The wind blew fiercely.
The nighttime grassy plains.
The new moon’s sky.
A world painted with darkness.
Slowly, a single male figure appeared.
His face hidden with a cloth, and a vermillion bow in hand.
Rocking atop his horse, he simply looked forward.
His eyes held a bizarre glow.
And yet, like a phantom, his presence was almost entirely undetectable.
Pulling on the reins he brought the horse to a stop and muttered, “…Found you.”
At the end of the field, in the shadow of an egg-shaped rock, an orange light flickered and waved.
Someone was camping out there.
Right where they were attacked not too long ago.
He didn’t even need to think of who it could be.
It was them.
The band of thieves that shot Aileen.
Silently, he pulled an arrow from his quiver.
Reading the wind, he determined they were downwind.
He lightly kicked the horse’s sides and it began to silently walk forward once again.
Slowly, under the cover of night.
Catching his breath, he advanced into the grassy plain with an arrow nocked on his bow.
† † †
The fire spit as a twig popped inside it.
In the shadow of the egg-shaped rock, near the campfire, the members of Ignaz carelessly rested in their black leather armor.
One basking in the warmth of the fire; one laying atop a cloak spread out on the ground; one munching on a hard biscuit; one leaning against the rock and keeping watch—
Except for the one keeping watch, they were all completely relaxed. In the cool breeze under the new moon’s sky, the thieves wore expressions without a hint of enthusiasm—they appeared sleepy and absentminded.
To put it shortly, they looked devoid of spirit.
“Haaah,” the skinny man sitting on top of the rock in front of the fire let out a big sigh.
A gloomy man. Out of the entire group he appeared to be the most lifeless. He may not have been getting proper nourishment, or maybe he was just always like that. His sunken cheeks and eyes gave his face the appearance of a skull. His long, unkempt hair, coupled with the shadow cast by the dim fire created an atmosphere that could only be called depressing.
A grave keeper would suit him much better than a thief. His name was Morissette, and he was the leader of the nine others in Ignaz’s combat group. “Haah…” Morissette sighed again while roasting some skewered meat over the campfire.
The image of fat-dripping meat sizzling over the campfire reflected in his glazed eyes. Once it was cooked decently, he flipped it over and thoroughly cooked the other side.
“…Hey, Morissette,” drawled the plump underling sitting cross-legged on the other side of the fire.
“What?” asked Morissette, only glancing at him.
“Not much… Just thinking it would be a waste if you cooked all the fat away…”
“This is fine, it’s a luxury,” replied Morissette while staring at the meat losing its fat. “I like meat with the least amount of fat best.”
“…The way you’re doing it, the meat will dry up you know?”
“For me, that’s when it’s just right.”
“Such a waaaste! That’s exactly why you’re always just skin and bones,” whined the plump underling as he threw his hands up.
“I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me,” Morissette bluntly retorted.
During their chat, the meat became very well done. Pulling the meat back from over the fire, he took a large bite.
“…Ahh, I’m hungry. Morissette, give me a piece too.”
“Sorry, this is the last of it.”
“Aah…then, just one bite—“
Before the underling could finish talking, Morissette opened his mouth wide and shoved the rest of the meat in.
“Even if you look at me like that, the meat isn’t coming back,” he said while chewing.
“Damn. That’s not fair.”
“…Hey, Rat. We divided up the food evenly. Where’s your food?” Morissette glared at the underling, Rat.
Looking around enviously, Rat called out to the other thieves, “Hey, anyone have some meat, any meat?”
“Sorry, already ate it.”
“I’m all out too.”
“I have some biscuits if you want.”
Hearing his companions’ responses, Rat let out a heavy sigh. “Everyone is so mean…”
“There’s no helping it, our prey got away…”
Morissette and Rat looked at each other again; dejected, they sighed.
It was only a few hours ago.
Morissette and his group were laying low and setting up camp in the grassy plains. However, one of his subordinates spotted travelers carelessly lighting a fire at the foot of the mountain. With just that, they launched an attack.
Purposely lighting a fire in plain sight on the night of a new moon was practically saying, “Please come get me!”
Morissette’s group’s food stock was just getting low too. As bandits, they couldn’t possibly overlook this.
Their prey was two people. They were a strange pair. A blonde—and good looking at that—girl, fully clad in foreign style black clothing, and a boy who appeared to be a person of the grassy plains. Neither of the two stood watch; they just warmed themselves by the bright fire. They were offering themselves up on a silver platter.
Morissette’s group had ten members. They began to encircle the camp. After loosing an arrow their prey would have nowhere to escape—should have had nowhere to escape.
“…To think that Morissette would fail.”
“Fail…huh.” Hearing Rat’s frank words Morissette made an unpleasant face.
The first one who attacked, the person who first shot at the boy, was none other than Morissette. Being a person of the grassy plains himself, he was the most proficient bow user in the group. Even trained in suppressing his bloodlust, he was proud of never letting his ability with a bow fall behind any of his subordinates.
“That bastard, dodging it.”
The very moment Morissette released the arrow, the boy instinctively twisted his body and avoided the arrow’s trajectory. He didn’t sense the arrow flying toward him, rather, he felt the miniscule bloodlust that leaked when Morissette attacked.
“Sensing Morissette’s arrow at that distance…wasn’t a fluke, huh…”
“He probably knew it was coming and dodged. Since when I aimed at the girl she didn’t move…”
Morissette wore a sullen expression while rubbing his chin. Even for a seasoned warrior, reflexively dodging while unprepared was difficult. “Even so, if that bastard could sense my arrow it would have been better if he just covered for the girl. Then we wouldn’t have killed her and we would’ve finished him off. It would’ve been an honorable death…”
Deeming it difficult to hit the boy after seeing him dodge his arrow, Morissette changed targets to the girl for his second arrow.
The boy was of no use, so originally, the plan was to kill him right away and then everyone would take their time and have fun with the girl—but Morissette placed stealing their supplies over leaving her alive for their entertainment.
However, their plan fell short. Even while burdened by the wounded girl, the boy not only penetrated their encirclement, but also repelled the pursuit of three hound wolves; he succeeded in a remarkable escape.
Morissette pressed his hands to his temple. “Ha… On top of our prey escaping, they killed two of our precious Hound Wolves and the last one is useless… Exactly what am I supposed to tell the leader…” He sprawled out in the shadow of the rock with a displeased expression and looked at the sole surviving Hound Wolf. “Damn it, next time I see that bastard I’ll make sure I kill him.”
Morissette once again started to produce a melancholic aura around him, and in front of him Rat gave a small shrug and said, “…Well, it can’t be helped if you feel guilty. A~ah, but it was a waste killing that girl, you know.”
One of the subordinates laying down had a vexed atmosphere around him and quietly complained, “You said it. She was quite a gem.”
“That looong blonde hair… She looked like an aristocrat.”
“Surprisingly, she was probably traveling incognito.”
Some of the other subordinates cut in.
“Well, not like she’s alive anymore though…”
“She did get poisoned.”
“I’d have fun with her even if she is dead. If we search the area we might find her body.”
“Her body, huh…”
“I wouldn’t be able to keep it up for a dead body.”
“Normally, I wouldn’t do it, but she’s such a beauty that I probably could. She’s like a doll.”
“Whether she’s a beauty or ugly, if there’s a hole it’s all the same.”
“But after a day it’s a bit dicey, isn’t it? She’d get all hard…”
The men were gossiping with smiles on their faces, chatting and egging each other on.
I suppose it’s almost time we get out of here, Morissette thought to himself as he watched his subordinates.
Thinking back, over the past several weeks they crossed through the Ri’leir area, avoiding all possible contact with those outside of their group. Everyone, including himself, was thirsty for a woman. They weren’t bad men; that’s just the kind of people they were. He didn’t think that they would run wild from this amount, but leaving it built up wasn’t favorable.
I thought that we could have resolved that this time as well… Morissette let out a long sigh. Their lust was left unsatiated, they didn’t get even a single copper, let alone food, and instead they lost two Hound Wolves.
The leader is gonna wring me out on this one…
The Ingaz leader’s slogan is ‘If you’re in the bandit business get results, not losses.’
In all honesty, Morissette didn’t even consider the pain and sacrifices they could end up with from just a young girl and boy.
…We failed because I attacked alone, didn’t we? He was reflecting on why they failed. I should’ve just had all those with bows aim for that bastard. Not wanting to cause the leather armor clad boy any unnecessary pain, he attacked by himself and failed.
Counting himself, there were four members in his group that had bows. If the four of them were noticed while aiming and shot, even that boy wouldn’t have been able to dodge them all. And even if only one grazed him, the poison smeared onto the arrowheads would have rendered him helpless.
If it had been a stupid man, then he believed—no, he was certain that he alone would have been enough to take him down.
Overconfidence sure is painful… A small smile crept onto his face. He looked up and blew out a long breath of air.
It was no longer a sigh. He finished his reflection with a resolution to be more careful and use everything he had to kill, next time.
Morissette’s mood had changed and he clapped his hands a couple times. He was about to stop his subordinates’ indecent conversation, “Alright. You guys, it’s ti—“
A dry twang rang out.
Morissette and his group wore puzzled expressions, and there was a thick sounding, “Oomf”. One of the men on watch violently spasmed with a strangely wet sounding voice.
Looking at the panicked man, Morissette’s jaw dropped in shock and he asked him, “Hey, what—“
The man who was on watch was leaning against the large rock, now with a black-feathered arrow through his head and in spasms like a broken mechanical doll. No, it didn’t simply stop there. It went clean through his skull and even pierced into the rock behind him. He was, quite literally, attached to the stone.
Instant death. Unbelievable power.
Something like an arrow piercing a rock.
Even a ballista couldn’t do it this easily…
Caught up in his confused thoughts, another twang sounded out.
Coming back to their senses, everyone ducked before Morissette could even finish speaking. But even with that level of speed, it didn’t matter. One of the men, still ducking, was hit by the merciless arrow in the torso.
There was the sound of meat tearing and bone breaking into pieces.
The man with the broken spine limply twisted in ways he shouldn’t have been able to, and vomited blood as he collapsed to the ground. Still breathing, blackish-red blood bubbled at the corners of the man’s mouth, but Morissette immediately decided that he was beyond saving and abandoned him.
Quickly, Morissette picked up the bow and quiver at his feet.
“Get behind the rock! Take cover!” ordered Morissette.
The men quickly moved behind the rock. It was at most ten steps away from the various places the men were resting at. However, in that time there were another two twangs from behind and two corresponding thuds.
The man right behind Morissette took an arrow through the nape of his neck. Blood gushed like a fountain from where the muscle was ripped to shreds. Morissette’s back was drenched in the blood, but he slid behind the rock without so much as a glance backward.
“Shit, what the hell!?” After scarcely avoiding death, successfully hidden behind the rock, Morissette breathed deeply, and then as if his whole body remembered, he felt cold sweat break out all over.
The sole surviving hound wolf moaned from the other end of the rock and came up to rub against Morissette. While roughly stroking its unkempt fur, Morissette desperately tried to calm his wild breathing.
“Leader, what was that just now!?”
“How should I know!” he spat at the still young, pale-faced subordinate.
He glanced over everyone who was huddled up in the shadow of the rock just like him, and counted. Six people escaped unharmed.
He killed Jack, Holly, Greg, and Nahum! He held down a groan underneath his expressionless face.
It had only been some ten-odd seconds since the one on watch, Nahum, was first shot. In the short time it took to hide behind the rock, almost half their number had been hit by arrows. The wounds they received were completely devastating.
“Morissette, isn’t this kind of bad?” Rat whispered in a low voice, still with the same dumb, absentminded expression as he pulled a short sword out of the scabbard on his waist.
“Yeah…” While feeling the weight of Rat’s words, he poked his head out to check the surroundings.
Morissette pulled back his head in a panic, and a white feathered arrow grazed his nose. Practically bending over backwards, he fell down onto his butt. “That was close…” He was almost hit.
Overshooting the trembling Morissette, the arrow pierced the side of the rock face and shattered, unable to bear the impact.
“What insane power, that bow…”
“Yeah. However…” He nodded in agreement. Looking at the remains of the shattered arrow, cold sweat ran down his brow.
That bow had ridiculous power. That’s for sure.
As a pretty good bowman himself, Morissette clearly understood.
It penetrated their leather armor, which was by no means cheap, as if it were paper, and even pierced stone; ultimately, not even the arrow itself could withstand the force.
It was fearsome.
In addition, the wielder’s accuracy was unparalleled. This, too, was fearsome.
But, what Morissette felt was the most dangerous was, I can’t even sense the slightest amount of bloodlust.
It had nothing to do with the powerful bow, nor the arrows that would steal one’s life away with certainty.
He couldn’t sense any bloodlust.
This meant that compared to Morissette, this archer vastly surpassed him in using 『Stealth Sense』.
Because of the new moon’s darkness, he couldn’t get a grasp on anything more than the approximate direction of where the arrow was shot from.
But he could be sure that, based on the time it took for the arrow to hit the rock from when he heard the twang, he was quite a distance away. Even with that distance he could shoot with pinpoint accuracy.
“Rat, did you feel any bloodlust?”
“No. I’m guessing you haven’t either?”
“He’s a monster…”
“You said it. Who is it? Bandits?”
Replying to Morissette who wore a stiff smile, Rat did his best to speak clearly in his dopey voice, “No clue… though I think it’s only one person.”
Without much confidence Rat seemed to be suggesting the highly skilled archer may not be able to take all of them on at once. It was a grim idea, but Morissette’s intuition told him that the archer probably could take them all.
Damn it, we don’t even have anything worth being attacked over…!!
Nonetheless, they were like a filthy all-male household. If this guy has such great bowmanship, then there should be plenty of jobs for him besides thieving, Morissette thought angrily. But at that time, his eyes rested upon the shattered, white feathered arrow at his feet.
Perfectly white feathers.
…Wait a second, the first arrow that killed Nahum definitely had black feathers.
Making sure not to stick his head out, he looked at the other men who were hit by the assailant’s arrows. All of the arrows protruding from the corpses were also white feathered.
His gaze was naturally drawn to his own quiver, held in his hand.
It was packed full with black feathered arrows.
“…You’ve got to be kidding.” Cold sweat broke on his brow once again.
A single black feathered arrow.
The grasslanders’ specialized weapon is a bow.
He surpassed Morissette in high level bloodlust related skills.
And tonight, at this place, he attacked Morissette and his group.
Putting it all together, there was only one possible conclusion.
The young boy with a grasslander’s appearance.
I see. He would have more than enough of a reason to attack us—coming back to take revenge!!?
We picked the wrong guy to mess with. Morissette looked up at the sky.
However, Morissette mistook one particular thing.
The young boy with a grasslander’s appearance, Kei, was indeed the assailant, but revenge wasn’t why he was here. Much less, to kill all the bandits.
It was to find out what type of poison they used and then to immediately give Aileen the antidote.
Those were his only two goals, and frankly, he didn’t care whether Morissette and his group died or not.
That’s why he was in a hurry.
He silently crept up, and preemptively killed four of the bandits with his bow, but the others all hid behind the rock and away from his line of fire; they were panicked.
They were wasting valuable time.
Aileen’s life left her as time went on, moment by moment. So Kei made his move.
Rather than waiting for them to try to formulate a plan to escape from behind the rock, Kei moved.
Morissette and the others were talking when they heard the rough sound of hooves from the other side of the rock. They raised their heads at the disturbance.
“Hey! Come out now!”
It was a young boy’s voice.
“—I want to make a deal!!”
Morissette remained silent, considering it may be a trap he stuck his head out for a glance and pulled it back immediately.
It was only for a moment, but he definitely saw a young boy with a grasslander’s appearance riding a horse. He had an arrow nocked, but didn’t have it pointed at them. It looked like he didn’t intend to use foul play.
No way, to think a horseman would approach us from over there… A small smile pulled at the corners of his mouth.
This is our chance.
At the very least, it’s certain that it’s only one person.
If he did have an ally, they could go to the other side of the rock and use a pincer attack. With his skill as an archer, he could easily pick them off. It was clear that he could have kept mercilessly shooting them down one at a time and leave none of them alive. In spite of that, he came and spoke to them, meaning that he had some sort of situation where he had no extra room to work—
Petting the hound wolf at his feet he shouted, “…Let’s hear it!” He faced his subordinates and gestured instructions to them.
Silently they nodded, and he made sure they quietly began to prepare themselves. Slowly, Morissette stuck his head out from behind the rock.
While getting slightly irritated, he observed the young boy across from him. His face was hidden with a cloth and only the area around his eyes was visible, but there was no doubt that he was one of the two travelers they had attacked earlier.
His black eyes held no expression—Morissette felt something cold creep up his spine.
“…You said something about a deal? What are you after?”
“Tell me the name of the poison you used. If you do, I’ll let you live.”
His demand was incredibly simple.
…I see, that girl must still be alive. Is that why he’s in such a rush? Morissette was convinced. The poison was spreading and she was on the verge of death.
And now, since he came just to ask the name of the poison, he must be holding out hope for the antidote.
That aside, I’m pretty sure it was a lethal dose… Morissette thought to himself, she’s lived quite a while after that. “If I tell you, you won’t kill us, right?”
“…I’m exceedingly displeased right now. If you intend to put on airs and try my mood further then—“
“I got it, I’ll tell you.” He thought to himself, he’s scary. Just like our leader. Behind the rock, where Kei couldn’t see, he used his left hand to signal the others. “The poison we used—is the ‘Enslavement Poison’.”
…That was dangerous. It wasn’t the ‘Breath of Nightmares’. It’s a good thing I didn’t just try what I thought, thought Kei, relieved. However, for just a moment, he was distracted.
One would call it letting one’s guard down.
Morissette didn’t overlook this one chance.
From the other side of the rock, a vicious black shadow darted out.
In a hurry, Kei tried to readied his bow, but three other bandits already had theirs readied and jumped out, and he froze.
The poisoned arrows—
Three archers. One hound wolf. And one person with a short spear, who followed after.
With a gruesome grin, Morissette pulled a long sword from the scabbard at his waist. He ordered his group, “Fire!”
The air whistled as they all loosed their arrows simultaneously.
Illustrations courtesy of Mr. NAKA. Find him at https://www.pixiv.net/member.php?id=4377278 (opens in new tab).