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37: The Young Man, the Blacksmith, and the Shadow

 Arriving at a town near the border, Rudel's party met up with their client- a merchant. It was evening when they arrived, and as it would be dangerous at night, the subjugation was set for the following day. Vargas and Eunius sallied forth into the town of the night, partly to prepare for tomorrow, while Luecke spent his time with a book in the inn.

Basyle went out saying she had to look into some things... something was off about the requester, so it seems she went off to ask around town about the man.

And Rudel decided to look around the blacksmithy of that border town. Vargas already had his own equipment, and Eunius possessed his own specially-made claymore. Even Luecke's self-protection one-handed sword was a special order. But Rudel's sword was a cheap one.

Perhaps because he would only ever swing it around in training, the one he received at his manor was a hand-me-down from the soldiers. He had been using it fine, but lately, its quality was dropping, and it was starting to chip. He was carefully looking after it... but when it came to life or death, he did have his anxieties.

"Is the store still open... according to the innkeeper, it's supposed to be somewhere around here..."

Rudel walked alone through the unfamiliar town. Walking by the innkeeper's memo, and after a while, he caught sight of a number of weapon shops. Lined up in front of the stores were sturdy weapons and well-ornamented ones... a wide variety. After looking around the display weapons, he entered a shop to see their stock.

"This is best for kids."

"A rapier? I'd prefer something more durable...

"How about it, noble boy!? Aren't all our store's weapons the coolest!?"

"Yeah, they do look cool (Those unnecessary ornaments look heavy)."

"If you buy two, I'll throw in this knife as a bonus."

"I don't need two."

A majority of the shops either treated him like a child or tried to push expensive goods onto him due to his noble status. While there were definitely a few nice pieces among them, as none of them suited Rudel himself, he decided to give up.

It was at that moment he spotted a tarp draped over the street, a single man sitting cross legged over it. Atop the tarp was a single katana. Rudel had learned about it from Izumi, so he stared at it as a rare find. He thought of it as an eastern saber, but according to Izumi it was used differently.

"How rare... but why is there only one?"

Standing before the man, Rudel looked down on the blade. Right, katanas rarely circulated through Courtois. Yet the man selling such a valuable item wore tattered clothing, his beard and hair a scraggly mess. He seemed to be in terrible shape.

"It's the last piece I was able to make with my partner. At this point, I no longer have a smithy to make another..."

The man explained with uncomfortable words. While Rudel knew he wouldn't use it, perhaps Izumi would be happy to receive it, so he pulled out the exact price of the tag.

The man looked at Rudel in surprise, posing a question as he took the money. By no means had he presented any lesser sum. He had grown intrigued by Rudel who could calmly hand it over.

"Do you intend to use this katana? As the seller, it may be odd for me to say, but if you don't know how to use and look after it, it's no more than a lump or iron."

Taking the katana, Rudel carefully held it as he spoke.

"I have an acquaintance from the orient, this is a gift. It's not like I'm the one using it so you don't have to worry. Truth be told, I wanted a weapon for myself, but I couldn't find anything."

The money Rudel put out had been from the rewards of the monster slaying he had been doing as of late. But in the academy, he had little opportunity to use it, so his funds would only build up. He had intended to use it to buy a new weapon for himself... but in the end, it became a present for Izumi.

"... I see, so you're acquainted with one of my countrymen."

As the man stared off in reminiscence, Rudel said his thanks and walked off. The man called out to Rudel's back.

"I'm Zouken. I live in this town with my comrades and family. Please send my fellow countryman my regards."

"I'll pass on the message."

And with one new encounter, Rudel's day came to an end.



Around when Rudel's day closed, two dragoons were spending their time in cells below the palace. The rampaging two had been prominent powers of the country, and the damage was great. For that sake, they were seized in due time, but instead of a reprimand, they got solitary confinement.

There were shackles around their wrists, and by their special make, those cuffs made it difficult to use magic. Proof that the guards were quite wary of them.

In just a few minutes, these two had destroyed the area. Cattleya and Lilim spent their time in separate solitary cells. As it was night, Cattleya was asleep. But Lilim...

"Why do they always come to hate me?"

'Because you're repulsive.'

"I wanted to get married you know. I loved him..."

'With eyes like those, you're one to talk. As if there's any man who could love you.'

"Everyone... goes away because of these eyes... if only these eyes didn't exist!"

'Are you really going to crush them? Are you fine with that? It isn't your fault... the one at fault is...'

Finding Lilim's monologue to be ominous, the guards didn't want to draw close. They didn't hear anything, they didn't see anything. That Lilim was talking to the wall, and that the shadow projected on the wall... was Lilim's conversation partner.

"The one at fault... right, it's Rudel's fault! That detestable one!"

'That's right, hate him! The Rudel you loath... the fiancé who betrayed you!'

Before her engagement to Rudel, Lilim had been betrothed to an elven man. But after seeing her black eyes, the man annulled the engagement. He was a kind man, and Lilim truly believed it would be alright if she revealed her secret. Yet she was betrayed.

That fiancé of the past, and Rudel, who even now was an engagement-candidate-for-argument's-sake, their forms overlapped in Lilim's head. The shadow that guided her, warped her to the conclusion resembled Cattleya in shape and voice. Once the shadow overlapped with Lilim's, Lilim stood up and tore off her shackles.

"That's right, I'll kill him! I'll kill the man who betrayed me!"

Lilim's blond hair gradually changed to silver, her skin turning from white to black... and white insignias rose to the surface of her blackened skin. They were marks that greatly resembled the monsters that had attacked in the forest.

'Hate him... Hate Rudel, kill him! There is no way he can be allowed to live! The purpose of my existence is to 'return Rudel to his base'. And if that is impossible... then kill him!!!'

Born in Cattleya and matured within, 'it' declared if returning him to his original state proved impossible, it would erase the character Rudel from this work. To it, he was the first act of treason towards the world. On a situation where the surroundings accepted Rudel, it had a will to carry out its reason for existence to the end.

'The will of the world is irrelevant... this is my will!'

Using Magic, Lilim escaped from the cell. That day... a single Dragoon fled the palace alongside her dragon.
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