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——The sheet dangling from the office’s window had been insurance, in case the worst came to pass.
Inside Gustav’s office, a discussion between him and two emissaries, Todd and Arakiya, had been in progress, although only led entirely by the two of Todd and Gustav—— getting to the crux of the pair’s visit to the Island had taken quite a lot of trial and error for Subaru and Hiain, as they had eavesdropped.
The events that would occur, the words that would be employed, a way with which to calm Hiain down, the blind spot for him and Hiain to hide in, an escape route; those were the requirements.
They would have to deceive Todd, a meticulous person, and Arakiya, one of the Nine Divine Generals.
They had no problems in being similar to characters in a manga that could feel any presence. For the purpose of deceiving them, Subaru had needed to pull out all the stops.
He had asked Weitz to buy some time, Tanza to bring herbs with strong odors on the way to the office, and Idra to gather people on the vantage point so as to distract them, even if only a little.
By doing all those things, they would raise their suspicion to the utmost, but only so much that they still would not act on it.
Those fortifications, built upon thin ice, had allowed them to overcome their opponent’s own defensive fortifications.
Hiain: [Schwartz, what’s the plan now!?]
Subaru: [Still thinking!]
As he clung on to Hiain’s body, having barely avoided a fall to their death, Subaru bellowed.
Being a lizardman, his hands and feet could attach to the walls in a manner akin to actual lizards. However, Hiain’s body was bigger than a lizard’s, and furthermore, he had been saddled with a weight, that being Subaru.
A closer description would be that they had descended rapidly, borrowing the dangling sheets’ assistance to avoid injury.
Having been lowered from Hiain’s arms to the courtyard, Subaru then confirmed the feeling of the curse tool in his hand.
The black ball, still sticky and wet with blood, had been inside Gustav’s body—— just where exactly it had been placed, he did not know, only that it had been ripped out of him.
Enduring the nausea rising from within, Subaru frantically planned his next move.
The very instant Todd let go of the curse tool had been the instant Subaru thought he had to act. Since he had attained the curse tool this way, he had not been mistaken in that.
But at the same time, there was no doubt that it was a move made without any thought on what to do afterwards.
Subaru: [Anyway, let’s use your camouflage in those bushes!]
Hiain: [A-are ya sure we shouldn’t run?]
Subaru: [No, we can’t just run away without any thought, she’d find us right away! Quickly!]
Between the options that popped into his head, “running” or “hiding”, he had immediately chosen “hiding”.
As they had already aroused the hostility of Todd and Arakiya, there was no doubt that they would face Death either way. So he had opted for a path that would give him better insight into future events.
If they were to run away, they would have to continuously stay on the run.
But if they hid, they would be able to continue mulling over what to do next for as long as they stayed silent.
Pulling the arm of the bewildered Hiain, Subaru dove behind a plant in the corner of the courtyard. Then, Hiain camouflaged himself while covering Subaru, hiding themselves from those around them.
With Hiain’s body pressing down on him, he felt his heartbeat on his back, beating with an inordinate force.
He was frightened, cowering. Still, he had to endure this.
Because if he could not——,
???: [They’re not here.]
With a light thud, a girl overcame the height that Subaru and Hiain had struggled to descend.
The one landing barefoot in the courtyard was Arakiya, holding a thin tree branch in her hand. One of her eyes covered by an eyepatch, she turned, surveying the courtyard with her sleepy-looking eye.
Could Hiain’s camouflage truly deceive her eye as she searched?
Even if they could elude one’s perception provided the person was unaware of their existence, they would not be able to conceal themselves in the blind spot were their existence to be known. If she just searched for Subaru and Hiain with the slighest bit of extra attentiveness, would heighten their anxiety on being found.
There was nothing Subaru could do about that. But they absolutely could not let themselves be found.
Not because he had obtained a curse tool capable of killing or saving everyone on the Island.
For a more pressing reason, a reason directly related to Natsuki Subaru’s own state, was why he could not afford being found, was why he could not afford dying.
He wished that she would turn around and walk away in the wrong direction.
But in the end, that wish of his was in vain; wrinkling her brow and letting out a small growl, Arakiya approached the shrubs where Subaru and Hiain were hiding.
Their presence, their smell, their breathing, the sound of one of their heartbeats, he did not know which one had tipped her off.
Or perhaps, it was some sort of aura that only the strong were able to sense, something Subaru and his partner could not. If she was feeling anything along those lines, it would be beyond foul play. To corner them with something they had no way to counteract should be against the rules.
But it seemed that, in Arakiya’s point of view, those rules were laughable at best——.
???: [Oioi, the hell’s this? The Governor’s room’s been blown up!]
???: [Who’s this beautiful woman, is she a guest?]
???: [What is it, did something happen?]
Just before these bitter thoughts completely filled his head, just before Arakiya reached the garden shrubs, the courtyard’s atmosphere was disturbed by the voices of multiple men.
Looking over, five gladiators had lumbered over and made their appearance in the courtyard. They were probably onlookers of a Unit who had caught the sound of Arakiya blowing Gustav’s room up.
Their attention was focused on Gustav’s room, with its blown-out walls, and on Arakiya, a beautiful, unfamiliar girl standing in the courtyard.
Arakiya, too, turned towards them as they appeared, tilting her slender head with a thoughtful look.
From her perspective, it was as though she was suspecting that those that had now appeared were comrades of the ones she was chasing, Subaru and Hiain. But Subaru did not mind that, not in the least.
Their appearance in this juncture had been completely unforeseen by Subaru, they were intruders summoned by coincidence.
Even if she were to question them, she would obtain no information in regards to Subaru and Hiain. In fact, Subaru and Hiain would wait for a chance to sneak away while she attempted to make them talk.
They were a lifeline provided by the heavens, different from what Subaru and Hiain had prepared themselves——,
Not wanting to miss their chance, Subaru and Hiain, who had been watching Arakiya’s movements intently, heard a voice emanating from the room with a broken wall above them.
The one who the voice belonged to was Todd, the last person remaining in that room.
Regaining his fear of Todd, whose existence had momentarily been put out of his consciousness due to focusing on the threat of Arakiya in front of him, he psyched himself up as he trembled.
He braced his fearful heart, so that he would be able to deal with whatever Todd was about to say.
Todd: [Governor Gustav Morello has been killed! The two perpetrators are a black-haired child, and a gray lizardman! Kill them as soon as you find them!]
Todd: [I repeat! Governor Gustav Morello has been killed! The Governor’s role will be taken over by General First-Class Arakiya! If you don’t want to die due to the curse rule, kill them both!]
His voice was not rough, neither did it overwhelm with emotions, but it possessed emotional control necessary to be heard by a large number of human beings and make them act.
That voice lingered in one’s eardrums, forbidding those who listened from forgetting its contents, even if they lagged behind in understanding.
The moment Todd spoke, Subaru’s eyes widened as he realized that they had been outsmarted.
The blame for Gustav’s death was now being attributed to Subaru and Hiain. Even if they claimed they were being falsely accused, there was no hope that a proper investigation or trial would be held on this Island.
To begin with, if they were caught by someone even once, everything would be over for Subaru and Hiain.
In other words——,
Todd: [——Now, let Sparka begin!!]
The evil custom of Gladiator Island Ginunhive, its Lifeblood Ritual, would begin with the entire Island as a stage.
Declaring the commencement of that cruel ceremony, with those who had heard it still unable to move, Todd called out to Arakiya in a less strident voice.
She looked up and their eyes met, and Todd silently pointed to the courtyard below. For a moment, Subaru’s heart palpitated, but Todd was not pointing at him and Hiain.
He was pointing at the gladiators, the heavenly lifeline that had appeared in the courtyard at the last moment.
Todd, after pointing at the gladiators, brought that very same finger to his neck, and,
Todd: [——Kill them.]
While his voice had been inaudible, even Subaru had been able to tell that his lips had moved as to speak that.
Moving his finger along his neck was a ruthless cue for lopping off someone’s head. Arakiya, having witnessed the same sight Subaru had, slowly turned her gaze toward the gladiators.
The gladiators were puzzled, being stared at by Arakiya, through the one red eye of hers that was uncovered by an eyepatch.
They had yet to digest the meaning of Todd’s prior words.
Gladiator: [Lil’ miss, ya know somethin’ ‘bout that? That thing ’bout Gustav being dead, is that…]
Arakiya: [I’m sorry. I was told to.]
Gladiator: [Huh…? Told what?]
A gladiator tilted his head, the combination of that sudden order and the pair of people unknown to them being the reason. And Arakiya, responding to the gladiator, produced a great sideways swing of her right hand, which held the branch.
That was all she did. That alone, was enough.
The next moment, the heads of all five gladiators facing Arakiya exploded from the inside.
To be precise, the effects had been split. Some’d had their heads burst from the inside, some had died because the contents of their faces had been pushed out of their eyes and noses, and some had died because their heads had swollen in bizarre fashion.
Although it probably had not made much of a difference as far as they were concerned, since the results had been the same regardless.
Arakiya: [To not talk to dead people.]
With their heads destroyed, the gladiators fell limp.
Only after a while did Subaru realize that her mutter, let out while looking at the fallen gladiators, was the answer to his question from earlier. His mind was too occupied for him to pay any attention to it.
His mind was too occupied in processing what that monster, Arakiya, had done.
——It was probably, water.
Todd had given Arakiya advice at the time Gustav was killed. To put water inside her opponent’s head, perhaps that was what she had done.
The heads of the gladiators had been blown up from the inside, with the water that materialized there being the cause.
Arakiya: [One glass of water’s worth…]
As she voiced that, Arakiya fiddled with the tip of the branch in her hand with her other hand.
While her ruminating tone lacked emotion, to Subaru it sounded somewhat like she was expressing dissatisfaction she felt. ——A dissatisfaction that only amounted to her being unhappy about not reaching that amount.
Having feelings of that sort after murdering people, it was far from normal.
That was why she was a monster. Arakiya, and of course, Todd was one too.
???: [Anyone here!? Did anyone hear that loud-ass voice just now!?]
Arakiya’s inhuman deeds made Subaru’s mind grow darker; and while Hiain froze, forgetting to even breathe, yet another voice arrived at the courtyard.
Another gladiator. One gladiator after another rushed there, understanding that it was the most likely spot everyone was gathering at since they were able to look up at the Governor’s office, from which they had heard that voice.
And so, that meant——,
Gladiator: [Oi, you, where did you come from! The Governor’s…]
Arakiya: [I was told to. ——To not talk to dead people.]
That the victims of the Spirit Eater, of Arakiya, would increase.
Hence, it commenced.
——A massacre on the Gladiator Island commenced, for a reason different to the curse rule being invoked.
The situation that Todd had set up was so horrid, that it was hard to believe that it had been a sudden flash of inspiration.
One-by-one, Arakiya would kill the gladiators indiscriminately.
Naturally, there was not even a single person able to take her on and return a blow, given that she was a Divine General. Entering her field of vision was a calamity of such magnitude as to signify instant death.
Certainly, Arakiya should have been able to manipulate waterspouts and explosive flames, but the fact that she had not utilized those kinds of powerful techniques that seemed like they could engulf the entire Island, at the very least, truly provided some modicum of relief.
Perhaps loathing being unable to check the corpses in that case, Todd had ordered her as such.
And Arakiya aside, the Island’s guards were also troublesome.
From what it seemed, the guards had somehow believed Todd’s words that Arakiya had taken over Gustav’s role after the latter’s demise. Subaru did not know how someone could actually take over an official position of the sort, but he did not believe Gustav would wish his murderer to succeed him.
A portion of that matter had become that Subaru and Hiain had killed Gustav, so as far as the guards were concerned, there was no reason to doubt Todd’s words.
Subaru disliked being misunderstood by the guards like that, but his biggest problem was――,
???: [Shit! They’ve really done it! The guards have unleashed the Gladiator Beasts onto the Island! They’re coming at us! Runrunrunrun!]
Such bellows and screams were continuously raised throughout the Island as it descended into chaos.
The unleashed Gladiator Beasts―― the ones employed as enemies during Sparka, were, as far as Subaru could see, Witchbeasts who’d all had their horns broken off, and currently, they were obeying the guards.
Those Gladiator Beasts, complying with the orders given by the guards following Todd, were on the prowl for the pair of Subaru and Hiain on the Island. ――However, the Gladiator Beasts could not distinguish between each gladiator.
That was why, one after another, the Gladiator Beasts had also begun attacking the gladiators indiscriminately.
???: [Where are ya!? Hurry up ‘n c’mon out, Schwartz! Ya creepy lil’ brat!]
A guard yelled, his eyes shimmering with hostility, as he patrolled the corridors with a large two-headed dog next to him.
The guards did not make active attempts to communicate with the gladiators, so this marked the first time Subaru had seen them lay their emotions bare in such a way. The thought that they had always harboured hostility in that way, also brought sadness to Subaru.
Only, it did not just bring sadness, it also brought a realization.
The guards looking for Subaru and Hiain appeared to be impatient and irritated, and moreover, they appeared afraid. Probably, that was not unrelated to the fact that the guards too would die when the curse rule was activated.
The guards, too, were taking many things into consideration as they chose to obey, so that they themselves would not die.
Arakiya and the guards, from Subaru and Hiain’s perspective, were dangerous enemies prowling the Island.
Had Todd, the one controlling them like pawns, been operating on his own, or had he been spreading his instructions? The fact that his whereabouts were unknown considerably diminished Subaru’s capability to think.
The whole time, because he had continuously been on the lookout for Todd, his strained heart was on the brink of cracking.
And to pour salt on Subaru’s wounds――,
???: [Oi, where’s Schwartz!? Was he there?]
???: [Haven’t seen him! I’m more worried ’bout the guards! If they find us, we’re dead!]
???: [So, if we hand Schwartz over to them…]
???: [Ya moron! They’re killin’ anyone they find! They ain’t makin’ any distinction!]
???: [Then what’re ya gonna do!? Are ya gonna just shut up n’ die’!?]
???: [B-but, if those rumors about Schwartz are true…!]
Heard were the voices of gladiators, desperately keeping on struggling as best as they could, in order to survive.
Faced with the threat posed by Arakiya and the guards, among the desperate gladiators, opinions were split.
Either stand up to the tyranny, or do as they were told and hand Subaru over; there were those who had resigned themselves to the fact that both were futile, some who lamented this unreasonable situation, others who tried to cling to a papier-mâché hope devoid of any basis, among various others.
Even amongst the gladiators, Subaru had enemies, as well as a great number of people that could potentially become enemies.
In a way, compared to Arakiya and the guards, who could all be classified as enemies, this group may be far more formidable.
Since he could not tell friend from foe, Subaru could not rely on them so carelessly.
Arakiya, the guards and the Gladiator Beasts, the gladiators whom he could not know if they were friend or foe―― and finally, Todd.
With the commencement of the pursuit after Subaru and Hiain, the Gladiator Island headed for destruction.
It had indeed come to pass. The massacre. Even though he had struggled so desperately to try and prevent it.
Subaru: [Old Man Null!]
Dashing through the island that had become a catastrophe, Subaru barged into the room just around the corner.
The healing room on the lower stratum of the Island was the workplace of Old Man Null, where he had taken care of Subaru many times. The entrance to the room had been demolished, and because of that, Subaru felt a bad premonition as he rushed into the room.
And that bad premonition of his came true.
Greeting Subaru as he ran into the healing room, was a hoarse hail of a young girl. It had come from Tanza sitting in the back of the room; lying next to her petite form, was the corpse of a rat from which wings protruded.
Tanza had probably defeated that Witchbeast single-handedly. Subaru thought that that was very incredible.
But before Tanza had come along, that Witchbeast had devastated the healing room, and killed a person.
At Tanza’s feet as she crouched down, was a collapsed cadaver whose head had been bitten right off, the cadaver of a feeble old man who was nothing more than skin and bones.
Hiain, having burst into the healing room alongside Subaru, had his voice tremble upon witnessing the same sight.
That he had been able to remain hidden until Arakiya left that courtyard in which she executed that heinous act of murdering gladiators as they came along one bye one, had only been thanks to Hiain.
Without him, it would have been utterly impossible for Subaru to return to this place.
However, if they just repeatedly ran and hid, in the end, they would not win.
???: [Schwartz, you’re back!?]
???: [Hmph, ya didn’t die either, lizard bastard…]
Idra and Weitz also rushed over to Old Man Null’s corpse, in front of which Subaru and Hiain were hanging their heads. All the members of his Unit, who had helped him sneak into the office, were present.
Considering the state of the Island, that no one had died and they had been able to reconvene was akin to a miracle.
However, if it truly were a miracle, shouldn’t the results they had procured be much, much better than this?
Tanza: [Schwartz-sama, are the stories floating about true? About Governor Gustav’s fate?]
Subaru: [That it was me and Hiain? There’s no way we could’ve done that. Gustav-san was killed by the emissaries from the Imperial Capital… By Arakiya. No, it was Todd, who made use of Arakiya.]
Tanza: [Todd…? Who is that…]
Subaru: [Someone scarier than a Sin Archbishop.]
At least, that was Subaru’s current perception.
From what he recalled, Sin Archbishops were not good people either but when compared to Todd, they still had some charm, was what it seemed like. No, it did not seem like that. No matter what they were compared to, scum remained scum.
But the way Subaru had put it seemed to make Tanza and everyone else understand just how dangerous Todd was.
Tanza: [Do not give such a reckless example. Even if we comprehend they differ from the likes of the Sin Archbishops, it is still bad for the heart.]
Subaru: [Ah, sorry, but I’m quite familiar with them. After all, I’ve happened to encounter them plenty of times.]
Tanza: [You have encountered Sin Archbishops plenty of times? That is, as expected…]
Subaru: [As expected, what does that mean? Do you know something about me?]
Partly out of frustration, he spoke in a way that sounded like he was reproaching Tanza.
Subaru regretted this, but Tanza’s reaction, her eyes downcast, was not due to being reproached, but seemingly in concern for Subaru’s previous comment itself.
That was a little strange to Subaru.
No way though, that any of these people knew of Subaru’s circumstances―― that every time he Returned by Death, his Miasma, which was seemingly connected to the Witch, got stronger.
Idra: [So, what should we do? If Governor Gustav is dead, then the curse rule that binds us must be gone as well. Should we raise the drawbridge and head off the Island?]
Hiain: [Y-ya idiot! We ain’t got the key for that! Besides, if we move the drawbridge, we’ll be targeted immediately!]
Weitz: [So, ya prefer to keep on fighting everyone else on the Island…? If the enemy’ll be a Divine General, then sooner or later… There’ll be no way left for us to retreat…]
As Idra and everyone else discussed how to overcome the situation, Subaru’s attention also turned in that direction.
Idra’s suggestion of escaping via the drawbridge was a good one. Of the various conditions that had changed, because the curse tool was present in Subaru’s hands, and the curse rule was no more, they could now leave the Island.
However, as Hiain had said, if they were to escape by using the drawbridge, they could be ambushed in two places. On the control tower for operating the drawbridge, and on the drawbridge itself as they crossed it.
On the other hand, not leaving the Island was an idea that kept getting worse and worse, so as per Weitz’s statement, they would not choose it.
In addition to that――,
If things continued at this rate, the island’s gladiators, who were still losing their lives, falling prey to Arakiya one-by-one, and Old Man Null as well, would remain dead in a world that would live on.
That was something unbearable for Subaru.
Even if he had succeeded in recovering the curse tool, and the fear of the curse had disappeared, deciding that this was the “very best” and moving forward was not what Natsuki Subaru had originally desired.
――Such a path was not what the son of Natsuki Kenichi ought to choose.
Subaru: [At least, if I can reduce the number of people I have to deal with…]
His eyes shut tightly, Subaru was stuck amidst a maze of deliberations.
As he murmured, Tanza beside him bit into her thin lip. In a situation where the entire Island was hostile, certainly another different choice would also emerge if their circumstances were even a bit better, but――,
Hiain: […Hey, heeey, in that case, can’t’cha just stop hidin’ it?]
Hiain: [Oi, Schwartz, I mean you. I’m talkin’ to ya, man.]
As Hiain suddenly started talking, a feeling of trepidation in his voice, Subaru widened his eyes in wonder.
It had happened as he was pondering over things, but even more than that, since he had no idea what the hell Hiain was talking about, Subaru had been slow to reach.
To stop hiding it, so Hiain had told Subaru.
So he had told him, but――,
Subaru: [To stop hiding it… Hiding what?]
Hiain: [C-cut it out! In this situation, keepin’ it a secret ain’t the right move!]
Weitz: [Oi, stop it, lizard bastard…!]
Hiain snapped at Subaru with an intense vigor, the latter without a clue as to what the former was going on about. Weitz intervened to stop him, but Subaru was too surprised to thank him.
But Idra, also making a serious face, prefaced with “Schwartz” towards Subaru,
Idra: [The way he’s putting it aside, I understand how Hiain is feeling. Isn’t it about time you come forth with it?]
Subaru: [No, like I said, I have no idea what you’re talking about…]
Idra: [――It’s, about your father.]
Subaru: […My dad?]
With seriousness, with unbelievable seriousness, Idra declared so to Subaru.
But despite being told that with such seriousness, Subaru’s confusion only grew more and more. He did not understand why it was so necessary to talk about his father right now.
Subaru’s father was, in the eyes of his son, in the eyes of his wife, a man of paramount splendidness, a person who ought to be respected, the very object of Subaru’s admiration, but――,
Subaru: [But, he’s an ordinary salaryman…?]
Hiain: [Don’t pull the wool over my eyes! I already know! Ya’re His Excellency the Emperor’s illegitimate son, ain’t’cha!?]
Subaru’s voice, as he attempted to explain that that information would not be useful in this situation, was drowned out by Hiain’s own, as the latter’s arms were held behind his back.
It was drowned out, but the volume of water employed to do so was so overwhelming, that Subaru’s mind was unable to comprehend the vastness of the wave that had washed him over.
Just now, what did Hiain say?
Subaru: […I’m, His Excellency the Emperor’s, child?]
Hiain: [Yeah, that’s right! It’s bein’ talked about outside the Island! With black hair and black eyes, the illegitimate son of His Excellency the Emperor Vincent Vollachia’s somewhere in the country! That’s…]
Idra: [――Schwartz, it seems that’d be you?]
Taking over from Hiain, Idra spoke towards Subaru, his voice and eyes serene.
The eyes of Hiain, seemingly depending on him, and the eyes of Idra, which had faith in him, when they appeared as if they had not just told an unfunny joke in this situation, Subaru looked to Weitz.
His tattoo-covered face contorting, Weitz spoke,
Weitz: [I believe I told’cha… I know who ya are… But, I don’t give a fuck ‘bout that, I’ll lend ya my strength regardless…]
Were it not for these circumstances, those faithful words would have been far more moving.
Back then, when Subaru had been told that in the lower stratum, just how much resolve had it taken Weitz to go and say that, its weight only now becoming clear.
And that too, came from a wholly mistaken idea.
Subaru: [W-wait, wait a sec… Me, the child of the Emperor, why?]
Idra: [For someone of such young age, your ability for judgment, command, and survival are unimaginable. You were the one who saved us and Hiain’s people during Sparka, Schwartz.]
It was true that Subaru had defied fate by making full use of his ability.
But he had no idea that it would cause such a preposterous misunderstanding among Idra and the others.
In the first place, for them to have even gotten such a wrong idea of him.
Subaru: [Tanza, why didn’t you tell them they’re wrong…]
Tanza: [――Schwartz-sama, I have been viewing it with my own eyes.]
Tanza: [Schwartz-sama… You were accompanying His Excellency the Emperor at that place.]
With Tanza gently holding the hem of her kimono in place as she asserted so, Subaru was left speechless.
What she was talking about, had taken place at Chaosflame. Indeed, Subaru had been in his shrunken state alongside Abel, donning his ridiculous mask.
Since Tanza was Yorna’s attendant, it would not have been odd for her to be aware of the truth.
And Tanza had seen the shrunken Subaru, together with the real Emperor, Abel.
And that had appended onto Idra and the others’ mistaken assumption.
Subaru: [But, Tanza was working with Olbart-san… No.]
Subaru’s guess had been that Tanza had been conspiring with Olbart in various deeds.
Perhaps she had been acting to protect Yorna, so he thought, and he did not really feel like blaming her for that. And Olbart would not reveal his hand, even to an accomplice.
Tanza was unaware that Subaru was a shrunken Natsumi Schwartz.
Subaru: [Tanza, who do you think I am…?]
Tanza: [――. Um, the black-haired woman and His Excellency the Emperor’s…]
And the rest, was silence.
Tanza spoke no further, but he understood what she was thinking. Having understood that Subaru was speechless, and he also comprehended that it would be difficult to explain it.
He could offer no evidence. There was no other way but for Subaru to become larger, right here, right now, all of a sudden.
Subaru: […This thing about the Emperor’s illegitimate child, why’s that relevant?]
Idra: [――. Right now, a rebel army has been raised outside the Island, against His Excellency the Emperor. The one considered to be the leader of that rebel army is…]
Subaru: [The Emperor’s illegitimate son?]
Idra nodded at Subaru’s suspicion.
And so, even if with some difficulty, the theory was making sense within Subaru’s mind. A power struggle between an Emperor and his child. The battle initiated by Abel and his group outside the island, had become a story along those lines.
In truth, it was a battle between a real Emperor and a fake Emperor.
But what was made known was that it was a battle between the real Emperor and a rebel army led by the Emperor’s child.
He could envision just who had concocted that, and how they had done it.
Subaru: [That bastard…!]
Immediately, Subaru comprehended that the situation had been set up by Abel, and that the rumor had been spread by him.
Then, that was not Abel harassing him; it was a justification for the internal conflict itself, and also a means through which they could find Subaru, who had disappeared from Chaosflame.
To think that this situation had arisen from him considering that Subaru was not dead. He would never, under any circumstances, say “I believe” on the matter of Subaru not being dead.
Tanza and the others watched Subaru, having fallen silent with his hand over his mouth.
Weitz released Hiain, the latter having grown quieter; the attention of all four people turned to Subaru.
During all this, outside the healing room―― battles were taking place all over the Island, with the gladiators’ situation a precarious one in which they would possibly even lose their lives, that much was understood.
To be silent, to be calm, to take their time, to think, they had no leeway for any of that.
That was why――,
Tanza beckoned him to instruct him that they had no time, even if that much was understood.
Feeling a slight sense of awe in that call of hers, Subaru surveyed the faces of everyone in his Unit.
He surveyed, and he decided. ――That, in the current situation, he would fulfill what was asked of him.
——Sensing the turning of tides, Todd Fang calmly stroked his chin.
Todd: [——What an unsettling feeling.]
Back in the office, they’d blown the uncooperative Governor’s head off, literally replacing the head of the Island; however he had this feeling that, afterwards, things had moved sluggishly.
Of course, if it were just to wipe out everyone on the Island, Arakiya alone was more than capable of doing it.
That Divine General did not have the brains to think for herself yet was extremely powerful, in stark contrast to how simple she was; if she felt like it, she could engulf the entirety of the Island in flames.
Her doing that would be too much trouble for Todd, so he had gone ahead and told her not to do that.
And to begin with——,
Todd: [I really didn’t want to come to a place like this.]
Every single one of their actions, which he had marked as being necessary, had backfired. And for that, Todd felt bitter.
The purpose of rescuing Arakiya from captivity in the Fortress City had been to recoup something despite the fact that the city had fallen, return to the Imperial Capital alongside her, and there, have his wishes of being reassigned granted.
In fact, he could say that he had indeed been reassigned, but the way that had come to pass had been far from his expectations.
Todd had been appointed as the sole subordinate of General First-Class Arakiya, someone who’d had no underlings previously.
All that because of one singular lie he had told to deceive Arakiya.
Todd: [Jamal, even when dead, you’re a pain in the ass.]
Although Todd’s lie begat the situation, Arakiya had no doubt that Todd sincerely wished to avenge Jamal.
Because that lie had been necessary to win her over, Todd was unable to renege on it now.
Frankly, he did not know what would cause that woman to bring down her anger on him. Considering the possibility of being turned into charcoal the instant he incurred her wrath, he was unable to retract his comment so carelessly.
As a result, Todd had been made Arakiya’s subordinate.
Arakiya had been given orders by Berstetz Fondalfon, the Imperial Prime Minister, as his pawn; thus, Todd had been sent to this paradise of madmen, to the Gladiator Island.
Berstetz’s command had been to dispose of the problems within the Island. They had been told that Governor Gustav held the means to do so, and that ordering him to carry it out would be an easy task.
Falsehood, all of it.
An easy task was never all that easy to solve. He knew what to expect. Hence why he had been prepared.
Most things could be handled by being prepared in advance. Only unforeseen freak incidents could not be avoided, but the risk could be minimized by averting situations in which these incidents could happen.
And yet, an unforeseen incident had happened.
Something very much out of his hands, like a child, having gone unseen, jumping out from a blind spot in that place.
Todd: [When it comes to killing people of higher rank, I can think of numerous ways to do so, but…]
He really had never given much thought on ways to kill a child.
Nothing about it felt nice, and he doubted he would have a whole lot of opportunities to employ them. As such, he had used something from his short array of leftover candidates, in conjunction with his method of killing for the Gladiator Island.
——If the guards, the Gladiator Beasts, and half of the gladiators were dragged into it, it would be possible to target specific individuals on the Island.
With Arakiya in the mix, it would be odd if the child did not die.
Todd: [——There’s no such thing as perfect, isn’t there?]
Twisting his head, Todd muttered such as he walked through a corridor littered with corpses.
The bodies were all gladiators hailing from the Island, their attires shabby. Whether that had been the result of internal conflict, Arakiya’s aggression, or the savagery of the Gladiator Beasts, was of no interest.
A corpse was a corpse, so if they were dead, he could erase them from his mind.
???: [Private First-Class Fang, there’s no need to go this far…]
Todd: [Of course there is. Governor Gustav was killed. The gladiators have organized and readied themselves. They have planned to turn this island inside out with their armed revolt. I don’t know just who’s involved, but can you guys tell who’s the enemy among them from those who aren’t?]
Faced with Todd’s query, one of the two guards following behind fell silent.
They were the two guards who had rushed in as soon as Todd declared Sparka after sending Arakiya out of the office. They were obeying him since he had made a display of their fetters, the curse rule. However, since the situation allowed for excuses, they were being weirdly stubborn, even though they should be obeying him without questioning him.
Todd had been the one to make them do this, so they could just blame him.
Their hesitation was pointless, since they were still going about what they had to do with looks of guilt on their face.
Todd: [Stop putting on the airs of being an upstanding person. First and foremost, right now you’re being made to work as guards here, so both you and your friend there must have shady pasts. Uniform aside, you’re almost the same as them.]
Todd: [But that uniform’s your lifeline. Make sure you comprehend that thoroughly.]
Patting the young guard on the shoulder and smiling at him, bitterness still evident on his face, Todd sighed inwardly. ——Uniforms or no uniforms, it really just amounted to that, so they ought to be grateful.
Each and every single one of the guards on the Gladiator Island were Imperial Soldiers, their backgrounds such that it would not be at all strange if they had ended up as gladiators.
It was a place of exile where half-wits who disregarded orders, assaulted others in their corps, or failed to follow the iron rules, were sent.
They were a bunch of dullards who’d had their lives bound by the curse rule, and thanks to that, had finally learnt to obey. Coupled with their half-baked act as human beings, one could not help but be compelled to say it was indeed comical.
Todd: [Well, whatever, it doesn’t matter.]
What was needed of them had not been so much their abilities as guards, but rather the Gladiator Beasts bestowed to them.
If it were possible to sidestep them and get the Gladiator Beasts in his possession, one could do away with the guards as well in one fell swoop. But the guards must have been put in-between to prevent that from happening.
Perhaps that too was a failsafe prepared by the dead Gustav, or perhaps that had been a decision made by His Excellency the Emperor, the one who Gustav so obstinately followed.
Todd: [Anyone who willingly wishes to go to war, anyone who stands by it, is out of their mind. Please, don’t disturb mine and Katya’s peace…]
Both the signs of rebellion that had cropped up in the Fortress City, and the subsequent events in the Demon City of Chaosflame, to Todd, were nothing but an irritating racket.
He cared not if the apex of the Empire changed, as long as the Empire became a better place to live. And if it did not change, he was fine with the way it was already.
If nothing came to pass, and the days with his beloved woman continued, then——.
Todd: [——That reminds me of something detestable.]
The matter of Todd recalling the rebellion caused a terrifying being to flash through his mind.
A child of war, who loved war, and was loved by war. He would rather that he had died during a tempestuous battle, but he did wonder what had happened to him in actuality.
If he were aligned with the insurgents in terms of position, once that calamity spread, he would appear.
If he were to wage violence, then he would take his leave together with Katya——.
???: [——Todd Fang!!]
The moment a high-pitched voice invoked his name, Todd felt agitation in his chest for reasons unknown.
As though the concern envisioned in his head had opportunely manifested itself as reality.
Todd: […The hell are you thinking?]
Todd turned around. Before his eyes, at the end of the hallway, was the boy who was supposedly being chased after turning the entirety of the Gladiator Island into an enemy.
A child with black hair, and mean-looking eyes. He was sullied here and there with blood and mud, but all his limbs were still attached; and even more, it seemed like he had not lost anything.
In other words, Arakiya and the guards had missed him altogether.
Todd: [I can tell there’s something there which I can’t express by mere words such as “luck”. But, why did you bother to show your face here? It doesn’t make sense.]
Todd: [It’s not as if you’re invincible because you’ve got friends you can count on.]
As he said this, Todd surveyed the boy and the four people who had come alongside him.
A gray lizardman, and a man with tattoos all over his body. Then there was someone of medium build, who had no distinguishing characteristics when compared to those two, as well as a young deergirl garbed in a kimono for whatever reason.
It did not seem that these four were exceptionally powerful people, even in Todd’s eyes. From the aura they gave out, all of them were amateurs; only the tattooed one’s expression and the deergirl’s stance merited attention.
The tattooed man had no hesitation, while the deergirl appeared to be strangely confident in herself.
Todd: [It’s hard to read that look in your eyes. I can’t quite tell if this is just you being confident or…]
Boy: [Todd, surrender. And make that woman… Make Arakiya stop, too.]
Todd: [——. First of all, why should I?]
At that absurd, senseless request he was given, Todd raised his eyebrows.
For now, he had urged the conversation onward with a pretense of interest, all while silently signaling with his hand to the two guards standing beside him.
Each of the two guards were accompanied; one by a black great eagle, the other by a frog Gladiator Beast that looked like a lump of rocks.
Like that, Todd and his group squared off against the boy and his own companions. Right beside Todd’s group, outside the passage, the great eagle soared through the sky as the frog crawled across the wall, and little-by-little, they closed the distance to their opponents.
If the Gladiator Beasts could slay them and retrieve the curse tool, that would be the best.
Of course, there was the possibility that the curse tool was hidden somewhere, so trouble would remain all the same. But if he could deal with the boy and the lizardman, things would be settled for the time being.
It would be much easier if Arakiya were present——,
Todd: [Where is she being held up…?]
There was no way that Arakiya was one to enjoy hunting gladiators.
Some soldiers revelled in murder, but Arakiya was not a person of such ilk. Arakiya was a soldier whose purpose was to put her everything against important opponents; nothing more, nothing less.
He should give consideration to the fact that her not fulfilling her main task meant that some kind of interference had cropped up.
However, if something like that had happened, then the situation was different.
Todd: [So, what reason are you going to give me?]
Boy: [A simple one. ——The curse tool that controls the curse rule of this Island is in my hands.]
The boy answered Todd with a shrug of his shoulders, his words causing unrest in the two guards.
Of course they would. The main reason they were following Todd was because the latter held their lives in his hands, a circumstance they could not go against.
However, Todd dismissed it with “It’s a bluff”, as he continued,
Todd: [Worthless bargaining. First of all, a curse tool? Even if you have something like that…]
Boy: [——Here you go.]
Todd: [Oi, oi.]
Even though no demands to see it had been made, the boy pulled something out of his own pocket. It was a black sphere, wiped clean of blood, and very recognizable even at a distance.
It had been in his hand only for scant time, but there was no mistaking it.
It was the real thing, the curse tool that had been inside Gustav’s body.
If it were Todd, he would definitely hide it somewhere on the Island and use the item and its whereabouts as a bargaining chip.
What was the purpose of bringing the real thing instead of doing so?
Todd: [What’s with that dirty orb? Don’t tell me you think you can invoke the curse rule with it? If so, give it a try. Try reducing the number of guards in your way.]
Guard: [Wha!? D-don’t! If he does that…]
Todd: [I told you, it’s a bluff. Or perhaps you do not believe the words of a messenger from the Imperial Capital?]
Having once more conveyed that to the guard who had lost his composure, the guard fell silent, his face pale.
The reaction made Todd a bit uneasy. It was understandable that he would be anxious, doubting the authenticity of the claim of the black orb being a curse tool; however, his reaction was peculiar.
It was as if the guards possessed a reason, a well-founded reason as to why they could not dismiss the words of that child and his companions—— No, the words of just the child, as a bluff.
Todd: [What the? Is there a problem with that chi——]
???: [——Listen closely, you boor.]
Seeking an answer to his uneasiness, Todd attempted to question the guard. But before he could, a high-pitched voice echoed down the passage, drawing his attention to the deergirl.
She rolled up the sleeve of her kimono up to her arm, and gently pointed her hand towards the boy beside her.
Deergirl: [If you hail from outside the Island, you have probably already heard about it. About the great upheaval currently shaking the entirety of the Empire, and the numerous rumors circulating on that topic.]
Todd shut one eye at the girl’s appeal, which felt dignified, even majestic.
Regardless of how they had secured the means to obtain information while on the Island, the girl was correct, the public would gossip about this thing or the other to their hearts’ desire.
As far as the insurgents went, various sayings already existed; one of those was that one among the Nine Divine Generals had already joined them.
Some of those were quite ridiculous, but——.
Todd: [Hey, no way.]
Deergirl: [——This gentleman right here is the one at the heart of the situation shaking the Empire. This esteemed gentleman, who has stood up to correct the erred ways of the Empire, the one endowed with the legitimate credentials to do so.]
After a beat, after a pause, the young girl looked over at him.
In the recesses of those round eyes of hers, Todd caught a glimpse of a thought that swelled the concern that had been brewing in his heart——,
Deergirl: [——He is the son of His Excellency the Emperor Vincent Vollachia, Natsuki Schwartz-sama.]
The illegitimate son of His Excellency the Emperor, with the curse tool in his hands.
Those ludicrous claims had been delivered by the girl carrying herself with utmost dignity. Her demeanor was as though she’d had plenty of actual experience in scenes of the sort, and was accompanied with persuasion; such that one was unable to doubt the truth of those ludicrous claims.
Indeed, among those ridiculous rumors, there had been something of this sort.
The leader of the insurgent army was the illegitimate son of the Emperor, possessing black eyes and black hair, or so the rumors went. Of course, Imperial Soldiers with their head screwed right would have doubled themselves over in laughter, struggling to take such absurd nonsense seriously.
If he did indeed exist, even Todd thought that spelled trouble.
But the idea that he would just happen to be on this Island by chance, was far too ridiculous to contemplate seriously.
The guards gulped, their complexion changed. The guards’ reaction had not gone unnoticed by Todd.
Perchance they had heard something similar to the information Todd had just been told. They had heard something of the sort by accident, and that had nurtured the seeds of suspicion within their hearts.
Henceforth, upon the boy’s—— upon the child named Natsuki Schwartz’s declaration, that of possessing the curse tool, they were incapable of laughing it off as a bluff.
They were possessed by an illusion that he could perhaps be more credible than Todd, with his position as a messenger from the Imperial Capital, and as Arakiya’s subordinate.
Deergirl: [Now then, all of you belonging to the guards, let us quickly——]
The girl had tried to run her mouth and say something in quick succession.
Before the girl’s request could reach them, Todd brought his arm to his waist and grabbed a hilt, sweeping it sideways with all his strength.
The arcing blade of an axe swept towards the two guards standing beside Todd. The head of the guard to the right was chopped off, while the head of the guard to the left was cracked open and slammed against the wall.
Both were granted instant death, the momentum of them still wavering having prevented them from joining the others.
Todd: [——Let’s go!]
Rushing to the head of the guard he had chopped off, Todd punted it forward as hard as he could. The head splattered blood as it flew, soaring towards the boy and his group, eyes wide in amazement.
They looked on as though they had not understood the meaning behind his actions in the slightest——,
The next moment, the colossal body of the black great eagle plunged into the passage from the side, engulfing everything nearby in destruction; the flying guard’s head, the boy, and his companions.
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