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Chapter 15: To the Capital of the Empire (2)

“Wow...”

Lien’s eyes sparkled as she looked around, her gaze wandering from one sight to another, her head shaking in disbelief, almost comically.

Well, truth be told, I wasn’t in a position to judge.

It was only natural.

Scenes I had only seen through a monitor.

Experiencing them in person, seeing with my own eyes, feeling with my heart, and walking through with my own feet, was indeed a novel experience.

“Have you been here before?”

Lien asked me curiously.

It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption, after all.

Somehow, I had ended up playing the role of a guide.

I murmured to myself as I looked around, noting what was still here and what had disappeared.

Moreover, it’s not like it was a secret worth hiding.

It would be more suspicious if I knew my way around without ever having been here.

“I’ve been here once before.”

“Then, have you ridden something like a train? I heard it moves on its own! And it doesn’t even need to be told what to do!”

Lien, caught up in her excitement, raised her voice, only to become embarrassed as she attracted the attention of those around us and blushed like a tomato, bowing her head.

The looks we received from the people around us seemed to carry a sense of superiority.

As if they were thinking, ‘Look at the excited country girl,’ or ‘Such an uncivilized commoner.’ It was almost transparent what they were thinking.

‘...Well, it could just be my paranoia.’

If the problem outside the capital was the terrible public order, here it was something else, despite the good public order.

Or rather, was the problem that the public order was too good?

The rate of criminal arrests was incredibly high.

It would probably surpass the figures of any modern developed country.

Because not only criminals were caught.

Was being a commoner a crime?

It wasn’t for no reason that I spent a fortune on replacing my worn-out clothes.

In the previous game, wandering around the capital in clothes worn to tatters increased the chances of encountering unpleasant random quests.

It was simply because the nobles found it offensive to share the streets with someone looking like a beggar, so they’d pick a fight.

Of course, if you dared to talk back, you’d be thrown into jail for insult right away.

‘And that would’ve been game over.’

The mysterious imperial prisons were infamous for prisoners dying of ‘natural causes’ halfway through their sentences.

There were tales of guards colluding to trade organs, or making prisoners kill each other for entertainment. If someone was pretty or handsome, they’d play with them before killing them to destroy the evidence.

‘Why does such a wretched country prosper?’

I couldn’t help but wonder. In the previous game, I brushed it off as just a game mechanic, but could there be a reason?

After all, this is a world where gods and magic exist.

Perhaps some mechanism has been keeping the empire from collapsing long ago...

“Siel, Lien.”

I heard footsteps behind us.

I stopped my wandering thoughts and whispered quietly to them.

They were both quick-witted, apparently catching the gist of my words without an explanation.

‘Turn right in this alley... then left here...’

We twisted and turned, desperately trying to remember the map as we moved.

And then... we reached a secluded crossroad.

“Excuse me, girl. Could you spare a moment?”

A sleazy voice sounded from behind, as if it had been waiting for this.

Yes, I saw this coming.

That’s why I deliberately chose hooded garments for them, but it seems we still attract unwanted attention regardless.

“Don’t worry. It’ll be over quickly.”

The burly man spoke as if I was invisible, his intentions blatantly obvious.

‘And I know this guy.’

He was one of the reasons the game Blood and Bone was rated for adults.

A perverted noble.

A villain who indulged his desires on commoners in the streets, using his status to commit crimes blatantly without fear of arrest.

He appears even older than in the previous work but still seems to be actively involved.

Indeed, even from my perspective, Lien’s reactions did seem a bit like those of a country girl who had just arrived in the capital.

Anyone could tell she was a commoner from the countryside, visiting the capital, so they probably thought they could mess with her without any consequences.

But...

‘Do they not realize they’re actually cornered?’

It seems they couldn’t fathom that, by moving to a less crowded alley, they were making it easier for us to deal with them without witnesses.

Well, not that I’m going to tell them, of course.

Lien and Siel.

I might not know, but those two couldn’t handle one such thug like that?

I looked at them with trusting eyes, and...

“...?”

I was inevitably puzzled.

Why are they just standing there, doing nothing?

“If we start something, it might go too far, what should we do...”

Lien, noticing my gaze, spoke with uncertainty, as if she was afraid of losing control and killing him once she started.

“We can’t handle alive ones right now.”

Siel also said, shaking her head.

It seems her condition hasn’t fully recovered, even with medication.

My face turned pale in an instant.

Could it be... is this party weaker than I thought?

“Stay out of this, kid.”

Before I could do anything else, with those words, a blunt force took my consciousness away.

*****

‘Today is my lucky day...’

The man smiled sleazily as he eyed the two women from head to toe, satisfied with confirming they were safe targets and having dealt with the nuisance.

With no more obstacles, he excitedly approached them, eager to savor his catch.

“...Ian?”

The moment the woman with white hair spoke, he sensed something was wrong.

Her eyes were filled with hatred.

Yet, for some reason, her lips curled into a smile more joyful than ever.

“Ah, what a relief.”

The man felt a primal terror as he looked at the girl.

The kind of fear a prey feels in the presence of a predator.

“You’re not human, are you?”

The girl slowly approached the man.

“No human would do such things. No human who torments Ian could be considered human. So...”

It’s okay to play with him, right?

With those words, the man watched the girl coming towards him.

The man that was, crumbled away.

What composed him, turned into mere flesh.

Losing all reason, the man screamed in terror until the very end of his life.

*****

Siel stared blankly at the scene unfolding before her eyes.

But she felt no particular emotion.

It was a horrific end, but it was inevitable.

If anything, he deserved a far more terrible death for his sins. This was almost a luxury.

[Hahahaha...]

It was only the noise of a wolf beside her, laughing and chattering about something amusing, that was annoying.

“Are you okay?”

She asked, but Lien still seemed lost in another world, unresponsive.

Siel remembered what Ian had told her about Lien.

Piecing together the wolf’s joyful chatter, the conclusion was simple.

Lien was a dangerous entity.

Always on the brink of losing herself.

But, what did that matter?

To her, none of it mattered.

Even if Lien went berserk and killed everyone, it wouldn’t matter as long as Ian was alive. Whether the world ended or not was irrelevant to her.

‘As long as I’m with Ian, I’m happy. Though it’d be better if I could stay alive too.’

In any case.

Even in such a dazed state, Lien wouldn’t harm Ian. She seemed more inclined to protect him.

That was enough.

“Eat it up.”

Siel mustered the minimum strength required to dispose of the corpse.

She cleaned the blood-soaked black robe with a spell she learned from her mother and then woke Ian.

*****

I rubbed my eyes as I got up from the ground.

Thanks to the healthy body, I didn’t feel any particular pain. It seemed I hadn’t been injured either.

“Why are you asleep again?”

I tried to wake Lien, who was lying next to me, and attempted to piece together what had happened.

Fortunately, it wasn’t a difficult task.

All I had to do was ask the person who had awakened me.

“Did he run away?”

Yet again, what I received was an explanation missing context.

I turned to Siel once more for a more detailed account.

“I kicked him.”

...Again, an explanation lacking context, but it was easy to understand.

Well, a kick would hurt.

Vital spots are vital for a reason.

Especially since Siel, not being a man, wouldn’t empathize with a man’s unique pain. It must have been a merciless full swing.

I was worried that the man might seek revenge for such an act, but what’s done is done.

‘Anyway, it’s a relief.’

Lien finally got up, asking what happened and if everyone was okay, clearly out of the loop.

This time, we really would have been in trouble if it weren’t for Siel.

‘It’s come to this, after all...’

Somehow, it feels like everyone who gets involved with me ends up on a misguided skill tree.

Lien can defend but not attack first, and Siel, wasting her talent, is contracted with some low-level demon from who-knows-where.

A sigh naturally escapes me.

Was this really the right decision?

Is it okay to come to a place as perilous as the capital of the empire?

It seems our party might be weaker than I thought.

Worries start to flood in, but... now that we’ve come this far, there’s no turning back.

In the end, despite the unease, we have no choice but to press on.

I helped Lien to her feet and we once again set off towards our destination.

After all, the streets of the empire are fraught with dangerous characters; it’s a problem.

I wonder how upright citizens like us are supposed to live with such unease.

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