Predicting the number of people – Part 4
The day began to fall and the sunset splashed the city with its reddish tones.
“See you, Mirta. I’m leaving the rest to you, okay?”
“Do you… really mean to leave now? I don’t think it’s safe to start your trip on a wagon almost at night, Karin…”
The elf smiled at the worried girl and shrugged her shoulders.
“It’s fine, don’t worry. There’s someone I have to pick up midway.”
“Pick up…? Is someone else coming other than Elsa and Kunon?”
“Yes, I don’t want to go with the dumb and the idiot alone.”
She pointed at the wagon’s cover. Two boys were fooling and screaming around in it. A red-haired and a golden-haired girl were sitting there as well, glaring coldly at the unsightly duo in front of them.
“NOOO! I DO NOT WANT TO LEAVE LADY LIIIZEEE!”
“ENDURE IT, AIGLE! I’M SURE THERE ARE LOLIS IN THAT VILLAGE TOO!”
“BUT LORD LEVIN, I WANT LADY LISE TO GLARE DAGGERS AND ABUSE ME!”
“Remember… Teacher Kunon and Lady Lise will reward you in the dawn of victory!”
“What?! A REWARD?! Will they… abuse me HARDER?!”
“It’s nightfall, dumb bird and idiot dragon. At least go die in silence.”
“NGH! THAT IS WHAT I WOULD CALL A SHARP TONGUE, LADY KARIN!”
Mirta let out an awkward chuckle seeing who Karin was bringing along.
“I can get why you don’t…”
“We’re going to hunt monsters. Sheer power is never enough against them.”
The weakest monster could put up the hardest fight given their insane strength and occasional humongous size. They weren’t creatures that could be taken lightly.
If Karin and her comrades had to face a huge swarm of them, the village could get destroyed anyway.
Given the scarce information they had about the monsters they had to slay, the more people they had the better was for their mission and personal safety.
“Leave Lise’s support to me! I’ll do what I can for her!”
“Nice. I’m counting on you, dear leader.”
She waved the enthusiastic Mirta goodbye with a wry smile, then sat on the coachman’s seat and made the horses set off.
The wagon moved placidly, slowly leaving the slums behind.
For some time the clatter of the horses’ hoofs and the soft crackling of the wooden wagon were the only sounds the passengers could hear.
The two noisy demi-humans were silent too. They looked very different from usual.
The sky above had turned a dark ultramarine shade while the city slowly disappeared behind them, and once it couldn’t be seen anymore, Elsa opened her mouth wearing a stern face.
“It is about time you explain, Karin.”
Her voice sounded very strict as she sat in the wagon.
“Is it true that Elvis took part in the last Queen’s murder?”
Her sharp gaze bore into Karin’s back like a knife, a burning light swaying in her eyes.
“Yes. He didn’t only take part into it, he is literally the perpetrator—the killer.”
“Where are your proofs?”
“Proofs…? Well, trusting me or not is up to you.”
She turned around to look Elsa in the face and tapped under her own with her finger.
“I can peek into people’s heart if I look them in the eyes, and I can feel their present as well as scan their memories, so I can see what they’ve done. I took a look at him when Kunon and I became knights.”
Karin had followed Takumi’s instructions and peeked at Elvis during the ceremony.
She clearly saw Elvis’ hands smeared red in front of a woman lying on the ground in a pool of blood. She had no doubt about it: that was the former Queen.
“Takumi said that Her Majesty Eluria has figured as much too. Maybe you believe her more than me.”
“Lady Eluria was kidnapped during that accident… You must be speaking the truth if she doubts Elvis as well.”
The elf turned to face the road again, a little smile of satisfaction cracked her face.
“I’m glad you trust me. You couldn’t let go of this matter, could you?”
“Yes, I really couldn’t.”
Elsa was gripping so hard at the handle of her sword that her knuckles had turned white. She was evidently boiling with rage as she made the sword clatter in its scabbard.
“If that’s the truth… he had the Inquisition execute my father.”
The last time the Inquisition held a trial was ten years ago.
Zeruel Fairstadt stood on the scaffold—he was charged with the Queen’s murder and the princess’ abduction.
Nothing was left other than the records of that day, and the nobles were all forced not to speak about it ever again.
“I hardly remember my father… but I vividly remember how strict and upright he was. He was someone who would’ve never let the bad go unpunished. He was the most righteous of men.”
She never believed the Inquisition. Her father would’ve never killed the Queen.
The memory of her hands pulling at her brother’s clothes while crying, screaming that they had to be wrong, flashed through her mind again.
“My father was a wise and clever man. I’m sure he knew that Elvis was on the move… but he was too late to stop him.”
Elvis did whatever he could to stand in Zeruel’s way when he recognized the upright man as a danger.
No matter how hard the righteous man fought him back, he still ended up crushed. That’s why he bet all he could—his everything—in the Inquisition’s trial.
“A great number of eminent clergymen and the Holy Text are needed to cast the Domination Magic1—the ‘work of Goddess’. It is an absolute and divine power that no man will ever be able to obtain… and my father accepted to go through it and confess for his non-existent sins.”
The Goddess’ authority didn’t leave room to doubts: only the truth could be spoken.
However, no matter if it was the Inquisition’s trial, the mind and will of the defendant couldn’t be subjugated.
“The Holy Text forbids people to control one another’s heart and will outside specific conditions. The reason is that once the magic wears off, the person’s memory, spirit and very essence starts to crumble and vanish. Their very humanity gets profaned and destroyed…”
Having the consciousness controlled by someone, being devoid of will and feelings, losing the perception of oneself—that was what the ‘work of Goddess’ was about.
However, Zeruel accepted it all to protect the most important things he had.
“…and yet, my father went through that and confessed for something he’s never done. He protected me, Lux, and all the people who helped him.”
The Fairstadt family should’ve been executed altogether if their name was dirtied by the murder of the Queen and the abduction of her daughter… but Zeruel knew that and acted in advance: he stripped himself of his very family name and made Lux the head of the family before the trial.
Letting go of his family, the Fairstadt’s name kept its pureness.
Then, the trial started and the Domination Magic kicked in.
His lips spoke the truth: I am the only mastermind and executor of my plan. I have no collaborators.
With that, he charged all the guilt on his own shoulders and accepted his fate.
“He sacrificed himself to save many people. The nobles spared thanks to that managed to help Lux through the official inheritance of the Feirstadt despite he had yet to turn fifteen at the time. Then, he tried so hard to protect his Overlord seat that I clearly remember him vomiting blood sometimes. It has been hard for him.”
Zeruel offered his very life to protect his ideals and what he had built until that moment. None of his steps had been wrong: he protected his family as a father and the nobles who helped him, hoping that they would help Lux in return to protect what he had to leave behind… and succeeded.
He was the righteous resolution engraved in the name of Fairstadt, thus Elsa had never been ashamed of her father, for he was the embodiment of their ideals.
She was proud of him, and the sword she was clutching—her father’s last memento—was like the materialization of her feelings for him.
“If that man truly pushed it all on my father and let his dignity being soiled to death… I swear on my name that I will make him atone his sins.”
Elsa’s jade-colored eyes clouded as she stared into the empty space.
“I’ll make him go through hell… and torn his very existence to pieces like my father’s.”
He wasn’t robbed of his life alone: his very existence had been erased.
It was only right to drag Elvis through the same thing.
“Please… don’t stop me when we’ll be back to the capital.”
“Don’t worry, Elsa. I would’ve kept quiet if I didn’t want you to act.”
“Hahaha… you’re right… Was the slave merchant hoping for it?”
Elsa let out a dried laugh and shrugged her shoulders.
“I will break into the Inquisition’s trial and kill Elvis… that way, the Inquisition won’t know what to do and we’ll be able to save Takumi.”
Her forced smile was painted dark by shades of abandonment.
“Owww, stop it~! You won’t do that~!”
Gnaw! Kunon bit Elsa’s ear, who let out a loud scream.
“Hafumi ifn’t fhaf ffufid~!”2
“STOP IT, MY EAR…! What the heck is wrong with you, wolf girl?!”
Elsa pushed Kunon away, a slight blush reddening her face.
“Captain, don’t be like that, it isn’t like you~! Also, Takumi isn’t so stupid and boring to let it all end like that!”
The demi-human showed an optimistic smile, but Elsa’s face was stony.
“Then why did you tell me?”
“Cuz we need your help! This will get bothersome and hella big, so if we’re all forced to keep quiet, we’ll need a witness!”
“Well, yeah, it comes without saying that once we get our job done that baldy old man’s gonna say something like ‘those demi-humans will be a treat for our country in the future, we should get rid of them’ and try to kill us, don’tcha think?”
Kunon expressed her guess out loud indifferently, then started to make her index spin.
“Next he’s gonna say that we sold information about how to destroy magic to Demberg and Renunt, since they’re the closest countries, then he’ll urge the nobles to kill us to protect the image of magic, after that he’s gonna come up with a plan to catch all the demi-humans in the country and urge all the other countries to do the same given how potentially dangerous we can be, lastly he’s gonna hung up all the opposing demi-humans and execute the others in secret, and then create a legal document that labels us as a dangerous thing that humans have to get rid of…”
“NO NO NO NO NO, STOP RIGHT THERE! Do you mean that…?!”
“Yep, I totally mean it!”
Kunon’s huge smile broadened further.
“He’s trying to wipe out the demi-humans from this world!”
Elsa was flabbergasted by her words. She couldn’t believe that was Elvis’ real intent.
“I-It’s true that demi-humans have lost the war in the past and are born as slaves, but their life is still treasured and…”
“It’s actually not, you know? Nowadays the law doesn’t really cover us anymore! We can just be indirectly killed by working in the worst and most dangerous places or by being meat shields in battles!”
She chuckled softly at the end of every sentence—Elsa knew she was right. She had seen it countless times.
“Let’s think about it, Captain! Why should we obey humans even though we’re stronger than you? Don’t you think it’s strange?”
“I-Isn’t that because we could master magic…?”
“We smashed it, though~! I mean, if we’ve been able to do it, isn’t it strange that there aren’t records of someone doing it before us in all history?”
Her words sounded extremely on point.
Karin had her technique as an elf, and Kunon had her physical prowess: they could manage to win over magic as long as they knew the way to fight it.
It was unbelievable that no one had figured out a plan to contrast it since the interracial war… especially back then, when the magic tools weren’t as much developed.
Thinking about it, demi-humans should’ve come up with many ways to destroy magic long time ago.
“So… you’re saying that Fortesea is covering it up?”
“Mhmhhh~! You’re half wrong!”
Kunon wagged her tail while making an x cross with her arms.
“I mean, we’re not talking about Richtert alone but about the entire continent! I think Fortesea can’t really extend their control everywhere!”
“You got a point… not even an Overlord can influence the entire Veril continent… no matter how much Fortesea struggles, there’s a limit to their power.”
It probably could reach Denmerg in the North and maybe the island countries far in the sea, but it was hard to believe that he could reach the city-states of heroes in the west, and it was almost impossible to imagine that he could go any further than that.
However, the entire continent scorned the demi-humans, and they were often self-deprecating…
No matter how hard they thought about it—this wasn’t normal. Even if this situation had spread gradually through the entire continent, something felt off.
“This is natural for us, so we can’t see how strange it is! We’ve grown accustomed to it in time, when demi-humans started their decline through overwhelming scorns!”
“So you mean that Fortesea didn’t do this alone but had a lot of collaborators back then…?”
“Nope! I’m talking about a single guy’s doings!”
“Wait… what do you mean?”
Elsa was at a loss for words, so Karin let out a soft sigh before turning over.
“Kunon, you’re losing her. You’ll have more chances to explain her in the future, now drop the subject.”
“Okaaay~! Our job comes first, right~?”
“I wasn’t lost in the topic… I’m at a loss to think that the wolf girl could keep up a smart conversation like that.”
“Captain, why’re you a big meanie with me?!”
“Yes, she isn’t the smartest girl in the world, but she catches up quickly. She can truly understand Takumi au naturel unlike me.”
Karin puffed out her chest as if she was praising herself instead of her friend.
“Now, we’re almost at the rendezvous point. Sorry Elsa, but I need you to swear that you won’t tell anyone about what you’re going to see or hear from now on. You have to keep quiet about any sort of reward we’ll receive or exchange we’ll deal with too.”
The guard fell silent for a few seconds.
“Okay. I swear on my family’s name.”
“Maybe I’ll let you handle the paperwork later, then.”
Karin joked, giggling at the guard’s words.
“Lang, you can come out now.”
The next moment, the floorboard at Elsa’s feet rose and a round head poked out of it.
The woman let out a girlish scream as she jumped back in surprise to the coachman’s seat, almost hugging Karin—the thing that was crawling out of the floor was scanning the wagon with its bulbous big eyes while moving creepily slow.
“WHA-WHA-WHA-WHAT THE HECK IS THAT THING, KARIN?!”
“Wow, Elsa, is this the first time you see an aquatic-man?”
“An aquatic-man?! What is he doing here in the first place?!”
Aquatic-men were very peculiar even among the demi-humans.
As the name of their species suggested, they usually spent their day in the water, but they could walk on land as well without major issues.
It wasn’t that rare to see them in Listina and the nearby Verna lake, as they had plenty of water compared to many other places, but what terrified Elsa was that the two characteristic of the average aquatic-man—their fins and fishy ears—were missing from Lang’s body.
He had a round head, bulbous big eyes, short and stout limbs and torso, and a moistened skin.
Once he stood on his feet and finished looking around, he stood still, his eyes fixed on Elsa.
“Forgive me for catching you off guard, Lady Fairstadt.”
He bowed his funny head to the woman, speaking in a surprising gentlemanly way.
“My name is Lang. I am in charge of cleaning Listina’s waterway and treating its contents. I am late for introductions for I cannot stay much in the open.”
“I-I see… let me apologize too for my overreaction.”
She reflexively bowed and apologized back. She managed to calm down while talking and slowly returned to her seat.
“Do not, please. My appearance is strange even among my specimen. Lord Takumi said I look like a giant pepper fish.”
“I also know not about it, but I imagine it is a creature I might remind of.”
Elsa couldn’t help but being confused by the gap between his listless look and his flawless speech.
It almost exuded a composed and serious aura that none of the other demi-humans affiliated with Takumi seemed to—
“For your information, my favourite dish is the urine of women.”
“I KNEW YOU WERE SCREWED IN THE HEAD LIKE THE OTHERS, DAMMIT!”
“LORD LANG, YOU ARE ALWAYS THE SAME OLD PERVERT!”
“HE’S RIGHT, MAN, YOU’RE BEYOND HELP!”
“Hahaha. You two are way worse than me, though.”
Lang high-fived the dumb bird and the idiot dragon as they chit-chatted.
“Karin… do you and Kunon have any decent guy among your friends…?”
“The dumb, the idiot and the fool aren’t our friends, you know?”
“It’s so refreshing to hear you saying that in front of them…”
“I just don’t see them as demi-humans like me, it would be too vexing. The other two are fine, anyway, so don’t worry about it.”
“Other two…? There are more?!”
Elsa steeled herself for the worst, then the wagon swayed unnaturally. A few seconds later, a loud clatter rang from behind them.
The next moment, the rear part of the cloth covering the wagon lifted and a woman with a sleepy face stepped in and looked around.
“Wow, what a bunch of perverts.”
“SWEET FILIA, I DON’T EVEN KNOW THIS GIRL!”
The woman rubbed her half-closed honey-colored eyes.
Sheep-y horns and ears sprouted from the sides of her head while white and fluffy hair dangled up to her ample bosom.
“Wait, Lady Fairstadt, is that you?”
“Do you know me…?”
“Yes, I could profit on y… huuuh… I am a merchant, so I gather information about the country’s nobles and leaders and I try to remember their faces. It’s important to know your customers if you want to do this job.”
Elsa thought that merchants shouldn’t be that blunt, but at least she didn’t look like a pervert… for now, at least.
“I’m Merin. Chloris, come say hello.”
Elsa hadn’t noticed that someone was hiding behind the woman—she was quite shorter than the other and had chestnut-colored hair with long furry ears hanging from her head. She looked extremely shy.
“D-Do I have to?!”
“Introductions are important. Ready? Let’s go~!”
Merin grabbed the girl behind her with a hand and pushed her forward until it was in plain sight in front of Elsa and the others.3
“Iich! Y-Yelp…! I-I…! I’m Chloris…!”
“N-Nice to meet you… uuuhm… is she okay? She just started crying all of a sudden.”
“Yes, it’s alright. She’s just a shy scaredy-cat.”
Merin’s sleepy face barely moved at all, while Chloris’ was as pale as a ghost’s and distorted in tension. She was trembling so hard that her long ears were moving in waves.
After their introduction, Karin clapped her hands.
“Okay, that’s enough introduction for you. Let’s get to work.”
Her words had a strange weight despite the light mood, which soon faded from the air.
“Chloris, the report about the outskirts.”
“Y-Y-Yes! W-We s-scouts confirm that the monsters are a-a kind of s-small dragon-like creatures! T-There should be a lot of them g-given the traces they’ve left behind, b-but we c-confirm that there’s s-something e-else too by the smell i-in the air!”
“Merin, are the preparations proceeding?”
“Mhhh… the engineers completed the camp in the area. The rearguard with firearm is ready and vigilant, their top priority is keeping the escape route safe. The weapons you wanted are in the back of the wagon.”
Kunon nodded at their flawless exposition, then turned to the bird and the dragon.
“Aigle, report the situation.”
“According to the veteran hunting team, the monsters are behaving strangely compared to the average ones! I think that there will be something completely different along with the usual monsters that attack the village every year!”
“Lewin, estimate the destructive power of the whole pack including the unknown monster.”
“Assuming that they’re all a lotta small fries, the main team’ll act as a decoy and let the rearguard mow them down. If the unknown monster’s a middle class guy, they’ll switch their formation to the defensive and join the hunting team to win. If it’s a major monster… we’re gonna join the fray!”
The two’s usually idiotic behavior was nowhere to be seen right now.
Elsa was shocked.
Demi-humans usually didn’t get along with themselves.
The differences, religion, customs and nature of the various species normally clashed with one another, and only occasionally, especially when the humans persecuted them, they managed to bear with each other.
The feud between them, along with their disjoint organization and relationships, were the reason why humans could keep their predominance on them.
“Good. Avoid any contacts with the local residents until the operation starts and tell all the units to keep their actions covert. Now, Lang… what did Takumi say?”
“Code 7-0-6. It has been a long time since we had it this big.”
“Yeaaah~! It’s been a while since we joined an operation all together! Takumi probably guessed that we’re facing some veeery hard hunt this time!”
Still, none of the presents looked any worried. Their deep knowledge and trust of each other brought them to omit any unnecessary feeling or thought—they were currently like a single entity moving to complete their mission.
It didn’t matter how hard they had to try: they completely grasped the gravity of what they were about to face.
“Captain! You don’t need to be that scared, you know?!”
Kunon called out to Elsa, looking at her with a big smile on her face. The Hound had felt that she was restless behind her composed mask.
“Unlike you humans, we’re demi-humans living in the depths of captivity!”
Although she implied that they were the lowest, her grin was fearless.
“This super funny hunt is gonna start soon~!”
1 The original actually uses the wofdsafrd “隷属” which is closer to “slaverying/subordinating”, but I thought that “domination” would work waaay better.
Hope this won’t bite me in the back soon
2 The original: “hafumi ha hokohade ohahahya hai defu ho~” (はふみはほこはでおははひゃはいでふほー) = “takumi wa sokomade obaka ja nai desu yo” (タクミはそこまでおバカじゃないですよ)