Predicting the number of people – Part 3

Listina’s middle layer was extremely calm.
The citizens’ life and business prospered easily, and travelers who visited the capital were left agape by the beauty and complexity of the waterway.
None of the residents minded the abundant water that flowed through the city, which was built at the right distance from the sea not to get eroded by the salty breeze.
However, every place has their shadows.

The middle layer housed the prisons for sinners.
They were built in a corner far from people, in the shadows of the upper layer, as everyone thought they were an eyesore. Only a few had to walk by it and bear such an ugly sight.
Takumi was now prisoned in there…

“Frooom the forest of the siiilent lake shooore~!”

…while singing a discordant song. The smell of mould pricked at his nostrils.
The provisional bed he laid on was clattering loudly as he rolled over it, worsening even more that noisy cacophony.

“SHUT UP! STOP SINGING SHIT AND MAKING THIS NOISE!”

“YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY!”

The two guards on the other side of the door roared and Takumi did as they asked. Then, he started kicking the bed’s floorboard.
He was bored.

“Do you even understand where you are?! Has getting caught gone to your head?!”

“I’m going to face Richtert’s worst trial and the Inquisition caught me. I don’t care when it’s happening, so I’d rather get outta here as soon as I can.”

The guards burst in a scornful laughter, and Takumi stopped being noisy.

“The only thing that’s waiting you outside is death.”

“Your body will be torn to pieces along with any human dignity. Going through that trial will etch the real meaning of regret on your memory.”

“Really? Don’t hold yourself, then.”

He got back to kicking the bed incessantly the next moment.

“For Filia’s sake, GIVE IT A REST! All the prisoners who get here are nuts, dammit!”

“All? So you know the guy who was here before me?”

“Huh? I don’t know much. I’ve been the head of the guards in this prison for some time, then I left but couldn’t find any job, so I came back as a regular guard.”

The man tilted his head, his grizzled hair in full sight along with his bored face.
Takumi slowly got on his feet.

“Can you tell me more about him? About the guy who was here before me.”

“I said I don’t know much.”

“I don’t care how much you know, help me kill some time. I’m not loud when I listen.”

Takumi’s deal was soon broken by the other guard, who had an unkept beard.

“Hey, stop talking to him. Lord Elvis said the only contact he can have is with the guy who brings him food.”

“Man, my ears are gonna ring forever if he keeps kicking the damn bed!”

Takumi was readying another flurry of kicks and the grizzle-haired man clicked his tongue.

“Hey, nudnik, will you really stop if I talk?”

“I’m a slave merchant, you know? I pay for worthy stuff.”

“I can’t really believe the words of scum who sells slaves… but whatever.”

He stopped briefly to organize his thoughts, then took a deep breath.

“As I said, I don’t know much. I had a few privileges when I was the head around here, but I’ve never been assigned to this division.”

“How do you know about that guy, then?”

“I could hear him. The sound echoes a lot in here, and very loud people like you can be faintly heard even from the upper floors thanks to the air venting holes.”

The man pointed at the parts of the cave that were slightly dug or open as he talked.

“I bet the nobles who had you arrested are mad at you for the noise you make. You should expect to be get a hot love call once you get outta here.”

“I got called a lot on the first day here already. Go on.”

“Well, he was a chill guy unlike you, but he always repeated the same words at night. I don’t know much about it, but he whispered stuff about the Goddess and the Hero… maybe excerpts from the Holy Text.”

“Wow… do you remember what he said?”

“Don’t be stupid, we’re talking about more than ten years ago. Also, I only heard parts of it, never heard the complete thing so I can’t tell precisely.”

He shook his head as if to say to give him a break.
Takumi cast his gaze on the ground and fell in deep thought.

“Oh, right. I heard a rumor when I left this job.”

“A rumor…?”

“Yeah, about what happened fifteen years ago. You know, the accident that shook the entire country. I heard that the one who killed the former Queen and abducted the princess was imprisoned here. Maybe he was the guy who was in this cell before you, and the inquisition had all the reasons to punish him—”

“Do not talk to that man. My order was clear, was it not?”

A low and glacial voice echoed through the place, interrupting the man.
Tac, tac; the noise of a cane striking the ground drew closer, and the grizzle-haired man slowly turned to face the sound’s way.
An old man was approaching them with a gaze so sharp it could’ve cut people to pieces.
The guards panicked a little and waited, their bodies stiff like stone.

“L-Lord Elvis…! Why are you here?”

“I am here to see what face the man who killed my son is making as he waits for his death. But no matter that… do you have any justification for failing to execute my order?”

Elvis’ blaming tone and glare frightened the man.

“I-I beg your pardon… the prisoner started singing a terrible song out loud and kicking the bed, so I rebuked him and started a conversation to make him stop.”

The old man nodded slightly.

“I see… it must have been hard.”

The next moment, he swung his cane and hit the man on the head, who fell on the ground due to the strength of the blow.
Blood sprayed from the impact and started to stain his grizzle hair.
The other guard panicked and rushed to check the wound of his bleeding comrade.
Elvis’ stony face didn’t budge.

“I cannot stand people who pile errors up, neither I can tolerate those who fail to notice they are mistaking.”

Tac, tac; the sound of his cane striking the floor resounded all over the place.

“He sung and made that noise to warn his comrades.”

“B-But this prison is isolated from the outside! It is surrounded by walls even in its deepest layers, it’s impossible to communicate from here—”

“I see. You are like this man. Another dolt who fails to notice mistakes.”

The man closed his mouth as soon as Elvis’ cold glare pierced him.

“The sound echoes terribly in this basement, and the waterway flows through the capital’s underground. If people know it and take the right measures, it is possible to communicate from here with sound codes.”

Elvis’ gaze locked on a new target, Takumi.

“Now, even putting it aside and supposing that this man never did any of this, the two of you still piled errors you failed to notice up… you are no different from useless and inferior pigs.”

The man with the unkept beard gasped loudly when Elvis unsheathed his short sword and started closing the distance between them.

“Don’t be so in high spirits, old fart.”

The overlord turned to face the man who spat those words.

“I see. You thought I would stop if you spoke to me?”

“Of course I’ll make you stop. I don’t know how long I have to stay here, and yet you want to splash these walls and my bed with blood? Do you realize how gross would it be?”

He shrugged his shoulders while speaking in a light mood and Elvis’ face twitched almost imperceptibly.

“By the way, nice idea back there, but I was noisy only to kill some time. If it bothers you so much, why don’t you go check within the walls or the waterway?”

“I already made the arrangements for it.”

Elvis glanced at the grizzle-haired man after sheathing his short sword.

“Take that pig away and change it with another guard.”

“Y-Yes! Right away!”

The man with the unkept beard replied reverently and carried his comrade up the stairs.
Once the sound of his steps was far enough, Takumi spoke.

“So, what business does an overlord have with me?”

“I already stated it. I am here to look at your face as you wait to die… you do not look afraid at all.”

“Of course not. I have no intention to die yet.”

Takumi sat on the bed of his room and showed a fearless smile.

“I mean… our Goddess loves me, you know?”

“Interesting. If Goddess Filia truly loves you, I guess your body will be unscathed when you will be thrown in the flames of redemption.”

As far as Takumi knew, the Inquisition was like the witch-hunting guys he had read about in the history books of his former world.
They executed people in the name of piety.

The ceremony was simple: they purified the sinners by throwing them in the undying fire that burned in Filia’s cathedral.
It was like burning people at the stake, watching them scream in pain, checking them while they were still agonizing and keep torturing them in the most gruesome way… until their death.

The only difference between this process and the witch-hunting’s was that the inquisition had to admit and recognize that Filia had blessed and granted her favor upon the ‘hapless victim’ if they could come out of the fire unscathed.
They would be seen as a ‘divine proxy’ and their every action would be seen like God’s will.
Yet, none would ever overcome the queen’s influence in Richtert.

“The Hero of the past threw himself in the sacred flames to save his dear master who was caught, and not a burn scarred his body. I wonder if you can repeat that same feat.”

“Only a monster would get outta a fire without a burn. Do I look like one?”

“A monster…? I cannot deny it.”

Elvis’ arrogance faltered for an instant, but his expression returned stony as he snorted.

“The Hero was the founder of magic. He could defend himself from the sacred flames because the world was still ignorant to magic. A powerless man like you will never be able to do the same. Not now, not ever.”

“Aren’t you assuming that I absolutely can’t use magic?”

“I am not assuming it, I am sure of it. You cannot use magic, thus you had to destroy Kiad’s magic formula. Otherwise, you could not deal with the Valiant Fortesea.”

The old man turned his darkest gaze to Takumi as if to study him.

“You robed him of his magic by force, changed its property to make it conflict with itself and with him, then made it flow through his body again… this operation requires some time to be performed, so the target must be motionless.”

Takumi narrowed his eyes, his smile disappearing from his face. What made him warp his expression wasn’t why Elvis knew about it, but that he knew everything down to the juiciest details.
His words weren’t the product of a simple guess—he had fully grasped what happened.

“That guy was obnoxious, but he was still your son.”

“So? Do you think my rage comes from that? Nonsense.”

His cane stroke the ground as his eyes grew ever more heartless.

“Pigs only serve to be cut to pieces, do they not?”

Elvis’ tone of voice was indifferent, as if he was talking of something trivial.
He didn’t take Kiad out only to frame Takumi: he also wanted to see what law formula had destroyed his son’s magic formula… and he cut his own son’s body open to figure it out.
He checked every single piece of meat until the very end to make full use of what once had been his son.

“Even something that would ban you from the slums wouldn’t be that aberrant.”

“You have no right to speak. Magic is an absolute power that must be wielded only by magic knights. Magic formulas are its core. You will now go through hell because you did not finish that useless pig when you had the chance.”

His words were cold and distant. Takumi grasped well what the man was implying here—the death of my son was for the best.

“Magic, magic, magic… man, you’re so crazy you make me laugh.”

“Magic is the only hope left to humans. Our mission is to think of it as our salvation and make it our number one priority. It is essential to correct this warped world.”

“Man, I’m not laughing at that.”

Takumi’s lips curled into a smile as he raised his chin to sneer at the man in front of him.

“I’m laughing at the pitiful coward I’m talking to right now. The one who desperately hides behind a mask.”

Elvis chuckled, his body trembling a little. Those words deeply pleased him.

“Nothing but cowardice can protect a fragile heart… a coward like you has no choice but to shake in fear, no?”

A pair of pitch-black eyes dug deep within the old man’s facade to gouge something true out.

“Magic is absolute and only the strong should wield it. If we do, we can cast all the inferior beings in the pits of captivity they belong to.”

Then, the old man swung his cane and thwacked the iron grill, which let out a loud ringing sound.
His expression didn’t budge for a moment. He was the strongest, most heartless and most stern human in the city.

“You deserve my praise for keeping your head high in front of me. Yet, you should know how to choose your battles more wisely, lad.”

Thin shades of rage and murderous intents painted the eyes of the man.

“The inquisition wants you to become an example for the masses… but I changed my mind. I will carve our Valiant name deep down your soul in the name of Fortesea.”

The air trembled as overwhelming power seethed from his body. He unsheathed his short sword again.

“Fortesea? What are you talking about, old fart?”

Takumi was indifferent at his rage, his smile still plastered on his face.

“That isn’t your real surname, is it?”

Elvis froze, his eyes wide open. His glacial—almost inorganic—gaze swayed for the first time, as a sparkle of humanity shone within it.

“I did not expect you to step this deeply into the wrong territory.”

“Well, you won’t get any answer if you kill me here and now.”

“You know I am not such a fool, do you not?”

The grip on his short sword slowly loosened, and the sparkle of humanity disappeared from his eyes the next moment.

“Very well. I will gouge everything out of you at the trial.”

“Oww, how scary. You can easily let me spit everything now if you torture me.”

Elvis snorted at his silly comment. He turned on his heels, sheathed his sword and started walking to the exit, but stopped a few steps later.

“Do you know Goddess Filia?”

Takumi mulled over the true meaning of that question, doubt moulding his expression.

“Of course I do. She’s a goddess who truly loves this world.”

“Is that so?”

The old man resumed his walk, leaving behind a feeble whisper.

“It looks like… you are not like me…”

Those words wafted in the air marked by the sound of the cane striking the stairs.
Takumi’s gaze was locked on his back until he was gone—for a brief moment, Elvis looked like a little lone child.


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