, he also had a strong hatred for killing. So, the two of us plotting an escape from the “Organization” was a natural turn of events.
One could not betray the “Organization” if they were going to be sold out by their partner, so instead it was better to betray the “Organization” together. And doing that, they could both be saved. With that reasoning, we formulated our escape plan. And when we had been sent on a mission out of sight from any other pair, we put it into action.
At first, it went well. Leaving our normal area of operation and entering the Erebonian Empire, we thought we were safe. But we were unaware that the “Organization’s” eyes were vigilant even there. Soon, another pair pursued us and a fight broke out.
Yet, even still, with Ace’s skill we were able to repel our pursuers. However, the third time they did not send the lower ranking members like ourselves, but rather they sent “Wardens.” With their overwhelming power, there was nothing we could do to resist, and after sustaining serious wounds, we barely escaped with our lives.
There was no future.
The next time we encountered an enemy would be our demise. Hiding in a cave, pressed against each other for support, Ace and I didn’t exchange any words but we knew this to be true.
“What’s up, partner?”
Knowing this might be our last conversation, I struggled to string words together.
“I don’t think this is that bad.”
“I have lots of things I wanted to do, and regrets, but even still.”
Ace got quiet and waited for me to continue.
“Even still, I don’t think it’s so bad that I go out fighting to the death together with you. It’s thousands of times better than killing people as a ‘tool’.”
“I see… Thanks for everything, partner.”
“No, I should be the one thanking you.” I finished saying what I had to say. And even when the next enemies showed up I could keep fighting.
“Well in that case…” Ace spoke up in a cool voice and the entire atmosphere transformed as if to assault me. “Won’t you go ahead and die for me?” I didn’t understand what he was saying. Did he mean ‘Let’s fight to the death together’? Assuming so, I turned my head to confirm. And what I saw enter my field of view—
–Was his giant sword swinging down at me.
I avoided the blow by a split second and it came crashing down into the ground right where I had just been. “WHY, ACE!?”
“Why?! It’s the rule of the ‘Organization’! Did you forget the final clause in our partner agreement?”
The final clause.
I had never thought it applicable to us, so I hadn’t been considering it, but the meaning filled my head. If both members of a team betrayed the “Organization” but one of the two killed the other and presented the corpse to the “Organization” he or she would be forgiven.
In other words, even if the plans of a team attempting to flee failed, as long as they eventually tried to kill each other one of them would be allowed to survive.
And that was exactly what Ace was planning to do. But even after understanding this, all I could do was scream the same thing I had said before.
“You know, partner. My time with you was literally the only bit of good fortune I had living in this hell. I wanted to become human with you, to become free with you.”
“But even still, I don’t wanna die! I have to keep living!” Screaming this, Ace once again swung his sword down at me. The very same sword that had protected me from certain death so many times before was now aiming for my life.
“AHHHHHH!!!” I swung my sword back at him.
I swallowed my sadness and my hopelessness, and gave in to instinct as I fought back against the “enemy” who stood in front of me….
I still have no memory of how that fight went. I surrendered myself to anger and grief, and I frantically, awkwardly screamed and slashed and cut him down like a wild animal.
When I finally regained myself, Ace’s dead corpse was laying at my feet, and I once again became a “tool” of the “Organization,” and lived on to this day—
As a defective being unable to give up on the dream of becoming human, but also unable to ever trust another human again.
Chapter 5: The Warden & Reports
The morning sky was still grey, and the people walking around the town were sparse. After leaving the inn, Three breathed in the cool air into his lungs, and was somehow able to wash away the feeling of stagnation that had been building inside him.
They were currently in the border town of Lucent in the Principality of Remiferia. This was a sort of midpoint for Three and Nine as they operate in the Principality and the Republic.
Heading slightly to the east, you’d arrive at the gate leading to the Republic, and to the west lie a dangerous mountain path unknown by all but one group of people. However, it did offer a way to enter the Republic without passing through the gate.
In order to deliver his report, Three went alone to the designated location. It was a small knoll surrounded by tall, weathered rocks. Because it was deep in the mountains, there were no signs of human activity anywhere, and waiting there was a black shadow – a man wearing black clothing.
Wearing an old style robe that covered his entire body, including a hood over his head, his face was completely concealed. The only thing you could tell about him was the build of his body, and though his attire was strange, that alone did not serve to explain the impossibly intimidating aura that filled the entire area.
“I’ve come to deliver our report, ‘Warden’.”
The man he called “Warden” was a member of the leadership of the “Organization” who had jurisdiction over Three and Nine’s activities. He held the title “Emperor,” one of the Major Arcana, but within the “Organization” he was more often known as “The Warden”.
As that alias would suggest, he was in charge of the low-ranking members of the “Organization” like Three and Nine. He assigned their missions, he accepted their reports, he was the one to make direct use of them as “tools”.
Three outlined the details of the events that had transpired on the luxury ship just the other day.
And once he had finished –
“Right, regarding the activities of Sword of Nine.”
He began reporting on the actions of his partner.
Each partner monitored the other and reported on the other’s actions separately, in a fixed interval. If the reports of their own actions or the actions of their partners differed, even slightly, the “Organization” would start to suspect them. And by making partners report on one another separately, the “Organization” maintained the fear that they would detect signs of treachery before either of them even noticed, which was another one of their goals.
“Hmm. Very well then. I will bestow your next mission in due course.”
“Understood. Excuse me then.” As Three started to turn to leave, he heard a soft voice calling him from behind.”
He turned back around, and as ever “The Warden’s” face was completely concealed.
“It’s been three years since then. You aren’t planning anything like that again, right?”
Three felt a chill suddenly run down his spine. A dense sensation of bloodlust spread across him and felt like it was strangling him.
Naturally what he was referring to was the escape plan that Three had taken part in three years ago.
Emperor often carried out “purges”, and in the face of that overwhelming power, a traitor had no choice but to succumb to a cruel and merciless death. As such, Emperor commanded fear, even from those inside of the “Organization”. He was the one who had tracked down Three and Ace three years earlier. Standing here now, he gave off the same aura of bloodlust that he had had back then as he questioned Three.
Could he have possibly detected Three’s plan?
No, he’d been very careful. But if there was any sliver of proof, he was already as good as dead.
He was being… tested. If he showed even the smallest hint of unrest or turmoil, that was the end.
“You must be joking. I would never act in such a foolish way again.”
After all, all he was good for was killing others. He was no more than a lethal weapon. He took each breath naturally and without any disturbance, the shape of his mouth and the angle of his gaze, all of it was perfect, exactly as he had trained and calculated so many times before.
After a short silence, “The Warden” opened his mouth.
“Very well then.” Immediately, the oppressive atmosphere lifted and the pressure that had been weighing down on him vanished. “I expect a lot from you.”
“Understood. I will focus myself in order to live up to your expectations.” And with that, Three left the area.
“Somehow… that worked…” After returning to the inn, Three let out a huge sigh and flopped onto the bed.
Though he hadn’t actually done anything physically exerting, he felt more exhausted than he had in a while, mental exhaustion from his interaction with The Warden.That must have been it.
And the reason was that he was hiding his true intentions- indeed, Three was once again plotting his escape. In the past three years, they were not able to snatch away his desire for freedom. On the contrary, every day that passed he felt a stronger and stronger urge and yearning to become “human”. His blood-stained hands felt heavier and heavier, and his shame grew larger and larger.
He was a tool in the shape of a human. But at this rate, he would be unable to keep this form, and as he changed further and further into a killing machine, he would become a true monster. This was the terrifying future Three saw in front of him.
So now was the time to make good on his escape!
To that end, the absolute conditions were that he avoided confrontation with The Warden, and kept his escape plans completely hidden from his partner Nine. And naturally leaving Nine out of the picture carried meaning as well.
She was his partner with whom he had faced death countless times, the girl, younger than he was, overflowing with talent, but seemingly missing something as well. A strange feeling swirled within him that he couldn’t suppress.
He had tried several times to bring himself to confide in her, but each time he did his mind was filled with the figure of Ace swinging down his great sword at him. He never wanted to experience that again!
And so – being alone was fine.
Shaking off these thoughts he returned to his preparations for escape. “The only one I can trust is myself.”
It became evening, and the sun had almost completely set. Because he had been preparing for some time Three easily completed his remaining preparations.
Tonight was the night.
After Nine fell asleep, he would leave the town and head to the border via the mountain path.
Once he got to the Republic, he would travel by car. He had already prepared a rental car which he would use to head to a large city to the north. After that, he would board an international airliner headed for Liberl, and after that, his plan was not decided.
He had planned to stay in Liberl for a while, but as long as he could get far away from where he was now, that was enough. Though he was just a petty underling in the “Organization” he would pull this off, he would escape!
Pumped up with enthusiasm, suddenly a crow flew into his room through the window and started circling around the room.
“What is… this” Three made a confused face upon seeing some kind of ornament hanging from one of its legs. The meaning of this was – a call to gather from The Warden.
“At a time like this?” It had only been a matter of hours since he had delivered his report. “Is it a new mission already?” Three muttered anxiously.
But it was not like he could ignore it. If things were to go according to his plan, he would have been able to cover a lot of ground before being pursued at all. But if he tried to flee now, ignoring the summons would result in his plans being uncovered almost immediately, and he would be pursued right away. The plan would fall apart before it began.
Steeling himself, he headed off towards the appointed location, the same small knoll from this morning. In contrast to the creepy stillness from then, in the evening the setting sun illuminated the rocks in the area making it feel like they were burning. There were two shadowy figures waiting there for him.
One was the Warden.
He was wearing the same old-style robe from before, but in this hidden form it almost seemed more appropriate to call him “The Hermit” rather than “Emperor”.
And standing next to him was a small girl holding a stuffed animal – it was Nine.
Her outfit was similar to the dress she had been wearing the other day in design, but it was slightly less frilly and seemed a bit easier to move in. If they were to be given a new mission, it wasn’t strange that Nine would be here. However, the feeling in the air was slightly different from normal, causing Three to feel a bit on edge.
“Yes. What business do you have with us?” It was the typical response.
But then suddenly it became something else entirely.
“Now then, let me hear your explanation.”
“Your treachery has already been detected. According to Sword of Nine.”
“What!?” He was at a loss for words. The absolute worst possible development he could have imagined was unfolding in front of his eyes. Despair overtook Three like a wave.
Again? It’s the same as before? I was betrayed again? No… not really. He and Nine had never even exchanged such a promise. She was doing her job, and he had never trusted her from the start.
That’s what it meant to be a partner. That’s all there was to it. That’s… all there was.
“This must be some kind of mistake!” Knowing it was hopeless, Three still attempted to craft some kind of excuse.
“You can’t get out of this, Su-chan. No, I mean, Three.” Nine responded. She was facing him, her tone of voice completely cool and collected, and not at all her usual sleepy droll. Nine withdrew a single sheet of paper from the stuffed animal and held it up to Three.
“This is a ticket you reserved for an airship headed to the Liberl Kingdom for tomorrow afternoon.”
“!!!?” He wanted to scream out ‘No, I have the ticket!’ but of course that would be nothing more than self-destruction.
And as if to answer his doubts, Nine continued, “The ticket you’re holding on to is actually a fake. I swapped it for the real one.”
To think that the trick he had used during their mission the other day would backfire on him.
“And the name you used to buy this ticket was the fake name you used during a mission a year ago, Jenis Royal Academy student, Lines Vogelt, right? The fact that you’re still holding on to those forged documents means you were planning this escape for quite some time, right?”
Though it wasn’t the time for it, Three felt himself thinking that Nine really was a genius. Having been found out so thoroughly, there really was no point in him coming up with an excuse at this point.
Even still, there was yet one point that Three had a hard time understanding. Even if this was her job, and even if she was a genius, he had been extremely careful. How in the world, then, had he been so easily found out? Why?
“You’re wondering how I figured all this out, right?” Nine laughed quietly; he could feel her voice full of considerable scorn. “I’ve been watching you forever. I’ve been watching over you, only you.”
Of course, those weren’t words of affection.
“Looking, watching, observing, monitoring… eagerly awaiting the moment that you showed your true intentions. I have been from the very moment we first became partners.” Three could hardly keep up with what Nine was saying at this point. “And you did decide to betray the ‘Organization’, but even if you hadn’t I fully intended to fabricate a story that you did.”
Nine declared this plainly, unfazed by The Warden standing next to her.
Three felt his head spinning. He could understand that she would have been watching him as part of her work. but this made it seem like from the very beginning she possessed ill intentions towards him.
The Warden, who had remained quiet until now, chuckled softly from next to her.
“I see.. so you still don’t know about her then.” Three figured he was referring to Nine when he said ‘her’. But what in the world did he mean by that? He looked up at her. And when he did, he saw hatred in her gaze that he had never once felt from her before, enough to make him shudder.
“Your former partner, Ace of Swords, was my older brother.”
And all at once, Three’s vision became hazy, as if he was sinking to the bottom of the sea. In his haze, his mind was unable to think clearly, and it felt difficult to even breathe, as if he was being crushed by a strong pressure.
“And now I am finally able to carry out my brother’s revenge.”
Nine was… Ace’s sister…?
She knew about what happened three years ago from the very beginning, she kept him under her gaze, and she sought her chance for revenge from right by his side.
All to carry out revenge on me. It was as if his mouth had lost the ability to form words; Three stood there completely dumbfounded.
“That’s enough of the questioning. All that remains is ‘Purging’. Well then, Nine, as per the rules, you are the accuser so you must kill your partner.” Hearing the words from “The Warden”, Nine took a step forward. “I can lend you my aid, and your reward will be the same. However, you must carry out the finishing blow. And if you do, you will be publicly given your freedom. Although that means we will, sadly, lose a member with incredible talent.”
If your partner was a traitor and you turned him in and killed him, you gained the right to become free. That was the reward. Nine was so close to attaining- that “freedom” that Three had been so desperately seeking.
“No, allow me to take care of it myself. I will be the one to fulfill my brother’s revenge.”
“Very well then.”
She took another step towards him. She pulled out her needles from the stuffed animal she was always holding, and without delay she unleashed them at Three.
Three drew his swords from his back and repelled the poisoned needles.
He should have also increased his distance, but he wasn’t able to move a single step. Self defense at least was so completely ingrained in his combat style that his actions were reflexive, he wasn’t consciously making any moves.
He had no desire to fight.
Perhaps that was partially because Nine was his opponent, but there also wasn’t any real meaning for him to fight. Even if he was able to take Nine down, The Warden behind her, Emperor, would certainly not lose to him. He would die here – he had succumbed to that fate.
Nine once again unleashed her poisoned needles at him, twice as many as before this time. Flinging both his swords, Three once again repelled them all.
–I see… yes, I see, so this is what they call karma.
Nine drew closer now and started her all out attack.
–Of course he wasn’t qualified to attain “freedom,” of course he wasn’t qualified to become “human”. Details aside, he had killed his friend.
Nine continued her assault, using both thread and needles.
Normally, Three would have no trouble keeping up with Nine in close combat, but now that he was simply fighting back out of instinct the story was different. Before long, Three found himself with a sharp thread looping around his neck.
–Naturally I would be killed for revenge.
Nine flicked her fingers, and the thread tightened.
“This is the end for you.”
Knowing this was it for him, Three quietly accepted his fate, and awaited for death to take him—
But at that moment, it never came.
Chapter 6: IX of Swords
My mother died soon after I was born.
I lived with my father and older brother. And ever since I was old enough to remember, my father was a horrible person. He squandered the mira left from my mother without ever sustaining good work, everyday he did little else but drink. When he was in a bad mood, he would be violent around the house as well.
My entire world was my older brother.
Whether it was within the house or outside, he was always there to protect me. I remember thinking even as a young girl that, even in a horrible home like this, as long as my brother was with me I’d be able to get by somehow.
However, that life did not last forever.
Once we ran out of money, my father put the two of us to work. However, the amount of money that children could actually bring in was very limited. And so, my father of all things, decided to send my brother “away.”
And ever since that point, I stopped thinking of my father as family. But clinging to the faint hope that my older brother would one day return, all I could do was stay put in that horrible home.
It was about three years after that day that a letter from my brother arrived.
Apparently he was in a very harsh place but, according to the letter, somehow he was surviving. Based on the instructions in the letter it appeared that I would be able to write a reply. I was finally able to reconnect with my brother; I was incredibly delighted.
It turned out that my brother was an underling at some place called the “Organization”, and that he was forced to carry out work that involved killing. As I read the letter, I could sense his anguish through his writing.
The oversight of the “Organization” was extremely strict, so the only reason he was even able to communicate with me by letter like this was thanks to the cooperation of his partner.
In fact, my brother wrote about that partner quite a bit in his letters. He was his friend, his accomplice, and even a younger brother figure to my brother. In fact, it was only when he was writing about his partner that my brother’s tone got slightly warmer in his letter.
Before long, I found myself wanting to meet this person. But as I currently couldn’t even meet with my brother, I knew that would be impossible.
The days of us exchanging letters like this continued for a while, however, it wasn’t for very long. Once again, our home ran out of money. I figured it was my turn this time. Telling this to my brother was enough to make him completely decide to flee from the “Organization” with his partner.
“I’ll definitely be back” and “I’ll rescue you from that house”.
The next letters from him were full of statements like that, and at the end of one of the shorter letters was an ominous sentence, only two lines long: “Even if our escape fails, I’ll at least make sure that my partner survives. No matter what happens, you can rely on him.”
And that was the last letter I ever received from my brother. My brother never did return, and as I thought, I too was “let go” by my father.
It appeared that my father had gotten his hands on some dangerous drug, and in all likelihood he had once again run out of money and had once and for all met his ruin. Whatever happened to me was irrelevant.
And so, through a broker, I was also handed over to the “Organization”.
I learned of my brother’s death as soon as I entered the “Training School.”
I think that was the time I became broken.
I thrust myself into the training in order to escape from the world. Unable to see my surroundings, unable to see myself, lacking even a “heart” I became a “doll”, whose sole purpose was to follow orders.
At night I would think of my dead brother, the fact that I was now totally alone, the fact that my hands would be stained with blood, and these things would fill me with fear as I waited through the long nights for morning. Even still, as my body did need some rest, I would sleep for about an hour a night.
When I was feeling particularly well it could even be two hours.
And yet even that pitifully small amount of sleep was disturbed by nightmares.
A year passed like that, and I graduated from the “Training School” with exceptional speed, and then, I met Him, the person who was my brother’s partner.
As he had betrayed the “Organization” he had just completed his “Reeducation”, and it was decided that he would become my partner. At first, I loathed him, the person who had killed my brother. I never let him out of my sight, my entire nervous system trained on him, monitoring him.
After several days, my overstressed senses reached their limits and I guess my body instinctually decided that it was “all right”, and so one day after a mission I ended up falling asleep right beside him.
It was the soundest sleep I had gotten in over a year. I felt the same sense of security that I had when I was by my brother. After waking up, I was filled with all sorts of thoughts and, unable to stop myself, I started to cry.
With my falling tears, the chains that had bound my heart fell off as well, and it felt as thought I had regained my “human heart”.
My sudden outburst of tears surprised him, and even though he tried to console me I only ended up crying harder.
He was exactly as my brother had described him in the letters. He wasn’t very sociable, he was a bit clumsy, but in truth he was a kind person who one could really trust as a partner. Constrained by the “Organization”, forced to kill, he was still someone who did not give up on becoming “human”.
He was strong and yet, according to the letters, he carried the enormous burden of grief on his back.
I simply could not believe that he was someone who could have betrayed my brother and lived on without him.
Based on the final words from the letter, I was easily able to determine what happened- they escaped, and had ended up cornered in a hopeless life-or-death situation, he and my brother.
Rather than both of them dying, it would be better if one of them was able to survive. If one of them killed the other, that would be possible. But even with a plan like that, there’s no way he would be able to accept it.
And even if he did, he would insist that he should be the one to die.
And so, my brother would have unleashed a surprise attack on him, making it seem like he was betrayed. Making him feel that he was about to die was the way to make him live. Making him live on with the scar of being betrayed by the person he was closest to… my brother really was cold.
Since then, being by his side was the place I felt safest in the entire world. As if to catch up on a year’s worth of missed sleep, whether it be the middle of the day, or during a mission, whenever there was a chance I would sleep near him.
This surprised him a lot.
But I knew that he had nightmares almost every night as well. And I’m sure that what happened with my brother was a big part of that. Seeing him suffer as he did made me wish so hard I could tell him the truth of what happened.
But I could not! It still wasn’t time! He was… not good at acting.
Back in “Training School,” they had training to that effect, and it’s not like his actions or facial expressions were particularly bad, it’s just that he had a strange overly-serious air about him, and many times he either went too far or not far enough. A skilled adversary with sharp senses could easily see through his ruse.
Most likely his very nature prevented him from being skilled at deceiving others, and therefore, I still could not tell him about myself.
He had been preparing to flee since the very beginning, and though I knew he had no choice, it was still sort of sad when he didn’t even confide in me about it. But that wasn’t the problem, the problem was that the “Organization” did not trust him. Of course I would never submit any report that would be harmful to him, but the “Organization” was sure to see through his hopeless act. Though they likely didn’t have any concrete evidence yet, it was only a matter of time.
It was at the time I reported on the assassination of Haldor Baarn.
The man in front of me was not giving off his usual, plain aura. The Warden – Emperor, was the one who controlled us, the one who ordered us to kill, the root of evil. His face was covered by his robe as usual, but a certain ominous aura was not concealed. As he was now, the Emperor was like an excited falcon who had identified his prey.
It can’t be! Emperor must have found out about his treachery! He must be planning to kill him right away…!
So I had to put my own plan into action.
The Emperor’s intentions were clear as day – he was the one who told me about his history with my brother. He intended to use my desire for revenge as a driving force for me to indict him and then once again make him taste despair. He was looking forward to seeing that happen for himself.
We were not only “tools” of the “Organization,” we were also his playthings. And so he did with us as he pleased—
After delivering my report, I told Emperor that my partner showed signs of intending to rebel. I told him I had identified the time and place to lure my partner out and kill him, and I received approval of my plan from Emperor.
Though I could not see his face under the robe, I was able to detect the joy ringing out in his voice as he uttered his approval. That evening, he summoned my partner to the hill in the mountains.
He stood there shaking in shock at the sudden accusation of treachery. When I told him of the relationship between his former partner and myself, his face glazed over with astonishment, despair, and finally acceptance.
Seeing him looking like that made me feel miserable, but even still, I increased the level of my outward hatred towards him and fixed my murderous gaze on him. I cut through to his heart with words full of malice, in order to continue deceiving Emperor who stood at my side, I would not be permitted even one moment of hesitation.
I stepped forward to attack him.
I drew even closer to begin my attack with the sharp threads. However, my true intention was to increase the distance between myself and Emperor.
He was able to ward off my feeble attacks, and all too soon I had him in check. A strand of the sharp thread encircled his neck, and the battle was decided. If I increased the power just a small bit, his life was over.
I moved my finger and raised my voice.
“This is the end for you.” It was not the voice of an act, it was true.
A web of sharp thread, a plethora of invisible strands, responded to my movements and constricted.
The strands formed a complex geometric pattern leading far into the surrounding trees, and in the blink of an eye they formed a ring that tightened and constricted my prey in the very center.
–The Emperor was fixated on his two playthings killing each other that he had failed to pay close attention to his surroundings.
And with perfect timing, my surprise attack bound the Emperor completely.
My transparent thread did not have the strength to cut through him, but without using that thread I would not have been able to carry out the trick of hiding the web in the trees. In terms of strength, it was several times stronger than the sharpest thread, but even still it was unclear just how long it would be able to constrain the Emperor.
Without a moment’s delay, I pulled down hard on another thread that I had already prepared, and in doing so, a low sliding sound followed by a bang as the huge rock on the hill crumbled and fell.
I had chosen this area because it was surrounded by brittle bedrock and I had laid this trap ahead of time. The rocks shattered and began tumbling down. Among them was a huge rock about 10 arge across, and it was aimed directly at Emperor.
With a thunderous roaring sound it came crashing down. When the dust cleared, it was as if an earthquake had struck the area based on the spectacle of fallen rock in the area. After sustaining a direct hit by something of that mass, there was no way Emperor was still alive. And even if he had somehow survived, he was buried alive.
The boy standing next to me still hadn’t grasped the situation; he stood stock still, his mouth wide open in shock.
“Su-chan~~” I finally returned to my normal nickname for him, and I jumped into him as hard as I could.
The place where I felt the safest.
I nuzzled my head into him and didn’t let go.
This was the first time I behaved like a spoiled child, but… I was really, really scared.
“I’m so sorry, I said such awful things… I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you…” There was still a lot I had to explain to him, but for now that was all I could say. And even though he still hadn’t grasped the situation, he softly pet my head.
“Nine, what in the world—”
But before he could finish, something strange happened.
The big mountain of fallen rock behind us shivered a bit, and suddenly a small rock went slowly flying up towards the sky.
The two of us stared at it.
“Space arts? No…”
No, it felt like something else… Was it the same as the engine of an airship? I had no idea… lost in thought considering what in the world it could be, he spoke with a firm voice.
“That’s The Warden’s… Emperor’s technique!”
“What?” I gulped.
That meant that the Emperor was still very much alive. And the next moment, a huge cluster of rocks went flying towards the sky.
“We have to run! Nine!”
He grabbed me as I stood there, dumfounded, and we started sprinting.
After we had made it quite some distance, we turned to look back at the sound of a large explosion. And what we saw was what looked like a huge volcano erupting, as massive rocks were hurled into the sky…
Chapter 7: Tears and a Promise
Three and Nine were hiding in a cave off the mountains near Lucent. As they fled from the Warden – Emperor, Three was recovering a bit here as he listened to Nine’s story.
The story about Ace, about who she was, about the battle they had just finished, and about the truth from three years ago.
At first Three did pipe up with a few questions about doubts he had in the story, but eventually he just sat in silence listening, and by the end he was bending over looking down at the ground, avoiding eye contact.
His best friend, who he thought had betrayed him, had done nothing of the sort. Instead, he traded his own life to save him. And yet knowing nothing of this he took his friend’s life and carried resentment in his heart ever since. And now, his younger sister risked her life to save him even as he held so much resentment towards her brother in his heart.
Thinking of all of this he felt as though his heart was being twisted around.
He felt relief and joy at the fact that the person whom he should trust had been by his side the whole time and was still there now. He felt an unending anger towards himself at how pitiful and foolish he had been.
This mixture of warm emotions and dark emotions mixed around inside him, causing him to feel totally constricted, until he could hardly breathe.
“Su-chan, are you crying?” Nine spoke up as Three had become totally silent.
“I’m not.” Three responded in his usual cold tone.
“I can comfort you, you know.”
“I told you, I’m not crying.” So he said, but he wouldn’t raise his head.
“You’re really bad at acting, Su-chan, but you’re even worse at telling lies, you know~” Nine got closer to Three, who was hunched over staring at the ground, and embraced his head, pulling it into her chest. Like a mother consoling her child she gently rubbed his hair.
“It’s fine.. it’ll all be fine~”
“But I… I…” He tried to object, but feeling Nine’s gentle strokes on his head, he couldn’t bring himself to.
Though she looked like a young child, she was overflowing with motherly understanding and compassion, and Three, who grew up without a mother by his side, was experiencing this feeling for the first time.
“You tried your hardest, Su-chan… I know you did, so it’s all fine… It’s all fine now~” Three was now weeping.
“I’m so… pitiful…” Tears streamed down his face as his sobbing voice rang out.
“That’s not true.” Nine continued petting his head softly.
“Why was I the one to survive?! Why did Ace have to die?!”
“Don’t say things like that. It’s because you were with me that I was saved, Su-chan.”
“But because of me, Ace…”
“But then you gave it your all twice over to do his share too, right?”
“I… But I…” This was the first time in his life he had sobbed like this.
As if these tears had been saved up for years and were finally able to be released, Three felt a purifying sensation wash over his heart. After a while, he finally settled down a bit.
“It’s fine, I’m here. You don’t have to cry. But if you want to, you can cry as much as you want~”
“Wait, so which is it?!” Three regained his composure a bit and then he became aware that his head was buried in Nine’s chest. In order to draw attention away from his embarrassment, he resumed their information exchange.
Having said that, Nine’s explanation had finished, so they started discussing their current situation.
“So basically, the Warden noticed my treachery, so you took the first move and got him from behind.”
“Right. I was waiting for the right opportunity to take him down.”
“I mean, you could have told me all of this.”
“I told you, Su-chan, you’re really bad at acting.” Three scowled at her. But it was true that both Nine and Emperor had seen right through him so he couldn’t exactly object.
“My timing should have been perfect. Preparations were perfect too, and I used the most surefire method to make sure he died at the moment he was least expecting it. Even so…”
Even so, he hadn’t died.
How in the world had he survived getting crushed by all those rocks? And what on earth was that last technique…
“It’s probably because of his ability.” Three had said the same thing before when they were about to flee.
“I think it’s an ability to manipulate gravity. He came after Ace and I three years ago with that same ability.” Three reopened that painful memory as he continued. When they had attempted to flee from the “Organization” Emperor was the one who came after them the third time.
Each time they had found an opening, or carried out a combination attack, their bodies would for some reason become heavy, so heavy they could hardly move. On the other hand, his body became strangely light and he was easily able to overwhelm the two of them with his nimble maneuvers.
“What do you think?” After finishing his explanation, he turned to Nine and asked.
“There’s no sense of arts activation so I don’t think it’s that, and it’s hard to think that there exists some kind of portable technology capable of letting him manipulate gravity like that. There must be some kind of trick, or else maybe it’s the power of an ancient rune or some kind of artifact. Somehow he used this to control the falling rocks and prevent his death? But even still, we don’t have enough information.”
Stopping briefly, Nine continued. “In any case, facing an enemy with an ability like that head on is suicide.”
Silence filled the air between them. Three finally broke the silence with a grave statement. “If it comes to it, I want you to kill me—”
“No!!” Her voice full of uncharacteristic emotion, she screamed back at him. “If you die, Su-chan, I’m dying right after you! I’ll kill myself!”
A complete departure from the motherly atmosphere she had been giving off, this time she was a child throwing a tantrum. But she was absolutely serious.
“I don’t wanna go back to those sleepless nights. I don’t wanna be alone again…” Her soft voice was full of heavy emotion and determination. Sensing this, Three let out a small sigh and then took a deep breath.
“Understood. I’ll promise this: no matter what happens, I’ll protect you.”
“No, no, that’s not enough!”
“Yes, I know. So I’ll promise this too: No matter what happens, I’ll survive with you.”
Hearing this, Nine looked at him with imploring eyes.
“Really. And so to that end, the best course of action for us now is—”
Emperor had taken a direct hit from those massive boulders. Even if he had somehow survived, it seemed unlikely he was unharmed. If they ran from here now, the “Organization” would surely catch up with them.
And if they fought with Emperor again, with him at his top form, there wasn’t even a one-in-a-million chance they could win.
If they were going to do it, they had to do it now.
“Let’s take Emperor down, right now!”
Chapter 8: Gravity and Artifacts
Three and Nine returned to the hill – well, what used to be the hill. There were large boulders all over the place, far more than there had been originally.
As if he was meant to be there, Emperor was standing right in the center.
As they had expected, he was certainly not unscathed- at the very least, the robe that had covered him completely had been torn into little more than fragments; most of it was gone entirely, and he was almost completely exposed.
He wore on his head a golden helmet sculpted to look like a crown and wielded a golden staff with a spherical shape on the end of it. In addition, he was adorned entirely by golden armor.
The word “gaudy” wouldn’t be enough to describe the sight; formerly concealed by a thin veil, his pride and arrogance now shone through plainly.
“You two are clever. I knew you would return.” Without replying to him, Three and Nine grew closer. “Now then, have you decided who will kill whom?”
The two of them said nothing, but exchanged a glance and nodded.
Three closed his eyes, took his hands off his sheathed swords, and showed signs of surrender. Then Nine withdrew her poison needles, aimed at Three, and let them loose – but this was a feint and, just like before, as the needles left her hands she redirected them at Emperor.
However, after the needles covered some distance towards him, they suddenly changed to a parabolic trajectory in mid air and fell to the earth in vain.
“I see. So your answer is that both of you shall die.”
“No.” Nine let her needles fly again, this time in the wrong direction. At that moment, Three took off running. “Our answer is that we will kill you together!”
As he screamed, he picked up speed and delivered a slashing attack at Emperor, but that attack became dull as he approached his target, and Emperor effortlessly parried it with his staff. At the same time, the needles that were flying through the air changed course due to the gravitational field and fell directly towards Emperor.
The first time she threw her needles, Nine had deduced the effective range of the gravitational field and, planning out the actual parabolic trajectory the needles would follow, had adjusted her aim. Furthermore, she used the effect of the field to accelerate the needles and they came falling with even more piercing strength than usual.
And yet, even still, Emperor deflected them easily with a wave of his left arm. Even with the extra speed, the needles had no chance of piercing through that golden armor.
“You intend to face me? Me?!” He swung his staff downwards. Three took the blow with his sword, but force threw him back several arge.
“Ahh!” Somehow he withstood the blow, but he felt as though he had been slammed by a giant hammer. That much force was not explainable through physical strength and the staff alone; this had to be one of the faces of his ‘Ability’.
“It is time for ‘Purging’.”
That was the very same word he had heard a few hours before, and also three years earlier, it was like a death sentence, and Three felt the fear from before rushing back through him. He felt himself wobble on his feet, but after confirming Nine’s presence behind him he somehow endured.
Without a moment’s delay, he regained his posture and resumed his attack. Nine matched her needle throwing to Three’s attack pattern, providing cover. However, the effect was much the same as before.
Even so, after the third or fourth volley of attacks, Three began to slowly get used to fighting under the effects of the enhanced gravity, and his sword began to get faster and sharper.
The movements of his muscles, the swinging of his sword, the angle of his path. He eliminated waste from his movement, and Emperor’s lead in the battle started diminishing as well. Though he lacked the level of insight that Nine had, he was the real deal when it came to talent in close proximity combat.
And Nine’s cover didn’t stop either.
Though the needles couldn’t pierce through their target’s armor, Nine was now able to target the gaps between the armor despite the gravitational field. She even included some art attacks mixed in as well, making her onslaught particularly nasty.
None of this was particularly hard for Emperor to withstand, but it meant that his defense against Three was also diminished. The more Three persisted, the more trouble he became, and after a few more volleys, it appeared that Three and Nine were actually putting pressure on him.
And yet, looking at his helmeted head, there was no sign of distress in his face. Three’s sword did occasionally land a direct blow onto his armor, but there wasn’t a noticeable effect.
The instant Three got close enough, as if his body had suddenly sprouted wings, he was thrown into the air against his will.
“Crap!” He thought, as his sword blow missed its mark and his stance fell apart.
“The extra effect vanished!?” As he flew up into the air, Emperor raised his staff above his head and swung it forward. Three was thrown down onto the ground.
All the air was forced from his lungs and as he spat out blood.
“It’s not over yet! Get back!” Hearing Nine’s cry, Three was barely able to dodge to the side.
At the same time, the gravity effect came back in force, and aiming at where Three had fallen, Emperor once again swung his staff at him. It landed with so much force that the shockwave left a small crater.
The shockwave had been so powerful it blew Three aside like a leaf. He figured that if he had been right under the staff when it came down, he would have been torn apart. But responding to Nine’s cry he stood back up.
After that, the course of the battle took a complete turn.
With Emperor using his gravity ability at will, Three was totally on the defensive. Though he had thought he had become used to the effect, the sudden drastic increase in the amount of gravity came crashing down on him. In this state there was no way he could carry out a frontal assault. Nine too was forced to recalculate based on the range and intensity of the effect so the efficacy of her attacks dwindled.
Even still, somehow, they were able to hold out.
Three’s forward guard was no joke, and though he was pushed back, he never gave Emperor the chance to land a decisive blow. Even Nine wasn’t totally hopeless.
“Su-chan,” she called out after gaining some distance from the enemy. “I think I grasp it a bit.”
“Yeah, go for it.”
While on guard for the next attack from Emperor, Three waited for Nine’s words.
“Compare this to your fight with him 3 years ago, has anything changed? Particularly with his left hand. Wasn’t he holding something in his left hand?”
Right now, Emperor’s left hand was empty. But when Three had fought him before…
“You’re right… I feel like I remember him holding some kind of golden sphere with markings engraved on it. And it was a much more one-sided fight back then too.”
“I figured.” Nine replied. Three felt a slight sense of unease, as if the enemy was looking down on them and holding back. But seeing Nine’s reaction, it seemed that wasn’t the case at all.
“Oh, so you noticed?” Emperor spoke up, impressed. And as if to check her theory, he stopped his attack.
“I believe he originally gathered four ancient artifacts that could be used to manipulate gravity.”
“His golden helmet, which calls forth a gravitational field and modulates its size. His armor, which is able to absorb the gravitational force from attacks landed on it. His scepter, a staff capable of creating a powerful gravitational wave at the point it contacts. And his precious orb, capable of manipulating the gravitational field of a designated target directly.”
In other words, Emperor had equipped all of these ancient artifacts, and used his robe to conceal all of them, for if he was seen carrying any of those, the Septian Church would surely take notice.
“You’re right… Unlike last time, right now when he uses his power to decelerate me, he doesn’t appear to also accelerate himself. Three years ago, I couldn’t even move my arms or legs at all because of that.”
Was he just messing around making light of this fight? Or was he fighting under the same excess gravitational field himself? If it wasn’t like last time, when Three was trapped under the field but his enemy wasn’t, there was some hope of survival.
“It seems like he either lost that precious orb, or maybe it was destroyed by the falling boulders earlier.” That would mean now was the absolute best chance they would have at defeating him.
“Splendid.” Emperor spoke out in a low voice; a hint of delight could be heard as well. “For you to present such a thorough analysis of my ancient Artifacts, the ‘Regalia’ in such a short time, you really are gifted, Sword of Nine.”
“Your praise doesn’t make me happy one bit.”
Emperor raised his voice a bit and continued speaking, a sudden surge of the aura of bloodlust pouring out from him.
“But no matter how exceptional the tool may be, if I’m not able to use it—”
Together with the everything around him, Emperor floated off the ground and took charge of a large mass of floating boulders with his staff. Some of the boulders were unable to withstand the shock and shattered into multitudes of rock fragments, while others remained as large flying boulders. And all of them went flying directly for Nine.
Small rocks like buckshot and large boulders like cannon fire all attacked her. It was as if the concentrated fire of an entire army came flying in one concentrated spot. In a panic, Three moved into the line of fire.
He fended off the large boulders with his swords and tried to use his own body to protect her as a shield, blocking or smashing the remaining rocks, however, his distance from her was too great, and by the time he got close enough, more than half of the rocks had gone flying by him.
–He was too late.
Without a meaningful way to defend against the rocks, all Nine could do was evade them, but even then there were simply too many.
Ignoring the smaller rocks, she at least tried to avoid the large boulders, but even so a large boulder struck her in the abdomen, and coughing up blood she collapsed to the ground.
Chapter 9: Anger and Conjecture
“NIIIINE!!!” His voice full of extreme grief, Three rushed over to her. Her forehead, mouth, hands, feet, her entire body was covered with blood; it was a brutal sight to see the young girl like this.
No matter how much Three called to her, she would not answer.
He had made a promise. No matter what happened, he would protect her, he had sworn to himself. And yet even still, he was too worthless to keep that promise. He felt like he was burning up, engulfed by a great fire.
And then, Emperor spoke up.
“Is she still breathing? If so, you should deliver the final blow. If you do you can save yourself, just like you did back then.”
Three felt a sound resonate in his head as if something had burst. Emperor continued, “It truly would be marvelous if you were to kill both brother and sister after becoming both of their partners, and becoming close to each of them.” Even if most of his face was hidden by the helmet, Three felt as though his repulsive, mocking face was floating right in front of him.
“YOU BASTARD… EMPEROR!!!” As if the anger that was coursing through him had nowhere left to fit inside of his body, it exploded out through Three’s mouth.
His feet moved.
His arms moved.
His throat quivered, his bones creaked, his blood surged.
His anger driving his body, he surged forward at Emperor.
Though his attacks were always quick, he swung forward faster and stronger, as if a rampaging storm was rushing down to engulf his target.
Emperor began manipulating the gravitational field around himself again, but Three was already completely attuned to that change. Entrusting himself totally to instinct, his actions were controlled by his intuition, and he adjusted to the situation with terrifying speed. And, though gradually, Emperor became unable to predict every attack and some of the attacks landed on him, even still his expression of amusement did not fade.
“So you’ve become no more than a wild beast. My tools indeed have no need for their own intentions, but even so, for you to act without a hint of reason is comical!” And in truth, Emperor was not sustaining noticeable damage. From a distance, Three’s movements were flashy, but in truth he was still dancing in the palm of Emperor’s hands.
Suddenly, Three remembered Nine’s words.
What allowed him to remember was the small bit of composure he had left deep in his heart. Unlike three years ago, the version of himself who had succumbed to his anger looked in on the version of himself who was still level-headed and calm. He could toss away the stopper and surrender fully, but he was able to judge that not doing so might lead to a better outcome, so he held back and stopped.
And though he did not realize it himself, his current strategy of letting himself be controlled by his emotions and changing them into power was something not even the best martial artist could do successfully.
Nine had said, “ His armor, which is able to absorb the gravitational force from attacks landed on it.” And indeed, no matter how many times he struck, the effect was negligible.
If his slashes and strikes were insufficient — all he had to do was cause an explosion inside the armor! Normally this kind of situation would be hopeless, but it could be said Three had a particular affinity to this fight. He restored the two swords from his left and right into one great sword.
And — strike! He struck the same locations as he had been targeting when the two swords were separated, and with the one additional strike with this third sword on those spots, he would be able to cause an explosion within. Emperor had already sustained a considerable number of attacks, and there were crossing slash marks across his armor. So there was just one step left to complete the process; he just had to strike those spots again with the large sword.
With considerable force, Three rained down his attack on Emperor.
But for some reason, he could not land his attacks on those spots. His attacks would always land one or two rege from their marks. In order to activate the “point explosion” attack, the first and second slashes simply needed to create intersecting lines. However, the third strike had to land at exactly the intersection of those two lines. Of course, the difficulty of landing the third attack properly was much higher than the other two. Even still, Three had the confidence and ability to accurately strike that spot.
And even still, he could not land it.
As if he was watching some kind of comedy routine, Emperor looked down on Three with laughter. “Just what kind of master doesn’t know what his own tools are capable of? I’m already well aware of your combat style and the special function of that weapon.” And as if to prove what he was saying, he continued to deftly avoid Three’s strikes.
And then, finally, Emperor retaliated. He unleashed a blow with his staff at a specific angle to attack Three.
He knew the reason.
Just before the attack landed, he modified the surrounding gravitational field. His timing was perfection. There was no possible way Three could adjust his approach in that instant. And though the gravity-based attack would not activate without the staff making physical contact, if he was hit, the impact would be unbelievably severe.
Three parried all of his enemy’s attacks with his sword or evaded them, but that was all playing right into Emperor’s plan. Even if a physical hit by the staff wasn’t enough to deal a critical blow, the amount of accumulated damage Three had sustained in total would have increased considerably.
Three would never be able to land his finishing blow.
Emperor continued to pile on more and more damage.
The ultimate outcome of this battle was clear, and there didn’t appear to be any hope for turning the tides. After the countless repetitive attacks, Three was quite worn out and looked like he might collapse at any moment.
And then — “That voice” rang out in its normal sleepy tone.
“Analysis… complete.” Though she had appeared to be totally wiped out, Nine stood up, teetering as she did. Emperor let out a voice of surprise. “How… could it be…”
“Nine! Are you ok!?” Three had considered the possibility that she was simply pretending to be taken out when in reality she was analyzing the enemy.
But he hadn’t been certain. And Nine had made sure not to tell Three anything or give him a single clue. Because if she had, she knew Emperor would see through her ruse.
“I’m fine. It just grazed me. I had woven some thread around my body and it absorbed the brunt of the force of the boulder.” It really didn’t look at all like she had just been grazed, but in any case her wound didn’t seem life-threatening or anything.
Three again put some distance between him and Emperor. This time he paid very careful attention to their relative positions as he drew closer to Nine.
“The weakness in his gravity manipulation technique is a moment in which he isn’t able to activate it.”
“What do you mean?”
“He doesn’t have to power up to use it as if he was using arts, but every time he starts manipulating gravity, there is without fail a time lag of a few seconds before the effect takes hold. This is the reason he wasn’t able to defend against the falling boulders.”
“But a few moments ago he was constantly able to modify his attack over and over again with perfect timing. What’s that all about?”
“He had already read ahead that far. All of your movements, every last one of them, Su-chan.”
“He read them all, he predicted every last movement, and he prepared his technique in advance for each attack.”
“How is that even possible!?”
“That is not the power of the ancient artifact. It is actually his own innate combat sense. That’s part of what makes him a monster.”
Emperor chuckled a bit after hearing this. “Even if you know all of that, it’s not like the result here will change. I know your combat style so well at this point that it is as if I’ve obtained it for myself. Your speed, your power, the path you swing your sword, your habits… these are all parts of you, so ingrained in you that there is no way you can change them on the fly.”
“Yeah, I know. Let’s finish this.” The two of them exchanged glances and nodded. And then they once again stood up to face Emperor.
With impressive speed, Three moved in. He swung his sword downwards and then in a diagonal pattern, slashing as he dashed forward. Naturally, Emperor evaded this move and launched his own counterattack.
At first, he mixed some feints in as he performed his preparations. Emperor was aware of this as well; ascertaining the exact moment in which Three would unleash his finishing move, Emperor began powering up his gravity manipulation. Exactly as he had foreseen, Three took a half-step forward and launched a frontal attack, targeting the marking point where the previous two attacks had crossed.
Gravity was manipulated, the path of the sword deviated slightly… But, as if Three had seen through this, the redirected sword ended up heading for the original target spot. Emperor forcefully lunged backwards and barely evaded the blow.
Three’s motions now were somehow different from before.
Emperor had but a split second to think this before the next slashing attack came for him. As before, he activated his gravity manipulation after ascertaining the timing and trajectory of the strike.
However, the sound of a muffled explosion rang out with a bang, and part of Emperor’s armor took damage along with his left arm.
“Impossible!!” And without a moment’s delay, another flash.
This time it was his right arm. How could this be?! He had foreseen his attacker’s movements and activated his gravity manipulation to redirect the attack, hadn’t he!? His intuition was completely flawless! There was no way that Three should be able to–
and then Emperor realized the truth. Three’s body had numerous transparent threads encasing it. And naturally the one holding the other ends of those threads was Nine.
It wasn’t that Nine was controlling him like some kind of puppeteer. Rather, she was using the threads to indicate the correct timing, correct angle, and correct direction. By being able to read what Emperor had already deduced, they could once again redirect the attack to strike. And the reason this was possible was of course due to her superior intellect, but also due to the fact that as his partner, she understood everything about Three’s movements.
In fact, she was the one who knew how he moved and how he fought on a battlefield better than anyone else. She naturally knew exactly how Three’s combat style should be applied. So, all she had to do was use that knowledge from the shadows.
“You little—!!” For the first time, Emperor showed his anger. Like before, he once again tried to direct bullets made of rock towards Nine, but he noticed he was not in a good location from which to fire that kind of attack.
He didn’t know whether it was Three or Nine’s doing, but he had intentionally been led to where he was currently standing, that much was certain.
Emperor’s anger boiled up even more. Very well then, he would simply kill them, directly, with his own hands. Thinking this, he let up on the gravitational field around him to increase speed, and headed towards Nine.
“I was waiting for you to come!” Suddenly a huge boulder appeared in the sky right above the path Emperor was following – seemingly due to arts.
“What foolishness.” To think she would use his own attack against him. And it wasn’t even a surprise attack. As soon as the boulder entered the gravitational field, Emperor easily held up his staff and shattered it.
And that was the moment his fate was decided. A stuffed animal bunny rabbit, that had been hidden in the rock, appeared in front of him.
“What!?” It was not just any stuffed animal, and Emperor knew it. But it was too late.
The stuffed animal exploded right in front of him. A wave of heat and light spread out, and he reflexively froze in place. And the next second, with another bang, Three’s attack landed on him and his armor exploded.
“It’s over–” Forced by Three’s sword, a fragment of the armor pierced through Emperor’s heart.
Chapter 10: Su-chan and Na-chan
As The Warden, Emperor, laid on his back staring up at the sky, he let out a dry laugh.
“What’s so funny?”
“I never imagined you would be able to take me down… I shall yield. You two are strong, among all of the ‘weapons’ I have raised, you are the strongest.”
“Shut up! We aren’t ‘tools’ anymore!” Three raised his sword and prepared to deliver the finishing blow.
Once again it was time for this. He would never get used to it, he hated this part. He knew that this time alone was different from all the others. Even still, his hands wouldn’t stop shaking.
“Su-chan,” Nine drew near him. “I’ll do it with you.”
Her eyes were unusually sincere.
This was to close the lid on their past together. Nine grabbed onto the sword, her hand joining with Three’s, and his shivering subsided just a bit. The two of them raised the sword overhead, when Emperor spoke up once again.
“The path you two follow is smeared in blood… And that will not stop here. Kill or be killed. Control or be controlled. In the end you will become no different from me, hahahahah.”
“No. I am no longer a ‘tool’, nor do I intend to make anyone else into one.” Nine replied. Three added, “You will be the last person we kill.” And together, they yelled, “farewell”.
In a remote area of the Republic of Calvard, a horse drawn carriage slowly passed by.
Aside from trains, orbal cars were the primary method of land-based transit nowadays so this was a somewhat rare sight, but from time to time an elegant carriage like this was a tasteful and nice change of pace.
The coachman was a young man, and a young lady was laying down inside the wagon.
“That reminds me, I wonder where in the world that Warden was even from.” Remembering the unexpectedly handsome face underneath the mask, the young man spoke up.
“I mean, there are rumors about that~” The young girl answered with a particularly unmotivated sounding tone.
“What kind of rumors, exactly?”
“Well, let me see…”
To summarize the girl’s response, it seemed as though in a certain small country there was an oppressive king.
He ruled as a tyrant, misgoverning every facet, and was universally feared by the citizens. Eventually he died, and his son, the prince, rose to the throne. The prince, now the king, was a very kind man, and in order to make sure the mistakes of his father were never made again, he tried to run a very good government.
But, perhaps because they did not fear him, no one listened to what he had to say. Furthermore, though no one had ever dared file complaints when his tyrant father was ruling, since his death the cries of displeasure rang out, ultimately leading to a revolution. The revolutionary army stormed the palace and accused the new king of misgovernance. The young new king was driven out of the country, barely escaping with his life, and the revolutionaries converted the country into a republic.
The end, the end.
“So in other words, that prince was The Warden?”
“I’m not sure about that~ I don’t even know whether that country exists.” As the wagon shook back and forth, the girl rolled around inside on the floor. “Maybe he was driven by a desire to dominate as a reaction to the fact that he was unable to lead his own country due to his weakness? Anyway, that’s… just a thought…”
Though he didn’t want to have even a shard of sympathy for the man, the young driver found himself at least pitying him.
“Whaat~” The girl answered sluggishly but the boy’s tone got dark.
“Are you able to forgive me… for what happened with your brother?”
“No, I’m not.”
The boy fell silent, both surprised but accepting of it at the same time.
“I’ll never forgive you, not for my entire life. He was my only family, my dear, precious brother… so that’s why…” She paused there, and her face blushed before she continued in a loud voice. “That’s why, you have to take responsibility and watch over me forever! You have to be by my side forever, Su-chan!”
“Yeah, I’ll take responsibility. I’ll watch over you for the rest of my life.”
The girl was filled with so much happiness she felt she was soaring above the clouds. But then Three continued, “I’ll stand in for your brother, and as your older brother I’ll make sure you grow into a wonderful person.”
This response was not what Nine had in mind, and she pouted, “NO!”
“What’s the matter? And don’t move around so much while the carriage is moving.”
She didn’t answer his question, but she plopped over again and lay down. And then she changed the subject.
“So what should we do from here?” They had planned to start anew, heading to Liberl or Leman, but they really hadn’t thought about what they would do from now on. Perhaps pursuers from the “Organization” would come after them, but they had a feeling they could handle themselves. So what they were thinking of now wasn’t that, it was about the future.
“Well, I supposed we’ll have to get some kind of job.”
“What kind of work?”
“Well, if we put the skills we have to practical use…maybe we could work in a theatrical troupe?”
“Whaat~ No way~ I mean Su-chan, you’re really bad at acting.”
“I’m not that bad, you know, I think I’d be pretty good on a regular stage…” He deflated a bit but then perked up as if he thought of something. “Well then, what about becoming Bracers?”
“Whaat~ No way- I mean I heard they’re super busy all the time. We might die from working too hard.”
And anyway the bigger problem was whether or not the Bracer Guild would even be interested in taking in as flawed as they were. Though he did think it was a terrible idea.
“Well then what in the world do you even want to do?”
“All I wanna do is lay around and sleep all day~”
“I swear, this girl…” Three sighed without thinking. Then he remembered something, “Ah, that reminds me, I haven’t asked you yet.”
“Your name. Your real name; I just realized I never asked you.”
“My real name is Nadia.”
“My name is Swin.”
“It’s sort of… an amazing coincidence, huh.”
The girl had known his name for years from her brother’s letters. So she had always obsessed over what she called him. She had wanted a name that wasn’t his name as a “tool”, one that was more of a pet name based on his real name. But she didn’t intend to tell him this.
“Anyway, you should just be Su-chan, and I should just be Na-chan.”
“You’re probably right.”
And so it was decided.
The carriage swayed back and forth as it moved further into the distance, and within it, their banter continued.
The boy’s name was Swin, Su-chan.
The girl’s name was Nadia, Na-chan.
The two of them had just become “human”, and now they were travelers.