...As far as the eye could see, the land was engulfed by white snow falling from the heavens.
Thick clouds of snow obscured the light, and the snowfield was covered in darkness despite it being midday.
The snow that had been falling since last night showed no signs of letting up, the delicate ice crystals concealing everything beneath them. There were countless footprints that clung to the snowfield, scattered swords and shields here and there... and also the corpses, bathed in red blood, lacking their hands and legs.
The expressions of the corpses were filled with anguish, proof they struggled for life until the end. However, the icy wind that blew over them drowned out their despair, and their lamentations failed to reach anyone’s ears.
...Except for one person. Only one person was standing amongst the corpses lying on the snowfield.
Woman: "… Nothing has changed here, has it?"
Whispering there was a black-dressed woman, standing in the middle of the blizzard.
Her long, lustrous, braided black hair swayed in the cold wind, and her black eyes, rare to this world, gazed over the field. Those dark, slightly euphoric eyes were drenched in excitement.
In her vision lay countless corpses that would never move again. Despite the scene, so horrific that any ordinary person would turn away, the aura of the woman seemed all the more radiant.
If every flower had its own most alluring arrangement, then it was in this very scenery, brimming with the aroma of death and blood, that this woman's charm was at its most spectacular.
Such was the impression her menacing and mysterious allure evoked, in the midst of the gloomy, drifting, thick snow.
Rushing to the battlefield late was a group of fully armed men, gasping and speechless at the sight before them.
The warriors, clad in fur armor and helmets, armed with swords and axes, were thoroughly petrified at the sight of the woman standing alive on the blood-stained snowfield.
Woman: "...Oh, my."
The woman slowly turned to the speechless men.
She slackened her scarlet lips and graciously raised her hand towards the men.
In the woman's hand was a curved knife responsible for the countless corpses.
Woman: "...I apologize. I couldn’t wait, so I went ahead and took care of them."
With a flirtatious smirk, the woman delivered an apology to the men, clearly only as a mere formality.
However, not a single man raised his voice in response to her apology in protest about her stealing their work.
...The Holy Kingdom of Gusteko was known for having the harshest natural environment out of the four major countries.
White snow that never stopped falling, and never-melting permafrost. In this world of extreme cold, where growing crops and raising livestock were fatally unsuitable occupations, there was an endless series of challenges to survive through every day.
Rooted in that harsh environment, the doctrine of the Holy Church of Gusteko was born.
According to the doctrine, the frozen earth and the cold wind were all trials given to the people by a greater being; the only way to give peace to one’s soul in the afterlife was to endure those trials.
It was hard for those born in wealthy countries to comprehend, but the doctrine had spread throughout Gusteko, and most people didn’t doubt its teachings. The streets were saturated with people who wanted salvation, and all were desperate to cling to a hopeless dream.
This was the reality of the Holy Kingdom of Gusteko, and it's cold history that had continued for hundreds of years.
Red-faced man: "...And so, those guys got completely routed! Because of that, they said we could take as much as we wanted from the buffet!"
The man, clearly intoxicated, spat and slammed his glass down on the counter.
He was a huge, ruddy man with a crooked nose reddened by drunkenness. Although his vulgar gesture splashed alcohol, he received no admonishment... rather, the man's shouts were accompanied by cheers, and the surrounding drunks began to clink their glasses together in unison.
At the moment, the inside of the bar was occupied by a group of men drinking heavily. The men were in a good mood and paid well, and there were no other customers to be disturbed. And so, the now-lawless bar’s owner said nothing to the group.
Red-faced man: "Oh, the joy of labor! The water of life! We give thanks to the Holy King and the Merciful Mother of the Holy Church of Gusteko that we have survived to this day! Cheers!"
The empty glasses were filled, and the others raised their glasses in response to the toast given by the red-faced man.
He was clearly mocking the teachings of the Holy Church, but none here would accuse him of that. The doctrines of the Holy Church were known to all of Gusteko, and these men were no exception; however, whether or not they actually followed the teachings was a different story.
The doctrine didn’t fill your stomach, and it didn't save your life. ...At least, that was the way they saw it.
The owner of the bar, the only outsider, was reluctant to face the men.
As a man fifty years old, who had been running a tavern in this country until his age, Gusteko’s teachings had been familiar to him since he was born. Of course, he was well aware that there was no salvation in the world like the doctrine described, but it still felt unpleasant for the teachings to be ridiculed.
Of course, he wasn’t experienced enough in customer service to be able to say that to a mercenary corp full of brutes.
Red-faced man: “Even so, they were attacked to such an extent. The lot at Orcos Territory must be looking pale right about now… oh."
Suddenly, the expression on the red face that had been in good spirits and smelled of alcohol shifted.
A bell had sounded at the entrance of the tavern, announcing the arrival of a new customer. Tonight, the tavern was reserved for the men, and not a single person in the village was unaware of that. So who was the uninvited guest?
Red-faced man: "...Fweet."
The red-faced man whistled as a figure leisurely crossed the bar and headed for the counter. The reaction of the people around him was more or less the same, the drunken gazes welcoming the newcomer with an ulterior motive.
Of course. ...It was a woman with beauty that would set any man’s lust ablaze.
Woman: "Some milk, please."
Sitting at the counter, the woman placed her order, and for a moment the shopkeeper admired her appearance. She had dark, slightly droopy black eyes, and long, glossy black hair that wasn’t something one saw often around the Gustekan town. Her red lips had been moistened with her tongue, and a thin nightgown wrapped around her entire body.
The woman raised a shapely eyebrow at the quiet owner, propped one elbow on the counter, and repeated,
Woman: "Milk, that's what I'm ordering."
Shopkeeper: "...Oh, yeah. Right, I'm sorry."
The shopkeeper shook his head lightly at the affirmed order before reaching for the milk.
In the frigid cold of Gusteko, milk was a precious commodity, far more valuable than alcohol. Even if he disregarded that, it was rare for a customer to order milk instead of alcohol in a bar.
Naturally, the order could easily be used to start a quarrel or conversation...
Red-faced man: "...Hey, hey, you can't come to a bar and order milk, can you?"
Sitting next to the woman without asking, the red-faced giant took advantage of the opportunity. The man placed the empty glass on the counter and held up two fingers to the owner.
Red-faced man: "Drinks. One for me and one for my sister here."
Woman: "You’ll buy me a drink?"
Red-faced man: "Oh, yeah. We can buy a whole keg and still have change with the money we made today. I'll let you get as drunk as you want, okay?"
In response to the woman’s flirtatious glance, the red-face smacked his chest and replied with authority. The shop-owner glanced at the listening woman, whose face broke into a thin smile, nodding at the giant's offer.
The shopkeeper, relieved to see the situation hadn’t turned violent, presented a glass of alcohol to both of them. Accepting the glasses, the woman and the red-faced man bumped them together in a toast.
Red-faced man: "...To the Holy King and the Merciful Mother."
Woman: "Oh, that’s unexpected. You’re a follower of the Holy Church of Gusteko?"
Red-faced man: "Well… I’m not a sincere believer. I was baptized when I was a kid, but now, I'm in this line of work... I've long since lost my appreciation for the doctrine, and my right to cling to the pity of the Merciful Mother, too."
Woman: "Indeed... I know how you feel. I'm from this country, after all."
She expressed her agreement with the red-face while sipping her drink.
Regardless of the chilling emotion in her voice, the red-faced man’s eyes were glued to the woman's beautiful profile. The man's throat gulped in slight arousal at even the way she seductively swallowed her liquor.
Red-faced man: "What brings you to this bar? Didn't you know we had the whole place to ourselves today?"
Woman: "...? Does that mean I have to leave?"
Red-faced man: "No, no, it’s the other way around. I'm all for having a nice lady like you around, but even the villagers are avoiding the stores tonight. What are you doing here on such a day…?"
Woman: "...Igor Kenash."
Interrupting the man’s words, the woman said just one phrase. When the red-faced giant rolled his eyes at the name, the woman narrowed her black eyes and licked her lips.
Woman: "I'm here on his orders. Do you know Baron Kenash?"
Red-faced man: "...You might know this, but it's Baron Kenash who's footing the bill for our drinks today. I see... that husband of yours is very kind!"
Woman: "Oh, dear."
The giant man's ruddy face broke into a broad smile as he roughly hugged the woman's thin shoulders.
The woman's small surprise at the behavior brought a booze-soaked grin to the man’s face.
Red-faced man: "It was very generous of him, not only in paying for the drinks, but also to include such an excellent woman. The Baron truly knows how to deal with people like us!"
There had only been scrawny girls in the village to satisfy the lust of the mercenaries; the only town with a decent brothel was distant, and the woman in front of them was the perfect reward for the men who had deceived their desires with alcohol thus far.
The man, deeply moved by his employer's consideration, was about to put his hands on his gift when...
Unknown: "...Logres! Is there a Logres Hyatt?"
Red-faced man: "...Ah?"
Suddenly, someone rushed into the tavern. The men in the tavern looked back sullenly at the call that followed. Among them, the one most irritated was the red-faced Logres, the very one called by name.
Having his fun interrupted, Logres glared at the newcomer with scowling eyes.
Logres: "So you're the Baron's errand boy, huh? What do you want?"
Igor’s Subordinate: "Master Igor wants to see you. The leader of the Crimson Hunting Squad must come to the residence immediately."
Logres: "...Immediately? Right now?"
Igor’s Subordinate: "What other interpretation is there?"
In response to the younger man's sarcasm, Logres rubbed his crooked nose in visible annoyance. It was a call from his employer. He couldn’t say that he wouldn’t comply, but...
If he merely turned his head, he would find a beautiful woman with an alluring aura right beside him.
If he left this place, he would have to leave his reward behind. And, he would have to give it to his subordinates around him.
Logres: "...Tomorrow isn’t good enough?"
Igor’s Subordinate: : "Master Igor says it’s urgent. You'll have to comply with his request, Butcher!"
Logres sighed at the still inflexible reply.
He couldn’t give priority to his desires in the present and lose his source of food for tomorrow, and beyond. It wasn’t possible to survive in the Holy Kingdom of Gusteko with such a careless attitude.
Logres: "Sorry, sis. I've been summoned by the boss. It would be a shame to leave a beauty like you here..."
Woman: "It's alright. But don't worry. ...You're not the only one who’s getting called out."
As Logres wracked his brain in confusion, the woman who was still in his arms asked, "Right?" to the young errand man. His expression instantly stiffened at the question.
The young man, who had been unconcerned even when surrounded by rogues, had begun to sweat on his forehead.
Igor’s Subordinate: "...Yes. Master Igor has called for you. Can you please come, too?"
Woman: "Yes, of course. So I hope you won't be too frightened."
Igor’s Subordinate: "I’m not frightened…"
Woman: "I'm sensitive to smell. Those frightened have a frightened scent, and those angered smell of anger... you know?"
The young messenger was dumbstruck at the rejection of his immediate rebuttal. The woman licked her lips and looked over at Logres.
Woman: "We’ve both been called to the same person. ...Can you escort me there?"
Logres: "That's fine, but... sister, what's your name?"
Unwrapping his arm from around her shoulders, Logres kept an eye on the woman's movements.
The woman’s grin deepened at the soldier’s drunken gaze, now weakening in intoxication, her smile deepening to the utmost amount, and with an arousing allure that seemed to hang in the air, she gave him her name.
Woman: "...I'm Elsa. Elsa Granhiert."
At the mention of her name, a hush spread through the tavern at once. The drunk but battle-hardened mercenaries all fell speechless and exchanged glances.
Logres covered his face with his palm, marvelling at the absurd significance of just one simple name.
Logres: "Oh, shit. I thought you were just a nice lady, but you’re... the Bowel Hunter."
The best proof of her infamy was the fact that his voice was fully devoid of lust.
Man: "You sure took your time, didn't you? I was beginning to worry that you might not come."
Logres: "...Well, I'm sorry about that."
Man: "You’ll have to be careful next time. I do not have a very big heart."
At the greeting he received as soon as he entered the room, Logres scratched his head in helplessness. Unaware of the subtle sarcasm in Logres’s reply, the man nodded magnanimously and welcomed him and Elsa into the room.
In an ornate room with a long, wooly carpet, facing Elsa and her companion across an unnecessarily expensive desk was Baron Igor Kenash, the man who had called them here.
The hair on his head was thinning, and his face was greasy and glistening. With a belly flab from alcohol and luxury, and a dialect that grated the nerves, Igor was not a person to be liked. No matter how many times they came in contact with him, that impression would not fade, but instead only grow stronger.
However, that was just a generalization. Elsa didn’t care very much, but...
Igor: "Oh, Elsa! My subordinates report that your work was truly magnificent! Beautiful and skillful... What a wonderful woman. Just as I had hoped!"
Elsa: "Thank you for the compliment. I, too, enjoyed the work."
Igor: "Mm-hmm. So, what do you think? Have you made up your mind to become my property yet? Hmm?"
Igor’s eyes practically licked her, the baron not even bothering to hide his lecherous stare and ulterior motives.
She was dressed in a black evening gown, and although the amount of skin exposed was minimal, the way the cloth revealed the lines of her body, made men’s imaginations run wild. Igor, too, was captivated by her sensuality.
However, Elsa shook her head at Igor's emotionless pick-up line.
Elsa: "I'm sorry, but I have to decline. I don’t find men with unhealthy lifestyles attractive."
Igor: "How honest you are! You're the only one who's ever turned down my advances so firmly!"
Igor laughed in amusement at Elsa’s dauntless reply. It wasn’t an easy task to go against the will of the baron, the most powerful man in the area.
In the Holy Kingdom of Gusteko, the disparity in status was absolute. It was a reality that cannot be overcome.
Logres: "So, the Baron is free to make passes on the lady... what can I do for you?"
Igor: "You’re very direct, aren't you?"
Logres: "Well, I'm not so handsome that someone would want to spend time with me outside of business. Also, if I return too late, the fools will empty out all the expensive liquor. Which is quite worrisome."
Although Logres had contemplated Elsa's boldness, he himself was also quite direct in his remarks. Igor laughed at their attitudes and ran his hand through his head of scanty hair.
His lustful face changed into something more ugly, as his eyes began to harbor a cruel tint.
Igor: "You two have done well so far. I’d like to reward you for your achievements and make you my full-fledged protégés. On top of that, I want you to begin an operation to purify the Orcos Territory."
Logres: "Purifying Orcos Territory, huh?"
Igor: "Yes, purification. Our neighboring territory ruled by Victor Orcos has now become a breeding ground for abhorrent human trafficking. His Highness will be terribly distressed by this fact. We must bury this incident in the snow as soon as possible, secretly."
With clenched fists, Igor authoritatively explained the sordid affairs of the Orcos Territory, which was right next to the Kenash Territory he ruled. Victor Orcos, the Baron of Orcos Territory, was suspected of complicity in the human trafficking of his own people, who were secretly captured and sold as slaves to other countries.
Naturally, Victor was asked to give an explanation by the Holy Church of Gusteko, which ran the Holy Kingdom. However, he refused the request and prepared to fight a full-scale war with the private army he had gathered in his territory.
Igor: "This is nothing but a betrayal of the Holy Church and proof that the Baron has committed treason. We must get the situation under control as soon as possible..."
Logres: "A church with the power to appoint Barons in various regions can’t afford to lose its influence with its followers ...if the Holy Church's power is weakened, the effects on the other countries will be immeasurable."
At the Baron’s explanation, Logres pointed out an issue. Igor, with his flabby face, drew his chin back at the mercenary’s point and added, "That's not all."
Igor: "If the Merciful Mother from the Holy Church, the… Spirit Beast Odglass, finds out about such a thing, the country will be destroyed."
Igor's quivering voice was filled with a mixture of uncontrollable fear and awe.
It was fear and reverence for Odglass, the Spirit Beast who was considered the Mother of the country..
Odglass was a great spirit with outstanding power even among spirits, and counted within the Four Great Spirits. Normally, spirits didn’t interfere with the way of the world, but Odglass was an exception among them, and she continued to take a friendly position toward humans.
The Great Spirit called all the lives in the harsh land of Gusteko as her own children, yet spared little mercy for them. The simple fact that humans were able to live in Gusteko, which was covered by permafrost, was primarily due to the help of the myriad of spirits and micro-spirits under the control of Odglass.
Due to this, Odglass and the Holy Kingdom of Gusteko had a long and profound friendship.
The authority to decide the head of the Holy Kingdom and the Holy Church, the Holy King, had been delegated to Odglass, and this tradition had been passed down from the beginning of the history of the Holy Kingdom of Gusteko.
That format was unbreakable. Odglass had always been, and would always be, the Merciful Mother of the Holy Church. ...With the Holy King as their puppet, the Church would continue to rule the country.
Igor: "We must prevent the collapse of tradition. ......This is the mission that we have been tasked with at this time."
Logres: "I’ve roughly grasped the situation… if it’s so urgent, wouldn’t it be better to mobilize the Holy Church’s Acolyte Knights? Honestly, it would be a great help if you simply don't assign the work to us."
From the standpoint of a hired hand, Logres scratched his bulbous nose and made a proposal.
The Acolyte Knights that Logres mentioned were the holy warriors of the Holy Church of Gusteko. It was rumored both in and out of the country that they were a select group of elites who had received the blessing of the Holy King and wielded superhuman strength, some said they rivaled the Nine Divine Generals of the Vollachia Empire.
If the rumors were true, the power of the Acolyte Knights should easily seize Orcos Territory.
Igor: "Unfortunately, we need the approval of His Highness to move the Acolyte Knights. If His Highness finds about this incident, it’s only a matter of time before the Spirit Beast finds out."
Elsa: "Oh. Won’t the Holy King be heartbroken by the scandals in Orcos Territory, too?"
Elsa, who had been silent so far, asked a question to which Igor crossed his short, stocky arms.
Igor: "Of course, His Highness will be troubled if he learns of this incident. We have to take the initiative to solve the problem before that happens. As long as the problem is solved, there’s no need to go to the trouble of reporting something that will only cloud His Highness’s mind. ...Do you understand?"
Elsa: "You guys will have to work hard too to keep your warm beds and meals."
Igor appeared slightly apprehensive at Elsa’s unfocused thoughts.
However, the Baron quickly straightened his grimy face and ordered both Elsa and Logres once again.
Igor: "From tomorrow onwards, you will be the key players in the purification operation. My soldiers are lacking in experience on the battlefield, but they are more experienced in military tactics. Let's see what the Butcher and the Bowel Hunter are capable of."
Logres: "This is the first time I've ever had someone expect me to use my head as well as my strength... Well, I’ll be the Baron's faithful hands and feet as long as the money is paid. Please use me as you see fit."
Elsa: "I feel the same as the one on my right, although I'm not really that interested in compensation."
Following the mercenary-like remark of Logres, Elsa moistened her lips and smiled.
Taking the positive reactions of the two mercenaries as an affirmation, Igor nodded and reached his hand to his flabby chin.
Igor: "...So, let's bury Victor Orcos' sins in the snow, and cleanse him away."
Contrary to his terribly lazy appearance, his eyes gave off the impression that he was both shrewd and sharp.
...The next day, the full-scale Purification Operation of Orcos Territory was put into action.
Baron Igor Kenash's plan for the Purification Operation was very simple.
Igor's private army, led by the Crimson Hunting Squad, spearheaded by the Butcher Logres Hyatt, would attack the garrison of Orcos Territory one after another. As a diversion, the Bowel Hunter, a lone force, would infiltrate the enemy territory, assassinate commanders and reserve troops, and defeat them one by one.
Once the chain of command was broken, all that was left was for the Crimson Hunting Squad to wear down the guards.
It was a simple strategy, but the results were plain to see. Due to both the strength of the Crimson Hunting Squad, and the skill of Igor, who properly utlized Elsa, an assassination specialist.
Logres: "Surprisingly, our employer has quite astute judgment."
Logres muttered to himself as he hid behind a shield, escaping the rain of arrows falling on him.
The temperature was low, and he could see his white breath as he exhaled. He felt his body temperature climbing and steam rising up from his neck and forehead.
Hearing Logres's murmurs, his subordinates, who were also hiding, turned to look at him. Waving his hand lightly at their gaze, Logres picked up some snow and smeared it on his face.
Logres: " So far, we've won many battles in a row, and to top it off, we've lost hardly any of our allies… in fact, the only losses have been coming from hired hands like us. Considering that his forces haven’t really reduced in number shows the wealth he gained by sucking the sweet juice out of the Church. It was beyond Elsa’s expectations, too."
Mercenary: "That lady? It's a shame that such a beautiful woman is so crazy. "
Logres: "She would be great if she weren’t so crazy… her fetishes are completely perverse."
Mercenary: "Fetishes... not in an erotic way?"
Logres's face contorted into a wry smile at his subordinate's absurd question. He raised his hatchet and used its tip to indicate the target of the attack, the fort defended by the garrison.
His men followed his gesture with their eyes, tilting their heads... and the next moment...
Mercenary: "Oh, geez..."
Logres: "See that... if you can honestly see that woman erotically even now, you have my respect."
Logres' lips curved at the reaction of his subordinates, whose eyes had widened and faces had paled. They all looked up at the upper level of the fort - where they witnessed countless flowers of blood bloom.
And the dark figure of a woman running through the blooming field of scarlet flowers, a deranged grin on her face.
...Energizing. Enchanting. Endearing, exhilarating, exciting.
Elsa: "My, my, how wonderful. ...What a thrill."
She spun her precious knife in her palm and mercilessly slammed it into the figure standing in her way.
Elsa's beloved blade was bent in the reverse direction from the original shape of the knife. That ensured just the right amount of weight was placed at the very edge of the special blade, and enabled the power to cut anything apart with a single blow.
Indeed, the blade struck the guard’s helmet, ripping into his skull through the headgear. Grey matter spilled out of his brain, and the blank-eyed guard, on the verge of collapsing, swung the greatsword in his hand.
Elsa: "Incredible. So irresistible."
Elsa marvelled at his will to fight, even with half of his head cut off.
The man unleashed a two-handed strike with his blade powerful enough to cut through a large frozen tree. To deal with the blow, Elsa cleaved off the attacker’s wrist.
The guard spoke no words in his last moments. She slammed a kick into his chest, blowing him away with approval. More enemies still appeared from the corner of the corridor, stifling their furious, screaming hearts at the sight of their companions’ corpses.
There were already more than a dozen bodies piled up in the passage beneath Elsa’s feet. All of them were warriors who had confronted Elsa and fallen prey to her savagery.
Respecting their mortal struggle, admiring the new advancing opponents... then, ripping their bellies open.
Elsa: "Hah, ahahahaha!"
Elsa retaliated to the precious lives striving to resist with the utmost level of affection. She put her adoration into the end of her blade and her feelings into each strike... and her heart was moved to tears by all the life pouring out.
In blood, in flesh, in bone, in life, in bowels… this moment was all that Elsa wanted.
Elsa: "... it’s here."
She kicked open the iron door at the upper layer of the stronghold, at the back end of the passage, and burst into the room.
Elsa, carrying a bloodstained knife, was greeted calmly by the master of the room, an old soldier. The elderly warrior was clad in aged armor and held a steel mace in his hand.
His surging, powerful fighting spirit was plain to see. It was visible in his body; this old soldier was the very best of all the guards in the fortress.
Old Soldier: "I didn't expect to be facing a woman."
Elsa: "Oh, you don't like female opponents? I'd be disappointed if that diminished your determination."
Old Soldier: "That’s a useless concern. ...No matter who I’m dealing with, I'll not show mercy to my enemies."
Elsa tilted her head as she asked her question, and the old warrior’s words brimmed with his entire, evident fighting spirit. The sensation warmed her skin, and Elsa leaned forward, shivering.
Elsa: "I’m the Bowel Hunter, Elsa Granhiert."
Old Soldier: "There is no name to call a villain. ...I will conquer you, demon."
At the refusal to impart his name, Elsa smiled thinly at the old soldier, who closed their distance in a single bound.
His weapon, a massive lump of steel, was swung from above his armor and flashed downwards with speed and power that was unbelievable for an older man. The blow shattered and pierced through the floor of the stone fort.
It was a strike so powerful that the entire fort seemed to shake from the impact, a cloud of smoke billowed into the room, and when the smoke cleared...
Elsa: "... Ah, I knew it."
Elsa’s loud footsteps rang as she used a powerful swing to clear the smokescreen, peering down at the floor. The aged soldier had been hit by Elsa's blow and fallen, his limbs splayed out.
At the view of the dying old soldier, Elsa's eyes quivered, entranced, as she let out a hot, intense sigh.
Elsa: "...Considering your intestines have an exceptionally lovely color."
Such was the end of the battle that determined the fall of the fort that day.
The visitor who stepped into the room stiffened, his face showing surprise at the sight. A huge, red-faced man, his eyes had widened and cheeks tightened. Elsa tilted her head curiously at his reaction.
Elsa: "...What's wrong?"
Logres: "What's wrong with... well, what are you doing?"
Elsa: "Can't you see?"
Logres pointed with his thick fingers, and Elsa held it up for him to see. But the giant man's confusion redoubled, and Elsa frowned with her shapely eyebrows.
Elsa: "I’m knitting yarn, and we’re in a cold country. This should be nothing unusual, I believe?"
Logres: "Knitting itself isn't unusual, but the one who was knitting was surprising... to think that even a woman like you knits."
Elsa: "Oh my, how heartless. Regardless of your doubts, I'm pretty confident in my knitting skills."
With that, Elsa spread out her knitting project in plain sight and showed it to Logres.
It was an unfinished doll, just beginning to look vaguely complete. The design looked like it was for a child, and the cuteness and delicate construction of the doll demonstrated a great deal of skill even to the untrained eye.
To be honest, it didn't overlap with his impression of it’s creator, Elsa.
Logres: "I never imagined that doll-making was your hobby. How long have you been doing it?"
Elsa: "Since last night, if the question is when I started making this doll. If it's about doll making itself, then it's been over a decade."
Logres "Hmm... the replies are a surprise for both questions."
Scratching his nose at Elsa's answer, Logres chose a bunk to sit on.
The room assigned to Elsa was one of the rooms in the fort they had just conquered that day. The owner of the room seemed to be a man who didn’t like extravagance. Elsa was also a carefree and self-assured person, so she would likely get along with the owner of the room.
Elsa probably killed that person herself, though.
Without any particular sentimentality, Elsa silently moved her hands and continued to work on making the woolen doll. Woven dolls didn’t really require any difficult tools or thinking. She used a crochet hook to make the head, body, limbs, and other parts, and finally joined them together to create a single form.
Elsa's favorite part of the process was filling the woven parts with cotton.
Elsa: "When I put cotton inside the doll like this... I feel kind of fulfilled."
Logres: "Oh, I see... that does sound like a hobby of the Bowel Hunter."
Elsa: "I'll take that as a compliment."
Instead of her handicraft skills, somehow her motives were being praised… she found it hard to understand.
In any case, Logres watched with an incomprehensible look on his face as the doll was magically completed in Elsa's hands. Although she was skeptical of his behavior, Elsa didn’t say anything about it.
It was the other party who had come all the way to visit her. If he wanted to talk, he would do it on his own.
For a while, the only noise in the room came from the sound of Elsa silently working on her doll.
And just when the doll was almost finished...
Logres: "...Elsa. Don't you think this Purification Operation smells fishy?"
Logres: "It's just my intuition, but... I don't like the way the situation meshes together. I was just wondering if you also had smelled something off around you."
Finally, Logres began to explain the reason for his visit. At his question, Elsa paused and re-crossed her legs in her chair, thinking.
The Purification Operation... regardless of the merits of the name, the plan itself had been executed flawlessly so far. The garrisons in the various regions of Orcos Territory, which were the objective of the operation, had been conquered one after another, and the inner citadel was just before their eyes.
Elsa herself was satisfied that she had fulfilled most of the objectives that Igor had hired her for.
Elsa: "We should be happy that the operation is going well, right? The damage is minimal and the winning streak continues... isn't that what you want, too?"
Logres: “If it weren't for the fact that my employer has some sort of ulterior motive, I could get drunk in a bar every night if I wanted to… I can tell that the Baron is a really shady fellow. Well, that's how it's always been with the Gusteko Church."
Elsa: "...When we first met, you were angry with the Holy Church."
At Logres’s abject response, Elsa recalled the first time she met him at the tavern.
She had a faint memory of the conversation she had with him when present at the Crimson Hunting Squad's rented bar, before the Purification Operation to overcome the hostile forces began.
TL note: The line above is wrong but the line itself doesn't seem to make sense in the context, so I slightly altered it to make sense. JP: この「浄化作戦』の緒戦を乗り越え、酒場を借り切っていた「紅 と居合わせたとき、彼とそんな会話をした記憶がほのかにあ
Elsa: "...Yes, that must have been you. Though I don’t remember much.”
Logres: "You say that with a lot of confidence for someone who has a bad memory.
Elsa: "I may not remember events very well, but I’m confident in my ability to remember smells. I can recall the smell of your anger. Do you have bad memories of the Gusteko Holy Church?"
Logres: "... It's not interesting to listen to my personal story, and you're not interested in it in the first place. You don't want to talk about your old life too much, do you?”
Logres sniffed unhappily and glared at Elsa, as if she had hit a sore spot. At the look in his eyes, she touched her black hair and twisted her fingers in the braid.
Elsa: "...I was originally sold by my parents as a slave."
Elsa: "See, black hair and black eyes are rare, aren't they? I think my parents didn’t have my colors, but I found out much later that it was due to an old bloodline."
Logres was taken aback as Elsa began to talk about her past with indifference. As he watched in astonishment, Elsa continued to speak.
What came back to her mind were the chilling memories of being sold by her parents and thrown out into the cold world.
Elsa: "But I escaped with the other children before the slavers could turn me into a true commodity. If I had failed, I'd probably be in a whorehouse by now, or long dead. Compared to the girls who were caught on the way to escape or the ones who fell off the cliff and died, I guess I was lucky."
If one was caught by slavers, they would be forced into a terrible environment and made an example of by other slaves. If isolated in a blizzard, they would die a slow death, their limbs rotting away from frostbite. Others would have been attacked by the beasts of the snowy fields and eaten alive.
She knew that she was lucky that she didn't suffer any of those consequences and lasted as long as she did.
Elsa: "The rest of the time, as a random orphan, I got into all sorts of wrong things. In the process, I learned how to use a blade, and here I am. ...I guess that's about it?"
She had omitted a lot on the way, but it was a frivolous time in which she couldn’t find anything to talk about.
In any case, that was the end of Elsa's personal story. Looking back, she could honestly say that her life’s history was so empty that she could tell all of its contents in a short time.
Contrary to Elsa’s dull feelings, Logres looked uneasy. He scratched his nose, his coarse-looking face reddened, muttering "Ah..." and "Er...", trying to choose a word.
Logres: "......why are you talking to me about that?"
Logres: "If you look at me with that expression, I'm going to think I’m weird."
Elsa: "I won’t tell you something I don't want to tell you. I didn't hide it because it wasn't something to hide. That's all you're asking?"
Logres: "Your values are too strange... I'm realizing that the hard way."
Sighing in resignation, Logres propped himself up on one elbow on his knee, turning his gaze away from Elsa.
Logres: "... My family used to be in a good position in the Church. We had a lot of money when I was a kid. But when I was fifteen, my parents lost a power struggle, and we fell into ruin. Their property was confiscated, my father was executed, and my mother was taken away by a religious cult. So, as a fifteen-year-old kid, I was thrown out into the snow alone, scrambled to get by, and now I'm a respectable drunk."
Rubbing his red face, Logres wore a thin smile and spoke with an alcohol-induced hoarse, raspy voice.
At his words, Elsa closed one eye, fiddling with the doll in her hand.
Elsa: "See, it's not like that’s the kind of life to frantically hide, right?"
Logres; "That’s not it. The issue is that it's a boring story that would put its listeners to sleep. ...Now, although it’s the kind of personal story where even I would doze off telling it, it does have a purpose. It's simply that the fishy smell reminds me a lot of that tragic life experience."
Elsa: "...The power struggle in the Holy Order that your father lost?"
Logres: "There isn’t a single Gustekan citizen with power who isn't involved in the affairs of the Holy Church of Gusteko. Our employer, the Baron, and his opponent, Victor Orcos, definitely have something in common. And it's undoubtedly a big deal."
In a somewhat condescending manner, Logres urged Elsa to be cautious. Rising from his bunk, the giant man continued in a slightly hushed voice.
Logres: "If Victor Orcos is as bad as his reputation says he is, treating his people like slaves and selling them off, then the high morale of the… Orcos Territory’s garrison doesn't add up."
Logres: "Why would they risk their lives to the last soldier to fight for a prick? There’s no way."
Victor's private army continued to resist to this point, and Logres remarked upon the motive for their strenuous struggle. His words also reminded Elsa of the old commander she had killed half a day ago.
That will and attitude certainly couldn't have been half-hearted, but...
Elsa: "To be honest, I don't really think I care."
Logres: "...That's your conclusion after all this talk?"
Elsa: "I'm not good at thinking. I like to do things the way I feel… like this."
Elsa showed the exhausted Logres the woolen doll she had completed during the conversation. She pinched the limbs of the human-shaped yarn doll and shook its soft body from side to side.
Elsa: "It's quite well done for amusing oneself, isn’t it?"
Logres: "Ah, yes. Well done. I don't know if I can make anything like that."
Elsa: "The only thing you need to carry around is a crochet hook and yarn. I've already made more than a dozen of these during this mission. After seeing good bowel remains in particular, I make a lot of progress."
Logres: "I didn’t ask."
As Elsa's cheeks flushed with excitement, Logres felt more of a wall of incomprehension than a man's lust for her. With that, he waved his hand, compressed his huge frame, and headed for the exit of the room.
Logres: "It doesn’t mean much, but put what I said in the corner of your mind. Use your intuition."
Elsa: "What were you talking about just now......?"
Logres: "Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey."
Elsa: "I'm kidding."
Seeing Logres’s panic at the elusive response, Elsa put her hand over her mouth, wearing a slight smile. Shrugging his shoulders at the smirk, the giant man turned to leave the room this time.
And just before he went through the door, he suddenly looked back at the room and...
Logres: "Well, even though you made ten dolls, you... didn't put any in the room."
He looked at the doll held to chest and tilted her head at the fact that its siblings weren’t in the room. Thinking about Logres' words, Elsa narrowed her dark eyes.
She spoke after licking her red lips.
Elsa: "...In that case, I guess I won't tell you where the dolls are."
And, in a bewitching and mischievous manner, she brushed off Logres' question and sent him away.
Regardless of Logres' suspicions, the Purification Operation continued without a hitch.
With the fall of the fort due to the efforts of the Bowel Hunter and the Crimson Hunting Squad, the war situation in Orcos Territory quickly turned in favor of Baron Igor Kenash.
Even disregarding Elsa and Logres, the Baron's private army also won a number of victories on other fronts, boosting the morale of the entire Igor camp.
Igor’s Subordinate: "I didn't know that war could be so bloody... haha, I can see why history is full of battles."
These were the words of the young man who was in command of the private army in place of Igor, the Baron's protégé and who came to call Elsa and Logres at the tavern before.
Igor seemed to value him, and all the instructions of the baron who remained in his mansion were conveyed through him. Elsa and the Crimson Hunting Squad also operated with the Baron through him.
Logres: "Consecutive victories in a row, that's certainly good news… although carelessness should be avoided."
Elsa: "‘A midway victory is like drinking sake in front of the enemy’... that’s the quote from Hoshin, isn’t it."
Logres and Elsa both dismissed the feelings of the young man, who was ecstatic over his side’s victories and expected them to feel the same. Elsa aside, Logres was probably just trying to offer friendly advice.
The young man, however, was very unhappy with their opinion.
Igor’s Subordinate: "Hmm. I know that without being told. However, the morale of the allies is high, and even though the situation is favorable, you’re being timid, Butcher.
Logres: "We’ve proceeded with the war like a slaughterhouse, carefully chopping off the heads of the enemies like they’re livestock. That's why they call us pig killers. Since there’s no way that my approach can be called cowardice or weakness, I can’t say that either I or my Crimson Hunting Squad is weak."
The young man blushed as he was belittled for getting carried away with the incomplete victory. It was difficult to leave the argument like that due to his frustration, and he wouldn’t have been able to back down if he didn’t let it go.
In the end, there was no stopping the excitement of the young man overcome by his belief in their victory.
Igor’s Subordinate: "...As per Igor-sama's instructions, we‘ll push up the battle line. After the garrison retreats, leave it to us to deal with the soldiers. The Crimson Hunting Squad and Bowel Hunter are ordered to attack."
Logres: "...We’ve been drawing the short straw lately, haven't we?"
Elsa: "Ah, really? I've been enjoying it in my own way."
The corners of Elsa’s lips lifted at Logres’ grumbles about the impending torment of marching through the middle of a blizzard.
At the elated young man’s command, Elsa and the Crimson Hunting Squad had commenced moving their forces to raid a defensive encampment of Orcos Territory. An opportunity to bring it down at this time period had opened up. It was normally a well-lit time of day, but the blizzard and thick clouds had made the environment so dim it was as if it was midnight.
Elsa: "It just occurred to me..."
The snowfall was so heavy that the footprints they had made would soon disappear. Elsa, the only one moving smoothly, tilted her head as the others struggled along the knee-deep snow-covered path.
Elsa: "You guys are called the Crimson Hunting Squad, but you wear white furs for work?"
As Elsa voiced her question, she had noticed the group of people stirring in her vision were all clad in white fur.
It was the fur of the White Wolf that inhabited the northern part of Gusteko. Despite its beautiful white appearance, the fur was extremely tough and had high insulation properties. It truly was equipment for working in the snow.
Logres bristled when she pointed out the inconsistency between the beautiful fur and the name of the mercenary group.
Logres: "I'm just bluffing, you know. If you call yourself the Crimson Hunting Squad, everyone will assume that you're the ones in red. We profit if even one person falls for it."
Elsa: "I see, you're quite underhanded."
Logres: "At least make it sound like I'm wickedly cunning or something. I mean, don’t I have the aura of the Butcher?"
Elsa: "Indeed. By the way, does anyone know why I'm nicknamed the Bowel Hunter?"
Logres: "The scariest part is that you seem like you’re serious about that name."
He interpreted her serious riddle as a quip, and she wound up unsuccessful in her goal of distraction. The members of the Crimson Hunting Squad still seemed to have regained a bit of their composure, though, and Elsa fiddled with her braids at their reaction.
Before long, a building came into view at the end of their vision, clouded by the snowstorm. It was probably the defensive position they were aiming for, and their presence had likely become visible from the other side.
Elsa: "The procedure will be the same as before."
Logres: "Flashy diversion, and Elsa will sneak in. Alright. Don't mess up."
The exchange before the offensive was brief. Elsa would go behind the building, and the Crimson Hunting Squad would draw the enemy's attention to the front.
Mercenary 1: "Elsa-san, be careful.”
Mercenary 2: “Don't get too bloody!”
Mercenary 3: “I'll see you in my dreams!"
Logres's men also called out to Elaa as she set out alone on her dangerous journey.
Having fought together more than ten times, there was no doubt in their minds about Elsa's abilities. Elsa also had a certain amount of trust in the fighting style of the Crimson Hunting Squad.
Elsa: "I can’t tell them apart, though."
Muttering inaudibly, Elsa left the group and went off on her own.
Leaving no tracks on the snowy path, Elsa looked up at the approaching buildings.
The building concealed within the blizzard was completely visible from the outside by the illumination of a crystal lamp.
This level of carelessness was extremely rare. Considering their looming defeat, they were awfully easygoing...
Was it possible that the enemy was lacking in intelligence and had a poor understanding of the situation?
As soon as she began to have doubts, she heard the faint sound of battle from the direction where she left the Crimson Hunting Squad. It was the signal the guards of the stronghold and Logres had begun battle.
Elsa's role was to use the battle as a cover to infiltrate the building and take down the key parts of the enemy. However...
Elsa: "Oh, my."
While Elsa scaled the back wall and searched for a passage to sneak in through, the rear entrance of the building opened and a dragon carriage rushed out right beneath her eyes.
A white dragon with a white canopy to disappear into the snow, just like the equipment of the Crimson Hunting Squad. The dragon carriage’s speed didn’t let up, instead accelerating to full speed away from the battlefield.
Igor's forces weren’t particularly deployed in the direction of the dragon carriage's escape. Logres, clashing with the enemy in front, wouldn't be able to notice the carriage’s existence. If Elsa missed it, the dragon carriage would be able to escape without any hindrances.
The question was whether or not the dragon carriage was worth postponing the capture of the enemy territory.
Elsa: "...Well, I can think about it after I catch it."
Even if gaining control of the battlefront was delayed a bit, Logres and the others would be able to hold out.
Elsa chose to follow her intuition rather than thinking. And her intuition ordered her to chase the dragon carriage.
Normally, it would be nearly impossible for humans to catch up with a fleeing earth dragon on their own.
The dragon pulling the fleeing carriage was of the Aires species, which among ground dragons were the most suited for cold climates. They had scales the same color as their white fur, and they raced across the snow with their huge bodies, driving their claws into the snow in order to anchor themselves.
Humans who would get their feet stuck in the snow could never catch up. Elsa, despite rushing and running through the snow, was no exception. Therefore, Elsa followed a simple plan.
...If she couldn’t catch up with the fleeing earth dragon, then she wouldn’t allow it to escape.
She held the blade aloft and threw it like a discus, swiftly sending it spinning at the fleeing ground dragon, cutting its thick neck in two from behind. Splattering scarlet blood onto the snow, the earth dragon failed to notice its own death as its head fell off. Immediately, the large frame of the earth dragon toppled over and the dragon carriage shook violently as it came to a halt.
Elsa: "Objective accomplished. As for what’s inside... ah."
Elsa walked up to the halted carriage, but just before she attempted to open the door, she was forced to jump back as a slash from inside broke open the door of the carriage.
Slowly stepping out from within the dragon carriage, there stood a robust man in his prime with close-cropped grey hair. Despite an old, vertical scar that broke into his left eye, his face, adorned simply with a suitable white moustache, remained austere and refined. Regardless, Elsa's didn’t use outward appearance as a standard when evaluating men. ...Rather than on the outside, what was truly precious was within the body.
Elsa: "In that respect... I think you're very much to my tastes."
Swordsman: "...It’s an honor for a man to be told so by a beautiful maiden."
Elsa blushed, receiving a low sigh as a response from the matured man.
With his emerald eyes, the man gave the deceased earth dragon a sidelong glance, and placed his hand upon his silvery breastplate, praying for his steed’s soul to find peace.
Narrowing her eyes at the elegant gesture, Elsa licked her lips.
Elsa: "That prayer, and armor engraved with the mark of the Holy Church... an Acolyte Knight, I presume?"
Swordsman: “A former Acolyte Knight. I’ve already forsaken my devotion to the Holy Church. At present, I am only a simple swordsman."
While he spoke, the man relaxedly placed his hands around his waist. Each side of the man’s waist bore one slim sword. He grasped the hilts of both of his blades and stood ready without withdrawing them from their sheaths.
At first glance, it was quite a strange stance, but there was no doubt it was how the man fought.
Elsa: “Acolyte Knight... an Acolyte Knight... how wonderful."
Swordsman: "Formerly. Don't make me repeat myself."
Elsa: "Perhaps you quit, but you’re an Acolyte Knight regardless. Hey, you received the Blessing, right?"
Swordsman: "Do you think I would tell you?
Elsa: "I was just asking... I'll let your flesh and blood answer the rest of my questions."
The sickly sweet, blood-red grin on her face indicated the battle’s start.
Elsa's silhouette darted through the blizzard and over the snow, kicking the snow aside as she moved. Her footwork so brisk the snowfall underfoot remained uncrushed, Elsa sprung at the man with her bizarre yet stunning stride.
Wielding her blade, she scraped at the man’s neck, lightly scratching his windpipe with the tip of the knife. His human throat would transform into a musical instrument, the blade producing the lovely, desperate sound of one’s last moments. Both the sound of the escaping air, and the warped, anguished expression of the Acolyte Knight should have been entertaining.
The Acolyte Knight remained unmoving. Elsa was still near, and her strike had already been delivered; however, his deep green eyes stayed motionless, as if they were the surface of a rippleless lake.
In a flash, two blades streaked towards Elsa, grazing her forehead as she twisted her body.
The scarlet and azure blades belonged to the katanas carried on the man’s waist. Katanas were single-edged swords that originated in the western region of Kararagi, and were valuable weapons of war known for their dreadful sharpness. However, what surprised Elsa was not the existence of the katanas, but the clear skillfulness in the strikes. The katanas were certainly inside their sheaths,
Elsa: "When did you pull those out? You startled me!"
Swordsman: "I’m also surprised, I didn't think you could avoid it."
The man clicked his tongue as his first attack was evaded, his strike missing the mark. Elsa, licking the blood dripping down from her slashed temple, somersaulted backwards to regain her balance.
Acolyte Knights were quite fearsome. Or rather, perhaps, former Acolyte Knights were fearsome.
The swords’ wind blew violently, and what Elsa saw over, and over, and over, in the snow, was death.
The scarlet and azure flashes of the blade were intertwined, and what was created around the man was a realm of death that would cut down anyone who touched it. The range of his swords were long, more than twice the length of Elsa's knife. Unable to approach him carelessly, Elsa rapidly flew around the man, utilizing her combat instincts to search for a way to win.
Elsa: “Pull out, put in, pull out, put in, pull out, put in..."
She concentrated on watching the speed of the sword strikes, in awe, enchanted with the man's skill with the sword.
Although she didn’t know why, the man maneuvered his swords back to their scabbards after each strike and slashed as he drew them out again. The left and right sides flowed together in a sequence, and the execution of the sword extraction and insertion was remarkably fast. The two strikes could be fired simultaneously or separately, and she couldn’t find any gaps in his movements.
Elsa: "If I take my time, I’ll have the advantage..."
In the background, at the original target, at that building, the Crimson Hunting Squad and the Orcos Territory garrison were still fighting.
Judging from their skill, Logres and the others would be able to overpower them eventually. In that case, reinforcements would rush to this battle, and Elsa would gain the advantage.
...But that would be a supremely boring ending.
Elsa: "Before that, I should stay true to the nature of the Bowel Hunter."
Elsa, determined to avoid a final scene that fell flat, forcibly plunged right into the sword flash. The man, however, raised his voice at her for her decisive yet barbaric action.
In the man’s eyes, Elsa's charge was an rash suicide attack lacking the means to succeed.
In truth, there was no clear-cut solution to this struggle in Elsa's mind. What there was, though, was a sense of ecstasy that boiled her blood in excitement.
Swordsman: "...A blow!"
With a high-pitched sound that echoed throughout the snowfield, the impact ripped the knife from Elsa's hand. However, she succeeded in blocking the magnificent scarlet slash the man had unleashed. Rushing forward with a single bound, he closed much of the distance, then... the azure sword strike.
Swordsman: "Here we go, a second blow."
She undid the bottom hem of her evening dress and flipped the second knife strapped to her pale thigh into her hand. Slashing at the azure blade from directly underneath, her knife scattered sparks and released a scraping sound as it flicked off the blade.
In exchange for blocking the man's two blows, Elsa also had lost her two weapons. She took two steps forward to close in, his breath becoming visible.
In the next moment, the man's swords launched forward - scarlet and azure blades fired at the empty-handed Elsa.
Blood splattered, and the sword strikes split her flesh open deep. The impact pierced through her bones, a sharp sound like hitting a frozen rock throbbed around them, and finally, someone let out an exhale.
It was a sigh of disappointment, despite the man’s lips quivering as he gazed in wonder at the figure before him.
Swordsman: "You’re an idiot..."
Elsa: "Ah, it hurts, it hurts. I thought I was going to die. …Well, that’s a sign that I’m still alive."
As Elsa spoke and smiled at him, the swordsman was at a loss for words. His reaction was natural.
The sword blows that the man fired were no different, both hitting Elsa directly in the flesh. How did Elsa respond to being so heavily outclassed? She simply stood still, with her arms outstretched.
Entering through Elsa's palms, the blades passed through her slender wrists, forearms, elbows, and upper arms; they were only stopped by the bones around her shoulders. He was unable to cut completely through due to Elsa’s approach, seizing the swords at their hilts.
It was an insane decision, to lose so much blood and surely both arms. Yet——
Elsa: "It’s my win. ...I'll let you meet an angel."
Swordsman: "What the hell is this…?!"
As Elsa ignored the intense pain, the swordsman tried to pull his blades back.
However, Elsa leaned forward faster than the man could move.
Elsa's lips parted, and her white teeth sunk into the man's neck.
Spewing blood as her teeth found their way through the gaps in his armor, Elsa fatally gouged into the man’s neck. Bathed in that fresh blood and with crimson splotches covering her face, Elsa spat out the flesh in her mouth.
Elsa: "Oh... I really felt that just now."
With that, she let out an exhilarated white breath onto the snowfield, bathing in the relief of, at last, the man’s demise.
Her arms, struck by the swords, were unable to be moved, and Elsa kept walking over the snow, blood continuing to drip down. Leaving a trail of blood on the snow behind her, she peered into the dragon carriage that the older man had been trying to protect.
Inside the cut door, shivering in the cold wind at the back of the dragon carriage was...
Igor’s Subordinate: "...This seems to be quite the spectacular scene."
At the voice from behind her, Elsa slowly turned around. The person approaching her, standing by the dragon carriage, was a young man in warm clothes with a thin smile on his face… Igor's protégé.
Elsa's dark eyes narrowed at the young man who had appeared alone on the front lines without an escort.
Elsa: "You’re not to move from the command base. That’s what I thought, at least...."
Igor’s Subordinate: "I was planning to do that. But if Victor Orcos moves, that's a different story. I've been deployed here for that purpose. Although..."
Cutting his words off, the young man smiled scornfully at the corpse of the robust man lying on the snow.
Igor’s Subordinate: "I guess I didn’t even have a role to play. Bowel Hunter, you're even better than they say."
Elsa: "I'm not sure I can honestly accept your praise in my current situation. Why do you need to come out when he... Victor Orcos moves, I wonder?"
Igor’s Subordinate: "...Why do you think that is?"
Maintaining a smile on his face, the young man kept a distance of about ten meters from Elsa. Oddly enough, the snowfall had temporarily ceased, and there was nothing between them to obstruct their eyesight or voices. Her arms were unmovable, and her weapons were not at hand… her heart was beating awfully noisily in her chest.
The prone man... according to the young man's words, he was Victor Orcos himself. He was the source of this incident, and a traitor who treated his people like slaves.
Although, if that was the case...
Elsa: "...It’s very odd that the children in the dragon carriage are dressed so warmly."
Behind Elsa, inclining her neck in puzzlement, there were no less than fifteen children squeezed into the dragon carriage. All of them were around ten years old, and their clothes were warm furs and other heavy outfits for the cold....
Elsa: "That's not the kind of clothing slaves are dressed in."
Igor’s Subordinate: "What makes you say that…?"
Elsa: "Personal experience. Tattered rags and beaten wounds, filthy skin, and dirty hair. It's unnatural to have none of that."
The young man's face stiffened slightly as Elsa dug up a memory and answered plainly. With a fake smile, the annoyed subordinate scratched his head and spoke.
Igor’s Subordinate: "You’re Igor-sama's favorite, so I don't want to harm you..."
Elsa: "Don't worry. I have no interest in Baron-sama. He’s too fat."
Igor’s Subordinate: "I see. ...Then, I won’t hesitate!"
In response to Elsa's reply, the young man unfolded his palm at her. From that palm, a dazzling, shining white light shot out. ...That is, a hidden life form of light with supernatural power.
Elsa: "...An Acolyte Knight contracted with a spirit."
Immediately following Elsa’s mention of the young man’s identity, several rays of destructive power unleashed from that white light.
Then the light swallowed the motionless Elsa, and yet still it continued on, the bright blast bathing the snowfield in white.