Hiiiiii~ Another chapter is here!
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Next update is Nanoha
Author NimtheWriter out!
Beta read by Shigiya and Fluffy Slayer
-The Border of Feoh-
To say the current state of affairs was in complete chaos would be an understatement.
Baron Raul Azorius was struggling to sustain his land. The large wave of monsters created enough unrest and panic in his territory, forcing many to migrate to the neighboring kingdoms, both belonging to other Princess Knights and those outside Eostia.
The man was a middle-aged battle-scarred, and balding warrior, who once fought as a mere soldier two decades ago under the banner of Feoh, back when the kingdom was under the rule of Migel Arcturus — the former king of Feoh and Alicia's father. A time when Celestine hadn't created the system of the Seven Shields and formed an alliance with the seven kingdoms along with her faction; the Church of Lucross.
Having survived countless near-death battles alongside many legends against the dark forces that invaded their lands. Holding ground in Fort Laudan, when the Dark Queen launched a siege against Thorne. Then acting as reinforcement in Fort Pantielle and finally raising to the rank of esquire to a Templar after successfully killing a battalion of Lycans and Orcs, growing stronger under the guidance of the Church before his many contributions earned him the title of Baron after he retired as a Templar five years ago. Now this allowed the establishment of a small territory next to the land belonging to the Marquis Pantielle.
"Bah! What's the point of calling him a Marquis anymore?" Such titles lost their meaning after the establishment of the Princess Knights. The centuries-long history of each kingdom and their royal family led to near extinction by infighting, treachery, and Dark Queen killing them one by one. The only surviving members of the original royal families which ruled each kingdom were the Arcturus, the Fiorire, and the Shobijin ancestry. Ken, from what he learned, was wrought with many infightings and plots within the family that weakened their forces considerably, letting their kingdom descend into complete anarchy for a power grab.
In the end, the families were butchered by a Demon raid organized by Olga thirty years ago. With little to no way to defend themselves, Ken fell in less than a day. It took Celestine another ten years to push the Dark Queen back and re-establish the kingdom. Having no living rulers, she established the Princess Knights system where another decade later Maia was appointed as the head of Ken.
Thorne followed a similar route, though not much was known about what happened with that particular Royal family, were they killed, abandoned their seat of power, or integrated with the Church — nothing was known. The general history remained foggy even to people like Joshua Pantielle. Maybe Grave Levantine knew something but getting an audience with that man with his status as a mere Baron would be nigh impossible. The holy scriptures and literature distributed by the Church describe how Celestine occupied the land from the beginning and was the Royal Queen of Thorne before establishing and becoming a Princess Knight.
To think a once powerful dominion fell so easily over such a short span of time was a terrifying reality. It put into question just how vulnerable Eostia was from any other forces outside Olga. The demihumans nation, the nation of elves, and even separate human kingdoms outside Eostia. If they were to notice the unrest and instability of the land, an invasion was very likely. The Dark Queen was just one of many disasters, and now he was faced with another dilemma.
"Sir, we have gained another five hundred refugees this month alone. Grenzstadt won't be able to feed and house everyone if this continues on." By his side was one of his many servants and advisor — Hal. A young lad who showed many promising skills in both management and accounting. "Our granary is getting emptied faster than we can replenish them."
Raul sighed, gesturing to him to continue with any other news he had for him.
"The letter you've sent to gain an audience with Princess Alicia bears no answers as of yet. We have confirmation that her advisor Beardsley did receive the letter, so we are not sure what her response is as of yet."
"Humph, the answer is quite clear, Princess Alicia disregarded my request or, more likely, she didn't even open the darn thing!"
The recent tax increase in the city of Feoh impacted many, those who could barely afford to live by with scraps were now facing a bleak future with death nearing them. Their lands were being bought by the upper class, the Church, or taken directly by Alicia's people. Then these same houses were either sold back at a higher price, demolished to build another structure, or rented to wealthy merchants. Now these people were left with nothing either dying on the streets from famine, diseases, or by the hands of the city guards. Some chose to leave the place and traveled to somewhere else, his territory being one of them.
"We can close off our gates for any more people seeking shelter and have them continue their path to another village or town."
"Impossible, the closest village is Heilung Dorf and they can't handle such a large influx of settlers. They barely have a thousand people and having their number double every few months would destroy it. And the closest town is Schwertberg in Geofu, which is too far away for any normal traveling carriage to reach within a few days. Not to mention the cold climate and barren roads will attract many dangers and beasts, without a fleet of mercenaries to protect them this is no different than committing suicide." This was giving him a headache from the entire situation. As a former Templar who vowed to protect humanity, ignoring them was just a hard pill to swallow.
"How about Lord Pantielle's territor…" Hal's following words died down his throat as he recalled the identity of the ruler's child, many called him a monster in human form, taking any girl to his liking as a servant and doing horrifying things to them. Cases of rape, body mutilation, starvation, and breaking their mind were ever so present with each case that hiding such rumors became near impossible. Several reports of the madman having a keen interest in binding his maidservants like dogs and walking them on all four limbs across town. He tried to sit on them if dissatisfied, granting a painful death with their bones getting crushed and suffocating while everyone could only watch and do nothing. "Though he's not there at the moment."
"Humph, you've answered it yourself. And aside from that, Joshua doesn't accept settlers for free, it's costly, his laws mirror that of Feoh and it wouldn't make sense for people to go there. Leaving one version of hell, to then wander inside somewhere worse. You start to wonder what could have happened to the Knights stationed there… but I rather stay ignorant. Anyways, we still need to find a solution for our town."
Grenzstadt was a small town, holding barely over eight thousand habitants, where most were mostly just soldiers patrolling the border between Feoh and the Dark Lands. Aside from their precarious position, the land around for agriculture was limited due to the Dark Land's curse halting any sort of expansion. A duty handed to him by Joshua Pantielle when he took the title of Baron, but Raul suspected that the man wanted to get rid of this responsibility. Just recently he received word that the father and son duo moved inside the city of Feoh. Leaving such a large territory to guard for a small town like his with limited supplies sent a message to Raul.
"He condemned us, an execution even." He whispered to himself grimly, wondering why the Marquis would have done such a thing. "It doesn't matter if those people settle here or go back to Feoh, they are more likely to die here by Olga's forces if our men fail to defend the walls. Or die of starvation with the approaching winter, at the end of the day, they don't have much of a choice."
Hal looked at him with confusion, "But sir, Vault and the Kuroinu have gone to battle Olga's forces with victory in sight. Surely we are safe given our patrols have yet to be accosted by the demons. We haven't seen any attacks for days, which is something unheard of in years! If she is defeated then we can surely expand towards the Dark Lands when the curse will dissipate after her death."
True, Raul was willing to admit that the border lately has been very calm. A bit too much in his opinion. One thing he knew about the demons was that they didn't know the meaning of giving up. They never stopped or followed some kind of leadership or orders, only lust and hunger drove them. Nevertheless, demons were notorious creatures who didn't adhere to common sense or possessed a shred of self-preservation. As for the curse getting lifted after Olga's death, that was not guaranteed to happen in the first place. The fact it was still present and strong as ever increased his doubts every passing day.
That feeling surged when he got a report from an informant friend inside the city of Feoh.
"I have a bad feeling about this, Hal. Haven't you heard the rumors flying around lately?" The atmosphere tensed, both men's features darkening considerably.
"Those haven't been confirmed yet, sir. It's quite absurd to say with certainty that the Kuroinu have fallen. It could be another ploy by the Dark Queen."
"It also explains why we haven't seen any recent raids of Goblins, Imps, Trolls, Orcs, or Lycans. For all we know Olga could have called back every single demon available to her back to the castle to successfully kill Vault and the Kuroinu." The news, though shocking, wasn't impossible. He sincerely hoped that he was wrong, for if Kuroinu fell, the Eostia was truly doomed to be plunged back into a bloody war against the Dark Queen. "Hah, let's stop with these depressing thoughts, we should first figure out what to do with these settlers in our front doorsteps. We can't let our town suffer from famine, it'll affect our defense and we can't let that happen."
"What if we send them to Blumenfeld?" Hal proposed.
"—!" Raul resisted the urge to slap his face, he had completely forgotten about that town in Ur, it was closer and didn't require people to climb a mountain and risked their lives to hungry beasts. "Right, I'll need to send a letter first to the Lord overlooking that territory, I believe he's a Marquis like Pantielle. Princess Prim and her entourage are known for their generosity… Maybe this can work out. But we'll still need to house these people for a few days or even a month. And that already endangers our limited supply and we just don't have the materials and available manpower to create temporary shelters."
"We can ask for provisions and supplies to Na—"
Both men stopped their conversation when they heard someone knocking on the door, looking over they saw a maid walking in with a troubled face.
"Um, Lord Azorius, there are two… gentlemen… here to see you."
Displeased by the sudden intrusion and halting such an important conversation, Hal ordered the maid to send away whoever it was who came to see them.
This nearly made the maid start crying, surprising them as they didn't expect such a reaction from the maid.
"I-I-I really don't think this is a g-good idea, t-they came from Ur and have the F-Fiorire royal seal with them!"
"The what?" Raul got up from his chair with shock covering his face. "Did a Princess Knight come over!?" No wait, she mentioned them being men so it couldn't be Princess Prim or Princess Alicia. "No matter, call them in! Hal, we'll have this conversation after, I can't ignore this matter."
This was quite unexpected, Raul didn't know what to think anymore as he was greeted by the sight of two obese pigmen walking inside his office. Wearing luxurious clothes embroidered with gold and many precious gems to show off their wealth. Even in such a cold climate, they still managed to sweat enough to fill the room with a slightly pungent and musky stench in just a few moments of arriving.
"It's an honor to be welcomed by you, Lord Azorius. We present ourselves as the Mortadella brothers oink, conferred business partners and close friends to Princess Knight Prim Fiorire herself." The one clothed in blue garments spoke first, most likely the eldest one. "My name is Ruth Mortadella and this is my younger oink brother, Duth Mortadella." He said while gesturing towards the pig-faced individual next to him dressed with a similar garb but colored with yellow."
"Pleasure to meet you gentlemen, I have heard quite a bit of the history surrounding your business in Ur and how it brought a great deal of prosperity to the kingdom. Princess Prim has always known how to handle such affairs with grace and great wisdom." Raul spoke respectfully, even if he felt repulsed by these two, the man could not show it under any circumstances. Despite being a Baron, he was nowhere near their status and power. Even if the Mortadella brothers did not hold a noble title, their vast connection to the Princess Knights, Nobles, and the Church already put them above people like him. Their vast trade business made many kingdoms rely heavily on their products, which just gave them more power.
"Yes indeed, Princess Prim is very exceptional isn't she oink?" Duth's laugh sent shivers down Raul's spine, it sounded so wrong and so… lustful? "By the way, is this your study, Lord Azorius? You certainly lack the elegance that comes with being a noble. I heard you started as a peasant soldier from the streets. I know you may prefer sticking to your roots but having a few slaves and sex maids here and there would help with your status and appearance with those around you. It's already rude enough that you haven't shown us the proper courtesy of entertaining us with a few of them. That maid outside is quite beautiful. I wouldn't mind getting to know her better."
Raul's eyes twitched, though he kept his composure.
"Y-Yes… I'm sorry if I sound rude and in a hurry but may I know what brought you gentlemen to my small town?"
The oldest sibling spoke first, "We've had Grenzstadt under our interest for a while, the region may be no different than a large village at the edge of the map to oink many people but to us, it's a treasure trove brimming with many natural resources." He explained patiently, continuing to compliment the land and its beauty to the Baron. It would have been flattering coming from anyone else aside from these two, even if it was the Dark Queen herself. Nevertheless, Raul listened, withholding himself from making any snarky remarks.
"Thank you, I've put a lot of work into making this place habitable for both my men and myself. Though I fail to see how our lands would be anything other than barren, crops hardly grow around here, there is no deposit of any sort of ore as far as we know and the constant threat from the demons just adds more to the trouble."
"Hehehehe, oink! You misunderstood, Lord Azorius, the beauty of Grenzstadt is not a thing like resources or even fertility of the land itself — but rather its location."
Location? Aside from being located near the Pantielle territory, there wasn't much to talk about it. In fact, it was the only land he got for free as other locations were under the control of the Church, and he didn't have enough funds to buy them.
"Oink! I can see and sense your confusion, but let me explain." Ruth grabbed a map from his pockets and displayed it on the table. "This map shows both the seven kingdoms and the surrounding dominion including every trade route we are familiar with. As you can see, most of our routes tend to connect to Ur given that's our base of operation. But Grenzstadt stands somewhere special, not surrounded by mountains like Geofu, Ken, Thorne, Rad, and Ansur. There is an unhindered path connecting your town to the outside along with a clear route to the Dark Lands — something that even Ur doesn't have."
"The Dark Lands? But why would you need a path to that Goddess-forsaken place?" Raul asked, seeing no advantage to having easy access to the wasteland. "It's crawling with demons and Olga's forces, killing anything that moves."
Both brothers laughed, though it sounded more like squealing to him. Their body fat jiggled with each movement, with sweat pooling down his finely carved chairs which would need to be burned soon after. Raul wanted to end this conversation quickly, the stench was getting worse and he didn't want his study to get imbued with any disgusting odors.
The young brother, Duth, spoke this time around. "For you humans, it's true that the demons wish nothing more than to eat and use your species as breeding animals. But to us, we have an accord with both sides as we are a neutral party. Olga wouldn't attack our caravan without suffering any repercussions, her people are already struggling to survive, and cutting us off will kill off any and all trade she has for food and grains. Besides, we also work with hundreds of different tribes in that territory, the Dark Queen is just one of our many customers, so even if she were to be defeated — it wouldn't change much."
A jolt ran up his spine, the way they mentioned it. One side mentioned how the Kuroinu were defeated while the pigs hunted at Olga losing, it couldn't be possible that both sides destroyed each other, right?
"That's quite bold of you to reveal," Raul said with squinted eyes. "If word got out that you have conducted any kind of trade with Olga to either the Church, Rad, or Celestine forbid, Alicia herself… they will have your heads on a pike. Neutral party or not, any kind of connection to the Dark Queen is forbidden and punishable by death."
"Oink! Hehehehe! How scary, Lord Azorius! You're scaring us with those words." Duth said nonchalantly, his smirk stretching across his face. "But we are in a position where Eostia needs us far more alive than dead, a small thing like this won't affect that much. But you on the other hand… you're treading on thin ice as it is, as you also need us oink." He gestured outside of the window where one could see the trail of neverending carriages of settlers coming from all the way to Feoh to the front of his town's gates.
"Hehehe, it seems you've realized the current state of affairs. Grenzstadt is in dire need of supplies which only we can deliver in time, twenty tons of wheat can be delivered to your town's doors by the end of this week alone with a supply of sugar, salt and as a bonus, we'll even add a few loads of pure iron ingots."
"W-Wha…" Raul was bewildered by this revelation, speechless at the might these two brothers unleashed upon him with just words. Before realizing his mistake of losing control of his emotions in front of these two and seeing the two pig brothers' grin grow, the Baron struggled to calm himself down. "I-I don't have the funds to afford any of these… I doubt anything short of a few tens of thousands of gold coins or a few orichalcum coins will suffice to pay."
"Oh, we don't need your money, Lord Azorius. Ruth and I already decided that we would inquire for a certain favor from you instead."
They knew… they knew he neither had the funds to pay them nor the will to decline such an offer.
"...What do you need?"
"Nothing much, just grant us a small piece of land and permission to set up an auction house and shops to conduct our affairs."
An auction? That was the last thing he expected, given how far away and reclusive the town was, with most of the locals being soldiers and their families — an auction house wouldn't make sense. Given how people weren't exactly the richest, the brothers wouldn't make any profit with their stores. Unless… his people were not the targeted clientele, to begin with. "Tell me why you're here, stop it with your lies."
Both brothers looked at each other impressed. "Wow, seems like we've indeed underestimated you, Lord Azorius. Then let's drop this act and get to the meat of it oink… we want to set up a slave market."
Before he could utter any words, Ruth continued on, "Now, you must know what happened with Count Blueborn, a tragedy really. He was an important customer and distributor of ours that we've worked with for decades. Unfortunately, due to some… unexpected turn of events after his assassination, our slave ring was temporarily moved to Feoh. But even then, there had been some problems after our latest purchase of merchandise. It created some… chaos."
"Excuse me?" Raul wondered if they could elaborate.
"Right, well, our newest merchandise is not exactly human nor an elf. She's of magical origin and has the passive ability to unconsciously um… tempt the people around her. This has caused many of our potential customers and obedient slaves to go out of control. Keeping her there just proved too much of a hassle and loss for us that even selling her became nigh impossible. The customers are afraid of her and she's hard to hide or control. So better to sell her separately from the rest to a more diverse audience. And this is a good opportunity as any to recreate Blueborns lost work somewhere more secure and away from prying eyes. Of course, you are more than welcome to join the auction, surely you'll find a girl to your liking, we'll even offer you a discount on your first slave purchase."
Raul Azorius was many things, but kind-hearted wasn't one of them. He didn't see himself as someone who could be considered as just or a man who stood by justice. Even as a formal Templar, he still had flaws and now his main goal was his town and its habitants. His past self wouldn't have agreed to such a deal, calling it immoral and abhorrent, but that part of him slowly died the longer he was exposed to the real world and the many snakes that hid in every corner. To survive, one needed to be heartless and this was just another test for him.
'Hah, I don't have a choice…'
"Fine, feel free to do whatever you want under one condition. None of my people should end up as a slave and try to keep things quiet if possible."
With that, both parties shook hands, sealing the deal.
Back in the main castle in Ansur, Claudia brought a spoonful of porridge up to her husband's mouth. Watching as the man who used to have a healthy glow to his face had turned ghostly pale with bloodshot and sunken eyes. Klaus looked like he lost almost half of his weight, a mere shadow of his past self.
Just looking at how he couldn't even chew food in his current state, how that expressionless pair of eyes didn't show a trace of life within or energy within them. Just staring mindlessly in front. His body was covered with bandages for the many wounds he suffered from. Dozens of broken bones, lacerations that had yet to heal, and decaying and burned skin in places he was tortured.
"There you go, just chew slowly, dear. Nice and slow." She held back tears that were threatening to fall as her hand moved his lower jaw to force him to eat as he couldn't do it himself. His eyes twitched, slowly but surely turning towards her. "See? Now you can move your eyes, it's only a matter of days till you're recovered and we can be together again, Klaus. I promise you that I'll find whoever did this to you and plunge my sword deep within their hearts."
It all happened the day she found out her husband went missing, a kidnapping! Wrought with distress, Claudia flipped the entire kingdom of Ansur upside down to find him, hours turned into days, and her despair grew bigger as she feared the worst. Fortunately, Grave managed to uncover the lair where his son was taken captive and with both of their might combined they managed to clear the criminals before Grave took them away to the dungeon. But then, further inside the lair, she witnessed one of the most horrifying sights that nearly tore her heart into pieces.
A bloody Klaus stripped of all his clothes, covered in his filth and cuts that showed the white of his bones in some places. His skin colored blue with blackened veins and a rotting foot covered in maggots and puss. For the second time in her life, Claudia vomited at such a scene, first was when she took the life of a bandit with her sword for the first time in her life but seeing her husband in such a state was just too much for her.
'I will kill them all!' She shouted with fury inside her head, clenching her fists at the thought of what happened. 'The healers mentioned his body was riddled with so many poisons, venoms, and toxins that it is a miracle how Klaus is still alive.'
To Claudia, this just showed how tenacious he was in the face of death. She was certain he would survive and recover, but that didn't stop her mind from feeling the burden of what happened and her failure to save him in time.
"This… this is all my fault."
"This… this is all my fault."
That wasn't true, she wasn't the cause of his tragedy.
Klaus thought as he watched Claudia continue to feed him food slowly but surely, taking care of his body with great care and gentleness that elated his heart every time she watched him with love and care in her eyes. It was a moment of peace in his personal hell, a small window where he could just forget about everything and relax.
Unfortunately, that moment didn't last long as the doors to his room opened and the devil walked in.
"Claudia, how is my son doing?" There came Grave, having a regular stoic expression that showed little emotion, now it showed both sadness and anger. Feelings that Klaus could see right through with how fake they were, it couldn't hide the cruelty which he fully displayed back then.
'Run, Claudia!' He wanted to scream but could. 'Leave before he gets you!'
Again, no one could hear him, nor could they understand his plight as he remained unmoving.
"Father…" she greeted the old man with a weak nod, showing not a trace of her former self. The Princess Knight who symbolizes strength, integrity, and unflinching resolve was now reduced to an exhausted woman with heavy bags under her eyes. "It's my fault. If I hadn't left Ansur then Klaus wouldn't have been captured. I could have saved him and avoided such a tragedy."
No Claudia! It was his fault! Klaus wanted to glare at his old man but couldn't.
Grave sighed before approaching Claudia, "Claudia, you've been here for two days without eating, sleeping, or resting. Even as a Princess Knight blessed by the Goddess herself, you still can't push yourself this far. Also, this isn't your fault… but mine."
His son's soul shook, would this old man truly just confess his wrongdoings? Reveal how he had his son kidnapped and tortured for days, forced to live in a hellish room where every second was spent with him crying from pain and despair.
"Don't say that, father!" Claudia shook her head. "You tried your best, I can't blame you after knowing that it must have been hard for a father to see his son like this."
'No! What are you saying, Claudia!? He's the one who did this to me! Don't believe his words!'
"It is, seeing my son in such a state made me realize how harsh I was on him. For years, I demeaned him for his lack of strength, pushed him unfairly to grow stronger, and ostracized him in front of many. I… I only wanted for my son to grow strong in order to survive this harsh world, I didn't want to lose him as I did my wife… It is only now that I see my mistake."
Grave sat on the bed right next to Claudia, the distance between them barely existing as Klaus began having a bad feeling inside his heart. The words of his father mentioned beforehand returned to his mind, those disgusting words that related to what he had planned with his wife.
'H-He can't be trying to…'
Grave continued to speak, "I still remember the day I held him in my hands as he was born, weak and fragile and it made me afraid that the slightest breeze would kill him. His mother died after childbirth, her body couldn't handle the stress, and lost my beloved. That event traumatized me, which pushed me to train Klaus so harshly… I now wish I could have spent more time beside him and treated him like my actual son." Tears trickled down the old man's face, shocking both Claudia and Klaus. The former never imagined she would see the once formidable general and the person who taught her everything about combat, would shed a tear like this. He was not one to show such a sight to anyone, let alone her.
Meanwhile, Klaus wanted to throw up at those fake tears, to think his father would be such a deceiver, having the nerve to cry in front of the son he beat up and disowned. Creating a fake story just to garner pity and empathy from his wife! Hopefully, she wouldn't fall for such a far—
"Please don't cry, father!" She exclaimed, holding Grave's shoulders to support the crumbling man. "T-The healers have mentioned how Klaus can still recover. With enough det-detoxifying potions and healing spells, he'll be back to h-his previous self soon."
"Claudia… I'm so glad you're here, you've been a pillar to our family for many years and I can only thank the Goddess for bringing to me such a precious gem."
For the first time in her life did she hear him compliment her in such a way. It was such a foreign experience that she didn't know how to react to it. Nevertheless, it warmed her heart to see the jaded man grow a heart for once. "Klaus is the lucky one, I'm sure he's happy to see you show such a side. He must be proud of you."
To her utter surprise, Grave leaned forward and circled his arms around her before pulling the woman into his embrace. She leaned to the side as their faces were a bit too close for comfort.
The shock was enough for her to forget about pushing him away, staying there flabbergasted at this sudden action.
Klaus who was watching the entire time grew restless, screaming within his mind as he tried to move but couldn't even budge a finger. His heart beating like a dream at the infuriating scene before him, more so that smirk and those cunning eyes that glanced at him with contempt and morbid sexual desire for the woman he held. Given Claudia was still in her armor, much of her skin and breasts pushed against Grave's body with little to nothing separating them. He could see the man's hands lowering to her waist, almost caressing her body while he could do nothing but watch his own 'father' touch his wife.
Grave's expression changed instantly as it returned to his gloomy state as he let her go. "A-Ah, forgive me, Claudia. I got too emotional." He said with a regretful face. "Look at me, a once proud and mighty general reduced to such a pathetic state. I need to go, staying here will just make it worse. Would you join me at my study so we may share a few moments over a drink? Just to ease up our minds for Klaus's sake."
'Don't do it! He'll try to get to you and steal you from me! Claudia! Please don't do this!'
Again, no one could hear his plea.
"U-Um, I'm not s-sure about that… Klaus still needs to be taken care of. I still haven't washed him for the day and fed him enough, he's been losing a lot of weight already."
"Don't worry about that, I have brought in a special healer from the Church itself. He's one of the best potion makers in all of Eostia and a close friend of mine." From the door walked in another elderly man dressed in priest garb, one who gave Klaus a panic attack as he recognized the person.
'It's him! He's the one who poisoned me! H-Help me! Claudia!'
"Good evening, Princess Knight Claudia Levantine. I am an old friend of Grave and the one who administered the initial remedy to save Klaus's life. I must continue my work to put young Klaus back on his feet as soon as possible. Don't worry about the smaller things, I have a team who will take care of his needs. For the moment, it's better if you rest. We don't want your husband to feel stressed because his wife grew sick just because of him, he would want you to leave such things to us"
Her resolve wavered at his words, she knew the kind of man Klaus was. If he saw her get worse then it would further hurt him. She didn't want that.
A sigh escaped her mouth.
"Fine, I leave my husband's health to your hands."
Grave smirked as he got up from the bed.
"Wonderful, please join me. Let's talk about other matters, I'm sure clearing our minds will help us to discover and apprehend the perpetrator of my son's kidnapping." Then his face grew dark. "And we also need to sort out matters concerning the Kuroinu, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about."
The brunette nodded, knowing she couldn't do her duties for long as the fate of the Ansur and its people lay on her shoulders.
"Yes, I'll be joining you, father." After saying that, she kissed Klaus's head before giving him a warm smile. "Be strong, dear, everything will be okay."
'Nonononono! Don't leave me here alone! Claudia! Claudia! CLAUDIA!' He screeched loudly while both the figures of his wife and father disappeared from his room, his stoic and lifeless face showing no change whatsoever aside from a single tear streaming down his left eye.
The priest gazed at him with an unreadable gaze.
"Now then, shall we continue where we left off previously? Such a shame our little fun was interrupted by that worthless wench, but don't worry, I will fulfill my duties and heal you. Now whether you'll stay here or run away like a coward will be up to you, hehehehe!"
Within the halls, the Princess Knight who was making her way with Grave to his study was surprised to see three young puppies run after her with their tails wagging with joy. "Celot, Cu, Cain!" Her mood was lifted when she saw her cute little dogs she adopted from the streets not that long ago. Picking them up one by one, she gave the pups a big hug as the three licked her face. "Look at how much you've grown!"
Despite not being a mother, these three managed to temporarily fill that hole in her heart she had been desperate to feel one day.
"I see you've found your pups, they've been on their best behavior." As he tried to reach out and pet the animals, all three started growling and made him retract his hands soon after one tried to bite him. "Still feisty as ever."
Flustered over her dog's behavior, she quickly tried to apologize but the old man just laughed. "Hahaha! There is no need to apologize, I take it my appearance does look far away from friendly, so I don't mind."
Claudia dropped the dogs on the floor, petting their soft light brown fur lovingly. "Now, go meet your father, Klaus will be happy to have you by his side to keep him company."
As if understanding her words, they ran down the hallway before going inside the room, though one of them remained behind.
"Cu? Go with your brothers."
It refused to move and rubbed its head against her legs. "Hah, such a spoiled child, guess I'll bring you along as well. Hope you don't mind, father?"
"Of course not," as they walked to his study, Grave clicked his tongue and silently whispered, "Foul mutts" under his breath.
Archer fired an arrow, the projectile before piercing a deer in the distance, killing the animal in one fell swoop. "That should do it."
The area around then was surrounded by blooming trees and abundant fauna. A clear sign that they were approaching Feoh's borders and wouldn't be long before they reached their destination. He stopped by the deer, dismissed his arrow, and picked up the corpse with a grunt.
The atmosphere between the women had calmed down for the most part, Anna and Grace weren't screaming at Olga and Chloe while the latter stopped trying to attack anyone with her dagger. They were quiet, minding their own business and keeping up with him as they traveled back to camp.
Night had already fallen, so in the meantime, Archer decided to set up camp. Though, unlike last time, both Grace and Anna came with a large tent and multiple tools to help out with the preparations. Not that he needed it given his use of Projections, but he appreciated their help nonetheless.
"We have a problem," said the red bowman. "There is only a single tent."
Given both of the elves generally tended to sleep together, they didn't bother to carry a second tent with them during their travels. The man guessed that in the end, he would need to Project another tent, for if they all slept together then someone would die one way or another. Not to mention the awkward atmosphere would make it nearly impossible for anyone to sleep.
Grace tilted her head with confusion. "Eh? But there is enough space for three people to sleep inside comfortably." To be honest, she was looking forward to their night together, excited to have another ménage à trois with the white hair bowman. Unlike last time at the Inn where things went south quickly before just sleeping with the man, their recent intimacy at the pond made the girl giddy to experience it again. Unfortunately, that feeling died down the moment she saw Chloe and Olga looking at her with squinted eyes, both aware of her real motive.
She tried to glare back but her face looked as intimidating as a harmless puppy — especially with her puffed-up cheeks that just made her look cute.
"I'm not sleeping, so you'll have to share your tent with Anna," Archer said dryly, already guessing her intentions with how her eyes gazed at him from time to time, the sloped ears and the fidgeting were all obvious signs. She couldn't hide her thoughts whatsoever and Anna, while also thinking the same thing as Grace but had a better poker face than anyone he has ever met, just shrugged her shoulders when he looked at her for a response.
"Why!?" The Dark Elf acted like she heard the end of the world was approaching.
"Because I need to make sure that we don't get attacked in the middle of the night. And I also need to keep an eye on these two, so they don't try anything. Other than that, we still need to prepare the meal."
As soon as he said that, both Olga and Chloe's stomachs grumbled, causing the latter to blush. The latter averted her eyes from Archer's. "I-It's your fault, w-we haven't eaten anything since you… kidnapped us." Even now he noticed how she didn't do anything to avoid admitting that he saved them. He didn't mind it though, if that helped her to calm down and not attack him or scream every second then he wouldn't bother correcting her.
Nevertheless, he hadn't eaten anything since the attack and was feeling famished as well. Starving his body from the necessary source of energy was a bad idea now that he couldn't rely on Magical Energy like Servants of the Holy Grail or like every time he was deployed by the Counter Force. There was no river anywhere nearby to catch some fish, which was why they were lucky to find a deer.
"I'll help you out," Anna offered graciously, unpacking every kind of cooking utensil from their bags. "Grace has packed an assortment of spices, I'm sure you'll like them. Some of them are original flavors I created." She said stoically, once again staring at Archer.
"You didn't lace those with aphrodisiacs did you?"
Oi, he was just joking!
"Don't worry, Archer, I'll make sure to cure you of any ailments tonight."
It looked like the only spice he would use was salt and pepper, unless she spiked those as well… he hoped not.
"Delicious!" Grace praised out loud while taking a spoonful of the stew he made. After extensively negotiating with Anna, he managed to convince her to remove any spice she laced with her weird concoctions, much to her disappointment. "Anna said you could cook but I didn't expect the food to be so good! It's even better than anything I made at the Inn!"
"Really? Unfortunately, I didn't get to try out your food back then, so I wouldn't know. But you did show quite the mastery with the knife when cutting up the deer. You're most likely more skillful than me with that." Archer wasn't joking, he was impressed with how efficient and accurate she was with the carcass. He never got much experience dealing with wild animals and was more familiar with cooking with already prepared ingredients, though his skills were good he wouldn't call himself a master.
"Indeed, the meat is tender and doesn't get overpowered by the sauce. The potatoes are soft and I like the caramelized crispy onions you've added as a topping." Anna continued the conversation before taking another bite.
"More!" Chloe asked for another serving, the hostility she had towards him temporarily gone as her entire focus was on the food he made.
"This is your sixth bowl… how are you not full?" Archer asked, surely this woman wouldn't have an appetite similar to a certain King of Knights? If that was the case then he would be worried that cooking an entire deer wouldn't be enough.
"Don't make me repeat myself!" Ah, there was that hostility, though now it emerged mostly because she thought he would deny her more food.
A smirk appeared on his face, "Ask me politely. If you smile then I'll be obliged to give you more and I'll even add an extra serving of meat just for you."
"W-W-What!?" Her eyes widened with disbelief, she tried to go for her dagger but stopped midway when Archer lowered the ladle filled with stew. She swallowed her saliva, smelling the delicious fragrance of the spices and herbs inside the pot. "You… you're a twisted, evil, disgustingly horrendous piece of shit, human. You won't break my will with such a form of humiliation!"
"Hoh, how descriptive of you. I'm more used to being called a jerk but that works as well. Maybe I should wrap things up and throw out the rest of the foo—"
"No!" Throwing all grievance to the wind, Chloe rushed to his side and pleaded with both hands. "Can I please get another serving, Archer-sama~!" she did her best attempt at a smile but it came out quite ugly.
Still, this made him chuckle quite a bit, forcing Chloe to grit her teeth in anger while not showing it on the outside.
"I would have preferred something more sincere and honest but this will do. It's a start." He said, grabbing her bowl and serving her more food. Chloe, now feeling completely humiliated by her treacherous stomach and hunger, retreated into the corner and took a bite of the deer meat. Immediately the frown disappeared now replaced with a gentle and cute smile that suited much more than her regular snarl, her ears wiggling in delight from the amazing flavors dancing on her tongue. Chloe, in those few seconds, resembled a young innocent woman rather than a hateful killer that she was known to be.
Olga saw his interaction with Chloe but stayed quiet. The human was vastly different from what she expected. At first, Olga was waiting for the man to deny them the food. Further starving them and only agreeing to share some in exchange for some sexual service or to just degrade them. To forcefully reduce them to dirty used-up whores during the entire journey and slowly break them mentally for his sick pleasure.
Yet none of that happened.
Not only did he give her food without asking for anything in return, he even changed his attitude from the last time and used his bizarre magic to make a second tent for her and Chloe.
'That dream has tainted my mind more than I would have liked.'
Just closing her eyes Olga would recall the vile and vivid scenes of those Kuroinu men defiling her body for hours and covering it with their fluids. It felt so real, yet, thankfully, it was nothing but a nightmare. Maybe that was what she thought would happen now with Archer, given she saw him having sexual intercourse with these two elves.
As she was deep in thought, Olga took another mouthful of stew and whispered unconsciously, "It's really good." It was better than anything she had in her entire life, for some reason, her eyes started to sting and grow hazy with these thoughts.
An hour later, everyone finished their meal with a full stomach.
The tents were set up, Anna dragging a reluctant Grace to sleep as the latter wanted to accompany Archer for the night. In her own words, she didn't want him to feel lonely. Though Anna mentioned how a cranky Grace who lacked sleep was more dangerous than a lustful Orc and that they needed their sleep for the long road ahead.
So she sprayed some sleeping powder on her face and knocked the Dark Elf unconscious. Just before she left with the unconscious Grace, Anna had told Archer that their tent was always open for him if he wanted to take a bit of rest. Olga ordered Chloe to get some rest as well, the blonde had been through a lot and didn't get the proper sleep since leaving the castle and it showed with her bloodshot eyes and dark rings. She was reluctant at first but after a stern order, the girl agreed and fell asleep the moment her body touched the warm blanket.
Meanwhile, Olga stood by herself outside, looking at the stars and the celestial body illuminating the land with a gentle blue glow.
"A beautiful night, right?" She heard Archer's voice coming from behind but already expected his presence.
"Indeed, I used to stargaze every night back at Castle Discordia. Not that I can anymore, you have turned my abode to dust. Gone from the face of the world, the once majestic symbol of my power turned into a memory or the crudely drawn abomination in the Church's scriptures." She said calmly, still salty about the destruction of her coveted castle she spent a century building with countless artifacts and her golden throne. That item that allowed her to control every beast under command was now gone, and with that, she was back to square one.
Archer scoffed, "Humph, not like it would have mattered. The so-called impenetrable fortress was taken down by the Kuroinu. Would you have preferred to see your life's hard work get stolen from you and used by your worst enemy or just destroyed in the end?"
"... Point taken." He had a point, she would rather see it destroyed than be used by either Vault or Kin. And worse… if those bastards were sick enough they could have used the demons under her command to breed with her. The mere thought of that made the Dark Queen's dark skin go sickly pale and shudder in revulsion. "I take it you want to know about the Insect God Cult?"
"That was part of our deal." He said, crossing his arms and waiting for her to speak the details.
A disgusted look appeared on her face as she recalled matters concerning this cult. "Well, to put it simply the Insect God Cult is not a religion run by a single God, rather there are two factions. The first one being Kaguya's god and the second one run by Shamuhaza."
So there were two of them? That was troublesome. He didn't know which one was responsible for catching the attention of the Beast in the first place. Whether it was one of them or both presented a major problem and needed to be dealt with quickly.
"The reason I despise them is for different reasons, while Kaguya's god is mostly a just and reclusive deity. It mostly assists Celestine and offers protection to its followers. Many would consider it as the true God of the two. While the one hiding in the dark is a much more sinister being. A vile existence who wishes to be reborn in this plane through one of its children impregnating a woman strong enough to endure its essence. They both are locked in an endless conflict for dominance and both are as repulsive as the last. Shamuhaza, that fanatic bastard, has taken hundreds of my people and used their bodies as a vessel to bring forth their god but failed each time. That's why now he wishes to capture Kaguya as she's the prime candidate to successfully hold his god inside her belly."
The more he listened to these gods the more disturbed Archer got.
"Kaguya? Is it because of her connection to the other insect God?"
She made a weird face, "In a way. Very few actually know the truth, so let me just reveal to you this secret. that priestess tries to hide from her people. The reason why Kaguya is the ideal candidate is because how her body is different from the rest. For years, she has carried the God she has prayed to inside her body and I don't mean she's pregnant with one… rather she let that vile creature crawl all the way inside her anus and make itself home inside there. That's how the head priestess is able to communicate with her deity because it's literally inside her."
"Surprised, right? Though I wish I could tell you more, it would seem that we have company."
Before he could say anything, both of them heard howls coming from deep within the forest.
"So he finally came to finish me off after all," Olga whispered.
For those wondering, the dog name is just a small Easter egg, nothing too deep like some might misunderstand.
The next 5 chapters of Snafu, Harry Potter and my 3 other Fate fics (Fate Coiling Sword with 3 chapters, A Fake Familiar Reborn with 3 chapters and To love a sword having 4 chapters) are already available on my P treon. With 4 more Broly chapters at /NimtheWriter. Also, I post monthly commissioned arts on each story, already posted a few on an Archer's Promise, Broly and Snafu.