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Chapter 12: Catastrophe (1)

Change always comes unexpectedly.

It was true when we fled from Rehaim Castle, and the same when a carriage appeared at our cabin without warning.

It was probably around the time Hena was preparing dinner.

It was an ordinary day. I was playing chess with Sirien.

The outcome of the game was already determined.

It wasn’t a game for mere entertainment. In fact, I was quite serious.

It’s just that I had never managed to win against Sirien, no matter how hard I tried.

To be honest, it hurt my pride.

At first, it seemed like I might win, but as I got better, I realized Sirien had been holding back.

Yet, this infuriating girl would never concede victory.

In the end, Sirien declared checkmate.

I knocked over my king.

“I lost. Ah, just once I want to win. Play along a little.”

“No. If Razen wins, I think he won’t play with me again. Win with your skill.”

“…….”

How did she know?

It seemed it would be a while before I could tell Sirien, ‘You’re not good at chess.’

Our rule was that the loser had to pick up the chess pieces.

As a slave to my competitiveness, I began to gather the pieces.

Suddenly, there were urgent footsteps from upstairs.

Having lived with the siblings for so long, I could identify who it was just by their steps.

It was Terion.

“The carriage! The carriage has arrived!”

“Really?”

As soon as Terion shouted, Sirien jumped up.

Hena also stopped her cooking and wiped her hands on her apron, and my head turned sharply.

It was only natural for us to rush out to greet the carriage.

Indeed, the silhouette of the carriage could be glimpsed through the woods.

It was a familiar sight.

The old cargo carriage we had arrived in.

The very one that reeked and was dusty. Initially, it looked like junk, but now it seemed endearing.

The difference was that this time, the canvas was removed, allowing us to see the people on the carriage.

The coachman was different from before, and there were a few men wearing hoods.

Including the coachman, there were six of them.

Their faces were hard to make out from a distance.

Terion had set off before me, leading the way.

The men on the carriage waited quietly for Terion.

‘Something feels off.’

A strange unease washed over me.

I paused for a moment, placed my hand on Sirien’s shoulder, and whispered,

“Sirien, go back to the cabin with Hena.”

“Huh? Why?”

“Just do as I say for now. I’ll come for you.”

Sirien tended to trust me in these situations.

She asked no further questions and followed my instructions. Leaving Sirien behind, I hurried after Terion.

I had to catch up to him.

* * *

This world was rife with power struggles.

Deep-seated animosity existed between demons and humans, and, just as it was between Sirien and the female protagonist in the novel, conflicts among humans themselves were endless.

Thus, it could be said that this was the era of knights.

Powerful individuals had the strength to change the course of wars, and every noble was desperate to have an outstanding knight in their service.

However, not all nobles went to war.

Times of war were naturally shorter than times of peace.

The battlefield was where knights shone the brightest, yet their most common use was on escort missions.

Therefore, to become a knight, one had to learn the art of escorting others.

The Sword of Eilencia.

Being born the son of Count Berthus was unquestionable.

That’s why I was certain.

‘At the very least, those guys are not knights.’

The essence of escorting is vigilance. No matter how well one wields a sword, a stab from behind means death.

Failing to properly survey one’s surroundings puts everyone’s lives at risk.

Yet, those people seemed to be casually chatting atop the carriage, showing no sign of vigilance.

Even as Terion approached, they did not come down from the carriage.

It meant they lacked even basic manners.

They were clearly not the right choice to escort the siblings to the fortress.

The one who seemed slightly better was the man who appeared to be the leader of the group.

He stepped down from the carriage and walked steadily towards Terion.

By that time, I had also caught up with Terion. The man scanned us.

“Are you His Grace, Terion?”

“Yes. Are you sent by my uncle?”

“Yes. The person beside you must be Sir Razen. It’s an honor to greet you. My name is Ludbeck. I have been ordered to escort you.”

Terion’s guard was lowered.

Because he knew our names.

Count Roxen had called this place a hideout.

The information that we were hiding here was supposed to be highly confidential, so these men must have been sent by Count Roxen.

Moreover, Ludbeck knew not only our names.

“I heard there were four of you. Is the lady inside?”

“Hmm? I thought she came out with us. Must have forgotten something.”

“Is that so? Then we will bring her to you. Hanson, Trang, go fetch the lady politely. Do not do anything rude.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Ludbeck knew of Sirien and Hena’s existence as well.

At his gesture, two subordinates headed toward the cabin.

I felt uneasy, but I had no intention of stopping them.

After all, they seemed to be people sent by Count Roxen.

There must have been a reason he didn’t send the family’s knights or private soldiers.

For all I knew, they could be mercenaries of some renown.

But as the two men passed by me, a familiar scent wafted through the air.

I had to make a decision.

“Cough...”

I drew my sword.

And slashed.

I finished one of them off in a single blow.

Terion looked taken aback, but there was no time to explain.

Bright red blood splattered on my cheek. The warmth of human blood felt surprisingly hot.

In the corner of my vision, a human body collapsed.

Thump. Thump.

My heart raced.

This was my first kill.

My hands seemed to tremble slightly.

It’s fine.

It wasn’t enough to interfere with swinging my sword.

The illusion of blood flowing swiftly was actually welcome. Sharpened senses would aid in battle.

Years had passed since I learned to use a sword and now to my first kill. But it seemed a few seconds would suffice for the second.

‘With this momentum, just one more...!’

Just as I was about to deal with another defenseless foe, a cold metallic sound rang out.

It was Ludbeck.

A heavy iron sword charged towards me.

Discarding his polite demeanor, he curled one corner of his mouth.

“You’re a quick-witted kid. It was a carefully prepared act. How did you know?”

“No matter how you dress up your words, guys like you always give yourselves away. It reeks of decay.”

“Ha. Is that so? Such arrogance. Don’t be mistaken. It wouldn’t have mattered whether you noticed or not.”

Of course.

There were too many clues.

Their attention never once strayed outside.

They never considered the possibility of wild beasts or unnoticed trackers.

Their gaze was fixed solely on Terion and me.

The way they looked at my sword was particularly irritating, as was their assessing glance at the calluses on my palms.

It was as if they were looking at an enemy they needed to kill.

The decisive factor was the smell.

A foul odor emanated from the subordinates as they passed by me. 

I had smelled it before.

It was the scent sometimes emitted by criminals caught by senior knights of the order. A mix of cheap liquor and drugs.

Those who smelled like this were invariably trash.

In the novel, the female protagonist would shudder at this.

- Smoking cigarettes made from mulette flowers emitted a fishy smell. People called those addicted to this drug “sewer rats.”

- For the hopeless sewer rats, mulette flowers were quite expensive. And the addictive nature of mulette flowers could instantly break a person’s will.

- Naturally, the sewer rats would become slaves who would do anything for money. They were easily expendable.

No matter what, these men were unfit to serve as escorts for the siblings.

Though, if it were the other way around, perhaps.

“If you had followed obediently, you wouldn’t have had to die a painful death.”

“That wouldn’t have been the case, would it? Traveling with stinking guys like you would be torture itself. Even a half-used rag would smell sweeter than you.”

“Quite the foul mouth for a noble’s son.”

I exchanged a few blows with Ludbeck.

Fortunately, he wasn’t exceptionally skilled, but I wasn’t at an advantage either.

This is dangerous.

My rational mind sounded the alarm.

Honestly, I couldn’t be sure of victory.

Even one-on-one, he wasn’t an easy opponent, and he had his men with him.

The movements they made to flank me prevented me from recklessly charging in.

It seemed worth trying. However, I couldn’t shake off the impression that it was a tricky situation.

I couldn’t afford to be tied down here.

After all, if this was Count Roxen’s intention, difficulty was to be expected.

I had held my own against the knights of Eilencia.

Count Roxen must have had some idea of my abilities, so he wouldn’t have sent completely incapable men.

At the very least, he would have included one useful person. I could only hope that Ludbeck was the only one.

Terion was also engaging with some men nearby.

A decision was needed once again.

“I’ll clear a path for you, so go protect Sirien and Hena. I’ll handle things here.”

“What? But you are... Can I trust you with this?”

“Absolutely.”

As promised, I desperately cleared a path and sent Terion off.

I managed to injure one of their arms, even if it meant taking risks. Two had slipped away earlier, and the remaining two surrounded me.

As a result of sending Terion away, I was left with wounds on my left shoulder and thigh.

There was bleeding, but it wasn’t deep.

Ludbeck sneered.

“Do you know? My employer said this. To erase you from this world.”

“Do your best.”

“But you know, there was nothing in the request about killing you nicely. That means as long as the job is done cleanly, anything goes. I’ve heard the young lady is quite beautiful. I wonder what her cries will sound like?”

“Your mouth reeks of rag. I’ll make sure to clean it up properly.”

I had intended to stay calm.

But that was no longer an option.

My head went cold.

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