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Chapter 3

Assassins and the Assassins Guild

The young monk who had guided Red and friends into the back office of the holy church was walking on a side street during the evening. His steps were quick as he made his way toward the city gate from downtown.


A smile crossed his face. Bishop Shien had promised that the holy church would protect those families of devouts who lived outside of town.

The monk’s family lived in a small farming settlement about a thirty minutes’ walk toward the sea from Zoltan. He was on his way there now.

Their landlord was not a bad person, but with their harvest being split between the local lord, the landlord, and the holy church, the monk’s family did not have anything left for themselves. They managed to get by on potatoes and beans they grew in the small plot behind their home. The monk was the second son of his family, and had been born with the Divine Blessing of the Cleric.

When it had been decided that he would join the Zoltan holy church, his kin celebrated with a delicious stew of potatoes and ground meat—something he had never had before—along with wheat biscuits and apple cider.

That night, his mother had apologetically given him warm-looking, patchwork long underwear.

“It doesn’t look like much, but I was worried you’d catch a cold. Be sure to wear it at night.”

The monk had treasured the piece of clothing and had never caught a chill, even on winter eves.

He dreamed of running a small holy church himself and supporting his family there so they could live an easier life. The goal was still very distant, but with the recent crisis, he was allowed to bring his family to the most splendid building in Zoltan, its cathedral.

Despite the emergency, the monk was glad that, for the first time, he could actually provide something for his family.

After kicking a pebble, the young devout snapped back to his senses and looked ahead.

A man was sitting in the middle of the road. There was a large ax placed on the ground in front of him, glinting with moonlight.

Getting a bad feeling, the priest decided to turn around and take another route. But two more men were already approaching from behind. Panicking, he tried to flee down a narrow alley between two fences.


The monk found himself knocked to the ground. Yet another person had been lurking in the alley—a broad-shouldered, well-built man. The monk recognized his face.

“Y-you’re from the Thieves Guild!”

Bishop Shien had protected a prostitute who had fled from her boss. This was that boss.

The monk knew nothing of the underworld, but he had heard Bishop Shien and one of the underlings of the fearsome Bighawk talking once.

“I think you owe me somethin’.”

The man had a fearsome club studded with nails in one hand. He grinned down at the monk.

The young devout had only led the prostitute into the back of the holy church while Bishop Shien stood in her boss’s way. He had certainly felt a swell of righteous indignation when he saw all the scars on her body, but he had not actually done anything to this man directly.

Obviously, the boss was uninterested in such technicalities and was looking to vent some frustration.

“Oy, don’t kill him yet. We’re using him to blackmail the bishop,” one of the ruffians approaching from behind said.

His thief’s blade was colored black to better blend into the night.

“Tch. I know, I know. Don’t go orderin’ me around.”

“What’s that? You talkin’ back to me?”

“Don’t go actin’ all high an’ mighty, mister former candidate for the big leagues! You’re just a piece of shit like me now.”

“The hell’d you say?!”

Bloodlust swelled from the man with the sword, but the one with the club displayed no sign of backing down, his rotted teeth showing as he scowled.

“If you wanna kill each other so bad, just say the word when we’re done. I’ll gladly end the both of you. Right now, you do what I say,” commanded the man with the ax, silencing the arguing pair.

“I—I ain’t gonna go against you.” The ruffians all nodded in agreement with the one who spoke, fear on their faces.

The monk was terrified and couldn’t stop trembling.

“Don’t kill him, just break a leg. It’d be a pain if he ran,” instructed the ax wielder. He stood and sauntered over. His weapon was large enough that it was difficult to imagine a human handling it.


The monk tried to flee, but the man with the club tripped him, sending the poor devout tumbling to the ground again. “Heh-heh. Guess I’ll let you off with just a leg then.” He raised his weapon.

The monk wasn’t accustomed to combat, and thus did the worst thing he could have: He closed his eyes, leaving himself defenseless.


Before the brute with the club could strike, someone caught his hand from the dark.

“W-who’re you?!”

I twisted his arm.

“Owww! Leggo!!”

The club thudded to the ground, and I knocked its owner aside.

“Gah! I’ll fucking murder you!!!”

Enraged, he swung at me with his fist, but I dodged and landed a solid punch straight to his face.


The man went flying and crashed to the ground. It didn’t seem like he’d be getting up for a while yet. Blood ran from his nose.

“If you run that way, you’ll be safe. Just keep moving and don’t look back,” I instructed.

“Y-yes, sir!”

The young monk scurried off as quickly as his legs could manage. Trading places with him, I stepped into the street.

“Y-you’re that asshole Red!”

“Now, what could I have done that a thief remembers my name?” I said.

“Don’t play dumb with me! Whose fault d’ya think it is that we’re doing shit like this?!”

The brutes drew their swords.

An awkward, knowing smile formed on my face. “Ahhh. Now I understand.”

The thieves froze with their weapons still drawn.

“I’ve been wondering who was lurking in the dark so stealthily.”

The men collapsed to the ground like puppets whose strings had been cut. There was a small shadow behind them.

“That’s my line, Red.”

With a concerned expression, Tisse confirmed that the two she’d dispatched were unconscious.

When Rit, Ruti, and I had left after speaking to Bishop Shien, I’d noticed an unsavory group was watching the cathedral.

Recalling what Godwin had said, I had Rit and Ruti go home first and watched the situation from the shadows. When the men started tailing the monk, I had followed.

“I’ve been on guard because I noticed a presence so faint it felt like my imagination,” Tisse stated.

“You took the words out of my mouth. I was on edge wondering what manner of powerful enemy capable of hiding so well was lurking in the alley,” I replied.

That was why I had waited until the last moment before helping the monk. Tisse and I had both been hesitant because we were wary of each other.

I turned to the one remaining opponent, the man with the big ax. “So, that just leaves you. That’s a pretty large weapon you’ve got there.”

The blade of it was about as wide as an adult’s torso.

“Taking your time chatting in front of me… Backwater adventurers really lack a sense of danger,” the man spat with a sneer. “I’m Bloody Jack from the Assassins Guild.”

“Did you say the Assassins Guild?”

What was this guy doing introducing himself?

I glanced over at Tisse. Her eyes were filled with disgust.

“This ax here’s called the Giantslayer. A hero once felled a sun giant, one of the strongest kinds of giants, with this very weapon.”

Why was he introducing his ax, too?

I glanced over at Tisse. She was looking down, as if in shame.

“Hey, Tisse, you think he’s actually a member of the Assassins Guild?”

“That should go without saying. Please leave this to me.”

“Hm? I don’t mind, but…”

Compared to his Giantslayer, Tisse’s shortsword was like a sewing needle. At a glance, it didn’t look particularly reassuring. However, I could feel a tremendous murderous intent coming from Tisse, though the man she would fight hadn’t noticed yet. Perhaps that was because Tisse had learned how to mask her feelings as a hired killer.

“What’s that, little lady? You want to fight me by yourself?”

“Yes. You said that you are from the Assassins Guild, so that makes dealing with you my job.”

“You got a score to settle with the guild? Heh-heh. Fine by me. I love killing people who’re out for revenge.”

Everything he said seemed to tick Tisse off. The more he spoke, the more her fury swelled.

If I was up against her in her present state, I’d run. Yet this guy didn’t appear to notice his impending demise. He was all smiles as he pulled a vial from his cloak and downed its contents.


His muscles swelled.

“Power of Gorilla! I have the strength of a great ape now!”

He grabbed his Giantslayer in both hands and swung it up over his head.

Ahhh, so he needs magic potions to lift his weapon, I thought.

“What do you think, girlie?! My Giantslayer ain’t just for show!”

“It’s unnecessary.”


Tisse stepped forward, entirely unafraid.

“Dumbass! I’ll split you in two!”

The man brought Giantslayer down, splitting the road with a loud crash. By the time it made impact, Tisse had already vanished, though.

“An assassin has no need for that clumsy weapon, nor such loose lips. In fact, I would be hard pressed to find any aspect of you that’s appropriate for the job.” She had already slipped close enough that she could strike with her blade. “An assassin needs only a weapon capable of piercing their target’s heart. Nothing more.”

The man dropped to his knees, still grinning. He’d probably never realized he was going to die.

“My apologies.”

“There’s nothing to apologize for. He was serious about killing you.”

The young monk had run to Shien, so we left the cleanup of the incident to the local members of the holy church.

The three thieves had been hurt badly, but they would live. The self-proclaimed assassin was a different matter, though.

Tisse and I were sitting on a stair by the side of the road, eating some oden.

She had gone to get the food from the stall we frequented, and while the flavor was still good, it had gone cold and hard during the trip back here.

“When he brought the guild into it, it became my job to kill him,” Tisse explained.

“Part of the Assassins Guild’s code?”

“The guild rules are not as strict as most outsiders think. It’s actually a similar system to the Adventurers Guild. It’s a strictly offer-based system, which sets it apart, but it’s up to each assassin to decide whether to take a job or not.”

“So you don’t have to kill someone if you don’t want to?”

“Yes. And if you take a job, but decide you can’t finish it, you can pass it off to another. We rescue any comrades who mess up and are captured, too. Members can retire when they please as well.”

“Now that you mention it, I remember some assassins escaping prison back in the capital.”

“There’s no changing the role expected of the Assassin blessing, but at least we can live decent lives. Those in the guild are never to be treated as disposable. That’s the entire reason the organization exists.”

Mister Crawly Wawly was rubbing Tisse’s shoulder gently. Her eyes narrowed a bit as she gently massaged the spider’s stomach.

“The guild’s formal stance on never carrying out a hit that disrupts society is just a pretext to protect itself from formal retaliation by nations.”

“Really? The Assassins Guild is feared just about everywhere I’ve been. Even in Avalonia…,” I said.

“A useful façade to hide behind,” Tisse responded.

Her changes in expression were still quite minor, but I recognized the smile on her face. She looked like someone letting me in on a secret.

“The Assassin blessing thrives in situations where its users can operate at an advantage. If we were faced with an overwhelming army, we’d have no hope of winning. So then what do we do to keep from being wiped out? Thoughts like that are always on our minds.”

Assassins went against the laws of society. But the Assassin blessing was Demis’s will like every other, and some people wanted to live in accordance with the urges of that blessing. Ultimately, the impulses of a Divine Blessing were more powerful than mortal laws. Thus assassins created a guild in order to protect themselves.

That was what Tisse was saying.

The Assassins Guild was the largest organization of hired killers, and it wielded influence throughout the continent, but there were also similar, lesser groups.

In Avalonia, there had been the Band of the Scorpion, who had taken a job from the demon lord’s army to take out Ruti. Unlike the guild, which only gathered people with blessings from the assassin line, this group picked up orphans and subjected them to harsh training, brainwashing them to become disposable pawns.

Those organizations existed for the purpose of covert killing, while the Assassins Guild existed to help assassins.

“The Assassins Guild is always at odds with those other hitman-type groups. It’s a foundational difference in doctrine.”


“That’s why the guild dictates that any assassin who misrepresents themself as a member of the guild must be killed. It hurts our reputation. And any strays who leave to take jobs the guild disapproves of cannot be tolerated.”

“I’ve heard rumors about former members facing off against the guild,” I commented.

“It’s fine to leave if you aren’t going to work as an assassin. The guild believes that each person is free to choose whether to kill or not. But taking reckless jobs is unacceptable,” Tisse said.

“That makes sense.”

The guild’s goal was to create a place for assassins among society. Any who caused trouble threatened that object.

“Tisse… Did you come across something that’s bothering you?” I was a little unsure whether I should say something. Still, she was my friend.

Tisse exhaled as Mister Crawly Wawly patted her shoulder.

“Mister Crawly Wawly… You’re right. It’s my problem to deal with, but…” Tisse paused and looked forward before continuing. “There are signs of real assassins in Zoltan—strays who left the guild.”

“Real assassins?”

“I live as Ms. Ruti’s friend now, but they’re still my responsibility to handle.”

“I don’t know if they’re who you mean, but I saw three people with Assassin blessings recently,” I said.

Tisse’s eyes went wide. “You did?! Could you please tell me more?”

“Well, I only got a glance…”

I told her what I knew about the people Rit and I had seen in the harbor district.

“There’s no mistaking it. Those three are the strays,” Tisse concluded. After listening to me, she seemed certain. All I had recounted were their blessing levels and general appearances, yet apparently, that was enough.

If she was that sure…

“Do you know them?”

Tisse’s expression didn’t change, but Mister Crawly Wawly cuddled up against her, as though to soothe the girl.

What a nice spider.

“I suppose the simplest way to put it is they were senior disciples ahead of me,” Tisse replied. “We studied under the same master. We weren’t close, but we lived together and shared meals.”

“So they were comrades.”

“Unlike with adventurers, it wasn’t quite that level of bond. They were comrades in the sense that we shared an occupation, but that connection was gone once it became clear they were taking work from outside the guild’s system.”

“You’ve made it sound like the Assassins Guild offers a fairly reasonable environment. Why would anyone leave?” I questioned.

“Evidently, killing whomever they pleased suited their personalities better. The guild rejects quite a lot of requests.”

Guild work was not steady, apparently. Those in charge tried to manage it so that members could get enough jobs to satisfy their impulses. However, blessings didn’t just cause pain; they also brought joy. Assassins who longed to kill surely felt limited by the guild’s methods.

“Anyway, I’ll need to slay those three,” stated Tisse.

I thought about that for a moment.

“…Would you like me to do it?”

“Eh?” Tisse’s expression froze in shock. “I could never. You have your slow life. There’s no reason for you to get involved.”

“I can’t imagine you want to kill people you know, right? It’s not like I suddenly became a pacifist when I settled down here. I just don’t join battles I don’t want to fight.”

“I appreciate your concern. You really are Ms. Ruti’s brother. Still, I’ll be fine. I call them senior disciples, but I don’t really have any affection for them,” Tisse responded with a shrug.

As best I could tell, that was how she genuinely felt. Tisse was an assassin. She wouldn’t hesitate or show any mercy.

“They are targets to be dispatched.” Tisse stood up, signaling the end of our discussion. “Shall we go back, then? We have people waiting for us.”

“I guess so…,” I replied. I quickly realized something, however. “Actually, no.”

“What is it?”

“I feel like having some warm oden. Let’s stop by Oparara’s stand first.”

Tisse nodded. “That sounds good.”

We set off down the moonlit road together.

Three hours later, Tisse was on a road on the south side of downtown Zoltan, having split up with Red. She was holding a bag with a container of oden as she walked along the road.

Mister Crawly Wawly was hanging from her arm, peeking into the bag. Within was some food for Ruti: chicken balls, daikon, beef tendon, and an egg.

There was no chikuwa because the price of fish had gone up. Chikuwa was made from minced fish meat, and a small stall like Oparara’s could not afford to keep stocking it now. Oparara tried to deal with it by selling things like chicken balls, but the taste wasn’t the same.

“Hahhh. Curse those Veronian fiends…!”

For Tisse, who firmly believed that chikuwa was the pinnacle of oden, the Veronian galley had become an intolerable presence.

Her investigation over the past few days was reaching its final stage.

Difficult though it was to get news from beyond Zoltan’s borders, there were still people to ask, from the Veronian sailors to all the other people who had brought in things to trade from foreign lands.

Tisse also had information from the Assassins Guild, though it was several months old now.

So the pirate king who conquered the seas of three different countries now lies on his death bed…

As the ruler of Veronia, King Geizeric couldn’t let his weakness show, given the delicate state of the world. He attended important ceremonial functions and gave the utmost care to prevent domestic political issues. However, there was still no concealing that his time was almost up. Having faced death countless times as an assassin, Tisse understood from her intel that the man’s end was near.

I suppose I should get started.

Tisse ducked into a rarely used alley, still carrying the bag of oden in her left hand as she drew her hidden sword.

“On to us, eh?”

A long-eared man emerged from the dark. It was one of the high elves on Prince Salius’s ship.

While he was getting fired up at the prospect of a fight, Tisse looked annoyed and muttered to herself about having to battle twice in one day.

Unfortunately, the change in her expression was too slight to make those feelings apparent.

“You’re no ordinary person, are you,” the high elf remarked. He was holding a trident in his right hand and a folded-up net in his left.

Seems pretty clear he’s got a Gladiator blessing, Tisse surmised.

Exceedingly few blessings specialized in such a unique combination of weapons. Gladiator favored fighting before a crowd. Naturally, the majority of its combat skills still worked without spectators.

The high elf grinned. “You’re a strong one. But I’m not here to fight.”

“Then what business do you have?” Tisse pressed.

“We’ve got your comrade. If you want her back safe, then come with me to the ship.”


Tisse sunk into thought at that.

“Comrade” would presumably mean Ruti, but there’s no one who could take her hostage. So Red or Rit, then? Yet even with a low estimation of their might, it’d take at least ten Veronian warships for a chance at capturing them… I can’t really think of anyone they would have other than the stray cat Ruti and I are feeding. Does he mean those three assassins? No, that can’t be…

Mister Crawly Wawly and Tisse were both at a loss.

“You seem surprised. I’ve got the Scouter skill, so I know when someone’s blessing is a higher or lower level than mine. I’m level 39, and you surpass me. You can count the number of people in Veronia who outstrip me on one hand, so it’s a shock to find a person like you in the middle of nowhere out here.”

That’s not too shabby, mused Tisse.

Were this high elf in the Assassins Guild, he’d be an elite, and in a band of knights, his strength would likely make him a company leader. His claim about being one of the best in Veronia was no empty boast.

That’s not to say he was any match for Tisse, though.

“I also know just how weak that friend of yours in the armor was.”


“There’s no point hiding it. Her level was lower than mine. And my buddy who was with me has the Slave Hunter blessing. He’s got a skill that works on enemies weaker than him, and we’re the same level. Your friend’s got no chance.”


“Play dumb all you like. I know you’re worried on the inside.”

All I am is confused.

The situation was growing more befuddling by the minute.

Ruti’s level was higher than Tisse’s. There was no doubting she possessed the highest level in the world. How could that Slave Hunter’s ability have registered it as lower?

Was it because he sensed New Truth?

Tisse, Rit, and Red all lacked a way to detect another’s blessing. Red could guess fairly accurately, but that was only because of his research. Thus, they’d never known what would happen when someone with a skill that could analyze blessings tried it on Ruti.

So it picked up on New Truth instead of the Hero. I don’t imagine someone with the Sage or Saint blessings who can use Appraisal will come to Zoltan, but Inquisitor and Witch Hunter can identify skills and blessing levels, too. If someone with one of those ran into Ruti and learned about New Truth, we could have a problem.

Mister Crawly Wawly leaped up at the gravity of the situation.

They would have to warn Ruti about this later.

“Oy, what are you doing getting lost in thought. Are you really higher level than me?” snapped the high elf. Tisse glowered indignantly, but because it did not show in her expression, the high elf continued to act superior. “I’ll signal for my buddy to haul your friend over, so just be a good girl until then.”

“I see…”

This guy doesn’t realize how much danger he’s in.

She owed him nothing, of course, but she suspected it was better to stop him from getting himself killed.

“You should really tell your partner to hurry over as quick as he can.”

“Threatening me, eh? Beating me won’t change a thing. Your friend is ours, and unless you do what you’re told, she’ll be subjected to some pretty gruesome torture. The Veronian navy’s not kind. Even the strongest men end up bawling like babies, begging to die.”

“No, that’s not what I mean,” Tisse stated, but it was no use.

“Plus, I’ve got the Divine Blessing of the Gladiator. I fight best one-on-one. From the way you dress, I’d guess you’ve got a blessing from the Thief tree. Can you really afford to act so calm?” The high elf smirked.

“She was probably getting ready for bed… Hopefully, she didn’t kill him without asking questions first…,” Tisse muttered pensively.

The high elf was getting more and more annoyed as the girl he’d hoped to intimidate continually ignored him.

“What, you one of those Demon-Possessed or Dual Mind types who can’t be reasoned with?”

After a rude snort, the high elf pirate adopted a battle stance. He hadn’t intended to fight, but if Tisse had a blessing that kept her from conversing normally, then he surmised it was equally probable she could attack at any moment. She might not even care about her friend being held captive.

The high elf flexed his arm holding the net, ready to move at a moment’s notice.


However, something came flying in from above with tremendous force, slamming into him before he had a chance to react.


Even Tisse was shocked and required a moment to register what transpired.

There were now two high elves in front of her, and they both appeared in a pitiable state. Fortunately, their high levels had saved them from death.

“There’s no way…” Tisse nervously turned around. The alley she was standing in was several hundred meters from Ruti’s place.

She threw him?!

Everything Tisse knew of the world said that was beyond human capability. Ruti was no giant.

Wait, she actually tossed a giant one time.

Tisse remembered when the Hero’s party had been attacked by a bunch of mountain giants. Ruti had not felt like dealing with them, so she stowed her sword, grabbed the mountain giants attacking her, and tossed them over a cliff in succession. It had ended with the giants running from Ruti in a twisted game of tag. That had happened shortly after Tisse had joined the group, making it a formative memory of sorts.

If Ruti could hoist such a massive creature, tossing a high elf must have been simple by comparison.

And she aimed for the other one, too.

Seeing the high elves twitching, Tisse let out a dry chuckle, her face still as expressionless as ever.

Ruti really is something.

The day after my evening with Tisse, I was dishing out plates full of pasta salad for breakfast as I listened to her explain what had happened after we’d split up.

“What did you do with them?” I asked.

“After Ms. Ruti healed the two, we tied them up and threw them in a room we weren’t using.”

“The oden was cold,” Ruti remarked, picking a rather odd detail to get annoyed about. Her eyebrows flared slightly as she clenched her fists in front of her chest in an attempt to convey just how villainous the pair of pirates were.

Her definition of wickedness being that the oden had gone cold because of all the talking was probably why Tisse once claimed that Ruti’s world was a bit askew compared to normal people’s.

It was a quirk, to be sure. But I thought it was adorable!

“Hm.” Tisse’s lips spread into a bit of an odd expression, as if she had realized what I was thinking from the look on my face.

Come afternoon, Rit, Ruti, Tisse, Mister Crawly Wawly, Bishop Shien, and I met at the city gate.

Rit and I only had our shop to deal with, but Ruti, Tisse, and Bishop Shien had been running all around Zoltan. The ruffians from last night had been trying to blackmail Bishop Shien, who was the core of the faction opposed to giving in to Prince Salius. A higher-up in the Thieves Guild had apparently put them up to it. He had reached out to the remnants of Bighawk’s faction to stir them to action.

Shien had demanded the Thieves Guild deal with the mastermind, but he also instructed the members of his clergy not to go out alone and to stay off the streets at night.

Obviously, it would have been nice if the city guards could help, but they were already short on staff. Maintaining the peace around town would probably fall to adventurers.

Moen was holding the high elves whom Lilinrala had sent in his jail. However, he was still holding back on reporting their capture to the Zoltan authorities. A decision would be made after seeing how Lilinrala’s side reacted.

Unfortunately, there was also trouble brewing with the Merchants Guild, too. It was the organization hit the hardest by the present circumstances.

“You’ve been working hard.”

“I have been. Pet me more.” Ruti’s eyes narrowed as she urged me to keep stroking her head.

During my time in the Hero’s party, I had been the one in charge of diplomatic matters, yet Ruti had been handling those in Zoltan all on her own since yesterday.

I was happy to see her growing, but it was also a little sad. Perhaps that was the fate of all older siblings.

“I’m sad I can’t go with you, but leave Zoltan to me.”

Over the past few days, Ruti had become a big figure in town. Before this, the bigwigs in Zoltan had relied more on Tisse. The two girls were similarly stone-faced, but Tisse was easier to understand how to deal with than Ruti, who did things in such unorthodox ways. All that changed when the Veronian galley arrived, however.

Ruti had united the panicking people and conducted herself well, both in her actions and her instructions to others.

“I did it all just like you taught me, Big Brother,” she whispered proudly.

I was certainly happy to hear that. The Hero’s journey had been filled with difficulty for Ruti, but it was good to know our time together hadn’t been for nothing.

My little sister had absorbed all the knowledge I’d learned as a knight and meshed it with her own abilities. My little sister was perfect… Other than her communication skills, of course… Everyone had their weak points, though.

Her deeds had earned her the trust of Zoltan’s leaders, to the point that they’d listen to her instructions without protest. Ruti had it all under control, making her capable of accomplishing more in Zoltan at the moment than even Galatine or Moen. That’s why she had to stay behind instead of coming with us into the forest.

“I’m sorry you ended up with all the responsibility, Ms. Ruti,” Tisse apologized.

Ruti smiled and shook her head. “You are closer to Mistorm than I am. If one of us needs to stay behind, then it should be me.”

“Ms. Ruti…”

Perhaps my sister’s social skills were better than I thought.

Tisse’s friendship was gradually pushing Ruti to change for the better. And that filled me with joy.

“All right, shall we head out?” Bishop Shien proposed after checking the condition of the riding drakes.

The four creatures belonged to the holy church, and had an excellent shine to their brown scales. They had been well cared for.


One of the drakes bumped my head with a horn.

It seemed a little uneasy. Maybe it was a bit finicky?

I massaged around its chin to relax it as I stepped into the stirrup and swung myself onto the saddle.

“Gyahhh!” the drake roared happily. Its unease seemed to give way to the excited anticipation of being able to run to its heart’s content.

It was cloudy today.

The colorful grasslands had dulled in color from the cold winter.


“Don’t get down.”

The drakes were walking leisurely instead of running.

Mine seemed upset at not being able to stride quickly across the wide-open plain, its body trembling and nostrils flaring in protest.

I patted the base of the drake’s horns to soothe it.


It looked like that managed to help a bit.

“Mistorm and Yarandrala are staying in a settlement hidden from the people of Zoltan. I’d rather not rush in and draw attention,” Shien explained as he chuckled awkwardly at our irritated mounts.

“Even so, it can’t be too far, right?” I asked.

“Yes, we should arrive in about an hour at this rate.”

It was nice to have the riding drakes, since we were passing over wild land with no roads. The beasts didn’t falter once, even on softer terrain.

“Are there any signs of someone following us?” I asked.

Hearing that, Rit’s ears—wolf ones—perked up and twitched. She sniffed a few times and then nodded.

“Yeah, it’s fine! There’s no one nearby.”

She was using a spell called Aspect of Wolf. As the name implied, it enabled the user to adopt a wolf’s senses.

Aspect spells belonged in the category of transformation ones. By using them, you gained some physical qualities of a particular beast.

There were four categories of transformation magic: power, aspect, form, and shape.

Power spells granted a portion of the creature’s ability, but the user remained physically unaltered. So with Power of Wolf, you would add a wolf’s muscular strength to your own.

However, the aspect, form, and shape spells all changed your body. Form of Wolf shifted the caster into a bipedal lupine being. Shape of Wolf allowed you to become a wolf proper. As for Aspect of Wolf…

“Hmhm ”

There was a bushy wolf tail poking out from under Rit’s skirt, swaying back and forth as we rode through the field. Furry ears were poking from her head, too.

That was how aspect spells operated. They granted you a few visible qualities of the animal.

It was so…cute. I found myself really wanting to pet Rit’s head.


Seemingly noticing my gaze, Rit turned around.

That’s a wolf’s senses for you. I waved my hand to say it was nothing and looked away, a little embarrassed.

“Hey, Red.”

“Hm? What is it?”

Rit slowed her drake a bit to ride beside me. “Hup!” She stood up in the saddle and batted her tail against my cheek.

“So fluffy.”

“Right?” Rit laughed, her wolf ears flitting. “I was surprised, too. It’s my first time using a wolf spell. I’ve done Aspect of Otter, Bat, and I tried Elk once before, too.”

I would love to see a round-eared otter Rit with a long, thin tail and an impish-looking bat Rit.

“…An elk?” I questioned.

“They do well in the cold and don’t get tired trekking over snowy mountains. It’s a good fit for Loggervia’s climate,” Rit answered.

I was imagining Rit covered with soft fur, but the spell shouldn’t have been capable of something that significant.

“When I used Aspect of Elk, umm, my legs got really, really muscular, so… I’d rather not show that one off.”


Aspect magic was certainly intriguing. When things calmed down, perhaps we could try a few.

A forest grew in the middle of some marshy wetland approximately thirty kilometers from Zoltan.

Countless thin trees with twisted roots extended from the mud. It was an uncommonly dark place for Zoltan.

“Hardly seems like a pleasant spot to live,” I commented when I saw my drake sink all the way to its knees in the soft earth.

“I agree,” Bishop Shien responded. He sounded almost sad.

The hidden settlement where Mistorm and Yarandrala were hiding lay somewhere in these woods. Since it was a village, that suggested others resided there, too.

“Woah there.”

I sliced a lesser slime that suddenly dropped from a tree.

Lesser slimes possessed no intelligence, so it hadn’t been aiming for me. Rather, it had just conveniently dropped when a target was below. That’s what I thought, anyhow.

Rit’s wolf ears twitched. “There’s something up there,” she said.

A moment later, a shower of lesser slimes fell from above.

Shien wasted no time intoning a spell. “Wind of righteous destruction and revelation! Tornado Cutter!”

A furious wind swirled above our heads. The raging gale shredded the monsters, destroying them all.

“Not good! Not good!”

I caught a hushed voice from above. Monsters that looked like humanoid frogs were fleeing, hopping from branch to branch. These creatures were called grippas.

They were skilled at climbing trees using the sticky fluid they produced from their hands, and they were relatively intelligent. Grippas were even known to use weapons made by humans that they found.

Evidently, they were the ones that had dropped the slimes on us. I guess they’d hoped to catch us off guard while we were dealing with the barrage.

“Should we chase after them?” I inquired.

“No, our goal isn’t to slay monsters,” Bishop Shien responded. “Also, the grippas help keep others away from this place,” he added with a mysterious sort of grin. “As a member of the clergy, I can’t condone monsters that threaten human safety, but…”

“I get it. Sorry for asking.”

The people of this secluded village wanted their home to remain that way.

Zoltan was the gathering ground of people who had fled from other lands. There was a tacit understanding not to pry. This place wasn’t too different, in a way.

After another five minutes of slogging through the marsh, we arrived at the secret village.

A single old man was sitting on a tree root.

“What’s this… You folks get lost and stumble all the way here?”

He looked like hunter. He wore a bearskin, had a staff in his hands, a bow at his side, and a knife carved out of a deer’s antler at his waist. There was no trace of metal anywhere on him.

“Gomes. You look to be doing well. It’s me, Shien.”

“Oh, Shien. Nice of you to stop by.”

The old man’s wrinkled face broke into a smile. He could hardly open his eyes because of how thick his lids had become, but what little of them was visible was a cloudy white. He must have had some very serious cataracts. Normally, it would be impossible to use a bow like that.

“You seem a little haggard, Shien. Have you been eating enough?”

“Hah-hah, I’ve been so busy lately that self-care has fallen by the wayside.”

“That’s no good. You have to make time to eat. Anything can be managed on a full stomach. Oh, did you get a new riding drake?”

“Heh, I’ve been entrusting caring for the riding drakes to others, regrettably.”

“You should know better.”

“Red, he’s…” Rit began.

“Yeah, he’s got the Wind Druid blessing.”

What’s more, he had to be near level 30, high enough to rival a knight from the capital. Although blind, Gomes must have been able to sense things via the whispers of the spirits.

“It’s rare for you to bring visitors.”

“Yarandrala’s friends,” Shien replied. “They came because they are worried about her.”

“Well now, hmm, I can see an odd color about you. You’re something.”

“My name is Red. This is my partner, Rit, and my friend, Tisse.”

“And a small spider as well,” Gomes added.

Tisse smiled slightly at that. Mister Crawly Wawly popped his head out of her bag and waved his right leg in greeting.

“His name is Mister Crawly Wawly.”

“A Mr.… Crawly Wawly?”

“The Mister is part of his name.”

“That’s a pretty unique moniker, but it has a nice ring to it. Yeah, that’s a good name.” Gomes grinned as he stood. “Well then, let me show you to the village.”

“Thank you.”

The blind hunter moved slowly at first, relying on his staff.

We dismounted from our drakes to follow, and our boots immediately sank into the mud.

There was a gathering of small buildings in the gaps between trees.

Unlike the zoog village from our previous trip, a simple human settlement like this generally used earthen walls and tree trunks to make little huts.

“Hey Shien, long time no see.”

“Guests? When you’re done, tell us a bit about the outside world.”

“Have you had lunch yet?”

People called out to Bishop Shien in greeting, and they showed an interest in us, too.

“They’re all quite elderly,” Tisse remarked quietly.

A few homes looked to have been vacant for a while, suggesting that no one new was moving here.

“Not only that, they are all pretty high-level,” I responded.

“Really?” Tisse asked.

Nodding, I explained, “Generally in the low to mid 20s, I think, putting them on the lower side of B-rank adventurers. Age has probably dulled their strength a bit, but… A group like this in Zoltan would have made things very different.”

And yet, they’d chosen to remain here.

In Zoltan, they could have become heroes like Albert, yet they’d elected to hide from the world.

There was a slightly larger structure that stood out from all the others in the village. The other homes were made of wood from trees in the marsh, but this one had been constructed from more solid lumber.

The ground had been paved with magically adhered sand and rock. It showed no signs of shifting, despite the unevenness of the swamp.

“Young Miss!” Gomes called out.

Young Miss?

“Okay, okay! Sheesh! What do you think you’re doing, calling me that in front of my youthful friends!”

The door opened, and Mistorm stepped out, and beside her…

“Why did you follow me?”

Yarandrala looked a bit troubled, though there was a pleased smile on her face.

“So, care to explain yourself?” I said.

“I could ask the same of you.”

Yarandrala puffed out her cheeks and looked to one side. “You’ve already stepped away from the front lines. You should leave things to your reliable big sister.”

“Big sister, huh?”

It had been a while since I heard that.

Yarandrala had become my friend shortly after I’d arrived in the capital, when I was still just a boy. Whenever I attempted to help her with a dangerous problem, she always tried to brush me aside with that line. Hearing it was pretty nostalgic.

We first met when I was in the Bahamut Knights, back when I was nine. I was a kid alone in the big city, and Yarandrala was one of the few people I could speak freely with.

At the time, she really had been something like a much older sister. Honestly, the title was pretty fitting. Unfortunately, Yarandrala was only half reliable. The other half was always sticking her nose into trouble the moment you stopped watching her.

“It feels like you’re thinking something really disrespectful,” Yarandrala said, narrowing her eyes at me. “Hahhh… Whatever. I get it. I should have at least let you know.”

“Obviously. If it was something you could handle alone, I would have still happily supported you. And were it anything larger, I’d pitch in directly. You would have been really upset if I’d done this to you.”

“W-well, yeah, I guess so. But is this all right with you, Rit?” Yarandrala inquired.

“Me?” Rit looked a bit surprised when the conversation suddenly shifted to her, but she quickly fired back, “I’m upset.”

Her face was honestly a little scary. Yarandrala was her dear friend as well as mine. It was no surprise to hear she was angry that the high elf had up and vanished.

“I’m sorry.” Yarandrala finally acknowledged her mistake.

“Now now, don’t give the poor girl too much of a hard time. I’m the one they’re seeking, so it’s my fault.”

Mistorm had gone to get some tea and returned just in time to defend Yarandrala.

“That being the case, could you please explain the situation?” Tisse asked once Mistorm sat down.

“An opponent who pushed you to your limit and managed to escape from Yarandrala while carrying his wounded friends…,” I muttered.

Apparently, Yarandrala had been looking for Mistorm on the night of the festival for two reasons.

The first was because Mistorm had cast Demon’s Flare, a spell used by upper-tier demons in the demon lord’s army. It was a fearsome spell that transformed magic power into flames and then loosed them in a terrible blaze. A single mage could change the course of a fight with Demon’s Flare. It was enough to push back an army of thousands. When the demon lord’s army unleashed it in battle, our forces had been wiped out. Even the Bahamut Knights had been grievously injured. It had pushed us to the brink of a total collapse.

How was Mistorm able to use a spell that powerful? Had I seen her cast it back when I was a member of the Hero’s party, I would have investigated. I’d elected not to, though.

However, Yarandrala was different. She hadn’t given up the life of a hero to take it easy. Mistorm had caught her interest, and she had investigated.

Because she was on her guard, Yarandrala had noticed the stray assassins pursuing Mistorm sooner than anyone else. No matter how skilled the hired killers were, they weren’t going to slip past a Singer of the Trees who could communicate with plants. Not unless they knew she was watching for them beforehand.

And that was the second reason. While Yarandrala had been enjoying the festival with us that day, she had also been in contact with the flora, keeping an eye on Mistorm, and she’d rushed to the older woman’s side the moment she detected danger.

“He was stronger than I expected, though,” Yarandrala admitted with a frown. “I thought Mistorm would be able to fend off most anyone, so I panicked a little when she got concerned. I also hadn’t expected him to be able to escape my magic.”

“Prince Salius’s battleship hadn’t arrived at that point. If you’d known this was more than some local Zoltan issue, then you might have guessed someone with a high blessing level was involved… You could have come to me about this, you know,” I said.

“Mgh.” Yarandrala looked a little pained.

“I would have noticed his level, and if the two of us fought together, there’s no way he would have escaped.”


“You can’t protect Mistorm and go after those responsible. That’s why you’ve been staying here, locked in a stalemate, right? I’m sure it’s been frustrating.”

“…Yeah. I was actually struggling with what to do next.”

Even if Yarandrala was a great hero who had battled it out with the demon lord’s army countless times, she was still only one person.

“Next time, please let me know what’s going on. I promise I won’t butt into things you can take care of yourself. I’m glad you care so much about our quiet life, but I don’t want you getting hurt over it.”

“That’s pretty selfish,” chided Yarandrala.

“That’s the whole point—living our lives the way we want.”

We smiled at each other.


Rit suddenly wrapped her arm around me from behind.

“Y-yes?” I replied.

“What was that about ‘if the two of us fought’?”

“Hn? Ah…”

“After you said all that, did you plan on excluding me?”

Rit’s grip on me tightened.

It was lovely to feel her warmth, but it was right on the line where if she put any more strength into her squeezing, it would really hurt.

“I’m sorry. It was a slip of the tongue,” I assured her.

“Very well, then.”

It truly had been an honest mistake. Mistorm grinned at us.

“You make a good party,” she commented.

“Hah-hah, I must be getting old. It’s almost too much for me,” Shien added.

Undoubtedly, they were recalling their own youthful days as adventurers.

A good party…

I had been pushed out of mine and suffered for it. Things were better now, however. Maybe we really did make a good party. Without realizing it, I had broken into a pleasant smile. The tranquil mood in the room ended abruptly, though, as a shout from outside rang out.

“What’s that? I’ll go take a look real quick.”

Bishop Shien stood and headed for the door.

“I’ll come with you,” I said.

“If you’re going, then I’m coming, too,” Rit declared, and we both followed Shien.

“You take care of things here, Yarandrala, Tisse,” I instructed.

The little assassin nodded. “Understood.”

An ominous feeling settled into my gut. I rested my hand on the hilt of my sword.

Stepping outside, we saw two riding drakes running wild.

The old villagers were trying to calm them, but the beasts showed no signs of stopping.

“What’s going on?”

The riding drakes were the property of the holy church. They should have been carefully trained, so Bishop Shien rushed toward them when he saw them behaving oddly.

“Wait, Bishop! Get away!” I shouted.

I sensed a wicked intelligence and malice in the riding drakes’ red eyes.

“Those aren’t our drakes!”

The creatures leaped into the air and slashed at Shien with their talons. Yet though Shien had grown old, he was still a hero like Mistorm, and had safeguarded Zoltan for decades. He protected his vitals with his left arm and quickly formed a seal with his right hand.

“Tch. What are you? Tornado Cutter!”

A swirl of magic wind swallowed up the two malicious riding drakes. It was no small feat to maintain focus and cast a spell while your arm was being cut.

Such a level of proficiency befit a champion of Zoltan. Unfortunately…

“What?!” Shien shouted.

The drakes transformed into half-drake, half-human forms and tore through the Shien’s spell, closing in on him. The magic hadn’t worked!

Both of our opponents were more powerful than the bishop.

“Not on my watch!”


Rit hurled a pair of throwing knives, shouting to draw the monstrous creatures’ attention instead of hitting them while they were unaware. They both easily deflected the knives with their claws, but that gave Bishop Shien all the time he needed to move away.


I used Lightning Speed to race forward, catching the drake hybrids off guard and tracing my blade across their stomachs.

The scales covering their bodies made them resilient enough that my bronze sword didn’t manage to cut through to their skin. The two drake hybrids leaped backward, and their forms twisted, transforming into humans.

The clothes and swords that had melded into their altered bodies reappeared. I recognized them as two of the stray assassins from the harbor district.

“You really got us. To think you would use Shape of Riding Drake to hide. I shouldn’t have missed that,” I remarked.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We’ve trained to quiet our minds and allow the bestial instincts to control our bodies. It’s impossible to see through without a Sage’s Appraisal skill.”

This pair had studied under the same master as Tisse, but their style was clearly very different. Tisse was the archetypical assassin, relying on stealth and blades. However, these two employed skills from the Assassin blessing that were closer to those found in the Mage tree.

They drew their shortswords and took a stance that resembled Tisse’s. When it came to the fundamentals of combat, they truly had learned together.

Did that mean I could anticipate their moves?

I slowly lowered my sword, taking a lower stance as I kept my guard up.

“You’re a strong one,” one of the men said with a grin. “I like killing strong guys.”

“How nice for you,” I replied.

Bishop Shien was behind me.

His left arm was bleeding, but that had done little to weaken his fighting spirit. Still, for someone who had been out of the action for so long, it was a dangerous wound. He really needed to close it with magic as soon as possible, but he didn’t know me well enough to entrust me with defense while he focused on recovery.

“Red, please focus on guarding. I’ll provide support magic…!”

Shien was prioritizing aiding me—a standard decision.

It would take about twelve seconds for Rit to reach us. Until then, I would have to protect Bishop Shien and the people of the village alone. It was only twelve seconds, but that was more than enough time for the assassins to run someone through with a sword.

I focused on my opponents’ movements while looking for an opening.

“You can have him, so let me kill the girl back there.”

“First come, first serve.”

“I know, I know. But her ass and legs felt crazy nice. I really wanna kill her.”

What? Oh, so you were the drake Rit was riding. I see, I see… So you liked how her butt and thighs felt?

That didn’t sit right with me. A switch flipped in my peace-dulled mind, and I instantly changed gears.

You think I care whether Bishop Shien sees?

I raised my sword, taking a more offensive stance.


Sensing the change, the stray assassins readied themselves. Unfortunately for them, they hadn’t done so quickly enough.


A cry of metal on metal sounded. The assassin was shocked that I’d closed the distance in a single step, but he managed to defend himself with his sword.

“Gah?!” he groaned in displeased surprise.

The moment our blades met, I pulled mine back and took another step past his and slashed again. My sword passed his defenses and cut into his shoulder deep enough to reach the bone. Even for a trained killer, it was enough to make him collapse.

“Tch!” The other stray assassin kept his calm as his comrade fell. He loosed a quick slash while my back was turned to him. I yanked my blade from the other man’s shoulder as I spun and struck the attacker’s fist. I could feel bone shattering. He faltered for only a brief moment, but that was enough for me to get in another strike.


With that, both assassins had been felled.

I slowly exhaled. Once I got heated up, it took some work to calm back down.

“I heard that you were strong, but to think you were this skilled…”

Bishop Shien was standing there in shock, having forgotten entirely to use any magic.

Uh oh, I really overdid things.

“Red!” Rit dashed over. “Is everything okay?!”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Phew! After I saw you turn so serious, I worried they might actually be pretty strong.”

I smiled to help ease Rit’s concern.

“We should return to Mistorm. That was only two of the stray assassins. There’s still one more.”

As if in reply, a large explosion went off. Fire erupted from the window of the house where Mistorm and the others were waiting. The blaze quickly spread over the building, but a giant tree rose from the ground inside the building without any concern for the flames around it.

“That’s Yarandrala’s Elder Treant!”

The massive wooden creature reached a hand out toward the blaze consuming the house. The fire gathered into a single mass and separated from the house. Within that mass of flames was the final stray assassin.

“I won’t let you get away this time!” Yarandrala shouted from atop the treant’s shoulder.

She looked utterly sure of herself because they were fighting in her natural element—the forest.

Mistorm leaped from the house a moment later. She had likely protected herself with a spell, because there wasn’t even a speck of ash on her clothes.

“I’ve got my magic power fully recovered this time! Don’t think this will be as simple as before!” Mistorm turned her staff on the assassin.

But instead of turning to face them, the hired killer looked in my direction.

“So you got both of them, huh?” he commented as he gazed at his fallen comrades. There was no trace of panic in his voice.

“And you’ll meet the same fate soon!” Yarandrala cried.

The treant’s arm stretched out to catch the man. Yarandrala wasn’t using her signature spell, Thorn Bind, for fear of the fire magic. Fortunately, the assassin’s flames couldn’t burn down an Elder Treant.

“Hyahhhhh!” howled the assassin, swinging both of his arms wide. A storm of throwing knives buffeted the great tree creature, yet it weathered the onslaught without so much as slowing down.

“Did you really think that would work?” Yarandrala shouted.

“Martial art: Chain Explosion!”

The knives stuck in the Elder Treant’s wooden body exploded in succession.


Yarandrala’s massive summoned warrior trembled, rocked by the blasts, and she herself was knocked to the ground. Thankfully, the treant was fine. It had taken damage, but not enough that it couldn’t continue.

The stray assassin had seized that opportunity to vanish, however.


He’d used a powerful martial art, but it hadn’t been intended to take Yarandrala down. The man hadn’t even bothered waiting to see if it had been effective or not.

“But this time, it looks like he didn’t have the luxury to retrieve his friends,” I said. Behind me, the two I had defeated were still lying on the ground.

If only the third assassin had come for his allies, we would have been able to stop him. Regardless, he was gone without a trace now. Were Ruti here, we’d be able to catch him, but pursuing as we were would be difficult.

“Wait, where’s Tisse?” Rit asked.

I suddenly realized I hadn’t seen her anywhere during the skirmish, either.

“Did she chase after him by herself?!” Rit hurriedly started to try to chase after them, but I stopped her.

“We can’t follow them,” I said.


“Tisse didn’t leave any tracks we could follow. That means she’s sure that she can handle it alone.”

She was planning to settle things alone.

The last stray assassin—Drog—had transformed into a half-human, half-drake hybrid using Form of Riding Drake and was running through the forest at high speed.

That he could do that without leaving any footprints spoke to the strength of his Assassin blessing. If a mage had tried this tactic, it wouldn’t have worked.

It was only because the marsh had such muddy ground that made for poor footing that I was able to pursue. I would have to make sure to finish him here.

My name is Tisse Garland. I’m Ruti’s friend and an assassin with the Assassins Guild. I’m currently running along the tree branches, chasing one of my own who betrayed the guild.


Drog’s speed dropped slightly when he stepped on a rotten tree root.

I immediately threw a knife and twisted his body to dodge. Unsurprisingly, he’d been aware I was after him. Still, he’d had to slow down dramatically to recover after such an awkward motion.

“Tisse?!” Drog shouted when he saw me already in range to fight. “To think we would meet again like this! Did you take a job from the guild to get us?”

“I’m under no obligation to answer you.”

I had not been given any such request. No one could have guessed that three top-class assassins-turned-traitors would end up in Zoltan. I’m sure he’d assumed people were onto him to be on the safe side, though.

And as expected, Drog appeared to be under the impression that if he didn’t kill me, more from the guild would come.

We ran through the woods, drawing our swords at the same time.

“The two of us fighting… You were always a genius Tisse, but you only killed when the guild ordered it of you. I’ll show you how murdering as I please has set me apart.”

“I see. I take it you’ve gotten a lot of experience chatting, then?”

“You were always stuck up just because the master praised you, but everyone knew I was best in a real fight!”

Drog leaped into the air, his face warped in a savage scowl as he flew toward me.

I jumped at the same time as he did.

“An assassin’s blade should bring fear like a star falling to earth.”

“Still faithful to the master’s teachings, even after leaving the guild.”

We both kicked against trees, each aiming to get the high ground.


Neither of us shouted. There were only muffled grunts as we crossed paths in midair. No blade tasted blood.

“Not bad, but I know your moves now… You won’t get another chance.” Drog grinned as he landed on the ground.

I said nothing, readying my sword.

“Give it up. I’m clearly still on top. Why not join me, Tisse? I won’t have to kill you, then.”


The offer wasn’t nearly enough to make me question myself, but it was a surprise all the same.

“It’s boring to live your life bound to the guild. Come with me and kill as you please. To reign over that which transcends things like good and evil is what it really means to be an assassin. All the wealth and power in the world mean nothing before a silent blade. In the moment an assassin kills, they become a god.”

His words were disgusting.


“Ready to give up?”

“Running your mouth before a kill is the sign of a third-rate assassin.”

“So that’s your answer… What a shame!”

Drog leaped again, certain he would win.


Instead of jumping to match him, I ran across the ground.

Drog appeared to be caught unaware at that, but he still struck. His attack used a style of swordsmanship built around pouncing from an advantageous higher position. It was the best way to take advantage of the specialization provided by the Assassin blessing. Our teacher had told us it was the textbook setup for an assassin’s style.

Drog had misjudged our master’s teachings, though. He and I were biased toward jumping and tended to go higher than necessary.

As a result, Drog believed he understood my skill level, but I had merely chosen to use a technique he knew, allowing him to see through it.

Catching the target in a moment when their guard was down was the key to a swift kill. Pouncing from the air was only one method for achieving that condition.

And my slash would be lethal. He would not have the time to use any tricks.

Our second exchange was very different from the first.

“Gah… Hah…”

Drog crashed into the ground, unable to land correctly. He tried to push himself up, but he could not gather the strength in his arms.

“You should be able to tell that’s a lethal wound.”

My blade had passed through the gap between his ribs and reached his internal organs. As Drog lay there bleeding and groaning, I approached to deliver the finishing blow.

“W-wait,” Drog looked up at me. “Don’t kill me.”

Despite his actions, I couldn’t hold it against him that he was begging for his life. The thought of dying was scary, even to a hired killer. There was no way I could allow a stray assassin who tarnished the guild’s name to escape, however.

“I’ll tell you who hired us… So please, just let me live.”

Any empathy I felt for Drog before vanished after he said that.

Not revealing your client was the bare minimum standard for an assassin.

Drog had left the guild in order to slay indiscriminately; he had long since ceased being an assassin. Now he was only a common murderer.

“…Who hired you?”

I stifled my rage.

Whatever my personal feelings, this was crucial information for everyone else.

I had a faint hope that this was just Drog bluffing to catch me off guard. But unfortunately, I was wrong.

“It’s the Veronian admiral, Lilinrala… She wanted us to kill Misphia, the first queen of Veronia… She’s hiding in Zoltan under the name Mistorm.”

“So it was Admiral Lilinrala.”

Apparently, Mistorm’s true name was Misphia—Queen Misphia, even.

I didn’t know the details, but that would make her the first wife of King Geizeric, who went missing decades ago. So that galley, Drog, and Mistorm were all connected.

“I see. Thank you for that information.”

“S-so then!”

“Yes, I won’t finish you off.”

I sighed as I turned away.

Even though I gave Drog a good opening, he made no attempt to pick up his sword. Instead, he grasped after a cure potion and drank it, glad to be alive.

I heard him coughing and vomiting up the potion.

“I won’t finish you off, but that wound will kill you anyway. A potion won’t save you now.”

“Agh… Wait… I can’t… see…”

“You should know the symptoms of blood loss. You’ve witnessed it plenty of times already, haven’t you?”

I started walking away, not looking back.

Drog had been faithful to the impulses of his Assassin blessing, going so far as to leave the guild for them. The result was a far cry from the ideal assassin, however.

It was a mystery.

“Tisse’s back!” Rit called out in relief.

The girl approached calmly with Mister Crawly Wawly on her shoulder.

Evidently, she had managed to take out her opponent.

“I’m back.”

“Nice work.”

I passed her a towel and some water that I had ready for her.

“Thank you.”

High-level though Tisse was, chasing after someone fleeing through the forest and fighting them still took its toll. She slowly sipped the water and then wiped away her sweat.

“What did you do with the two you defeated, Red?”

“They’re tied up in the shed,” I replied.

“I see…”

“I‘ll explain things to everyone else, so you decide what to do with them.”

“Thank you.”

Tisse touched the hilt of the sword, and then stopped to look up at me as though searching for confirmation. I nodded. She began toward the shed but abruptly stopped.

“…I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that,” Tisse said.


“If I check with you, I’m making you take responsibility for my job.”

I was about to brush it off as nothing big, but Tisse’s expression was more serious than I’d expected.

“Want me to come with you to the shed?”

I had everyone else head back inside before we went to deal with the two assassins.

“You know I used to be a soldier, and I’ve killed plenty of people, too. You don’t need to go worrying about me,” I commented.

“I know…”

Tisse was troubled because she had checked with me whether to kill the two assailants, and that meant that I had functionally decided to take their lives. She seemed disgusted with herself for that.

“I don’t regret the killing itself. This is the blessing I was born with, and this is the life I’ve lived. But I also wish to have a reason for the act,” Tisse explained.

“An assassin’s job means killing people at someone else’s request, so that’s natural,” I replied.

“I want more than that.”

The shed wasn’t far away by any means, and we were soon at the door.

“The stray assassins,” Tisse whispered. “They were faithful to the impulses of their blessings. Almost certainly far more so than I am to mine. And yet, as assassins, they were impure and incomplete. Why?”

“That’s simple,” I responded.

Tisse looked up at me, a little surprised at how readily I answered.

“How so…?”

“All they did was obey their urges. But you think for yourself about the best course of action. That’s really all there is to it.”

“Maybe. Yet while I don’t submit to my blessing, I’m still an assassin through and through.”


“…You and Ms. Ruti quit and chose to live a slow life. You stopped being a knight, and she gave up being the Hero. I haven’t renounced my life as an assassin, but I’m still out here with you both.”


“There are times when I wonder whether it is really okay for me to remain in Zoltan.” Tisse looked down.

“Why wouldn’t it be?” I asked lightly. “Ruti enjoys your company, and you feel the same way about her, right?”

“Yes, Ms. Ruti is someone I can look up to, and also—”

“She’s like a troublesome little sister, yeah?”

“Hah-hah. Yes. It’s a bit rude, but that’s how I feel. She’s extraordinarily strong and wise, and yet if you just leave her alone, she gets into trouble… It’s a joy to be with her.”

“There aren’t many people who recognize her charms. Thank you, Tisse.”

“Eh? There’s no gratitude necessary. I stay with her because I want to.”

Tisse’s face reddened slightly in embarrassment. I smiled at the sight.

“Seems like there’s no problem, then. Assassin or not, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s fun to be around your friends.”

“Are you sure it’s all right?”

“You don’t have to deny that aspect of yourself for our sake. You can remain with Ruti while still being Tisse the assassin. The important part is just that you are Ruti’s friend.”


“I don’t think anyone’s interests line up perfectly. But so what? Ruti and I are your friends because we want to be.”

“That’s…true. I guess it’s been so long since I’ve done proper assassin work that it got me wondering. Thank you.”

“Look, this is just my opinion, but…” I paused, looking at Tisse, “I don’t think your way of life is wrong. Can’t you just stay how you are, an assassin living a slow life?”

“That’s certainly an odd way to put it.” Tisse smiled, and then her expression changed. “Okay, I’ve got a job to finish.”

“Sure. I’ll be waiting for you.”

There were no sounds, but two of the presences in the shed were quickly snuffed out.

Tisse and I returned to Mistorm’s house. The interior was blackened from the fire.

“I’m sorry for not noticing those three until it was too late,” Tisse apologized.

“It’s fine. Both Shien and my house will recover.”

Bishop Shien had mended his wound with magic, but given his age, he had to lie down in bed to rest from the blood loss.

“If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s his for not noticing that his own riding drakes had been switched out. He looks like he’s got his head about him, but he’s always been prone to messing up in the clutch,” Mistorm remarked. Then she launched into a few old stories about Bishop Shien’s previous blunders, which brought a pleasant smile to our faces.

“Whoops, the water should be ready now. I’ll get some tea and treats,” Mistorm said.

“Ah, let me help.”

Tisse started to get up, but Mistorm gently waved her off.

“It’s fine, it’s fine. You’re a guest, so just take it easy.” The old woman headed off into the kitchen. After a couple of minutes, she returned holding a tray in her hands. “Help yourselves.”

She set a bottle of rum and some cups on the table. Tisse, who didn’t drink, looked curious and a bit surprised.

“It’s a joke, dear.”

There was a mischievous smirk on Mistorm’s face as she gave everyone a cup of black tea. Then she mixed just the slightest bit of rum into each and dropped in little pieces of butter that floated on the surface of the dark liquid.

“Hot buttered rum?” I inquired.

“Yes. You know your stuff.”

It was a warm drink suited for cold days. A guy who grew up in the South had told me about it during my tenure with the Bahamut Knights.

“In Veronia, sailors would bring home leftover rum, and their mothers or wives would use it for cooking or cocktails. The taste of rum became synonymous with family harmony.”

“So you really are from Veronia,” Tisse commented.

“I am indeed.”

Tisse drank a sip of the hot buttered rum and then exhaled.

“It’s delicious.”

“I’m glad you like it,” Mistorm answered with a grin.

Tisse turned her attention to the old hero of Zoltan. “The stray assassin I fought gave up the client who had hired them to kill you.”


Both Mistorm and I were shocked at that.

“It was Admiral Lilinrala of the Veronian navy.”

“Ahh, so she’s responsible.” There was a mix of surprise and understanding on Mistorm’s face.

Tisse looked a bit unsure whether to continue, but she did regardless. “The stray assassin also revealed who you used to be.”

Mistorm took a breath and exhaled before nodding. “If it’s come to that, then I see no reason to hide it from you any longer.”

“Thank you.”

Tisse looked relieved. She was particularly close to Mistorm, more so than the rest of us. I’m sure being caught between not wanting to keep secrets from us and not wanting to out Mistorm without permission had been stressful.

Mistorm smiled kindly to see Tisse so allayed.

“It may have only been for a short while, but we all traveled together as comrades, and I apologize for making you worry for me. However, I wasn’t trying to deceive you. As far as I’m concerned, Mistorm is my real name. I’ve been called that far longer than anything else.”

True. She had arrived in Zoltan in her late twenties. Mistorm had been her identity for over forty years. Even if it was an alias at first, it had long since become her real name.

Eventually, the same thing would happen to me, too. There would come a day when I had lived as Red longer than Gideon. Seeing the look on Mistorm’s face, I got the feeling that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

“So then, what is your old name?” Rit asked.

“I was previously known as Misphia, wife of King Geizeric and the First Queen of Veronia. I was also called the Pirate Princess Misphia, captain of the Geizeric Pirates’ second ship.”

It wasn’t that crazy of a story that the queen who had disappeared had ended up in Zoltan, home to all runaways. But even if it wasn’t unexpected, it was still surprising.

Mistorm appeared to enjoy the look on our faces.

“Well then, where should I start?” Mistorm wondered aloud.

“How about from the beginning?” Yarandrala suggested.

I turned to the high elf. “Do you already know what’s going on, Yarandrala?”

“More or less. Truthfully, I’m not entirely unrelated.”

“Really? But you didn’t have any contact with Mistorm when she was queen, right?”

If she had, they would have recognized each other when they first met in Zoltan.

“Not directly. But I knew Geizeric and Lilinrala.”

“You did?”

“It’s not like they were particularly close friends. I met Lilinrala when she was a navigator for an exploration vessel. I was the first mate at the time. My blessing isn’t particularly useful out on the seas, but it is still part of the Druid tree, so I can sense ocean spirits.”

“Huh, I never pictured you sailing the seas,” I admitted.

“Who hasn’t dreamt of riding the waves in search of an adventure?” Yarandrala replied.

“Fair enough… Still, you’ve really done a lot.”

Yarandrala grinned proudly at my comment. “I’ve had a bit of a long life after all!”

I’d heard a few of her tales, of course, but it seemed there were far more. Just how much questing had she done?

“Anyway, one day, when we fought off some pirates who attacked our ship, Lilinrala stole one of their vessels and made off with it.”

“Was there any reason?”

“At the time, there were uprisings and revolutions all across the continent. A lot of people were captured during the conflicts and sold into slavery. High elves sold particularly well, and Lilinrala couldn’t abide that. She became a pirate captain herself and went after every slave ship she could.

Naturally, she didn’t sell anyone she rescued, but that meant caring for them. It wasn’t long until her funds ran dry. Left with no other choice, she turned to stealing from merchant boats, too, and eventually became a fierce buccaneer who would rob good and honest people,” Yarandrala recounted.

Mistorm looked particularly interested in the high elf’s story. “You don’t say. She never really talked much about her past. So that’s how she ended up becoming a pirate.”

“I couldn’t stand her turning to a life of crime and causing problems for everyone! So I got my hands on a ship myself and fought it out with her and the Elven Corsairs!”

“That’s totally like you,” I said. That intensity was definitely one of the sides of Yarandrala. She was the sort you didn’t want to make an enemy of. “Is that how you met Geizeric?”

“Geizeric was a slave on one of the ships Lilinrala raided. I couldn’t tell you why, but she took an interest in him.”

I raised an eyebrow. “He was a slave? That’s a pretty rough start to life.”

“Yes. It was bad enough that Lilinrala sent me a letter requesting a temporary ceasefire because a boy she had picked up was on the verge of death. I felt bad, so I sent some medicine to help,” Yarandrala explained.

So then Yarandrala had saved Geizeric, too, in a way.

“Geizeric became a member of Lilinrala’s crew and eventually struck out on his own as a pirate. I would never have guessed he’d get big enough to steal a country, though.

Before he made a name for himself, the frost giants started to invade Kiramin, so I sold my ship and formed a band of mercenaries to help. After that, I never had any contact with them again.”

“Wait, so you led a band of mercenaries into war? I’ve been through more than my fair share as a knight and a member of the Hero’s party, but your life was crazy tumultuous when you were young,” I said.

“Eh-heh-heh.” Yarandrala blushed like she thought that was a compliment. “Anyway, if I had defeated Lilinrala and Geizeric, Mistorm’s life would have been completely different. So it feels like I’m partly responsible for all this.”

“Life’s an odd thing. Just when I thought I had reached a nice age and all that remained was to wait for Lord Demis to call me home, new faces and old friends started to pop up and throw me for a loop.” Mistorm’s expression appeared very conflicted. However, if I had to guess, I’d say she mostly felt thankful.

Rit nodded to herself. “Okay, we understand your connection. So now we can get to the crux of the matter.”

“I assume you mean why they’re after me,” Mistorm replied as she set down her empty cup.

“Prince Salius is searching for you, right?”

“I’ve no way of knowing for sure, but I believe that’s the case.” Mistorm stopped for a moment to shrug. “One option might be to just give it up and turn myself in for Zoltan’s sake.”

“Mistorm!” Yarandrala fired back sharply.

I thought for a moment before continuing. “But if he’s looking for you, then why does Lilinrala want you dead?”

“Yeah,” Rit added with a bitter sort of face. “Lilinrala acts as a loyal vassal to Prince Salius, but their goals are clearly at odds.”

“That’s right. Prince Salius is desperate enough to find you that he’s pressuring the holy church, yet those assassins knew where you were and what you looked like,” I said, fixing my gaze on Mistorm. She met my eyes and gave a slow exhale.

“Before I say more, I’d like to ask, just how deeply do you intend to get involved?”

“You’re a friend who traveled with us all the way to the Wall at the End of the World. If you’re in danger, we’re prepared to assist,” I answered.

“That’s the exact same thing Yarandrala said. Sheesh, it was just one little trip… Perhaps that’s simply how adventurers are. Seems I’ve been retired long enough to forget.”

Mistorm looked away and then smiled a little.

“All right then, I guess it’s time for an old story.”

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