“But no worries. The rights to the countdom were just collateral for unforeseen circumstances. The original plan was to dig the Marquis into a hole of debt so massive that he would have to give up the rights to his land. No problem whatsoever.”
“Ha! That petty sum of investment and military supplies? You think there won’t be a single person that wouldn’t lend me a hand once I become a Duke?”
“You have more debt than that.”
“Seriously, you should have raised your son better. Why is it always the useless sons that ruin their father’s fortunes.”
“… What are you saying?”
“Your youngest son is addicted to gambling. It’s so serious that your entire fiefdom is in jeopardy because of it. I made sure that the receipt was stamped with your family’s seal instead of his personal one, just in case. Selling all of your lands won’t be enough to repay the debt.”
“… Don’t make me laugh! You think I would have allowed that? My family’s seal has been used without my permission!”
“But you did? You handed over the seal to your Head Promotor, along with the power to make transactions. You should have been more careful with your seal.”
“… This is a scam! You think I’ll stay put in all of this? I will do everything I can to stop this!”
Marquis Lichten screamed, and an exasperated Isaac simply stopped responding. It was Count Wolfgang who responded instead with laughter.
“I see! So that’s what is happening! Kuhahah!”
“Shut up! What’s so funny to you!”
“Kukuku. Don’t you get it? Sir Isaac isn’t going to let anyone leave this castle alive. Except my children.”
Wolfgang’s vassals finally understood Isaac’s intentions and began laughing along with their lord.
“What? Impossible. My vassals are outside this castle at this…”
“Ah! Didn’t I tell you? They ran away the moment we spread word that the Black Bandits had appeared. Didn’t even think twice or even look behind them as they ran. You should have treated your men better. How was there not a single person that questioned where you, their lord, was?”
The Marquis’ face paled, finally realising that it was dead silent outside the castle.
“Impossible. My sons…”
“Your sons were busy fighting amongst one another to become the next Marquis even as they were running away. As they say, birds of the same feather flock together. How is it possible that your sons and vassals share such an uncanny resemblance? You really should be thankful to me. I just solved your complicated succession issue.”
The Marquis’s strength had been sapped completely, and he collapsed onto the ground.
“Central… Central abandoned me?”
“Think about the bright side. Central looked out for you because you were more valuable than the Count, but they didn’t stop me because I’m more useful to them than you are.”
“… I see.”
The Marquis looked as if he had just aged ten years in an instant, and Wolfgang mocked him with a pitiless smirk.
“So you were in the same situation as I was.”
“Shut up! Shut up!”
The Marquis immediately answered Wolfgang’s taunt and picked up a sword from the ground. He charged in recklessly, but one flick with Isaac’s chin and the Marquis was turned into a porcupine.
“I know you guys don’t have to pay for these bolts, but can’t you be more mindful? How many rounds did we use for this pathetic scumbag?”
The agents ignored Isaac’s scolding. Isaac looked at his agents unhappily, but as he approached Elena, his expression changed to a bright, friendly smile.
“So what would you like to do?”
“… I will go with my husband.”
Laila held Elena’s arm tightly, but Elena looked back at her, giving her best attempt at a smile.
“You have made a great choice.”
Laila glared sharply at Isaac when Wolfgang asked.
“I have another request.”
“What is it?”
“As a man who follows the path of the sword, I would like to duel a worthy opponent in for last moments.”
Isaac rubbed his chin wistfully, then noticed Laila was still staring at him. Isaac turned and asked Laila with a smile.
“Brat, what will you do if I accept your father’s request?”
“… I will follow you.”
Isaac’s eyes widened at the unexpected answer, which left both Elena and Wolfgang deeply confused. Laila continued.
“I will learn everything about you. And when I surpass and stand above you, I will kill you.”
Even her parents were at a loss for words after hearing their child answer in such cold vengeance. Only Isaac laughed gleefully.
“Kuhahah! Fine! That’s a deal! I happily await for the day you can kill me!”
Isaac crouched and looked at Laila eye to eye as he pat her head.
“But you better hurry. There’s a lot of people lined up to kill me. And you’re the very last one.”
“… But I will have the most opportunities.”
Laila slapped away Isaac’s hand. Isaac roared in laughter and spoke to Wolfgang.
“You must be proud to have a daughter like her.”
“She is my everything. And she’ll become the first Lady of Wolfgang.”
“It’ll be just as you say. Minus the claim that she’ll kill me.”
Isaac snickered at Wolfgang’s reply, then shouted toward the entrance of the Banquet Hall.
“Stop prancing about over there and come in.”
With that, Rivelia entered the Banquet Hall hesitantly.
“I’ll grumble about your insubordination later. You heard everything right?”
“Then get ready. And how long are you going to stand there? Aren’t you going to come out?”
Pount shook his head, and Isaac left Pount to do as he wished as he clicked his tongue. Seeing something was up between their exchange of look, Wolfgang asked.
“Did you open the castle gates?”
“… I am sorry. I couldn’t ignore Central’s orders.”
“Were you an agent of Central?”
“A Mission Support Agent, though I didn’t think I’d be used in this way.”
“I see. I’d only heard rumours about them, but never thought I’d have one among us. So we have been in the palm of Central since the beginning…”
“I am sorry.”
“Do you still have the same dream we had?”
“I swear it.”
“That’s fine. I leave my daughters to you. Make sure Sir Isaac keeps his promise.”
Pount turned with great surprise, but Wolfgang’s hand was quicker to strike the back of Pount’s neck, incapacitating him. Isaac pouted as he complained.
“Wow! I see that a society based on credit and trust is still in the distance. You don’t believe me?”
“In human terms, credit and lies mean the same thing.”
Isaac nodded in agreement to Wolfgang and snickered. Count Wolfgang stood up and shouted at his men.
“Now ! Raise your swords! This is our last battle! We will become the foundation that holds up the Dukedom of Wolfgang!”
Wolfgang’s soldiers and knights roared along with Wolfgang. Isaac ordered to have the fainted Pount removed from the area and spoke to Rivelia and his agents.
“They are people who live and die by the sword just like you. Why don’t you give them a proper farewell for their last moments.”
Rivelia and Isaac’s agents began taking off their hoods and cape, and even their defensive coats. Isaac frowned.
“… What are you doing?”
“We are giving them a proper farewell, just as you ordered.”
Kainen replied. Isaac smirked and left them to do what they wanted. He picked up a cigarette and sat next to Laila, striking a conversation with her.
“I swear everyone wants to look cool. Brat, this is my first lesson. Look over there. Does it look cool? It’s all useless. It’s much more efficient to finish the job quickly and rest at home than prattle on and try to put on a show.”
“But you’re the one who spoke the most here.”
Isaac’s mouth stopped. His eyes gleamed as he stared deeply into Laia before smiling.
“Ha. You’re definitely something alright. I thought you might have been a decent piece of insurance, but I think I hit the jackpot.”
Isaac mumbled to himself as Wolfgang and Rivelia’s swords clashed, signalling the start of the battle between the Count and Isaac’s agents. Though the Count’s men were elites moulded by experience in battle, Central’s agents were savants that had undergone rigorous selection processes.
Though the battle was fierce, only men of Count Wolfgang fell to the ground. After some time, the Banquet Hall was quiet, save for the sounds of Wolfgang and Rivelia’s duel.
The agents circled around them, forming a stage. They hit the tip of their swords onto the ground on a rhythm. Within the strange echoes of the arena, Wolfgang and Rivelia’s swords danced.
They cut, parry, stabbed, and swung, measuring each other’s strength. Their swords would sometimes intertwine, only to separate in an instant—when all of a sudden, Wolfgang’s sword flashed and struck at Rivelia’s heart like lightning.
The sword’s tip was only a handspan away from Rivelia, when she suddenly spun and parried Wolfgang’s sword towards the ceiling. Rivelia immediately followed with a cut at Wolfgang’s chest.
Laila’s scream momentarily slowed Rivelia’s swing, but it was too late. Blood poured from Wolfgang’s open chest, and he knelt onto the ground.
Rivelia hesitated to give the finishing blow, when Count Wolfgang raised his hand, stopping her.
“Stop. I have lost. You are indeed a Sword Master. It was an honour to fight you.”
“I will ease your pain.”
Rivelia’s voice quivered, but Wolfgang refused Rivelia’s offer.
“You are not the person who will kill me.”
Wolfgang struggled to catch his breath. He looked at Elena, Julia and smiled at Laila, albeit weakly. His eyes then turned to Isaac.
“Come, Sir Isaac. It is you who will kill me.”
“Your body won’t be in a pretty state if you die to me, you know? You sure you want to see your kid off as a bloody mess?”
Isaac’s eyes opened wide at Wolfgang’s delighted response while Isaac’s agents mumbled amongst one another. They had been first-hand witness to the shotgun’s ability to decimate the human body into a ragged jumble of meat.
Isaac exchanged looks with Wolfgang for a moment, and then he shook his head as if he’d lost and stood up.
“Man. You’re a great man. You really are. Is this what a noble is?”
“Think of this as a parent’s determination, to become stern for the future of his children.”
Isaac’s face stiffened, listening to Wolfgang’s mumbling.
“… What do you mean?”
Wolfgang formed an inexplicable smile, and then he spoke.
“Thank you. And I am sorry.”
“… Whatever. It was outside my calculations, but what’s the problem with one more. It makes no difference. But I still don’t understand why Central didn’t recruit you. You were the only person who figured it out here. Just from the information you heard in this room alone.”
“Let’s just say that I wanted it to be this way.”
“… It’ll be as you wish. Any last words?”
Isaac asked as he drew his shotgun. Wolfgang’s eyes went towards his family once more.
“Laila, listen well. It is Sir Isaac who killed me. If you want vengeance, it must be at Sir Isaac. Remember it well.”
With that, Wolfgang looked at Isaac with a refreshed look.
“You… You really are something. This is the first time I’ve thought that it was a waste to kill someone.”
“I thank you again. And I apologise.”
“Same to you too. It’s fine. You should thank your friends. It was them who asked first.”
“Really? Huhu. They were great friends.”
Wolfgang smiled and laughed at himself, and Isaac pulled the trigger. With a ‘bang!,’ a shower of pellets exploded in Wolfgang’s chest, which caved in completely.
“I’ll leave Julia with you. There’s only two of you left now. So make sure you two play nice and help one another.”
Elena approached Count Wolfgang’s body. Rivelia spoke out with a sorry look.
“You don’t have to do this. I swear on my family’s name…”
Rivelia’s body stiffened in the face of a determined woman’s eyes.
“There’s no need for it.”
“My child will become the Duchess.”
Lady Elena’s stern, determined gaze rendered Rivelia at a loss for words.