Chapter 34 – The Empire’s Own Annoyances
Arena Floor ( Chie’s POV )
The out-of-place voices from above us made me look up.
There was a group of black-robed strangers up above me in the sky. They were mounted on gryphons. What’s more, a closer inspection revealed that their faces were all hidden behind skull masks.
This bunch… Chuuni much?
A tap on the shoulder broke me out of my stunned silence. It was Conrad.
I had no words to describe the frown on his face. He must have been shocked too.
Regardless, it was an emergency and, as the highest-ranked officers in the arena, the two of us had to assume command over the soldiers. The tap was his reminder that I should try talking with them as we had agreed at the meeting earlier. Truthfully, I almost forgot. But as the one in command, I had to try to discover the motive of the strangers in robes.
I turned to the referee with a deep sigh.
The man was stupefied too. He didn’t look scared, though. He gave off more of a ‘what’s with these people?’ sort of vibe.
Frankly, if I could, I too would probably rather ignore them.
The situation called for the Voice spell. It was hardly beyond my means, but controlling the volume took a lot of effort, so I usually left it to the pros. That’s why I always had someone from the magic corps at hand for times like these.
Voice cast, I addressed the suspicious group.
“Insolent fools! Do you not realize in whose presence you stand?! You are in front of His Imperial Highness and other Royal Majesties!”
They probably did, but protocol had to be observed. I carried on, fully in work mode.
“This arena is sacred! It is a place where the strongest warriors gather to display their strength to their sovereigns! Do you hooligans even know where you are trespassing?!”
I felt a bit uneasy at this point.
To be honest, the other two representatives were pretty much worthless. Only I and Conrad could put up any sort of serious fight here. But if the other countries didn’t join us, they would lose face. The adult world was complicated like that.
The response, accompanied by a burst of scornful laughter, came from the man who looked to be the leader of the intruders. He stood out from the others thanks to his over-the-top necklace.
“Sacred place my foot! You nobles have no real strength! You just flaunt your status, oppress the commoners, and even enslave them in an inhuman manner! We, The Scythes of the Revolution, are the angels of death sent by God to deliver His divine punishment!”
But really, chunni much?
That aside, I was less than thrilled at being lumped together with the other countries.
Moreover, all this theatrics left me with a splitting headache and a churning stomach.
“You said… slaves? The Empire has long abolished slavery. Do you not know that, wretch? Or do you not come from our glorious country? After all, no citizen of the Empire would be so confused.
I just couldn’t stop myself, I had to set them straight. The leader of the ‘Scythes’ just laughed.
“Hah! Who are you trying to fool!? We already know the truth, there’s no point in hiding it!”
…He what? The truth?
I must have had a really silly expression on my face under the helmet.
I was utterly amazed. Such recklessness. Such generalisations. Delusions were truly strong with these ones.
I heard Conrad speak up weakly and looked in his direction. Both he and the referee were burying their faces in their hands. There was so much cringe in the air that their heads had started to hurt too.
I sighed again, even deeper. Then, I told the referee to cancel Voice.
I wanted to vent so very much.
“What truth? What do they mean?” I asked nobody in particular. “Sure, there was that smuggling incident half a year ago, but we weren’t exactly keeping it a secret. So why do they ramble about ‘truth’? What are they talking about exactly? They and their delusions are being so extremely annoying.”
Maybe that was just what they were – delusional annoyances. No sane person would attack a heavily guarded gathering of three heads of states like this one. Well, they probably had some sort of plan, preparing the gryphons and such. They didn’t look like a group that went to all this trouble while oblivious to the latest happenings.
I decided to look into who their backers were later but, first, they themselves had to be dealt with. And I was on the verge of concluding that trying to talk sense into this guy was a fool’s errand. Judging by how hard their hands were pressing into their foreheads, Conrad and the referee were of the same opinion.
“I am truly happy to have been born in the Empire,” said the latter suddenly. “I had no idea that being uneducated can be this scary. Now I know why Sir Commander talks craves intelligence all the time.”
Conrad silently nodded in agreement at the side.
Damn right. Intel was important.
If not for our intelligence gathering efforts, Claude and I would have never learned of this. It might have taken a bit more time because of the interference by the men that had attacked Claude, but we had eventually obtained what we had been after.
“We worked so hard to get the intel, and the enemy turned out to be… them.”
A misguided bunch of noisy people. We started to exchange observations about our disappointment, quietly at first, but growing louder with every word. The way they had acted thus far had been so simplistic that I lost all enthusiasm.
“B-but, now we know that the preparations we’ve made beforehand will prevent all damage! That’s good, right?!”
“I-it’s just as Vice-Commander said! ‘Forewarned is forearmed’, right Commander? And that’s exactly what’s happening right now. Just like you have alway said!”
The other two immediately attempted to cheer me up. I was grateful.
“Change of plans. Let’s just get this over with,” I said with deep resignation. “Our enemy here is… that. And the matters on the other end are most likely wrapped up already. I’d rather spend time leisurely gossiping with the crowned heads.”
Having made the call, I got the referee to cast Voice again and addressed the chunni bunch once more. I had to figure out what to do with those flying embarrassments.
But first things first.
“Your Majesty, do excuse me, please,” I said, bowing in the direction of the Emperor. “We will have to postpone our discussion for the few brief moments it shall take to apprehend the hooligans.”
Obviously, it was good manners to tell people a change of plans had occurred so that their time wasn’t wasted pointlessly.
“We understand. Deal with this quickly, please.”
“By your will, Emperor. …And that’s how it is, dear uninvited guests. I applaud the planning you’ve put into this attack, but you face an opponent beyond your means. Chalk it up to bad luck and surrender.”
Now that His Majesty granted me permission, I could turn back to the group.
“You! You are looking down on us?!”
Well… yes? Pretty much, I thought in response.
“I am busy right now and have no time to worry about petty annoyances like you. Just surrender already. Don’t make this any harder than it has to be.”
Just for the heck of it, I threw in a classic line from the police dramas. The leader of the group started to visibly shake from anger. I’d bet he was bright red under that mask of his.
I smirked under my helmet.
“That does it! No more! I will not allow you godforsaken nobles to mock us any longer! All of you will regret your arrogance!”
Then, he used an actual finger snap.
But nothing happened.
He was so very bewildered.
The other hooded figures looked as confused as he seemed to be. At that moment, somebody from the general audience seats shouted loudly – “You looking for these guys?!”
Mr. Musclehead over there, with a few of his subordinates, was restraining a small group of seemingly ordinary men and women.
“Wh-what is happening?!”
The masked leader was unable to hide his agitation.
“Are you surprised this place is guarded tightly? We are protectors of this country. It’s our duty to be ready for emergencies, whatever they may be.”
As I said that, Imperial Army soldiers appeared on the stands.
They too had arrested several shady-looking people.
“And now, I shall make you all regret choosing your enemies poorly!”
Several weeks earlier. A meeting room at the army headquarters.
“Let us begin.”
I had just summoned all of the Commanders and Vice-Commanders for an emergency meeting.
“A few days prior to the qualifiers,” I said, starting to relate the same information I had just reported to the Emperor, “an exhausted information broker approached me and my friend at the Wild Breath Tavern.”
“Could that be…”
Conrad instantly guessed who I was talking about.
I nodded in confirmation, and continued.
“He made us join him in a private room at the back before he divulged what he knew. There is a group that is planning to attack the Three Country Tournament.”
The reactions varied. Some of those present merely lifted their brows, others jumped out of their chairs from shock.
“Whatever doubts you may have, I can guarantee the accuracy of the news and vouch for the broker. The information given was not sufficient, however, and I had to investigate further on my own. I finally know enough, which is why we’re having this meeting.”
I paused for a deep breath.
This topic made me recall something else. I again wondered how had Aaron managed to find out about the auction back then. I was sure he wouldn’t tell, only that it was a ‘trade secret’.
“Is this perhaps the same broker as six months ago?” asked Celes.
“Hmm, is it?”
After all, there was one other person without whom this couldn’t have been done.
“How should we react?” asked the Blue-Haired Ikemen, “You are the Black Knight, you must have a plan.”
He seemed to trust me quite a lot. He must have picked up on something after working together with me all this time.
“I do have a plan. We’ll train the guards properly, and we’ll station them so that they are ready to react to whatever might happen.”
Comprehension dawned on the faces of my subordinates.
“I knew it. You’re never unprepared!”
“Commander Addinsell! This manner of speech is unacceptable!”
Charlotte was angry at the attitude of her superior.
I had been avoiding thinking about the issue of her feelings ever since I had become aware of them. Being confronted with that again was a headache, but it was also irrelevant to the discussion at hand so I brushed it aside.
“Well, protecting the arena will not be a challenge but I would still feel better if everyone knew their roles. Please brief your units as required.”
My orders had been acknowledged without protest, but there was one more thing.
“One last thing. I want to introduce someone who was a tremendous help… A partner without whom I couldn’t do this.”
“A partner?” wondered the Stupid Swordsman.
“C-Commander, could that…”
Conrad apparently guessed who I was talking about and became uneasy. I stilled his doubts with a discrete gesture. To be honest, I didn’t want to reveal that person’s existence either, but there was no choice. I couldn’t turn to anybody else, given who we had to be wary of.
That was also why I had settled on this kind of scenario.
“You may enter!” I said a bit louder.
The newcomer, someone I knew very well, walked next to my chair and turned around. Everyone but me and Conrad looked at the stranger in confusion.
“Sorry to keep you waiting. Everyone, this is my friend and civilian collaborator, Claude Orglenn. Say hi to everybody.”
“I’m Claude. Nice to meet you.”
Present day. Arena floor.
“Well said, Commander.”
“It still feels strange when our opponents are… like that,” I replied with a sigh.
Our forces had been deployed to a number of locations.
The Vice-Commanders, Blue Ikemen, Stupid Swordsman, and Celes, had all been stationed at the four cardinal direction sections of the town. Amy had been in charge of the castle. Mr Musclehead had guarded the arena itself.
Each of them had had several squads of soldiers at their disposition, some of which had been hidden with the help of Conceal Presence. The remaining soldiers had been told to patrol the town as normal to limit what the shady group could do.
The patrols had forced the conspirators into less populated areas where magically hidden soldiers had dealt with anyone entering, be it a civilian or a suspect.
Not that there would have been many civilians. The tournament had been in progress, and there had been guides posted around the town. A degree of caution had been required nonetheless on the off chance that a genuine passerby happened to wander into the trap.
The arrested suspects had then been brought to the arena to make it easier to convince the leader of the plot that the plan had failed.
Claude had expected the main attack to come from the air at the moment we were supposed to be tired, so in order to grant ourselves enough time to arrest everybody, we pushed back that moment with various little schemes. Making the referee arrive late, the extended, one-hour break before the finals, all that and more had been planned in advance.
We had allowed Conrad to finish his match against that woman quickly, but in exchange, I had been supposed to prolong my semi-final match as much as possible. This had been why I had handicapped myself so much. Unfortunately, it hadn’t worked very well, and I intended to reflect on that failure. I hadn’t expected the blockhead to be that weak.
Still, it was probably fine. The soldiers looked happy to finally be called out.
And Claude helped a lot too, of course.
“Hey, Claude,” I welcomed him as he suddenly appeared in his civilian clothes next to the referee. “How are things on your end?”
The referee was in shock.
“Ever since Concealment was cancelled,” answered Conrad calmly.
Hah, knew it.
Claude answered my question while approaching closer.
“A failure. I looked all over, but found nothing.”
“Not very surprising.”
He just shrugged. My prediction seemed to be on the mark.
The man who had attacked him earlier, belonged to a different organization. A minion of the puppet master, not a member of this rabble.
After digesting Claude’s report, I had gained an idea of how the conspirators had been gathered, and we had both agreed that a person that would stand out from the crowd of attackers could be the instigator.
But now, it was obvious this group was a bunch of throwaways.
They had been incited to action, given funds and a plan to follow, and then sacrificed to measure the Imperial Army’s response. They, most likely, had no idea about the identity of their ‘benefactors’.
“The mastermind must be watching from somewhere else then.”
“Damn. Sooo infuriating!”
I gave him few soothing pats on the head.
I really needed to get on with devising that plan to hook him up with Alice.
In the meantime, Mr Musclehead gave the prearranged signal for the magicians to cast Sleep on the gryphons, Bind on the cloaked humans, and then Float on the whole group as they started to fall from the sky. All in order for us to still have someone alive to arrest after they reached the ground.
And that was pretty much a wrap. All that was left was cleanup.
I sighed again. Why did the other countries do nothing but bring trouble?
“Hmm. Looks like a failure…”
I smiled over the crystal that allowed me to watch the tournament.
“Definitely a failure.”
The Black Knight had suddenly appeared on a black unicorn half a year ago. He had even slain Fafnir. I had happened upon that group of small fries just as I had wanted to investigate that person. Few prods had sufficed to spur them into action, but they had all gotten themselves caught by the Imperials. Completely useless.
And I had even lent them one of my favorite toys.
“Well… Whatever. I have expected them to be useless from the start, which is why I gave them the item. Now, Mr. Black Knight, please entertain me a bit.”
I activated the two magic circles awaiting my command beside me.
Sudden exclamations of surprise from the stand made me, Conrad, and Claude look towards the commotion. The disturbance seemed to originate from the group of soldiers that had apprehended the leader of the masked rabble.
“What’s happening!?” I asked, demanding explanation.
“Sir Black Knight!” responded one of the men with the help of Voice, “Emergency! A remote-controlled magic crystal! No, two crystals!”
“They look like demon-sealing stones! And the seals are unravelling!”
“Commander Adams!” I shouted in the direction of Mr. Musclehead, “The crystals to me, now! Raise a barrier around the arena! Hurry!”
He moved swiftly and did as ordered. The magicians began to erect a barrier at once. This ensured the safety of everyone but us four.
“Carl! My weapon!”
The referee, Carl, took out Conrad’s bastard sword from his magical storage and handed it to the owner. At the same time, I threw away the broken bokutou and materialized Sakuya while Claude readied his daggers.
The two crystals grew brighter. They were blinding.
“Are you kidding me?”
The two monsters that appeared in our sight once the light faded made Claude exclaim in disbelief.
We readied our weapons and prepared to fight the creatures. They were grotesque. So much so, I wanted to avert my sight.
To be continued
(TL afterword: Unusually, there was no afterword… so I’ll add my own! This must be an annoying arc for Chie. Annoyance No. 1, Annoyance No. 2, and now an annoying group. Chapter 36 is the end of this arc, and also the end of my TLing this series, as long as the author doesn’t update. I did say this in the release post to chapter 33, but as far as I’ve seen from the comments, I could have promised to release up to 36 the next week, and nobody would have batted an eyelid. *sulks*)
(ED afterword: Not as annoying as 80%-certain translations ( left for later[™] ) in a piece pushed to edit :P Sigh. Those pachyderms. So easily distracted :P I need to get Hydra to stab you some more.)