Chapter 4-4

Proofreader: Orion Dye

“He jumped over the wall? Then descended slowly? So that person can also use magic… Sounds too much like a ranger to me.” The chief captain of the guards rubs his temples, since he heard bad news.

“I saw it with my own eyes, and these people can attest to it.”

“Yes. He totally jumped over the wall, but I can’t say anything about the falling part.” Some strange dwarf tells his part of the story. He was chasing the person with the red armor and hood, but they nimbly escaped.

However, there is a vital flaw in that story: I’m still here!

The chief captain is interviewing this dwarf, who also needs to get his wounds treated. His companions are also here, but someone of the Crusaders questions them… Shit, their commander is coming in… for some reason, he and his men have wounded guards and Crusaders with them.

Wasn’t this the group who almost got me earlier, before I met up with Ara-san? What happened to them? They look like ghosts, pale, their eyes sunken, and their bodies are shivering. They look almost dead.

The commander waves the chief captain of the guards to him. “Katsuragi-san, could you please come with me? Those people might need your attention.”

“Alright.” ‘Ken, make sure to stay away.’

I don’t say anything. At least with words: ‘Don’t go, that commander-guy is crazy!’

‘…’ She looks at me as if I’d just accused my best friend of being a gamer. So basically, the pot calls the kettle black, huh?

I grab her hand. ‘Don’t.’

“Don’t worry, Onii-chan. I’m needed there and you need rest. I’ve got this.” W…what’s with that smile!? This… it makes my heart beat in rapid fire and gives me cavities. I’ve never seen it before, so what triggered it!?

I observe how she goes with the chief captain. I can’t help but worry. Not about her, mind you, but about how the commander of the Crusaders will start yelling ‘Sinner!’ and cast those stupid [Judgement]-spells!

Yet she gets close to him without a hitch. Is the sinner-detector an active [Skill]? Plausible.

“Are you worried?” Ara-san is back from an errand for Kyou-san. “I heard it from afar.”

“How can I not be?”

“…Kenta-kun, I-” What is wrong with Ara-san? “Today, something happened. I need to confirm something. So, could we conduct an experiment later?”

“…fine with me. I also want to check my new [Skills].” I already used [Don-off], which unfastens and removes the worn armor in a matter of two seconds. Each belt just jumps off, and the armor slowly slips from your body. Everything is done within seconds.

Then there is [Penetrate Light] from the [Perception]-ability. I think it lets me see through bright light, which might be a reaction to being subjected to [Judgement] several times, which effectively blinded me in addition to all that pain and damage.

A new [Spear]-skill, [Rising Point]. An airborne [Skill] maybe?

Finally, a new [Spirit Magic]-spell. [Whisper], the same one Ara-san got, which makes me able to send a whisper to a person, as long as I can see them.

So being chased by armed maniacs makes you learn [Skills]-huh? Not a method I plan to use in the future, but interesting from another perspective. So training is less efficient than being in danger?

“KEEEENTAAAA!” I try to react to that, but I’m currently a [Student], so my reaction time is just too slow!

You gain 1 WP.
A heartfelt hug is something to be appreciated, even if it hurts due to severe wounds.

I’m forcefully hugged by Rine, who set it as her goal to choke me! “Kenta, Kenta, Kenta! You’re alright, Kenta, you’re alright!” Stop fondling me! Your eyes are tearing, remember your arm dammit!

I also don’t know when you bought a helmet, but don’t just throw it to the ground!

Geez.

I pat her head. “OK, OK, I’m fine, so stop reopening my wounds.”

“Ah! Sorry, sorry, I…” …why is she crying!? “I- Kenta, you- I- you- *sniff* sorry, I’m sorry, please!”

“Phew… you aren’t making any sense.” At least she lets me go. “Stop crying, I can’t stand that!”

“Yes!” With this, her eyes dry like magic, and the smile that replaces them is heartfelt and genuine. Same as always.

“But it’s also not the time for goofy smiles, we’re still in danger.”

“Don’t worry, José is doing his best.”

…Who is José? Seriously, who is that guy? And what is your relationship with him!?

And who are these two humans? They look like Déjumians… but one is crying. Not because of sadness, but out of anger. He glares daggers at me, while tears run down his aggravated face.

The other one sighs. “The best ones go to the worst.” What is that suppose to mean!?

Who are these people? How are they involved with Rine? What about that guy, that jumped over the wall? What about the poisoning Kyou-san did? When and how will it take effect? Why is she going to that commander?

Why doesn’t anyone tell me what’s going on!?

 

―○●○―

 

“What are we still doing here! We have to chase after him!”

“Sir Alchenain, he’s outside the city. I may spare some men to catch him, but we need all the intelligence we can get. So, was his armor genuine red or maybe bloodstained?”

“I… It was bloodstained, but also red. A hide armor.”

“Good. Anything else?”

“A red hood. He was moving nimbly and has some skills, but I think he was rather young. Below twenty. Also, I think he’s small, otherwise, he has to be something like fourteen. That’d be too young considering his skills.”

“I agree. Given how he was able to make a fool of our men… Are you certain, that he was a human?”

“I’m not sure. He has some strange skin color… Not exactly southerner. So maybe he’s some kind of elf?”

“But elves don’t wear hoods usually. I heard once that they have problems if their ears are covered. They also tend to be really pale.”

“Hm… her! It’s around her skin tone!”

I was just tending the wounded Crusaders. They look bad, and my [Check-up]-skill tells me, that some of them have interior bleeding. More than one of them have their eardrums ruptured, and one of them has a bad nose-bleed. I can’t treat these severe wounds yet with my hero-skills! I was mostly just giving painkillers and a little extra to them.

“Baba-” One Crusader-woman looks like a ghost. “Bababa!”

What happened to them?

Nevermind, I have to worry about myself. “What about my skin color, sir?”

“Erm, sorry miss. Your skin color is similar to the one that the sinner had.”

“Yes? Do you know where my parents are from?”

“…what?”

“I was raised in Feuerberg, my parents never told me before their death, where I’m from. So do you know? My brother and I are dying to know!”

“Brother?”

“Yes, this one.” I point at Ken, who is currently with a group of people. Rine-chan is back, but it looks like she brought company. Who are these guys?

“Hm…” He should mistake him for another person, Ken’s looking different enough for now. Even his general body shape is different. “I will take a look.”

Ah, shoot. “Sir, please. Take a look at your people. This one certainly looks bad.”

“Bababa—- –baba!”

“I did what I could do. Lady Nyssan is in shock, and I have too much to do to deal with her in that state.”

“Scum!”

“…what did you say?”

“You’re scum!”

“Miss… how are you called?”

“My name is none of your business, trash commander!” I need to be strong here. I try to speak like Ken, but insulting a tall, muscular man in this direct manner is unnerving.

“Chief Captain, who is this girl and how dare she!?”

“She’s someone who put a lot of effort in fixing the people who fell victim to this incident, Sir Alchenain. So treat her with more respect, she did more here than any of us.”

“But she might be an accomplice… seeing how her skin tone is the same as the sinners.”

“Sir Alchenain, don’t. You may be tired. I’m also tired, I can understand. It was short but very taxing. Let’s concentrate on the important things.”

“Bababa. Bar-Bar-Bar-Bar!”

“Chief Captain, if this sinner gets away, we are one step further to the death of the human race! We can’t let him escape!”

“So why don’t you check her with your ‘special magic?’”

“I already did, there is no response.” Ah, so Ken is the only sinner? Because the curse ‘marries’ the other girls and me to him, but we’re not married to each other?

Still, he checked me without my consent? “How dare you!” I slap him. At least, I try to. He effortlessly catches my hand, right in front of his face.

“I have e- …” His face changes its expression to one of disgust for less than a moment, then he drops. No wonder, I still had some sleeping paste on my hand. He caught my hand too late and inhaled the gases.

“Sir Alchenain?”

I kneel before him and open one of his eyelids. “Overwork.” A simple lie.

“…Crusaders,” the chief captain sighs, “Please take your commander and go back to your camp. You probably want to start the chase as soon as possible. We have plenty of mercenaries here and, so as long as you can pay them, you’ll have many helpful hands.”

The subordinates look at their unconscious commander. He will regain consciousness in about ten minutes, that’s what [Check-up] tells me.

It will be enough for the moment, especially seeing how the chief captain is growing tired of the Crusaders. The few that are left leave the premises. while supporting or even carrying their comrades, including the poor woman. “Barbar- Barbar- It exploded! Exploded! Air!” She’s hyperventilating.

One of the Crusader’s commanders starts to gather more mercenaries for their forces so that they can expand their search outside the city. Quite an amount takes up the offer, probably because the pockets of the Crusaders are deep.

The search also continues inside the city, just to be on the safe side. Given how everything unfolds for now, there will be consequences for us. Ken’s armor is just too eye-catching to ignore and too good to discard.

Good thing that I’m not Ken, I don’t know how to resolve this. Many guards and mercenaries are starting to feel unwell, a side-effect of the diluted sleeping paste that I handed out as an ‘antidote.’ They only feel a bit tired and some strain, just as if they’re exhausted.

Reports come in, saying that the Crusaders started to form searching parties to look for the sinner outside the city. So the Crusaders are out of the way for now, though some are still lingering around Goldbrunn, maybe looking for Ken and me.

After speaking with Rine-chan, I also got the gist of what has happened. She really got stroke of luck there, but that, plus the support of her new underlings, made people believe that it wasn’t someone in red armor, but a blood-stained one. Well, Ken’s way of fighting, which is sudden and brutal, also made it hard for those attacked to remember whether their attacker’s armor was red or not.

Still, this isn’t good enough. If this is how things are going, then we won’t have any place left. We will be hunted by those who want to put an end to a sinner. I have to turn this around, I’m the only one who can do it. I’m the only one of us who’s capable and smart enough to manipulate all the people here.

Also, I will not tolerate anyone tainting the name of the ‘red ranger.’

Time to put some ideas into action. First, I go to a group of guards, they cast suspicious glances in Ken’s direction. No wonder, they were among the first ones I treated. “Sorry.”

“Huh?”

The guy I’m speaking to, the one I identified as the leader, is a bit off guard: “I think you know.”

The man changes his facial expression in a fast manner: Wondering, thinking, remembering, blaming, concerned, confused, determined: “About your brother?”

I lower my voice. “It’s true, he’s the one.”

“So, he’s a sinner?” this exclamation is also soft but caught the attention of his fellow guards nonetheless.

“Wrong! It’s all a big misunderstanding!” My words are heard, this is the power of a high [Persuasion]-attribute. For the highest [Persuasion] I should change into [Herbalist], but I stay as a [Priest], putting my trust into the [Conversation]-ability, which is supposed to help in, well, conversations. “This is because of the Crusaders!”

“…please explain.” [Persuasion] makes the words of a hero more believable for non-heroes, threats are more intimidating, pleas meet more empathy, lies are more easily believed.

“ Onii-chan is a genuine ranger, so he looks different now, because of his ranger magic.” First, tell them something that is believable. “So when he found the demon, he wanted to make sure to protect the people. Then the Crusaders came…”

“What happened? I mean, I saw how they fought alongside us first, then they found out that your brother is a sinner.”

“According to Onii-chan, the magic of the crusaders revealed that the demon wasn’t a demon at all.”

“Yes, she looked like some strange girl, with horns and everything.”

“Because of this, Onii-chan used his ranger magic to look at her mind,” this is a bit of a stretch, “Actually, she’s a cursed girl. When Onii-chan tried to explain it to the Crusaders, they…” Closer to the verge of tears, a bit of sniffing.

“Those… those bastards!” One of the other guards chips in: “I know that they think they’re better than us, but those glorified assholes!” He thinks that the Crusaders wanted to improve their reputation by killing a supposed demon, instead of looking for the truth of the matter, just like I wanted.

So [Persuasion] also works with implications.

“Nonetheless,” I continue before that statement could be questioned, “My brother hurt you, and I want to apologize. With all the people chasing him and the cursed girl, he was a bit desperate. He had to use his all, and he’s not that good with people.”

Taking another look at Ken, who’s arguing with Rine-chan and her bounty hunter friends, the guards had to agree. This is also an indirect compliment, like saying ‘You’re so strong, that a ranger had to use his all to get away from you.’

“Well… it’s not like we were badly hurt… thinking about it, is there a single casualty at all?”

“Of course not! Onii-chan doesn’t kill people if he can avoid it!” Showing some anger, I could see the last doubts vanishing.

From what I heard during this whole chase, I know that the people of Goldbrunn somewhat revere rangers, which means telling them that they were right in doing so makes it easier for them to believe my words.

Thinking about it, Ken really didn’t kill anyone here. Though there are these strangely wounded people, who are taken care of by a priest from this city, who finally arrived, neither Ken nor anyone I know would leave injuries like this…

I just got an idea for the next group of people. After saying goodbye to the guards, I look around, seeing some mercenaries who I already know from Bronco’s Bucket, the inn we’re staying in: “Hello…” I take on a downcast look to give them the right mood: “You heard, right?”

“Katsuragi-san?” The leader has hit on me before, and my stomach is rebelling. He smirks, knowing more about the matter, since he saw Ken in his red armor before: “What can we do for you?” This round-about way tells me that he’s as much of a scum as I thought he would be.

“We need to look for the other one.” So I just prick him, where he doesn’t expect it.

“O-other one?”

“Yes, the blood-stained one. The one people confuse with Onii-chan.”

“What!?”

“Yes, I need your help. Onii-chan found a demon collaborator, who clad himself in blood. He’s the one who broke Rine-chan’s arm!” Adding a bit of spice, “He’s dangerous and followed us into the city, and the Crusaders didn’t consider, that there are also people with genuine red armor. That’s why my brother is currently on the run.”

While those mercenaries have looked at Ken in his [Student]-form, nobody recognized him. Maybe because they’re just dismissing him for another Asian person, as Ken lacks the muscles he used to have.

Now I have to do something, which makes me feel disgusted with myself: “I… I don’t know what to do. I need help!” I gently put my hand on the arm of the leader: “Please! I’ll do anything!” I want to vomit. I’ve just overstepped a line I’ve drawn for myself, but if I don’t do it, then our party will have only enemies in the future. “I need you!”

The way the leader looks makes him even more despicable. “So, you’ll do anything?” I nod. “Alright, the one who broke your friend’s arm… blood-stained armor? No problem, sunshine, we’ll handle it. Just be patient and wait.”

My fingers want to put themselves on the handle of my knife to stab that scumbag! Instead, I slowly retreated my arm and put on my best, sweetest smile: “Thank you!”

Of course, those mercenaries will leak the info about another man in armor, which is already hinted at. They just think they know the truth, which will be spread around like a wildfire.

The story I told the guards, and this one doesn’t fit at all right now, but knowing how rumors go, the individual people will find ways to make everything sound plausible. I don’t know how they will turn out, but it’s still a hundred times better than the alternative.

So I go about planting one seed at a time, speaking with different groups, presenting them with some ideas. Still, there is one I still have to persuade: The chief captain.

This one might be tough, I don’t know how people can resist [Persuasion], but I imagine that a firm leader-type like him will be less receptive than the ordinary guardsman. Still, he has a favorable impression of me and also he’s fed up with the Crusaders, so I might have a chance.

“Chief Captain,” I can hear my own heartbeat, and my toes are cold. This is the crucial part, so of course I’m a bit nervous: “I have to confess something…”

“Katsuragi-dono?” Of course, he’s surprised.

“Yes… I know the person, who is blamed as a sinner. I’m terribly sorry, but I couldn’t tell you earlier.”

Seeing signs of my nervousness, the chief captain calms down himself, looking at me like a father to his overly nervous daughter: “Tell me. I’ll listen to the end.”

“Thank you… The person you’re looking for is my brother, but everything is a big misunderstanding, I swear!”

“Your brother?”

“Yes. My brother is a ranger, and he wears red armor, but he’s neither a sinner nor did he work with a demon.” Actually, I don’t even know all of the details of what really happened, but while talking with all the people around here, trying to convince them to believe several stories, I already got the gist of what I want to tell. “It’s complicated.”

“Start from the beginning.”

“Onii-chan was out looking for dangers to the city, he’s always a bit restless. He said that he feels something evil lurking in this city, maybe even a dark ranger…”

I can see, how chills are running down the chief captain’s spine: “Dark ranger?”

“Ah, sorry, please forget I said that!” Playing the innocent, ditzy girl is always helpful.

“I can’t. What are ‘dark rangers?’”

“But Onii-chan told me-”

“Tell me. Now.”

“Some people can’t endure the harsh training by the alfar…” Let’s replace ‘some’ with ‘most normal’ here, as being trained by alfar is a special kind of torture. “Those who learned the basics, but abandoned the training, might become dark rangers. A rogue ranger called Darkheart is training them.” It’s like a clichéd hero-story, though I feel a bit of resonance coming from the chief captain. “They’re like a brotherhood of evil.”

The chief captain nods, he may have heard about rangers, who don’t fit the heroic image. “That’s atrocious…”

“Please keep it a secret! If people know…” He will probably end that thought with ‘If people know, they may fall into despair, as someone with ranger-like capabilities is out there… like a boogieman.’

“I’ll keep it secret.” The chief captain is very kind, his face gives me enough information about what he will believe. It may be manipulative, but I will use it to the fullest.

“I think, the dark ranger is really there. He’s the sinner, I’m sure of it!”

“…I need a moment to process this… you!” He yells at one of the guards: “Get me some officers. I need more reports!”

The chief captain asks for more intelligence, and what he is fed with is what I spread around the HQ. Everything a bit messy, but bit by bit the chief captain came to his own conclusions. The demon isn’t a demon, but a cursed girl. There is poison going around. There are two people in hoods going about, one in red armor, one in blood-stained armor. One of the officers exclaims, he saw both of them at the same time, facing off. The Crusaders tried to hog all the glory, no, the Crusaders actually put a demon in this city to show the people, how useful and mighty they are. Someone is going around, using unknown means to destroy people from within.

To overcome a panic, make the enemy even more confused than yourself. This said the chief captain sent his men away, asking them to continue the search for a while. Then he turns to me: “Since the blood-stained armor guy jumped from the walls, there have been no further encounters or victims… well, there are no casualties at all so far. Your brother is a sick genius.” He chuckles a bit: “But I hate him for even having a plan like this.”

“Like what?”

“He was the one, who set up this hostage situation, right? That was to mobilize as many of us as possible, and to make my subordinates start hiring mercenaries and such in order to tighten the net around that dark ranger, who got desperate and tried to flee. The reason he’s here is that he’s recuperating, as he got wounded by holding back all the time.”

“I don’t know, though it sounds like him.” Except not.

“So many things make sense now. He didn’t turn to us, as we were too occupied catching him, so he did just enough damage to make us look hard for him. He also uncovered the plot of the Crusaders, and they tried to kill him because he found out.”

“Found what out?” I didn’t put it there.

“They were using a cursed girl to make a big uproar so that they could gain more freedoms and support from Goldbrunn. I always knew that they’re sly bastards!” I certainly didn’t plant that one, but it’s what the chief captain believes. “Your brother should be honored. I’ll thank him personally!”

“No, please don’t!” If you do, Ken will mess everything up! “He doesn’t like being around people much. He doesn’t even like the reputation, he just wants to do his best.” Also, I won’t let the name of the ‘red ranger’ be anything other than one of a thorough hero.

“A classic ranger. … are you alright?”

Actually, I’m not. I feel a headache, and somehow it’s hard to look straight. Did I poison myself by mistake? I check my status, see how my SP are almost rock bottom. What happened?

Then I realize, I’ve used [Priest] for its [Conversation]-ability… I may have unlocked a new skill and used it unconsciously the whole time, spending SP in the process. I look at my skills, two new ones: [Rumor Mill] and [Glorification].

[Conversation] have to be an ability like [Perception] that doesn’t need its skills to be said aloud to work. Makes sense, as this ability is about influencing people by talking to them.

The real question is: What have I just done!?

I can’t even think straight. My knees are weak, and I’m stumbling around. The chief captain stabilizes me then by grabbing my shoulder. “I’m sorry. You’ve worked hard for us, and I didn’t even notice how tired you are. Have a break. It’s been a long day for everyone.” The guards are tired and unfocused for other reasons, but I won’t disagree here.

“Hey.” A quiet voice I’m very familiar with by now, Ken, has come closer while looking at the chief captain and me. His facial expression is strange, something I’ve never seen from him before. “I’m taking over.”

Without even asking, he grabs my hand and gently removes me from the chief captain. Still, the man takes it easy: “Sure.” I can see, how the chief captain is about to say something, but swallow his words, just returning a smile.

Ken’s look is priceless, as he’s utterly confused by this reaction. He scratches his head, then he turns to me. “Let’s go.”

I see the SP-pot in his other hand, he already knows that I’m at my limit. “Yes.”

While we walk to the side, I can see several guards yawning and rubbing their temples. The chief captain started to reassign people, just to be on the safe side but declares that the hunt is over and the mercenaries are free to go.

This is another time I save your ass, Ken.

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