The third party and the strongest piece

Thanks to Sherry’s magic, Clave spilled everything about the raid, the damage they caused and the people they hurt on the way there.
Then, I spoke while looking for a way to properly punish him.

“Answer all our questions, and know that you will pay for your every answer.”
“Yes… ask me anything… Milady’s acquaintances deserve the same respect I have for her…”

He answered with the usual creepy polite way he had been using since Aroma started to affect him.
Lotte, who had finished inspecting the man, was now holding another of those collars.

“Big sis, it looks like they cannot mass-produce these things. We only found two, and I guess they were meant to be around our neck… right? Oww, I’m getting goose bumps.”
“Who gave you the order to attack our guild?”

Sherry cut to the chase—that was the core question that floated in her heart for a good while now.

“My Guild Master wanted me to accept this order, there was a seal of blood on the request… It was interesting. If I bent the two of you to my will, I would’ve gained quite some benefits. Still, I failed to, and—ugh!”

A loud thud resounded when the chain-flail’s tip heavily stroke the top of his head.
Lotte’s eyes were cloudy and dark, almost like the light of reason had left them. Shivers ran down my spine.

“Your words are scum and totally unfitting your current position, you powerless failure. You are a worm that doesn’t deserve to breathe. It would be better to just chop you to pieces and why not doing so with the scythe you brought with you…? Don’t you agree, Big sis, Lord Dick?”
“Well, he surely is disgusting, so I wouldn’t stop you. Honestly, I wouldn’t even try to, since you look pretty scary right now. Can you please stop freaking me out?”
“Wow, you managed to scare Dick… I’m sure he was smirking like a kid until a minute ago, and yet…! You’re amazing, Lotte…”
“Wha—B-Big sis, did I do something worth your praise…? Sorry, I’ve lost myself for a moment back there…! Oh no, the flail moved on its own again!”

If Lotte let ‘the flail move on its own’ again, Clave would probably end up undergoing a sex change… in the physical sense of the term.
We had to gather all the information we could before it was too late.

“Your Guild Master uses blood seals whenever they order you to do something very important?”
“I-It all started… when I came to the capital… and formed a contract with White Capricorn… My Guild Master… is the same rank as me… I don’t have a reason… to follow his orders…”
“Clave, get it together and answer properly. Why do you look so dizzy?”

I grabbed him from his lapel and lifted him a little, then I remembered—I had cast a buff on the twins and a debuff on him.

Currently Lotte was strengthened to a SS rank, and Clave was weakened to a B rank. If he didn’t die by her hand just now, it was because she only wanted to hurt him…
That was a close call.

“Tell me why you listen to your Guild Master’s orders.”
“‘That guy’ could… improve my power…”
“Who is ‘that guy’? Your Guild Master or someone else?”

Clave didn’t reply to Sherry’s question. He didn’t know the answer.

If ‘that guy’ could buff his powers, I guessed Clave was actually weaker than expected and had been buffed before the raid.

This also meant that there was someone in White Capricorn who could use Support Magic. They were the reason behind Clave’s loyalty, although he never got to see the caster.
‘That guy’ had the same low-profile attitude I had. Thinking about it made me smile wryly.

White Capricorn’s Guild Master acted to expand their control over their affiliated guilds, but that could be a mere facade. Maybe there was someone else pulling the strings of this matter.

“If ‘that guy’ is in the capital right now, it should be possible to find him, right…?”
“Sherry, things might get muddy from now on. Can I install a transfer circle in your guild? That way I can come here instantly if anything happens again.”
“I mean… transfer circles are very pricey. Our guilds aren’t even that far apart…”
“W-Why…? Big sis and I have our duty as the heads of our guild. We cannot rely on other Guild Masters so much… but I’ll respect what Big sis wants.”

Lotte glanced at Sherry, who looked hesitant. It was understandable.
A special crystal imbued with Transfer Magic had to be used to install a transfer circle. They were extremely rare and could be found only in the ancient dungeons every several months.

However, I could’ve stopped the invaders before anyone was injured if Red Gemini sensed the incoming attack on time. Thinking about it, wasn’t it better to install a transfer circle into the guilds I was in friendly relations with?

After a few more seconds, Sheery turned to look at me.

“Could you teach me how to use it when it’s ready…? I don’t want it to be wasted given its value…”
“Sure. It isn’t hard to use, but it’s basically impossible for humans to make one from scratch.”
“Clave, this is confidential. Pretend you didn’t hear anything… oh, he isn’t listening.”
“Oh no…! Big sis! Bring some water, hurry!”
“Oh c’mon… don’t die on us.”

Lotte’s attack had probably hit harder than we thought and Clave was now unconscious. I cast Healing Magic on him to bring him back to his senses.
Thinking about it, we could’ve tortured him by looping her attacks and my healing… we didn’t really have time for that, but it didn’t sound like a bad idea…!

“Are there other Guild Masters who had to be controlled by these collars?”
“Purple Scorpio’s Guild Master… stole one from me and tried to force it around my neck… but I won and put it on him instead…”
“Why does this scum look so prideful now…?”
“Lotte, put away your flail or we won’t gather enough information. You’re too strong right now, floor and walls might collapse if you hit them with all your strength.”

So Purple Scorpio was under White Capricorn’s control, huh…?

I wasn’t really glad to help them given their sick ideals, but they could become very bothersome in this case.

And yet… I had to be honest.

Purple Scorpio’s members were assassins who accepted any request for the right price. That ideal was far from the ‘right’ adventurer’s, but it was exactly because there were people who needed someone to take care of dirty jobs that Purple Scorpio was still an active guild.

It was better to bring them on the right way instead of leaving them as White Capricorn’s puppets. They already were criminals, we couldn’t let them become something worse.

Still, attacking them first would attract White Capricorn’s attention, and then everything would’ve become harder to deal with.

What to do, then…?

I only had one solution: disclose White Capricorn’s true nature and free all of their puppet guilds at the same time.

Then, I turned to face Clave.

“I understood that Red Gemini didn’t want to take part in this sick experiment, but did you really need to attack them?”
“What do you mean? Only traitors don’t listen to orders. They don’t need any will. There are guilds like Yellow Pisces and Orange Taurus who obey meekly, and useless guilds like Blue Sagittarius who should just disappear… hahaha!”

He had yet to escape Sherry’s control, but he still managed to show us a scornful smile. I turned to look at Lotte and saw a visible killing intent gushing out her clouded eyes, so I rose my hands to try keeping her at bay.

She was a Gladiator, a savage fighter who always tried to polish her fighting skills to stomp her foes. She wanted to protect her sister so badly that, behind her meek and gentle mask, she hid a real beast.

“I know that this scumbag isn’t the cause behind all this, but I cannot bear myself to hear any more of his words, Sir Dick.”
“I feel the same way, but we have to listen to all he has to say. Lotte, go downstairs and check on your guild members’ condition, please.”
“Okay… sorry. I’ll leave my sister in your hands.”

Lotte looked a bit hesitant, then she handed me over the collar and left the room.
Sherry looked a bit pale from seeing that thing again.

“She might’ve killed him if she kept listening. Her sense of justice is just too strong.”
“Don’t worry, I know that feeling. I’ll make sure he regrets all his words. Now, Clave, one last question. If your guild is not to blame directly for all of this, is there another guild or company that’s pulling the strings?”
“No… there’s only… ‘that guy’…! Ugh! Aaahhh!”

Clave started to scream as he held his head.

Probably ratting the perpetrator out triggered a seal that had been forced on him.
‘That guy’ really knew how to control people.

But it didn’t matter right now—they were the cause of the rotten core of White Capricorn.

The reason why Clave kept calling them ‘that guy’ was clear as well.

Then, Sherry shook her head and tried to take stock of the situation.

“So… this third party is lying about their real strength and controlling White Capricorn which in turn controls all of their affiliated guilds?”
“Yes, I think so. They must be behind the collars too.”
“I let my guard down too much… How could I imagine that the top guild hid such a secret…?”

Sherry bit her lips in regret, but none of this was her fault. White Capricorn was a proper guild until ‘that guy’ took over it.

Sherry didn’t stop her affiliation to White Capricorn and kept accepting their requests, meanwhile her enemy took advantage of that trust to strike all at once.

The guilds had a lot of influence in the city. Dividing them into twelve minor ones was meant to avoid keeping all the adventurers’ strength into a single one. Aileen didn’t officially join my guild for that very reason.
It also served to make them perform things in their own way, like mine specialized into keeping the lowest profile and accepting the most peculiar quests.

But after all those years, someone who wanted all the power for themselves had appeared.

That went against all of my ideals and hopes.
Now that an unknown guy was controlling the top guild, the above reasons had lost their meaning—the guilds’ power division was crumbling like a house of cards.

“Sherry, do you think that it would be too arrogant of me to try restoring the order with my guild when all the others have failed to?”
“Well… taking into account the strength you showed me today, I’m thinking that you could try to do that, but I didn’t expect you to go for it right away. I wouldn’t call your thought arrogant. Honestly, I always found very strange that you never used your power.”

Actually, I used them. I just never used them too seriously to keep a low profile and not attract unwanted attention… but that might’ve been a bit too much for her to know.
Although she might’ve only admired me more.
I could tell that something had changed in the way she looked at me.

“From now on, our guilds will collaborate. Is it okay with you?”
“I… should be the one to request it. I will leave White Capricorn’s affiliation and depend only on ourselves.”
“Lady Sherry, that might be hard for you. People and nobles still trust White Capricorn. What would change if two weak guilds hold each other’s hand? I will be honest: once you free me, you will bow to us again. This is for the best—oof!”
“Just shut your mouth.”

This time Sherry thwacked him with a dropkick on his head, and the blow was so strong that the floor cracked under the impact.

“I think I took it a bit too far… sorry.”
“Oh, don’t worry. By the way, I see that you can force people to tell you what you want but you can’t control the way they say it…”
“Dick…?”

I took one of the collars that Clave had brought with him and put it on him.

“Even a crazy dog like you should stay put now. I’ll leave the rest to Lotte.”
“Dick… are you perhaps mad? You don’t look very different from usual, so I can’t tell for sure…”
“It hardly shows on my face. I rarely get mad at all.”

Sherry smiled at me and I felt my tension loosening its grip on me. It had been quite some time since I last saw her like that.

“I’ll go check on Leonid too now.”
“It’s quite rare to see you on the move. Have you always been? I thought you were just a drunkard since I find you drinking almost every time we met…”
“I am just a drunkard. You’d help me a lot if you keep a secret that I’ve been here tonight. By the way, call me ‘Iron mask’ when I’m like tonight, not Dick.”
“Isn’t that mask too little for your head…? Why don’t you take it off for a minute?”

She took it off slowly, making it slide away with a soft rattling sound.
She was right, I felt a bit more free without it.

“I’m glad that you really are the same Dick I always see drinking.”
“It’s a problem for me if you think that…”
“I don’t care, I’ll go for it.”
“F-Fine… wait, are you sure you want to wear that?”

Sherry put on my mask without the slightest hesitation and I didn’t care too much about the sweat I could’ve left in there. There was barely any, after all.

“How do I look?”
“Good, honestly. I wouldn’t suggest you to wear one, though.”
“That’s… a pity. It’s a bit big for me, but it puts me at ease.”

The tension in the air had vanished, and now only a pleasant calm wafted about. Clave’s presence didn’t bother us much anymore: we felt better, and a spontaneous smile loosened our lips.

Red Gemini and Silver Aquarius were now allies.

What should I do next?
Thanks to Clave, I understood that there was a third party involved in all of this. I had to free all the guilds they were controlling.

I knew I had to ask for help… and maybe the knights’ leader’s support was the best for this case. If I managed to ‘unleash’ the strongest person in the capital from the start, our enemy would think twice before repeating an attack like tonight’s.


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