That morning, Harold woke up on the wrong side of the bed.
A massive death flag had been dropped on him around some drinks just the night before.
Sid and Irene intended to get married right after this one mission. Moreover, Harold knew a large group of monsters was lying in wait for them.
He could not see how this combination would not lead to the absolute worst case scenario.
This did not really have anything to do with his own survival, but Harold was not one to abandon others because he was not personally under threat.
(Maybe I would if I was powerless, but...)
For better or worse, Harold had the power to oppose this situation.
To begin with, a large part of his motivation in coming to Barston was that he was worried about the many people whose lives would be at risk due to the rampaging monsters. The energy portal in the underground tunnels came second.
Had he only been thinking about his own life, he wouldn’t have needed to put himself in so much risk.
【”I guess it’s fine... ”】
If he could handle things well, he would save Sid, Irene and Barston’s people in one fell swoop. Looking at the situation optimistically, it was not so bad.
Though, admittedly, that was only a drop of fortune in a sea of misfortune.
【”Boss, the town’s representative’s here.”】
Keith’s voice came through the door together with a crude knock, notifying Harold that a visitor had come. This visit was no surprise, but Harold had been expecting her for later.
It seemed she was quite hurried and desperate.
【”Let her in.”】
【”Right. You can go in.”】
After a slight pause, the room’s door opened.
【”Uh, what a terrible face you’re making.”】
【”Sorry, I wasn’t able to sleep...”】
(Makes sense.) Agreed Harold, though he did not voice that thought out loud.
Rather, he was more surprised by himself, who had managed to get a good night’s sleep despite the circumstances.
He could not deny his sense of danger might have been dulled by his various experiences.
【”So, what do you want?”】
【”I came to inform you that we’ve arranged a meeting between the representatives of the town and the knight order. It will take place in the assembly hall, two hours from now.”】
Harold had been expecting the knight order’s involvement after meeting with Sid and Irene the day before.
From his talk with them, he figured they were probably aware that Barston was in some sort of danger.
Under Harold’s name, Elu had notified the knight order about the monsters, but they had apparently sent the bare minimum number of people seeing as the rest of their men were already in Travis.
There were doubts to be had as to whether the knights sent to Barston along with Sid were truly aware of how great the danger they were meant to face was.
【”Is that so?”】
In all truth, Harold felt it would be more troublesome than anything to come at the meeting since the people of the knight order basically hated him.
However, right now, what he needed more than anything else was more hands to evacuate the town’s people.
That being the case, it was essential for him to make an appearance and persuade the people present at the meeting to help him.
At worst, if need be, he would show the monsters to the representatives, even if that meant he would have to drag them underground.
【”What? Is there something else?”】
Harold could not tell why Fiona was silently standing on the spot when she had already finished her report.
Soon, she raised her face and gazed right into his eyes.
【”There are many points I still don’t understand about the situation. The monsters, the underground facilities, the plan to resolve the problem and... all of you.”】
Clearly, there was something she wanted to get out of her system. Having realized that, Harold stayed silent and listened to her.
【”But clearly, there is something abnormal going on. Something major that neither I nor everyone else in town can do anything about.”】
Her honest feelings regarding recent events were clear: “I do not understand”. And that was only natural.
She had been living her life peacefully until someone told her out of nowhere that her town would be destroyed by a massive monster invasion, with the proof to back up his words at that.
It couldn’t be helped for her to be stunned as to what was happening and what she was supposed to do.
Rather, the fact she was not falling into a frenzy showed that she had a strong backbone.
【”The situation being what it is, despite my doubts, I have no choice but to believe that you have a method to solve this; to believe in you... It’s fine to just believe in you, right? I’m not making the wrong choice, am I?”】
Still, despite her courage, her voice was void of energy. The sight she had witnessed the day before was apparently a hard memory for her to carry.
Though this was the successful outcome of Harold’s own plan, it was unbearable for him to watch.
He felt sorry for Fiona. Here she was, left with no choice but to believe in the very man who had put her in this state.
But while it was true that he was responsible for this, it did not mean he had no right to say something about it.
【”I don’t have the slightest interest in who or what you believe. Believe whatever you mind’s telling you to.”】
He wanted to try to at least give her some words of encouragement. But far from encouraging her, he ended up telling her he did not care about her plea, making things even worse.
Harold actually wanted to build an amicable relationship with her. Given how quick she had been to take action after being informed of the town’s situation, he knew her collaboration would definitely be favorable.
(Well, if these sorts of things were that easy, I wouldn’t have gone through so much trouble over the years.)
The meeting with the town’s representatives was going to take place under the theme of fear; fear of this unexpected situation the town had not prepared for, this situation beyond their control.
(That’s definitely gonna be a pain.)
While these sorts of gloomy thoughts were going through his mind, Harold decided it was time to go.
The meeting was to take place at an assembly-hall-like building in the middle of town.
By the time Harold arrived at the building, many people had already gathered there.
Among them, there were not only the town’s representatives, but also several knights, just like Fiona had said earlier.
There were a few familiar faces there as well. Perhaps because of the tight spot he was being put in, Sid had an anxious look on his face.
As for the the other knights, the looks they were giving Harold told him all he needed to know about his reputation in their order.
【”Now then, Fiona, why were you in such a hurry to gather so many people for an emergency meeting?”】
【”Before I answer that, I would like to first introduce some people.”】
After saying so, Fiona urged Harold and the person from Giffelt, who was called Lizst, to take a step forward.
Since all the eyes at the meeting had already gathered on Fiona, she was entrusted with introducing the situation and moving things forward. Lizst would cut in when needed.
As for Harold, whose defective mouth could only sow unnecessary discord, it was a good plan for him to stay silent.
【”Hello, I am Lizst, one of the people who were just introduced. Pleased to meet you.”】
Lizst grandly bowed down as he said so. When he saw him, “actor” was the one word that popped into Harold’s mind.
Lizst looked like an actor playing the role of a member of an investigative agency. He was speaking like he was reading predetermined lines that had been prepared and thought-out for him in advance.
【”Our organization received a request from someone to investigate the tunnels under the town of Barston.”】
That “someone” Lizst was referring to was likely Elu. After all, although Harold was the head of Frieri, the one who played the most substantial role in managing their activities was Elu.
This situation was no exception. Putting Harold’s instructions aside, the main reason Elu had been able to find the horde of monsters was that he had already considered that possibility.
While Harold had only thought of it because he had his knowledge about the original story, Elu had the outlook and flexible thinking to predict some possibilities that were impossible to guess from the game’s story alone.
【”The official reason for our investigation was to examine the degree of deterioration of the tunnels. However, our true purpose was different.”】
【”What was it?”】
The man asking that question was likely the town’s head. He had a bit of a presence to him.
In response to that reasonable question, Lizst pulled out what looked like a thin metal plate from his inside-pocket.
Harold was not alone in tilting his head, wondering what this object was. Everyone in the assembly hall was looking towards Lizst’s hands, likely sharing the same thoughts.
Then, their curiosity immediately turned to astonishment.
Someone muttered in a dumbfounded voice. Though he did not make a sound, Harold was just as surprised.
As for why he reacted that way, it was because an image had appeared from the metal plate.
The projected image had clear colors and was showing a scene from real life, like some other image-display devices that were not supposed to exist in this world.
【”This is a magic item. In simple terms, it’s an object take can accurately clip a sight from reality.”】
Indeed, the image coming from the plate was moving like a video taken by a camera.
The plate in itself was valuable from being a magic item, but its ability was something that felt like it did not fit with this world, like an out-of-place artifact.
Still, astonishing as the item was, what was really important right now was the scene it was projecting.
The plate could not be said to be very big, yet it was still very easy to see the numerous monsters that appeared on it.
【”This scene was clipped from deep inside Barston’s tunnels, under the town.”】
Lizst directly thrust the core of the story onto the town’s representatives, like he was saying there was no need for him to waste his words.
This was too sudden for something that had come completely out of the blue from their perspective. There was no way they could accept the information right away.
After a short silence, a dry laugh echoed in the room.
【”What in the world are you saying? That sure came out of nowhere... Hahaha, well, if it’s a joke, it’s in poor taste.”】
【”Right? I mean, why would there be so many monsters lurking under the town? This is ridiculous.”】
【”Exactly! Besides, nothing proves that that magic item is real.”】
Unsurprisingly, the reaction to this reality that sounded almost like a gag was one of denial and scorn.
There was nothing strange about this.
From this point onward, it would be up to Harold’s side to make the town’s representatives understand the authenticity of this information and the very real threat looming over Barston.
【”I agree that this is an unbelievable story. However, how about the people of the knight order over there? What do you think?”】
Lizst pointed towards the knights who had been starring daggers at Harold right up to the point when the image on the plate appeared.
Their attention was now solely on the plate. Looking at them one by one, a few of the knights, including their leader, had turned pale.
The fact that the information presented by Lizst had changed their complexion suggested they had already heard of Travis’ situation.
This had not escaped even Harold’s notice, so there was no way Lizst would have missed it either.
【”People of the knight order, I humbly ask you, under what pretext were you stationed in Barston? For what purpose?”】
This time around, all the representatives turned their eyes towards the knights.
Harold did not know what kind of explanation had been given to the town’s representatives, but it seemed that they were starting to be suspicious of the knights now that Lizst had brought part of the explanation to light.
Meanwhile, Harold was closely watching the situation, feeling a quiet admiration for Lizst’s clever nudge of the audience.
By causing a small rift between the knights and the town’s representatives, it would probably be possible to split them and step in later on.
【”We’ve received eyewitness reports regarding a target for arrest that we’ve been chasing after for a long time. Hence, the knight order sent a few people to arrest him. “】-(s²73
After staying silent for a little while, the man who looked like the commander of the knights replied.
This was likely an explanation they had prepared in advance.
However, their timing was too good. Harold did not believe they could have shown up so soon after receiving word of Harold’s name from Elu.
Then again, the only reason Harold could think that way was that he was already aware of the whole flow of the situation.
【”But we know nothing about what this man is talking about whatsoever.”】
【”Yes, that’s right.”】
As the commander-looking man start staring daggers at him again, Harold found himself pondering.
The man had definitely been told about the gathering of monsters.
The reason he hadn’t given that explanation to the town’s people was likely that he felt it would only serve to give rise to pointless worry and fear seeing as he did not have any fixed countermeasures in place yet.
In that case, the information Lizst was dangling in front of him should have been quite important to him.
Although it was too much to expect him to wholeheartedly start participating, he normally should have tried to pull out some information from Harold’s side.
However, he was rejecting that choice. Far from asking for information, he did not appear to even want to discuss anything.
(...Is it because of me?)
A certain hypothesis formed itself in Harold’s mind. Maybe the reason the knights were keeping vigilance as their priority despite somewhat knowing the danger of the situation was Harold himself.
From the knights’ point of view, Harold was a great criminal who had once betrayed the order. Except for Sid and Irene, who were his old friends, the knights were definitely bearing quite a grudge against him.
It would not be strange if they believed this whole string of events was in fact a trap laid by Harold.
(What should I do?) Harold wondered.
For better or worse, his words and actions had the power to influence the outcome of this meeting.
It was also clear that he would break any chance of collaboration if he acted thoughtlessly.
The situation was critical. He wished to do his absolute best to avoid creating any discord.
(That said, I can’t afford to spend my time on reconciling. Plus it’s impossible to reconcile using this mouth of mine in the first place...)
Harold wanted to simply entrust Lizst with the negotiations and let this whole crisis pass.
【”More importantly, trust is not on the table for us when that man is involved.”】
As the man said so, all the knights, except Sid and Irene, turned their eyes towards Harold. As expected, they had the worst impression of him.
The town’s people, however, were just confused.
【”You’re probably not aware, but the man over there, Harold Stokes, once infiltrated the knight order as a spy and brought much harm and many deaths to our order. He is a great criminal that not a soul has not heard of in the capital.”】
Speaking to the town’s representatives like he was giving them a speech, the man openly revealed Harold’s crimes.
It was no longer possible for Harold to deny this now. Even if he did, no one would believe him. That was the reality of this world.
【”Indeed, that is true. And now, that very same man is giving it his all day in and day out to make up for those crimes and fulfill his duties.”】
This was likely the best defense to present under the circumstances. However, as one would expect, there was a difference between the weight of the words of two nobodies and those of a man who carried a symbol of the kingdom’s authority.
Though Lizst was carrying a magic item they had never seen before, that said nothing about whether he was trustworthy or not.
Things might have been different if there was time to lay some more groundwork, but the fact of the matter was that the town’s people were likely on the knight order’s side right now.
Harold was not doubting Lizst’s competence; after all, he had been entrusted this role through Elu’s personal judgement. But perhaps it was unfair to expect him to turn things on their head without proper preparations.
【”What does that change? The fact still remains that he’s not trustworthy.”】
【”How can you make such a claim? No one would have found out about the current situation without him.”】
【”What’s to prove that he himself did not cause this?”】
Their opinions were like two parallel lines... Or rather, the problem was that they were starting to stray away from the issue at hand. To make things worse, because the man was looking at him as he spoke those words, Harold was the one taking all the attention now.
Before he knew it, he felt like the mood was leaving him with no choice but to personally speak.
【”Don’t you have anything to say for yourself, Stokes?”】
(Please just don’t involve me.) Without a clue as to what thoughts were going through Harold’s mind, the man addressed him directly.
Staying silent was not an option.
After stopping himself from letting out a long, long sigh, Harold tried to speak as appropriately as he could.
【”So what if I did do it? What can you do about it?”】
The air in the room froze over from these words that seemed to confirm the man’s claim.
Even Lizst was looking at Harlod like he was wondering “What the hell is this guy saying?”
Well, Harold himself felt the same way, but he was able to put that aside given his many years of experience.
For now, he felt like things would take an even more complicated turn if he stopped talking.
And so, he had to try it. He was going to speak at full throttle, without holding anything back, and forcefully take back control of the story.
Determined to do so, Harold opened his cruel mouth, but for once, it was out of his own will.
【”Keep your mouths shut and do as I say. That’s the only choice you’re getting.”】
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