Stalking the Stalker
Editor(s): Speedphoenix, Joker
“Is it just me, or are you paladins in charge of a whole slew of different things?” I asked, as I accompanied Nell away from the scene of the incident. “Must be a huge pain in the ass.”
“It’s not that bad. We are responsible for all sorts of miscellaneous tasks, but we rarely have to act on them in practice. Arbitration, for example, is something we only have to do if we happen to be at the scene of the incident when it happens. Normally, arguments that turn a bit more violent tend to get reported to the city’s guard, so they handle it instead,” she explained. “I’ve only ever had to do it a few times myself.”
“Really? You seemed pretty used to mediation for someone that’s basically never done it before.”
“That would be because Carlotta taught me how to handle just about every possible scenario.”
I can see that. She did seem like the type to be good at that kinda thing.
The event that had transpired was surprisingly dull. All it really involved was a drunk man doing typical drunk man things, such as getting into a less-than-friendly argument with the owner of the restaurant he was proceeding to get wasted in. Nell’s role in the situation involved calming both parties down and convincing the drunkard to compensate the store for the damages he caused. After confirming that both the man and the store’s owner were fine with her decision, she vacated the scene and left them to follow through without her supervision.
“…And I don’t really think that went as smoothly as it did because I’m good at arbitrating.”
“What do you mean?”
“You being angry played a part in how cooperative they were. They both went pale the moment you started seething at them,” she said. “And being exposed to your wrath is more than enough to make most people submit.”
“Well, uh… ahaha…”
I nervously laughed off the accusation. While she certainly didn’t think that my actions had been justified, I did. The shopkeeper had called her a dumb broad and told her to keep out of his business, while the drunkard had tried grabbing her ass and offering her cash in exchange for some time alone with him. Like, come on, can you really blame me? I was totally in the right. I totally would’ve stayed out of it if they didn’t decide to piss me off. It’s their fault for looking down on her and getting me riled, not mine. Right?
“I’m really happy that you’re getting mad on my behalf, but you really don’t have to,” she said. “I’m already used to everyone looking down on me. It doesn’t bother me anymore, so you don’t have to make such a big deal out of it.”
“Sorry not sorry,” I said. “I get that you’re already used to it, but I’m not. And I’m not planning on getting used to it either. This is just how things are going to be. I’m going to get mad at everyone that talks shit about you.”
She tried to pout, but ended up with a troubled smile instead.
“…I really want to get mad at you, but I can’t.”
“Yeah, I know. That’s why I said it like that.” I smirked at her as I took her hand. “Alright, let’s go. There’s still lots to see.”
“Oh, Yuki, you never do play fair, do you…?” She sighed in a mix of amusement and exasperation as she gave my fingers a bit of a squeeze.
With the sun beneath the horizon, and the moon and stars hidden beneath a blanket of clouds, Alshir was left with few sources of illumination. Not even the brightest lanterns or lamps were able to light up more than a few dozen square meters at once.
“Alright, let’s get down to business.” I got up off the couch and stretched as I readied myself for the task at hand, one I had to do for the sake of my bride to be. “I’ll be back in a bit.”
“Mmk. Be careful out there,” she said, before turning to the person that would be accompanying me. “Make sure you keep him safe, okay?”
“…I will,” said Enne.
“Wait, you’re asking her to keep me safe? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?”
“I didn’t say it because I know I don’t need to. You’d do everything in your power to keep her safe even if I don’t bring it up,” said Nell. “That’s why it’s more important she keeps you safe instead. As your weapon, she’s the only one that can make up for all your little shortcomings.”
“Don’t worry,” said Enne. “I’ll keep Master safe.”
“Thanks, Enne. I’m counting on you.” The hero smiled as she patted the sword girl on the head.
The wry smile their interactions put on my face was the last expression I showed before donning my mask and hiding my face underneath it.
“Sorry for keeping you up so late,” I said, as I slung Enne over my shoulder. “But it can’t really be helped. It’s time for us to get to work.”
She deactivated the skill keeping her personified and shifted her consciousness back into her blade. After saying goodbye to Nell, I hopped out the window and began making my way outside the castle.
As Stealth was active, I was able to walk right past the guards on night duty and melt into one of the city’s many alleyways without getting spotted. The skill’s effect was incredible. They showed absolutely no hint of noticing me, and likely wouldn’t have even if I was to tell a side-splitting joke, or play a prank of epic proportions right before their very eyes—not that I was going to.
Staying hidden in the alleyways was even easier than it was on castle grounds. It was even darker here. Faint lights seeped out of nearby buildings, and a star or two would occasionally peek through the clouds, but that was it. Much of the narrow passage I’d entered was dyed pitch black.
“How was your day, Enne? Did you enjoy all the time you spent with the princess?” I spoke to my blade as I marched through the night.
“Mhm. We explored the castle. It was fun,” she said. “And Iryll is a lot like Illuna.”
“You’ve got a pretty good point there,” I said with a chuckle. “They’re both pretty much bursting with energy.”
“Their names are similar.”
“Uhhh… Yeah, they kinda are, huh?”
I could only kind of see her point. They both started with I and were roughly the same length, but I thought they were still fairly distinguishable.
“Did you have fun, Master?”
“Yeah, Nell and I had plenty of fun. Thanks for letting us spend so much time alone together,” I said. “I know you went out of your way to make space for us.”
“No problem. I had fun with Iryll. And I can be with you all the time. But Nell can’t.”
“So spend as much time with her as you can, okay, Master?”
“I was already planning on doing exactly that.” I ran my fingers along her sheath, as if to give her the sword equivalent of a headpat.
The reason I’d left the castle was because the evil eye I’d deployed earlier in the day relayed me the fact that our stalker had once again begun to move. It’d been a while since his last action. He’d hung around the castle ever since we returned to it and only left once he was sure that we’d retired for the day. In other words, he was likely heading over to his master in order to report his findings.
I didn’t intend on harming the spy. At least not yet. I knew that I needed to hold back until I was able to round up every last piece of shit that had put wronging Nell on their agenda. My current objective was to follow him back to his base of operations so I could figure out who he was reporting to, and what he was going to be telling him. Specifically, I was interested in the reason he had followed us around, and whether or not he knew how I looked under the mask. It was all information that I knew I needed going forward.
I didn’t actually need Enne with me to finish my tasks, but I’d taken her because I knew it was better to have my weapon with me in the case that I chose to venture into enemy territory. Walking straight into a stronghold filled with hostiles whilst fully unarmed was the height of folly.
With that said, I wasn’t actually planning on waltzing in. At least not personally.
“Looks like we’ve caught up with him.”
I released an Evil Ear from my inventory and had it start following the man in front of us. He was advancing at a fairly brisk pace, but the fully charged magical entity was more than capable of matching his speed. Silently, the appendage flapped its wings and began floating after the man I designated as its target. Its magical properties allowed it to meld into the darkness of the night the moment it left my palm.
With both an Evil Eye and Evil Ear deployed, I was capable of seeing and hearing everything I needed to know, even from a distance. There was no need for me to enter, or even advance on the enemy base. If I had deployed an Evil Ear during the day, I would have been able to avoid sortieing and stalking him altogether. But I hadn’t. Totally not an oversight on my part. Totally. I uhh… just wanted to see the enemy’s stronghold in person ‘cause seeing it on the map and through the video feed isn’t good enough. And uhh… being nearby makes it easier for me to retrieve the Evil Eye since it’s almost out of juice. Yeah. That.
I pulled myself from my thoughts as the man I was keeping an eye on reached his destination. It was a building, one I recognized. One that Nell and I had visited. Together.
Wait. What? What the fuck is going on? My expectations had been thrown out the window. I was under the impression that he was going to be visiting a manor belonging to Argus or one of the other nobles he associated with. Not the organisation that Nell was affiliated with.
It didn’t make sense for the church to be secretly keeping an eye on us. I was sure they had their reasons, but I couldn’t imagine any that I would like to hear. In the end, it turned out that heading out had been the better choice after all. Remaining in the castle would have led Nell to discover the stalker’s identity and learn many things she would have been better off not knowing. And thank god I turned her down when she asked to come with me too. I know she doesn’t feel right leaving everything to us, but this is way better than the alternative. Anyway, enough rambling. It’s spy time.