Chapter 12: The Most Powerful Onmyouji Listens (Part 1)
A small plaza on the edge of the Imperial City.
Mabel stopped at this place, which was not very crowded even during the daytime.
Sitting on the edge of the cozy fountain, she looked up at the starry sky with a sigh.
She looked a little sad, so I called out to her.
Mabel stood up as if she had been knocked to her feet, looked at me, and reached for the handle of her throwing sword.
I waved my hands at her.
“Wait, wait, wait. I’m not here to fight. We’ll settle this tomorrow. That’s fine, right?”
Mabel looked at me.
“I don’t care whether it’s tomorrow or now.”
But you’re not very good with daggers, are you?
Mabel’s eyes widen.
‘Because you seemed kind of lacking in the fight. I think you’re really good with something heavier than that two-handed sword, don’t you?”
Saying this, I sit down on the edge of the fountain.
I looked up at the sky.
“It’s nice and quiet here. It’s just a shame it’s not cloudy.”
“What’s wrong with clear skies…… ?”
“I like it better when there’s a cloud on the moon. A moon that is too bright is not elegant, especially if there are two moons. Two moons are even worse.”
“What’s wrong with that……? Two moons are normal. You’re weird.”
Saying this, Mabel sat down away from me.
A cool night breeze was blowing through the small square.
“If you’re not going to fight, …… why did you come after me?”
“I came to talk to you.”
“You want to win, don’t you? I’m not going to give in just because you ask me to, and I’m not going to give in with force. But if you tell me what you’re going through, maybe I’ll change my mind.”
“It’s crazy to have a discussion after what happened…. just now.’
“But you didn’t try to kill me, did you?”
“And didn’t you try to get away before I did something about that intruder guy earlier?”
Mabel is silent for a moment, then says with a small sigh.
“At the time, it looked like you were trying to …… make that witness disappear.”
“I didn’t mean it that way, though.”
I was just trying to get rid of him because it was dangerous. I might have seemed a little murderous though.
“I would have been happy if you had gotten hurt and had to sit out the match tomorrow.”
“That would have been pretty extreme.”
“I was going to get an arm or a leg or two or three, because I knew if I didn’t go that far, I wouldn’t be able to hurt you.”
‘Actually, that wasn’t going to happen either, but ……. By any chance, if you were hurt, could you have healed yourself?”
It’s hard to say I could have come back from the dead.
Mabel looks at me and says.
“I’m not going to be defeated if I fight seriously,……. I have a reason why I can’t lose. Please, just give up. I can’t go easy on you. I don’t want anyone else to die…….”
“I told you. I’m not going to give up the win, even if you ask me to.”
Silence fell over the night square.
Mabel was still not willing to talk.
I guess there’s nothing I can do about it.
“Then I’ll tell you what I think.”
“You’re Amiyu’s replacement.”
“Your mission is to win this tournament, impersonate the hero, and get the attention of the demon tribe. That’s why you were adopted by Baron Crane and came to the academy.”
“You knew about this?”
“No, it’s just a guess., correct?”
“No, but …… how did you know she was a hero?”
“There are a lot of things pointing to that.”
I smile wryly.
“But I don’t think that’s all.”
“There must be some other reason why you are so desperate, Depending on that, I might consider abstaining.”
After a long, long silence.
Mabel opened her mouth gravely.
“There is one place where your prediction is wrong.”
‘What is required of me is to lose the …… final.
“To be killed by that evil-eyed swordsman in the finals. That is my role. To make the demons think that the hero is dead.”
I take a breath and open my mouth.
“So you’re saying that Kyle was someone who was sent here, too, after all. …… I don’t understand. I don’t understand the mind of the person who made such a sloppy plan, nor do I understand you. First of all, the demons probably don’t think of you as a hero. Think normally, which is more likely, that you were living in a village somewhere without realizing it, or that the empire is keeping you a secret.”
“…… that’s right.”
“The situation itself is too convenient, for you to be in a competition like this. And yet, if you …… win, you still lose in the finals? If that’s how they think they can fake the death of the hero, then it looks like the courtiers have quite the head on their shoulders.”
“…… had no choice.”
“No choice? Why?
“Because the terms of the loan was to get Kyle to kill me in the finals in the first place.”
‘The academy and those above decided. I was probably the only one who was the same age as the hero, a woman, and the only one who could surely win the tournament. They gave up the win and put in her place a shadow warrior and decided to make it look like she was dead. Even if it would diminish her significance somewhat.”
“Sorry, but I’m not following. The terms of the loan ……? Where the hell did they send you from?”
“—- LeGroc Trading Company.”
Mabel turns to me.
“Have you heard of them?”
“The MC said that …… Kyle was from a security force. I thought that was his official status.”
“Not ostensibly. It’s true. The Guard is the name of the organization that keeps reserve personnel who are not yet “products.”
Mabel pauses for a beat.
“The Luglok Trading Company makes people a commodity. They buy and sell slaves and send mercenaries. That is the business of Legrok.”
“What makes that trading company different from other slave traders is that they find …… talented slaves and train them to become mercenaries themselves. Especially children with magical qualities. Kyle, and I, were part of them.”
“The Empire knows this, of course, and that’s why they were the first to talk to LeGrok when this plan was hatched. They were asked if there were any strong children who could be made into heroes. And they chose me. I was the right age and gender, although my hair color was different. But ……”
“I was originally supposed to be used for something else, Kyle’s last test. So, instead of lending me out, the Chamber of Commerce put a condition on it. That is, they would enter Kyle in the tournament and have him fight me in the finals. And that they would not be responsible …… for the outcome of our match. So if I lose to Kyle in the finals, it is not the knowledge of the company. I guess the Empire knew what that meant, they gave up on having me win from the beginning.”
“But I’m sure it was a good thing for LeGrok that this happened. They would have profited from me, and he would be able to complete his exam at the tournament and promote Kyle, their newest creation.”
I thought for a moment before opening my mouth.
“What exactly is this test? You are one of the mercenaries, a product, aren’t you? Why would they do something that would destroy it?”
Mabel shook her head.
“I’m not an official ‘product. In order to become an official mercenary of LeGroc, I need …… surgery.”
”I asked back.
“Why bother with that? Are they going to implant something in your body?”
“No…… they open your head.”
Mabel traces a finger further up her forehead.
“Cut the skin, pierce the skull,…… and insert a blade into the brain.
“What …… for?”
“That will make you a perfect soldier. A perfect soldier who follows every command without fear, anger, or hesitation. Instead, you lose emotions like joy and sadness and become a different person.”
Then Mabel looked at me.
“You don’t believe me?”
“No,…… I believe you.”
I was not unaware of similar cases.
“You didn’t get it, but Kyle did. No wonder I thought he was a little bit out of touch with humanity. …… So, what’s the test?”
“They’re going to see if the operation was a success by having him kill …… one of his own.”
“The children who are found to have a talent for magic or swordsmanship among the slaves are sent to a training camp where they are raised in pairs of four. There, they are always together. They slept together, ate together, and went through rigorous training together. They sometimes fought, but they were like a family to the children who had no relatives. We encouraged each other to do our best together, and told each other that one day we would be free, and the adults at the training center told us to help each other …………, too.”
“Only one of the four of us can have the surgery. The strongest one.”
“The test is to kill the other three.”
I was speechless, but Mabel continued.
“Only if you can kill them without hesitation will you become a Lugrok mercenary.”
“Then you will be ……”
“I am one of Kyle’s three companions. The other two have already been killed. The only one left is me, who was a candidate to take the place of the hero and whose examinations were postponed. Killing me is Kyle’s last test.”
I opened my mouth after a long silence.
“You were going to win for that …… ? You were going to …… make it to the finals and get killed by that guy.”
Mabel immediately denies it.
It was the first time I saw anything resembling emotion in the back of her voice.
“I don’t know anything about bravery or exams. The reason I can’t lose is because I have to kill Kyle in the finals…… . Regardless of the intentions of the Empire or the company.”
“I had a brother. My own brother.”
‘The only family member who was sold into slavery with me. It just so happened that my brother and I both had a talent for magic, and we were picked up by the Company together. We were together in the training center. He was always kind, he cared for everyone, he comforted me when I was in pain. ………… and first of all, he was killed.”
I’m going to avenge him. That’s why I’m here.”
I heard Mabel’s words.
The sense of incongruity that had been piled up finally clears.
“It’s a lie that Kyle is the enemy of your brother.”
“Kyle is your brother….., , isn’t he?”
“Wha……? Why ……?”
Mabel mutters in astonishment.
I sigh and say.
“I’m not sure I can answer that question. It’s mostly a hunch. It wasn’t convincing the way you were talking about revenge, and the way you were looking at Kyle in the arena. I also noticed that your eyes are the same color as Kyle’s, the one without the evil eye. You even have a bit of a facial resemblance.”
“…… I see.”
“I wonder if your hair was gray like his before you dyed it?”
When I saw the girl who kept silent… I had something more to think about.
I asked while looking at her eyes involuntarily.
“No way……did Kyle himself want it……? To die by your hands.”
Mabel’s eyes widened.
Then she turns her face down and mutters a few words.
“You know everything, ……. Have you lived in a terrible world, too?”
“No, not as much as …… you.”
At least not in this life.
Mabel begins to talk in hushed tones.
“Shortly before he was going to have the surgery……my brother told me, “If I’m no longer me, then I want Mabel to put me at ease.” When I was told, I didn’t know what he meant, but……I think my brother knew what would happen……Because the people who where “products” were somehow strange. And it was my brother who was most likely to be the “product”. My brother, who was born with the evil eye, was stronger than anyone in the nursery.”
“He’s not my brother …… anymore. He would never have killed his opponent in a fight, much less two on his own……. I don’t know what he’s thinking right now. But if he still has my brother inside him,…… he must be in pain. I just want to put him to rest.”
I asked after a pause.
“Can you beat Kyle?”
“I don’t know. No…… Maybe impossible.”
“But I have to do it. I’m the only one who can do it. Besides.”
Then Mabel laughed a small laugh, as if she was troubled.
‘I’m just going to die no matter what happens. Even if I lose in the finals, even if I win, even if I escape. Even if that person doesn’t kill me, the Company will just get rid of me. If that is the case,……, I would like to do my brother a favor for the last time.”
It was the first time I saw Mabel smile, I realized that I had never seen her smile before.
The girl said,
“I want to fight in the finals. Please let me. I don’t think i’ll lose to you. But I don’t think I can win for free. I want to face him in the best possible condition. That’s all I want…….”
“……I’ve changed my mind.”
I kept my eyes down.
“I was actually planning to lose the semi-finals on purpose. I wasn’t interested in winning, and I knew what this tournament meant. But I’ve decided not to.”
I told her quietly.
“I’ll beat you in the semifinals, and in the finals, I’ll beat Kyle.”
A moment later, Mabel makes an angry face.
“Why? Why why?”
“You don’t need to kill your brother, and you don’t need him to kill you. It’s not right to take your only family member by your hands.”
“You don’t know what you’re doing!”
“What do you think I’ve been fighting for!? To be sent to a school, to be shown all these blessed people, to be reunited with my brother at a tournament like this! Don’t tell me you’re so naive! I’m different! I’m not a carefree noble child, or a hero who’s carefully protected, or you! Don’t take away my last role! What am I to do when you defeat me and I disappear without being able to do anything!”
“Whatever you like. Go back to the academy. You are now a baroness and a student of the school.”
“You’ll go back to the academy and be congratulated for making it to the semi-finals. Then it’s back to school life. You’ll study with the other happy-go-lucky students, take the usual exams, advance, and eventually graduate. …… From there, it’s up to you.”
Mabel’s eyes widen and her lips quiver.
“Don’t …… say that, there’s no way. The school has no reason to keep me around after I’ve failed and am no longer of any use.”
“Well, my guess is that’s the least of your worries.”
“Even if one out of a hundred times that can happen, the …… Company won’t shut up about it. There’s no way they would leave me alone, who knows inside information. They will definitely send assassins……They have a lot of ‘products’ that are stronger than my brother. There’s no way I can stay safe…….”
“As expected, they’ll definitely take such steps. Well, there’s no problem if it’s just assassins.”
I say while smiling
“As long as I’m in school, no one is going to mess with you.”
“You …… can’t do that.”
“I can do it,—- because I’m the strongest.”