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The wind howled in her ear.
The town was lit by twilight.
The nightscape grew behind her.
A girl covered in black ran.
She ran on the rooftops, tap, tap.
She left behind only the light taps of her footsteps.
A shadow stretched out from her feet.
A fish… A bird… A cat… An arm.
It leaped and swam joyfully.
As it hectically changed its form it showed her the way.
The maiden of twilight 『Kerstin』.
The incarnation of twilight and afterglow, the ruler of twilight.
Aileen followed the spirit’s directions and headed to where Lily was.
Kerstin was a spirit that both manipulated and moved within the shadows.
She was a fleeting being that could only manifest after the light and before the darkness.
Compared to Kei’s contracted spirit, the maiden of wind, 『Siv』, she had little in the way of interfering with the physical world. As her specialty was manipulating shadows, she also didn’t have a way to directly attack, either.
However, that was also why she required such low magical energy and wasn’t particular about catalysts. Her magic had effectively no cost. She was easy to use, but she had her limits. A pure mage wouldn’t find much use for her—but, she was a perfect fit for a ninja that used only auxiliary magic.
“So, she’s here…”
The corner of the Old Town.
Aileen bent over the ledge of the roof and peered down the street, now devoid of people. The shadow that extended from her feet took the form of a hand and pointed to the building across from her.
A two-story brick building overlooked the slightly dirty street. It was undecorated; it looked like a warehouse. Light leaked from various windows on the first and second floors. She didn’t even need to spy to tell that people were there. The first floor in particular, she could hear men’s rowdy and lively voices there from where she was.
She nimbly jumped to the roof. Without even getting a running start, she easily jumped the nine meter gap, landing silently on all fours. Still on all fours, she crept unnoticed to the window like a cat.
Aileen dangled upside down, holding herself by her legs on the ledge of the roof, and looked in through the gaps of the storm shutter.
It’s surprisingly clean in there…
Her first impression of the place was that it looked like no one lived there; it was empty. There was hardly any furniture, only a tasteless wooden floor. In the corner of the room was a small table and chair in which sat a man of delicate features, reading in the desk lamp’s light. In the back of the room she could see stairs that led down. She could also see the swaying shadows of the boisterous men.
The pages rustled as the man turned them. He looked to be the only one on the second floor, and he failed to notice the ninja outside the window. After a while, she decided that she wouldn’t likely gain any new information watching the man read, so she moved away from the window.
She took a grapple and rope out of her bag, hooked it onto the edge, and descended to the ground.
It smelled faintly of alcohol. She got closer. The first floor was noisy. There was quite the party going on inside.
Wait, isn’t that…
Her expression changed to surprise and bewilderment. Inside, seven rowdy men gathered around a table and had alcohol in hand. Out of all the unclean men, she recognized one of them.
—Borris! Why is he here?
He had his arms around some others, red faced from alcohol and laughing loudly with his unkempt, frizzy black hair and wild eyes.
It was without a doubt, the man she saw in front of the workshop a few days ago.
She groaned and leaned against the wall.
Is that asshole part of this too…?
Lily was a smart girl. Montand and Kiska said that she wouldn’t carelessly get caught up in something illegal.
A crime committed by a family member.
She set aside whether Borris really could be called a relative—if he was involved in the kidnapping, then it was unsurprising that Lily let her guard down.
The hell is he thinking… Borrowing money and relying on them, and then kidnapping their daughter?!
Her bewilderment began to change into anger. Just punching him once wouldn’t be enough for her. Despite her anger, she didn’t rush in for a frontal attack.
『Kerstin…』 she quietly called the waving shadow at her feet. 『Kie estas Lily?』
The shadow answered her by forming a hand and pointed straight up, using the wall as a screen.
“Unua etago (The second floor)…?”
The shadow waved its hand and then wrote out in cursive,『Neniu.』
“Teretago (The first floor)?”
“Tegmonto (The attic)?”
“Huh?” She wanted to yell, then where?! But held it back and thought calmly. “Interetago (A mezzanine floor)… A hidden room?”
『Jes.』Kerstin finished writing and gave a thumbs up before returning back to a normal shadow.
She felt a little relief and muttered to herself, “A hidden room, huh…”
If Lily was being confined in a hidden room, then that meant she was still alive. On the other hand, if she was somewhere below ground, Aileen wouldn’t be able to keep calm.
Now, how should I do this?
She folded her arms and thought.
Surprise them and take control of the building?
Avoid fighting and try to get her out?
Beat them all up, get where she’s being held out of them, and then get her out of there…
The thought of personally beating them all up was refreshing. However, after she considered the risks she determined that it would be best to just get Lily out of there.
『Kerstin, mi dedicas al vi ti un katalizilo.』 Aileen took a small fragment of a turquoise jewel and dropped it. It sank into the shadow. 『Vi priskribas la plankon plano de ci tiu domo, kaj vi diros al mi la pozicio de Lily.』She placed both hands on the stone wall. 『Ekzercu (Execute).』
In an instant, the shadow ran along the outline of the building. It was unlikely that anyone inside noticed it.
It slipped into the cracks, under the tables, and even the shadows of the loud men inside.
The shadow stood up in front of Aileen. Jet black lines began to form the floor plans of the building like a 3D animation. It was very difficult to see it in the fading twilight, but she was able to grasp where the rooms and people were.
The plans didn’t reveal anything particular strange about the storehouse layout. On the first floor were the seven boisterous men and on the second floor was the reading man. However, she didn’t see Lily there.
『Kie estas Lily?』
A shadow hand rose from the ground and pointed to the middle of the model’s second floor where a black box had formed. It was right next to the gentle looking man, a small space in the floor. The hidden room was too small to really be a room. Since it wasn’t drawn out, the black box meant that there wasn’t any source of light in there.
In other words, Lily was confined to a pitch-black room too small to even move around in.
Aileen’s expression turned grim. This was terrible treatment for an innocent child. Her chest tightened at the thought of how scared Lily must be, shut away in the small dark room. Above that, they were drinking and partying, too.
They were the epitome of scum.
One punch wouldn’t be enough.
Righteous indignation burned in her chest. She scowled at the light that leaked out of the first floor window. She told herself to put off beating them up and controlled her breathing, even though she wanted to break down the shutter and run wild.
Lily’s rescue came first.
She bent over and lightly jumped, using the stone walls of the building in front of her and behind her to quickly jump onto the roof. She took back her grapple and rope and imagined the model that Kerstin made.
The hidden space on the second floor… I wonder if there’s a way into the second floor.
Like before, she held onto the window and glared inside at the gentle featured man through the gap in the storm shutters. He was probably the one on guard duty for Lily. The nerve he had to unconcernedly read while a young girl was locked up.
Her anger flared up again. A fierce light shone in her blue eyes.
Well, whatever… Let’s do this right.
Aileen calmed herself down.
I’ll just sneak in.
She reached for the shutter’s clasp.
“Hm?” The man suddenly lifted his head at the faint metallic squeak.
The window’s shutters next to the table were open. The shutters swayed as if blown open by the wind. A gentle breeze stroked his cheek.
Why’d it open on its own? The wind isn’t too strong today, either.
He stood up with his book in one hand, stuck his head out the window, and looked around. The air was calm, there weren’t even any strong gusts.
“Weird things happen, I guess…” He muttered with a slightly worried expression. As if shaking off his concerns, he shook his head and closed the shutters.
Suddenly, his vision was dyed black.
Aileen dropped behind him from the ceiling and wrapped her scarf over his face.
“Hna!?” His mumbled shout didn’t travel far.
As he flailed and desperately tried to get it off of him, Aileen stood in front of him and raised her fists. She used her whole body as a spring and struck him.
Her fists hit him in the gut and twisted, forcing him to bend over. The impact was so strong that he was lifted in the air for a moment. He threw up in her scarf. The man fell to his knees and held his stomach, unable to groan or even breathe through the vomit stuck in his throat. His position looked like that of a criminal about to be beheaded—she spun and kicked him with a roundhouse to the temple, and he collapsed like a bowling pin.
“One down…” Aileen muttered coldly at the man on the floor as she lowered her leg.
It may seem totally merciless and inhumane, but for Aileen, this was still holding back. Her physical strength had fallen compared to when it was a game, however she was still able to use her body to its limit. If she had kicked him with her full strength then his thin neck would’ve easily snapped.
“Now, where is Lily…?”
Completely uninterested in the man now, she squinted and began looking along the floor. Kerstin’s 『Search』 told her that the hidden space was a few meters from the table.
“Here it is…”
She found it right away. There was one place in the floor that had suspicious looking cuts, visible if you looked carefully enough. Aileen stuck the edge of her knife into the crack and popped up the board easily.
Happily, she pried off the board while she thought, this was easy! Only for her expression to suddenly drop from her face.
A metal lid was blocking the way.
Even at a glance it was obviously sturdy. Its solid build and linked clasps reminded her of a safe. The front of it was all smooth except for a two centimeter hole shaped like a gear. She stuck her fingers in and tried to lift since she had nothing to lose.
It wouldn’t open. As she thought, it didn’t even budge. In all probability, this was the keyhole. If it were a simple enough lock, then as a ninja, she could easily unlock it, but that was impossible with the tools she had on hand.
She stood up silently and lightly kicked the man slumped on the ground to check if he was still unconscious before she rifled through his belongings. The acidic scent of vomit made her wince as she haphazardly turned out his jacket and pant pockets.
Nothing that looked like it would fit the keyhole turned up. She did find a metal key, although it was too big for the hole. She searched the shelves and such in the room, but no key turned up. The man on the floor showed no signs of waking up, but she wanted to ask him about a hiding place for the key. When she removed the scarf his eyes were white and his mouth was foaming. She tried to pinch his nose shut and she tried slapping him, but he didn’t wake up.
What should I do now…?
Aileen sat cross-legged on the floor with her chin resting in her hands and thought for a while. She could use 『Trace』on the lid and find where the key was that way, but then she would be left with essentially no catalysts. Even so, searching everywhere manually was a waste of time.
What to do.
Their thunderous laughter came from downstairs as she was thinking.
Aileen narrowed her eyes and suddenly stood up.
Shiiing, she pulled her saber out from the scabbard on her back.
—If she was going to use sorcery, this way was still better.
Well, it ended up being like this anyway…
She pulled a crystal fragment out of her shirt while she wore a sour look and shrugged. She stared at the waving shadows of the men downstairs, cast by the lamp light.
To check the condition of her saber, she spun it in her hands.
No problems. She swiped downwards in the air, faster than could be perceived.
A small amount of bloodlust welled up, but she left it behind. Before she left, she stopped and whispered, “Wait for me, Lily. I’ll save you soon.”
Without another moment’s hesitation, she leaped down the stairs.
† † †
How long had it been since the sun had set?
No one around seemed to care. The noisy people drinking together downstairs gave off the impression of only getting started for the night.
“—then, he stripped ‘em naked and hung ‘em upside down!”
“Heehehehe, crazy bastard!”
“Gahahaha! It couldn’t be better!”
Even though his story wasn’t all that interesting nor all that funny the drunkard laughed loudly. If alcohol was involved then even a cat walking was comical. Drinking turned to laughing, laughing turned to drinking. Borris, who initially felt nervous being invited here, was in a good mood and drinking deep.
The smell of alcohol whisked around in the men’s heated antics.
The room, filled with too many energetic drunks, was a chaotic scene.
However, amongst all the racket was an intruder clad in black.
“Hn…?” The first one to realize it was the one that sat facing the bottom of the stairs. His immediate thoughts were, there’s a shit ton of alcohol, but not nearly enough women. He was captivated, just as he was throwing back a fresh mug of ale, a beautiful girl dressed all in black appeared from the stairs. The man was frozen in awe for a short while and ale spilled from his mug. “—Heheh.”
Ah~, I’m too drunk, I’m seeing some weird things. A silly smile crept onto his face as he took another swig.
Conversely, Aileen was the one that was confused. The first person to notice her made no noise and simply smiled thoughtlessly while he kept drinking. It was unexpected. However, she quickly recomposed herself and threw the crystal fragment she held to the shadow at her feet. 『Kerstin!』
She called the spirit and the men in the room turned to look at her all at once.
In the dim light, they stared at the girl in black at the foot of the steps.
They all smiled calmly, hallucinating the image of a woman.
Aileen quickly drew a symbol with the sword in her left hand. 『Kage, Matoi, Otsu.』She traced a line between the men with her finger. 『Vi kovras (Cover)!』
The shadow at her feet shook.
The men’s shadows wriggled and squirmed as if resonating.
The shadows burst.
A jet black stream poured out.
A long silence.
However, the men were entirely wrapped up by the shadows.
Their voices boomed.
“The fuck is this?!”
The place fell into chaos in an instant. From the men’s perspectives, a shadow suddenly gushed forth and swallowed them whole.
They flung their chairs back in surprise, attempting to shake off the shadow, and even froze in fear—each had their own reaction. However, Kerstin’s shadow did no physical harm. Starting with the ones that didn’t make a fuss, they realized that losing their vision seemed to be the only effect.
Aileen wouldn’t give them time though.
The first man. She stepped toward the one who fell off of his chair and was prostrate on the floor. His head was at her feet and she punted it like a soccer ball. Thud, the man fainted in one hit.
The second man. He held his head and groaned. He probably hit his head after falling over the chairs. Aileen stabbed him in the thigh, preventing him from using his legs.
The third man. He desperately struggled to shake off the shadow. She slashed his right arm and as the pain made him stop struggling, she delivered a severe blow to his head. The knuckle guard and pommel of her saber smashed into his face.
The fourth man. He froze in his seat, unmoving. Aileen’s movements flowed as she blew him head first into the wall with a roundhouse kick.
The fifth man. The magic seemed to be wearing off; the shadow around him began to fade. He crawled to the door, so Aileen stopped him with a cut to both of his calves in one sweep.
The sixth man. Aileen took care of the men around the table in a counterclockwise fashion before she noticed him. He sank to the floor, trying to shake the shadow off of his face. This man was none other than Borris.
“Borris, you piece of shit!!”
His body gave a start and trembled when someone suddenly called his name in the darkness. Aileen grabbed him by the collar and dragged him to his feet.
“Ah, w-who… what!?”
Borris, even while frightened, tried to tear at the hand that gripped his collar, but Aileen stabbed her saber into the floor and ruthlessly punched him down.
Bam! He staggered and put his hands on the wall, his head was spinning. For better or worse, the blow knocked the shadow off his face and he regained his vision.
Immediately, a cry stifled in his throat.
“That one was for Lily…”
Borris’ eyes darted around—the unfeeling expression on Aileen’s face sent a chill down his spine. However, her blue eyes were lit with rage.
Wham! She broke his jaw with a left uppercut.
He bent over backwards. Stars filled his vision under his eyelids. Blood filled his mouth.
“That one was for Montand!” Aileen yelled and raised her right fist.
She struck him with a strong body blow, making him spew all the alcohol he’d drunk.
“That one was for Kiska!”
Borris retreated a few steps, clutching his stomach.
Aileen pulled back her right leg and said, “And this,” she spun and threw her kick with all her might, “is for me!!”
Her foot hit him in the solar plexus. It was her sure knock-out roundhouse kick.
He couldn’t even scream. He flew back, just like in a funny story, and crashed into the stone wall. “Ah, gu…”
He slowly dragged himself up and leaned his back against the wall. He kept puking all the while moving his hands about as if trying to find something. “Ugh…” He used up the rest of his energy without finding it, and collapsed in a pool of his own vomit.
“Hmph…” Aileen narrowed her eyes and snorted.
“—Ah, damn it, the fuck, what the hell happened?!” Finally, the last man managed to shake off the shadow. “Huh…?”
When he recovered his vision, his movements stopped. He looked around and saw that he was the only one uninjured. All around him were the bodies of his comrades.
Right in front of him, she pulled her saber out of the floor and tapped the back against her shoulder, tap, tap. The unknown, beautiful girl clad in black.
Her smile contained a ferocity that didn’t suit her young beauty.
He stumbled back and fell on his butt. As he still tried to draw back, he involuntarily gave an ingratiating smile.
She put the end of her saber to his throat and said, “—I have some questions for you, dipshit.”
The man could only nod stupidly.
† † †
It was cramped and pitch-black.
Her hands and feet were tied up, and she had a gag in her mouth.
She sat with her knees to her chest, unable to stir in the slightest.
Why… why did it turn into this? she thought absentmindedly with a vacant stare.
Lily’s gaze wandered around the darkness.
This was where she was when she came to her senses.
Cram school ended as usual today, but she was late on her way home. The Cornwell’s son, Juli, pulled her aside to study with her.
Lily wanted to go home, but she couldn’t waste his good will, since he was to be the successor of the Cornwell institution. She ignored his rather uninteresting talks of poems and literature while enjoying some tea. By the time she was able to leave, it had already gotten very late.
Juli was worried for her, so he offered to take her home. However, she wanted to get back quickly. She thought that she’d be fine on her own, and there was no reason to make the son of a noble personally escort her, so she turned him down.
That was her mistake.
She thought that if she had just listened to him, she might not have ended up like this.
Lily took the main road as she always did.
A boy that she didn’t know called out to her.
His clothing wasn’t bad and he was a little older than her, but his eyes had an evil look to them. He told her, “I’m bringing food to Borris-ojichan’s place in celebration of his job, but there’s too much so I was told to get Lily to help.”
To be honest, it sounded strange. Borris lived in the old town, which was dangerous to walk around in at night.
However, from this morning, Borris said that giving the money back by himself would be tough, so he wanted her to go too. She read too much into it and ended up going along with it.
The boy took out a piece of honey candy, which was maybe a little too big, and offered it to her, “Want some?”
She took it and put it in her mouth and marched into the old town with the boy leading the way.
Then—that’s where her memory became fuzzy. The last of what she remembered were the roads looked like they were turning into alleys, and the candy in her mouth broke apart and released a strange tasting powder. After that, the world started to spin and, as if she were in a dream the whole time, she woke up like this.
I wonder… What’s going to happen to me… she asked herself over and over with a dead expression. She was vaguely aware that she had been kidnapped and was being confined. She cried, she screamed, and she struggled—but her stamina had already run out.
Will I be taken by some scary guys… and forced into labor…?
The first things that came to mind were ‘slavery’ and ‘prostitution’. She imagined a scary man with a whip and being forced to do hard labor in a mine or something.
She was still too young to imagine what other, possibly worse, outcomes there could be.
However, that didn’t change the fact that she was terrified. She quietly sobbed into the gag. Maybe she had cried too much already, as no tears came from her already red eyes. Mom… Dad… Save me… I won’t be selfish, I’ll study harder, I’ll listen better. I want to see you, Dad, Mom…
She scrunched up her face in the dark.
She prayed. Without speaking, she cried.
A loud metallic clang suddenly came from above.
She jolted in surprise and looked upward. The sound of metal on metal screeched. Her eyes widened at the sudden change of the situation and she began to tremble like a criminal on death row awaiting the time of her execution.
More and more light poured through the crack as it gradually widened. Her only thought to the warm light was, the outside.
Will I get out of here?
Or… will I be taken out of here?
“Mmmn!! Mnmnnn!!” Lily’s sense of fear suddenly returned, and in spite of hardly being able to move, she mustered her strength to try to resist and twisted around.
But the voice she heard sounded familiar and kind. She stopped moving.
“Lily! Are you okay?!”
Lily saw Aileen’s face peering down at her from the opening.
“Are you hurt?! Wait one sec, I’ll get you out right away!”
Aileen leaned over and with her right hand grabbed onto the rope on Lily’s back. Then, with unimaginable strength in her slender arms, she pulled Lily out in one go.
Aileen narrowed her gaze at the gag and tightly bound rope around her. “So cruel, to such a small kid… What a thing to do.”
Lily couldn’t keep up with what was going on, she blinked with surprise.
Aileen quickly cut the rope with her knife and removed the gag.
“I’m here to save you, Lily. It’s alright now.”
She smiled softly and ruffled Lily’s hair to try and give her peace of mind.
Lily was able to realize that somehow, she was saved. Her red eyes that she thought had run out of tears quickly welled up again. “O…nee-chaaan!!”
“There, there. It was scary, wasn’t it?”
She clung to Aileen, hugging her and crying. For a moment, Aileen looked like she was about to cry, too. She closed her eyes and held Lily’s tiny body close to her. “It’s okay… It’s all okay now.”
Lily’s face was covered in tears and snot. Like a comforting a baby, Aileen slowly rocked her back and forth. Aileen gently stroked her back. “Now… No more crying. It’d be a shame if you ruined your pretty face, Lily.”
“Ehu, onee-cha, onee-chan.”
“Your mom and dad are waiting…let’s go home.”
“Y…eah, le..t’s go…” She pulled away from Aileen and stood up, rubbing her eyes and nodded.
Aileen gave a small smile. This whole situation was unfortunate, but at least she wasn’t harmed.
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