Translator:EndlessFantasy TranslationEditor:EndlessFantasy Translation
Dragon Clouds City, Spear District.
Old Brook extinguished the Everlasting Lamp he lit to attract the customers. He lamented another tough day with no customers.
Spear District was an interesting place. It was not as undeveloped and poor as Shield District and Hammer District, not as affluent as Axe District and Arrow District, and not as busy as Bow District, Sword District, and Armor District. It was situated on the higher slopes in Dragon Clouds City. Most of its residents were families of the king’s loyalists; working as government officials but still had not received a knighthood, or wealthy civilian merchants who could not move into the aristocratic neighborhood. Hence, Spear District was stuck in an awkward position.
But the innkeeper Old Brook, who once came from Vallier Gang of Camus, was one of the few people who utilized the awkwardness of the middle-class status for their livelihood. He saw business opportunities in it.
Old Brook’s inn appeared clean and tidy. Its dcor was decent enough. The price for accommodation was not too high or too cheap. It always managed to attract middle-class customers such as the title-less, rich merchants or artisans, the fallen nobles with no wealth but wished to retain their dignity, and travelers who had no idea how the city operated and who have traveled far to this place.
They were mostly folks who came from other places to see ‘very important people’. They had no right to stay in Axe District and Arrow District for too long, and did not want to stoop down to the disorderliness of Sword District and Bow District (Of course, the inferior and humble Shield District and Hammer District are out of the question). Thus, they often chose to set up base in Spear District, staying in Old Brook’s tidy and, seemingly, classy inn.
After suffering many hardships, Old Brook and his family had settled down in Spear District. Unfortunately, since the assassination of Prince Moriah, the antagonism between the two superpowers in the Western Peninsula swiftly heightened.
Rumors of military recruitment, tax increments, war, and supply shortages came in waves. The tense atmosphere in the city caused Old Brook’s business performance to plummet over the past month. Recently, he received only one guest. He could only lament his bad luck, then followed the procedure: decrease spending on alcohol supplies and labor costs to keep the inn running.
When news regarding the Prince of Constellation’s arrival came, he thought the danger was over. But last night, Old Brook was woken up from sleep.
Bright Moon Goddess have mercy!
Why were there be countless patrol units trotting down the streets in the middle of the night? What were those horrifying loud crashes last night? What were there thunderous booms after midnight?
Old Brook was a Camian, but he was unlike his money-minded merchant compatriots at Dragon Wings Plaza who planned to earn a great fortune before leaving.
It was twenty years ago, when Old Brook was Little Brook, when he spotted the Northland girl who helped carry goods in the Vallier Gang and fell head over heels for her to the point of eloping with his fianceagainst all oddsto Dragon Clouds City.
He had been here for so long; all his neighbors with prominent connections and backgrounds were used to his presence; the toughest and most anti-foreign disciplinary officer would not pick on him; the youngsters thought he was merely a Northlander with a unique appearance. He was here long enough to pick up a thick Northlandic accent, the unintelligible murmurs at the end of each sentence that he would have made fun of when he was younger. Even after his beloved Northlander wife passed away, Old Brook did not plan to return to his homeland or move elsewhere.
But Old Brook could swearto either the Bright Moon Goddess or the Lady of Harveststhat during all these years he had lived in Dragon Clouds City, he had never seen or heard anything like this when he opened the window last night!
‘The giant octopus that wreaked havoc in Shield District?’
‘A dragon?! The roaring, winged lizard that landed in the fire?’
His neighbors whispered in fear and reverence. As someone who did not know much about the Northland legends and folklore, he was terrified.
‘Are we back to the era of myths? Forget it. The big shots will handle this.’
Unnerved, Old Brook yawned drowsily, shaking his head. He picked up his pen and flipped open the ledger. As he was about to round off an amount for the disciplinary officer and the patrol units when they came by, a black-haired girl about fifteen or sixteen years old pushed open the door and entered with a relaxed expression.
The gloom on Old Brook’s face dispersed in that instant. He was ready to greet his princess.
“Lucy!” the innkeeper said cheerfully. “My dearest daughter!”
But when he saw what the girl was wearing, Old Brook frowned immediately.
With frost on her hair, the girl’s nose and mouth were covered by a piece of black cloth, revealing only a pair of bright eyes. She wore a simple but thick woolen top, her gloves were covered in snow, and the hem of her pants were bound tightly and stuffed into her boots.
‘She definitely went tinkering around somewhere,’ Old Brook thought, displeased.
“You ran out of the district again? Look at the snowstorm, you didn’t even put on a hat!” The owner forced himself to put on a stern face. He raised a finger. “I’ve told you. You saw for yourself yesterday. It’s a mess out there. For the past ten days, there weren’t a lot of customers. The patrol units passed by this morning. Rumors are flying everywhere, saying that a few districts in the lower parts of the city have been demolished
“And those country bumpkins from the slums” Old Brook looked at his daughter with concern. “You are a girl, Lucy! You have to watch out for your own safety!”
The masked girl stomped on the ground, scraping snow off the soles of her boots. She then patted her frosted gloves, pulled her fair hands out, and took off the black veil on her face, revealing an adorable face, reddened by the cold, with a mischievous but adorable look.
The girl turned to the owner and smiled a bright smile. It put Old Brook’s heartfelt lecturer to an end.
“Yes, yes, yes, dear father.” The girl waved with a giggle, holding onto the railings of the wooden stairway. “Understood. I am going upstairs if there’s nothing else”
The girl tilted her head, making a wry face, and pranced away before Old Brook’s eyes. All that was left was the pitter-patter of her footsteps as she went upstairs.
Old Brook was instantly flustered.
The innkeeper leaned forward, lowered his voice, and said anxiously towards the stairway, “Do not disturb the guest. He has stressed the need for silence!”
What replied him were his daughter’s drawn out syllables, “Unnndeeerrrstooooood,” followed by a few soft grumbles that roughly sounded like, “Naggy old man.”
Old Brook withdrew his head from the bottom of the stairway and heaved a long sigh.
“The Empire men, the calamity, the dragon, the curfew… Hm, and a daughter who is worrisome like her mother.” The innkeeper walked back to his seat, took a sip of his late wife’s favorite ale, then shook his head. “God knows what is awaits me”
‘But’ Old Brook rolled his eyes, his lips upturned. ‘As long as Lucy is alright, as long as Lucy is happy and well then life is not that bad after all.’
Old Brook’s gloomy attitude brightened up. He turned his attention back to his ledger.
However, he was unaware that, the moment his daughter was out of his sight, the girl’s youthful and mischievous expression had turned cold as though frost had fallen on her.
Coldness radiated from her body. Her light, cheerful steps became soundless, like a black cat walking on its toes. The girl pushed opened a wooden door, stepping into a narrow and dim room that was filled with a medicinal scent.
On the wooden bed in the room, a man, leaning against the wall, opened his deep, serene eyes. He wore a grim expression.
He was wrapped in a skin-tight gray shirt and did not seem to feel cold despite the wintry weather. His hands were propped up by his knees. His sleeves were rolled up to his upper arms. His left arm and right shoulder were bound in thick bandages.
The girl closed the door. The corners of her lips curved, smiling a cold smirk that was wildly different from her cheeky smile earlier. She spoke to the man softly, addressing him respectfully and patiently with an odd title.
The man-in-gray did not reply. He simply gazed at the area beyond the window’s slit.
As though she was used to the silence of the man, the girl sat down on a stool, picked up a dagger from the table, and said to herself, “The martial law has ended. Perhaps the powerful men in the palace have come to an agreement. When are we leaving?”
The man-in-gray did not respond. But in the next second, he suddenly looked up. The emptiness in his eyes turned into vigilance.
The man-in-gray raised his hand, a dagger sprung up from a table two meters away from him and flew abruptly into his hand.
He said calmly, “We have a guest.”
The girl’s eyes flickered. She stood up and moved instinctively. She lifted her fair, spindly fingera rare trait among Northlanderspulled out the black cloth that was tied around her neck, tugged it over her nose and covered the bottom half of her face like before.
It resembled the professional mask of an assassin; it did not just cover the face, but masked the breathing.
Just as she pulled up the veil, holding the dagger close to her chest, a sharp voice came from outside the door.
“It has been a while, my old friend.”
A middle-aged man pushed open the door and entered, wearing a big smile on his flat, smooth face.
The ‘guest’ was dressed in a thick coat commonly worn by Northlanders, with a thick, wool hat that covered both ears. He had a flat face that was uncommon in the Western Peninsula. His lips were thin and his skin had a yellow hue. At first glance, he seemed likeable.
He blew air on his palms, ignoring the girl, and squinted his eyes to get used to the darkness of the room.
The girl frowned, but the man-in-gray had gestured at her, so she suppressed the urge to attack.
Still smiling brightly, the guest peered at the man on the bed and strode forward. In that very moment, the man-in-gray suddenly lifted his deep gaze. Chilling light gleamed in his eyes.
“There are three traps in front of you.”
The smile froze on the guest’s face, so had his raised right foot.
The man-in-gray’s words were straightforward and emotionless. “Two of them are fatal.”
The flat-faced guest inhaled deeply, blinked, and gave a shrug. With an apparent look of defeat, he placed his lifted right foot back where it was.
From the side, the girl’s lips curved upwards. She sneered quietly to herself.
However, the smile seemed to be embedded on the guest’s face. He beamed despite the awkwardness.
“Now you are indeed the regicide clan.” The guest smiled a slimy smirk, rubbing his palms together. His common tongue was laced with an odd accent unlike that of the Eckstedtians or Constellatiates’, nor did it sound like a Camian or Southwesterner. “Just thinking about it makes one feel”
The guest paused. His gaze shifted to the bandage on the man’s shoulders.
“Oh.” His voice deepened. He seemed slightly astonished and dazed. “You are injured. Was it an accident?”
The girl gave a cold snort, but the man-in-gray on the bed just stared indifferently at the guest.
“All the men around him were White Blade Guards. Sixteen of them,” the man said softly.
An interested look appeared on the guest’s face.
“Three cuts, each deeper than the one before.” The man-in-gray exercised his bandaged left shoulder. He went on uncaringly, “It’s already a feat that I still managed to come back.”
The flat-faced guest stopped smiling. He lowered his head, gazing at the man silently from the corner of his eye. He looked as if he was peeking from behind a door.
“What about your brother?” The guest grinned, asking softly, “He let you do such a difficult task alone?”
“He has somewhere he needs to be,” the man said quietly.
The silence lasted a few seconds.
The guest peered at the floor beneath his feet, moved his hands from his back to rub his palms quietly. “How’s your injury?”
Sensing that something was odd, the girl frowned.
The man-in-gray’s eyes were still and calm. He and the guest stared at each other from a distance.
The corners of the man’s lips curved upward. He exercised his shoulders. “If you want to kill me, this is a good time to do it: when neither of my arms can hold a weapon.”
The girl’s gaze sharpened. She clutched the dagger close to her chest. She only awaited the order.
The guest arched an eyebrow. He leaned his head forward, but his body remained motionless, he stared at the man before him, scanning the dagger in his hand with a soft but uncanny gaze.
The atmosphere instantly grew strange.
The man responded with silence, seeming calm and composed.
In the end, when the girl was growing impatient, the guest all of sudden began to laugh.
The guest narrowed his eyes, throwing his head back in glee, as though he had encountered something amusing. He lifted his finger to his eye level and pointed at the man with a teasing grin.
“You became funnier, Bannette!”
He laughed loudly, index finger wagging in the air, and his tone was exaggerated. “I like that about you!”
The man-in-gray known as Bannette merely watched him coldly. He stayed silent for a long time.
But the guest did not seem to feel ignored at all. He stopped smiling, withdrew his finger, and turned to the girl.
“Oh, lassie, you must be the magnificent ‘Lucy’!”
The guest gave a slight, respectful bow, wearing an eerie smile, and said with his odd accent, “You have been a great help to my subordinates. You are indeed your father’s”
However, he was obviously not welcome.
“Stay away from me,” the masked girl said with a look of disgust, “you freaky Far Easterner.”
“Oh, how cold,” the Far Easterner guest replied patiently, completely unaffected. “You break my heart.”
The man on the bed flicked his dagger gently. “As far as I know” The gray-clad Bannette snorted coldly, interrupting him, “You never expose yourself to danger… Yet here you are,” he said flatly.
Hearing this, the Far Easterner guest closed his mouth, embarrassed, and heaved a sigh in a seemingly frustrated manner.
“The customer this time is not as easy to deal with. You know, the archduke who killed his brother if I didn’t personally come here, my people will muck it up.” He shrugged.
‘Besides’ The guest from the Far East sighed lightly. ‘What’s more important is that boy representing Renaissance Palace.’
Nevertheless, the man was unfazed. “Why did you come to me?”
The guest exhaled with a chuckle.
“My friend acquired some intel in Constellation.” The guest blinked, as if he was going to take out some kind of treasure. “You know, it’s not easy to get intel from there nowadays”
The man-in-gray’s voice turned cold. “Get straight to the point.”
“You might be interested in this.” The guest changed the subject swiftly, and yet somehow made the very deliberate and stiff transition seem to be done smoothly. “A few assembly spots at the border encountered an intruder”
Bannette snorted again. “The point.”
The Far Easterner did not hesitate, he went on, “The combat style and movements are similar to those of the Charleton Family.”
In that very second, the girl felt her breaths shorten. She seemed to have thought of something.
The guest arched an eyebrow, observing Bannette’s facial expression. The man-in-gray did not respond. Instead, he glanced abruptly at the window.
The Far Easterner was rather confused.
A few seconds later, he froze slightly as well, and looked at the window. The Far Easterner’s expression became solemn and grim.
“Looks like you have a shadow, too,” the man-in-gray said impassively.
The guest gave an awkward smile, evidently embarrassed.
“Should I take care of this for you?” Bannette said flatly.
The guest glanced at the dagger in his hand. He sighed softly, but immediately beamed cheerfully.
“How would I dare?” He bowed slightly. “This is my own personal matter.”
“Alright then.” The man-in-gray nodded slightly. “So long.”
After he said this, the man named Bannette got out of the bed.
The second his feet touched the floor, the five daggers on the table, as though coming to life, flew towards Bannette. They then squeezed back into the five different sheaths on his body.
Seeing this unbelievable phenomenon, the Far Easterner could not help but frown.
“The traps are gone.” The man-in-gray put on a large robe, covering the bandage on his body. When he walked past the Far Easterner, he whispered, “You may come in without worry.”
The guest gave a slight, polite bow.
The girl let out a light snort in mockery. She took one look at the Far Easterner with an eerie smile, then followed her father out of the room.
The moment the two of them left, the guest raised his head. His gaze became extremely chilly. He closed the door to the room gently. He gazed at the window and sighed.
“After fifteen years,” the guest said in a language completely different from the lingua franca commonly used in the Western Peninsulawhich consisted of many single syllables, each constituting a word. “I am found at last.”
At the window, a hand appeared suddenly and grasped the window sill. The second Far Easterner rolled into the room.
“It has been a while.” Once he tumbled in from outside the window, the Far Easterner butcher shop owner whom Thales had met once, Gu, patted the snow off his hands beside the window. He spoke impassively in the same language.
On the stairway outside the room, the man-in-gray and the masked girl walked downstairs in silence.
“He is” The girl turned her head, taking a peek at the room. She could not help but ask, “The Shadow Master?”
The man did not answer, only nodded. The girl narrowed her eyes slightly, then, as if testing the waters, she asked,
“Father, the intruder he was talking about might be mother, or my sister’s”
“How many?” the man said abruptly with a look of indifference.
The girl was somewhat taken aback. “Huh?”
“That guy,” said the man-in-gray coldly, “how many lies did he tell?”
“Lies” The girl was rather confused.
“Eleven; from the moment he stepped into my room until the second we left, he had told eleven lies,” the man concluded quietly. With a solemn gaze, he continued, “Nine of which are fatal. If I could not tell them apart and respond with further questions”
The man suppressed the tremors in his hands. With a wave of his left hand, he caught a droplet of bloodwhich had dripped out of his bandagesin mid-air, preventing it from falling onto the floor. “…the situation would have been grave.”
The girl was astounded. She blinked. “But he did not say much”
“A liar needs no tongue,” the man-in-gray interrupted the girl coldly. “This quote came from a formidable lady. Keep that in mind.”
The masked girl was startled.
“One more thing…” The man did not look at the girl beside him. He wore an impassive face and his tone was cold. “Your mother and sister are dead. Do not mention them ever again.”
When she heard this, the girl’s shoulders trembled a little. She gently clenched her fists.
The man-in-gray noticed the girl’s anomaly, but he did not react to it. “Next time, do not lead a ‘shadow’ back to our door.”
The girl lowered her head, her eyes hidden.
They went downstairs.
“Lucy, why are you coming down with the guest?”
From his chair, Old Brook raised his head, looking at the girl with a black veil on her face. He wore an astonished expression. “And you put on the scarf again. Are you heading out?”
But the girl ignored him. She merely stared at the man-in-gray.
Old Brook then snapped out of reverie, and turned to look at the man solicitously. “Sir, do you want to settle the bill now?”
The man-in-gray lowered his head slightly and whispered to the girl, “Don’t make a mess or leave traces behind.”
Old Brook watched the interaction between his daughter and the guest in confusion, baffled. The masked girl nodded. Under Old Brook’s inquiring gaze, she walked towards him, opened her arms, and hugged him.
It was exactly like how a daughter embraced her father.
“What are you doing, Lucy?” Old Brook was amused by his daughter’s behavior. He returned her hug while casting an apologetic glance at the grim-faced guest. “I have to serve the customer”
Alas, he did not manage to finish.
Old Brook’s expression changed and he shuddered while he held his daughter.
His teeth started to chatter and his face contorted drastically. With great difficulty, he lowered his head in shock and stared at his daughter in his arms.
“Lucy, you” Old Brook trembled even more furiously, as if he was enduring great pain, but nothing could compare to the bewilderment, pain, and despair in his eyes.
“Huff! Huff! Huff!” Old Brook shuddered another three times, each time more frightening than the last.
His eyebrows were practically knitted together, but he could only see callousness and indifference in his daughter’s eyes.
The girl released her embrace, then gently pushed Old Brook away.
Old Brook fell on the ground with despair rife on his face. His lips trembled while he stared at the bloody dagger in the girl’s right hand.
A wet and warm feeling spread out from the owner’s agonized back. It drenched his robes and made the floor wet.
‘No. Lucy, no!’
While he lay in his own blood, Old Brook pursed his lips and stared at the dagger in the girl’s hands.
Under intense pain that nearly dulled his senses, he extended his powerless right hand to his dearest daughter and, in a daze as well as a sob, he said,
“Lucy No Why..?”
But the girl only looked down on him coldly. In her eyes there was derision and disgust.
“Listen well, my dear father: I am not Lucy. That is only a name I use at work.”
The masked girl crouched down with gentle movements and moved to Old Brook’s ears. “My real name is”
With a voice only the both of them could hear clearly, she said,
Old Brook’s gaze stilled. But other than scratching at the ground powerlessly, he could no longer say anything.
The man-in-gray stood behind them quietly without saying a word.
Yessica quietly stood up and cast a silent glance at her own dagger before she gently flung the blood off it.
Two letters were revealed on the blood-soaked blade of the dagger: