Guard: Di Qi Ju, come out.
Di Qi Ju: Mhm.
As the guard opened the cell’s door, his eyes widened in shock. If I had to hazard a guess, the six groaning men piled on top of each other behind me was probably the reason for it.
Guard: You…what did you do?
Di Qi Ju: Nothing, they’re just tired from playing. If you don’t believe me, you can check their bodies for any injuries.
Di Qi Ju: On the other hand, if you’re going to falsify the evidence, you might just end up like them as well.
Di Qi Ju: What’s the matter? Aren’t you here to bring me to trial?
Guard: No…not for now.
Guard: Your guarantor and witnesses are here.
Di Qi Ju: Oh…so it’s news from my side of the camp.
With that, I was led out of my dreary jail cell into a significantly cleaner room in which sat three other people: Breman, Naysis Ferne and Bailey.
As my eyes swept over the trio, they paused for a moment on Bailey. Of the three, I felt the most guilty about involving her in this mess even though we had just met.
I sat down on the empty chair before me with my hands in a relaxed posture on the table separating me and the others.
A resounding clang sounded out as the metallic door behind me was shut, leaving the four of us alone in the room. The first to break the silence was Breman who started off with a greeting in his usual assertive tone.
Breman: Di Qi Ju.
Di Qi Ju: Mhm.
Breman: There’s a number of ways we can resolve this issue so I wish to hear your opinions.
Di Qi Ju: …ah??
I came fully prepared for a lecture but instead he went straight to the main issue right off the bat, leaving me slightly befuddled.
Breman: The normal route would be to go through the judiciary system and undergo a trial, but this will waste at least two to three days.
Bream: A faster route would be for me to take you away right now.
Di Qi Ju: You can do that?
Breman: Diplomatic disputes that arise while a soldier is undertaking a mission in a foreign land are usually handled by the army.
Breman: Your lessons in that school were a mission given by me directly and thus fall under that rule.
Di Qi Ju: Is there a need to raise this to the national level?
Breman: Hmm, there’s another shortcut we can take, for example…
Di Qi Ju: For example?
Breman: You walk out yourself.
Di Qi Ju: …
Di Qi Ju: ……
Di Qi Ju: In that case, can I even participate in the Sacred Rite?
Di Qi Ju: The normal route is fine.
Breman: Do you even know how arduous that route is?
Di Qi Ju: I do, Carmen told me on the way here. Where is she by the way?
Naysis Ferne: …she’s standing guard at the entrance of the Security Bureau.
Di Qi Ju: Oh…thanks, Your Highness.
Naysus Ferne: ……
Breman: Since you know that, then you know that they’re out to kill you.
Di Qi Ju: I’m fully aware of that. Don’t worry, I’m prepared for that as well.
Naysis Ferne: —NOT HAPPENING!!
Her sudden outburst echoed within the enclosed room.
Naysis Ferne: —I won’t allow you to die! Who dares to kill you without my permission!?
She was extremely angry, that much was clear just by looking at her face. Having her savior sent to the executioner’s platform just for saving her life must’ve affected her greatly.
Di Qi Ju: Please don’t be angry, Naysis. If you wish to help me, you can testify for me in court.
Di Qi Ju: Bailey too…?
Bailey: I didn’t witness the key moment.
Di Qi Ju: It’s alright, you just have to voice out your honest opinions and tell them what you saw.
Bailey: …alright, I’ll be your witness.
Di Qi Ju: Thanks.
Breman: Di Qi Ju, there’s something I should warn you about.
Di Qi Ju: Mhm, go on.
Breman: If we’re to take on your opponents in Skill’s judiciary system, the price will be steep.
Di Qi Ju: …what’s their background?
Breman: The father of that scarred youth is the head of Skill’s military police division while his mother is the illegitimate daughter of the king of “Cold Iron”. He’s the only male out of their two children.
Di Qi Ju: Ah… no wonder they’re so mad about it.
(TL: In my opinion, this exchange has more to do with the cultural significance of males in Chinese society influencing the author’s psyche rather than it being about the death of a child.
The importance of a son is a notion ingrained in Chinese society which, in my opinion, is what led to the author deciding to write “no wonder they’re so mad about it.” even though he might not have intended for this notion to actually be a part of the novel’s world.
As context, the importance of a son is in part due to the fact that they are the ones who normally carry on the family name after marriage. Passing on a legacy to a daughter would imply having it under another surname.
An example of a son’s importance in Chinese culture would be the eldest son’s position in the family hierarchy. The first male child of the eldest son in the family has an elevated status equivalent to having his generation bumped up.)
Breman: Fighting a case against them is technically not impossible, but that will take an enormous amount of money and we would have to bring in their political opponents.
Breman: In terms of magnitude, it’s the same as the first route where we treat this case as an extra-territorial dispute between Faith and Skill.
Breman: Are you sure this is the best route, Di Qi Ju?
Di Qi Ju: …
Di Qi Ju: ……
Di Qi Ju: Yes, I’m certain.
Di Qi Ju: I’ll do my best to pay back the money I owe even if it take’s my entire lifetime.
Di Qi Ju: Because…
Di Qi Ju: I’m afraid that taking the other routes would make me lose something that I absolutely must not lose.
Breman: …what’s that?
Di Qi Ju: My humanity.
I gazed deeply into his eyes, my mind returning back to the moment when I held that potato’s head in my hands.
Di Qi Ju: I have to maintain a humanity befitting the me standing right before you now.
Di Qi Ju: You know what I mean by that, Commander Breman.
Naysis Ferne: ????
Breman: …sigh, have it your way then.
Breman: If this were to happen within Faith, you wouldn’t even have to go through all this.
Di Qi Ju: So you agree with my decision?
Breman: Ah…of course.
Breman: I pushed you into these muddy waters so naturally I’ll to stick with you till the end.
Breman: That’s all for today then, I still have some matters to attend to.
Breman: —ladies, I suggest you head back as well. Make sure not to lower your guard, after all this isn’t your own country.
Breman: Princess Naysis, please have Carmen by your side at all times.
Naysis Ferne: ……
Naysis Ferne: I’ll do that even if you didn’t say so.
Breman: As for Bailey Estrange, I suggest you take it easy instead.
Breman: That horrific scene outside of the washroom might have some lasting effects on your psyche, so I suggest you find a trustworthy person to counsel you in case you get plagued with nightmares.
Breman: Unfortunately, you’ll have to spend a night here, Di Qi Ju.
Di Qi Ju: I know, it’s my decision.
Breman: Sigh, I wanted to give you a little surprise today…but…it looks like I’ll need to vent my anger instead.
Di Qi Ju: ……?
As I watched their backs disappear behind the door, my mind returned to a blank state once more.
Compared to me, my companions were already taking the appropriate countermeasures; whether it was their speech, their reasoning or train of thought, they were all crystal clear about what to do next.
Only I was still so caught up with the changes in myself.
…I’m such a selfish guy aren’t I?
Back in Reitdarke’s Corridor, the time was now three quarters past day.
If this was an average day, Bailey Estrange would’ve already been in bed by now.
As she bid her farewells to Naysis Ferne and Breman at the school’s entrance, she began walking back to her “home”.
It wasn’t too far from the school, being only a street away from the gate. Tucked away in a remote corner right outside someone’s backyard was an abandoned doghouse.
That was Bailey’s bedroom and home in general. The owner of that backyard had once owned a giant dog of unknown origins but now no longer needed that doghouse.
Her family? She had none to speak of.
Her parents had died when she was young and her older brother had disappeared to god knows where.
She only managed to pay her tuition fees thanks to the little bit of connections her parents had when they were alive. However, these connections only paid for her school fees and not her meals. That, she barely managed to pay for by performing odd jobs for the school
She had no social circle to speak of and no one she was familiar with.
Therefore when that Breman, clad in his military uniform, had told her to seek counselling, it was simply impossible to begin with.
As for having nightmares…maybe she would be lucky enough not to have them?
While she mulled over that, she passed the last alleyway leading to her dark and dreary little home.
And yet as she turned into the walkway of her “home”, her eyes caught a momentary gleam of light by her that shouldn’t be there.
Her feet froze midstep.
Bailey: Who’s there?!
??: Your eyes are pretty sharp, little lady.
She could sense the man closing in on her but she couldn’t see him at all.
??: Killing a person isn’t something I particularly enjoy but…
??: Every witness killed counts, so I’m sorry about this…
Without even waiting for him to finish, her instincts screamed at her to run.
She wasn’t a fool after all, the words “kill” and “witness” were more than enough for her to understand why she was facing this plight.
But, where could she run to?
—that’s right! That doghouse has a secret door which leads to the backyard of that family. She could get help there!
With that settled, she bolted towards her “bedroom” like an arrow.
She landed onto her warm and soft “bed” with a muffled groan.
Wait…something’s not right here, my bed had been meticulously made-up by my own two hands; there’s no way it feels like this!
Even more so, there’s no way it would be warm…
Her heart pounded as she slowly lifted her head and stared into what looked like a pair of ghostly fires.
There’s another creature here…something big…something that’s looking at me right now.
At this distance, she could feel its moist breath blowing on her face.
Didn’t that family swear off giant dogs…
Sh*t. It’s an ambush!
AHHHHH…Di Qi Ju…
It’s all your fault…I won’t forgive you even if I become a ghost!!
??: Is there a point in running here, Little Lady?
Her head whipped around in response to the voice just in time to see a flash of light hurtle towards her throat.
…can I even make it in time?
A loud ringing sound exploded before Bailey’s chin as that flash of white light landed harmlessly by her feet.
She looked down and saw—
An extremely large and sharp claw.
???: Remember, you’re the one who struck first, Little Assassin.
It was a strange sonorous voice that spoke with a human’s tongue but sounded different from a human’s voice. While she couldn’t confirm this with her eyes due to the pitch black darkness, she knew that the speaker was covered in fur and had a large, warm body.
This was enough for her to conclude that the person who protected her wasn’t a human at all.
??: —who are you?
???: Hah…there’s no point in you finding out. After all, we’ve already gotten permission to kill the assassins.
She felt a gust of air rush past her, followed an instant later by the sound of something sharp piercing into flesh.
Behind her, the assassin collapsed to the floor with a thud and laid there motionless.
Immediately after, she heard the sound of two…no, three sets of footsteps slowly closing in on her.
???: My work here is done, I’ll leave the job of moving the corpse to you two loafers, alright?
????: Don’t forget I was the one who located the assassin in the dark. “Your boss” should be able to handle that corpse alone.
?????: Ah, I just knew that I couldn’t avoid doing this chore! However, everything is proceeding according to my calculations….
It was an exchange that paid her no heed but at least Bailey was able to confirm that the danger had passed.
Just who are these people…
??????: Little Lady are you alright?
???: Don’t worry, not even a single strand of hair on her head had been damaged.
??????: Is that so, either way with that carpet you have on you, I’m sure we can replace whatever hair she loses in an instant.
??? : Hmm…are you sure I’m able to tolerate your acid tongue in my current state?
*scratch*—Bailey lit up a match. The illumination from the fire, brought into light the four figures previously hidden in the dark.
One was a man sporting a center parted hairstyle who was currently shoving the assassin’s body in a sturdy burlap sack.
One was a bow wielding youth with hair so short it almost looked like peach fuzz growing on top of a bald head.
The last man was a unkempt fellow dressed in a set of dishevelled clothes that made him seem just as miserable but yet gave him a certain sort of bearing.
As for the “person” beside her, it was a wolfman with a stocky body covered from head to toe in black fur. Atop his broad shoulders was a canine head.
Bailey: Who…who are you people…
?????: Ah…look at me, forgetting to introduce ourselves. Lady Bailey Estrange…isn’t it?
?????: We’re the—No.748 Special Forces Squad.
Special thanks to Steve Granger!!