A Change of Plans
Editors: Speedphoenix, Joker
“And there he goes. He sure was quite the entertainer,” said Carlotta. She continued staring in the direction the masked man had dashed off in as she spoke to the girl beside her. “I’m not quite sure what else I could have expected from a man that pretended to be a member of your party just so that we would let him aid us.”
“Huh…? W-wait, you could tell!?”
“Of course,” chuckled Carlotta. “It was fairly obvious.”
The commander of the Faldien Holy Knights had an accurate grasp of the hero’s personality. She knew that Nell wasn’t the type of girl to rely on the help of others. She was more likely to shoulder all her problems on her own than she was to recruit a party member. Despite that, she had returned with one that claimed to be something along the lines of an attendant.
Carlotta had her suspicions from the start, but now, she felt that she understood everything.
She tore her eyes away from his afterimage and momentarily directed them towards the place where the masked man had stood before initiating combat. His location was marked with an imprint. An imprint in the shape of the man’s shoe. As a knight well versed in the art of combat, she knew that such a footprint was something that only showed up as a result of the incredible amount of force the man had exerted when he had launched himself off the ground.
Of course, she had already known from the start that he would be a powerful asset. But only now had she truly caught a glimpse of exactly what that meant. The probing that she had done yesterday informed her of only a few things. The first was his race. The second was that he bore no ill will. The final bit of information told her about his equipment. In other words, none of it had pertained to his strength. She had no idea exactly how good a fighter he was, only that he was skilled enough to detect that he was being inspected.
The truth of the matter was that the bit on his race was incorrect. But Carlotta had no way of knowing that, and the fact that she didn’t ultimately served to benefit both the church and the demon lord.
All Carlotta deduced from observing the few moments he had spent in battle was that he was at least as proficient as the hero herself. If he was an adventurer, then he would likely have been one of the few monsters to exceed the realm of the adamantine and enter that of the orichalcum.
And that, as far her deductions were concerned, was likely why he bore the mask he did. It was to protect him. To hide his identity and therefore ensure that his participation in the capital liberation had no effect on his everyday life. He knew he was powerful. He knew that many different factions would vie for his aid and most likely destroy the peaceful days he enjoyed should he be exposed.
She understood. He had only come because he absolutely had to. Because he realized that the country was in peril. Because he knew that it had come time to act for the betterment of those that needed his aid.
Though he had lied to her, though he refused to tell her who he truly was, Carlotta knew that he was no villain. And it was not just because she trusted Nell, who had vouched for him. She had watched the manner in which he interacted with the children.
Under normal circumstances, the knight would have tried to recruit him given both his immense power and his benevolence. She would have informed him that the church would welcome him with open arms. But this time, she chose to decline. A choice she had made out of respect for his obvious desire for freedom.
The knight’s thoughts went unconfirmed. In truth, they were but a misunderstanding. But either way, she had ultimately ended up developing a deep respect for the demon lord whose name she had yet to uncover.
“U-Uhm, just to be clear,” said Nell. “I didn’t lie because I wanted to harm the church!”
“I understand,” replied her boss. “I can guess what happened. The man that you brought us is one with a noble heart. He must have insisted that he wanted to resolve the capital’s dilemma. And he must have taken up a mask because he did not want to expose himself to a life filled with political drama.”
“Uh… noble heart…? Well uhm, yeah, sure, let’s go with that.” Nell was confused, but she ended up recovering just enough to provide Carlotta a response that didn’t affirm or deny her thoughts.
“I won’t ask any more about his background,” declared Carlotta. “Besides, there’s something more important we ought to focus on right now.”
The knight glanced at her surroundings before shouting a pair of names. “Fi! Gui!”
“We are here to serve!” A pair of women almost seemed to emerge from the shadows next to her. Neither’s face was visible; they were both hidden from view.
The two were Carlotta’s guards. Of course, someone as powerful as herself didn’t actually need guards. In fact, the commander of the Faldien order had insisted that she would be fine without them.
Her superiors, however, vetoed her decision. She was one of the most important paladins. She held a position not far from the organization’s apex. There was no way her superiors could allow her to venture out alone. She wasn’t happy with their decision, but this time around, she was grateful. The guards’ presence had proved useful.
“The guy with the mask sure was amazing,” said the first guard. “His attacks were so fast I couldn’t follow them.”
“Hmph,” snorted the second. “He is nothing but a piece of trash that sticks to Lady Nell and speaks to Lady Carlotta in an unacceptably rude manner. I’ve wanted to stab him in the back on multiple occasions already.”
“That’s enough banter for now.” Carlotta immediately began issuing orders the moment the two spilled their grievances. “There’s been a change of plans. Begin the operation immediately. Send the signal and tell all units standing by to act.”
“A-Are you sure that’s a good idea, ma’am?”
“We’ve got no choice. We’ve caused too much of a commotion. Waiting until nightfall will do nothing but rob us of the initiative. Carry out your orders immediately. Have the distraction do its job, and then move on the castle at once. We’re racing against the clock.”
“Yes, ma’am!” The two stealthy subordinates left the scene immediately.
“…Now, I suppose I should play my part as well.” Carlotta muttered under her breath before moving to stand in front of the crowd, which was still cheering in response to the soldiers’ defeat.
“Listen well, citizens! I am Carlotta De Maya, a paladin affiliated with the Order of the Faldien Holy Knights!” Her dignified voice caused those around her to immediately quiet down and pay attention. “Look around you! Witness the state of our proud capital city and see how we have fallen from grace!”
The example she pointed towards was the soldiers. The public’s opinion on them was obvious. Not a single soul had bothered waking them or assisting them in any which way. They’d been left where they fell.
“The current administration is doing nothing but unfairly oppressing us with a tyrannical iron fist. But time is on its side. The administration will gain the power it needs to tighten its grip on the throne. I am sure you can easily predict how the future will remain should they not be removed from power.”
Disturbed, fearful murmurs spread through the crowd.
“But worry not. Do not lose hope. For we, the church, shall not allow it to happen. We shall soon reclaim our futures through our own actions. We shall serve to guide ourselves to prosperity!”
Carlotta paused, which prompted the crowd to break into a cheer. Not a single voice questioned any of her statements or assumptions. It was a result brought about in part because the crowd had already been worked up to begin with, and in part because of Carlotta’s outstanding charisma.
“Listen well! We, the church, shall now initiate a battle, a conflict that is necessary to restore our lives to their rightful states! I beseech all of you whose hearts are filled with courage. Take up arms and fight against the injustice that oppresses you! God’s will is with us. Victory is ours for the taking!”
Again, the crowd burst into an excited cheer, its excitement at an all-time high. The men and women within it raised their fists to the sky as they rallied themselves to fight for a better tomorrow.