“I’m sorry for showing up so suddenly, Lord Alonso,” the man known as Lucky Chaos said when he entered the tent. Despite his friendly tone, there was something eerie in his voice. “I was taking care of some business in the area when the word about you chasing a bandits’ group got out. After I heard what happened in the forest, I had to come to see you. In the name of the friendship I had with your father.”
“No need to apologize, Lord Dale. You’re welcome here… always… and I thank you for your concern,” Alonso said. Despite his polite tone, Tetsuko could tell he was doing his best to not let his true feelings out. The younger noble managed to bow to the older man.
Lord Dale was indeed a man who looked much older than he should.
With a thin white hair, a barely existing mustache and his frail appearance, he looked like an old man despite only ten years older than Alonso.
His appearance makes people underestimate him… I bet no one who meets him for the first time believes the rumors…
However, the soul inside the sword could see beyond that frail appearance.
His energy… it doesn’t feel human…
Without taking her eyes from the man, Tetsuko focused.
If she still had a human body, she would have winced.
His energy is too twisted and soiled… and deep…
As if it could distort anything that gets close enough…
Maybe that’s the cause of his nickname, the soul in the sword thought, watching the man all the time.
Lucky Chaos took off his traveling coat. The moment he did that, one of his soldiers offered to take the clothes.
“Thanks,” he said to his man before dismissing him.
“Please, have a seat, my Lord,” Alonso said, gesturing to one of the chairs around the table where the maps were.
Dale showed a friendly smile and sat.
“Thank, Alonso. I’ve been traveling for long. It feels good to sit on something other than a saddle,” he said, letting out a hearty laugh.
The squire who stood in the corner came forward. Despite his nervousness, he poured three cups of wine without dropping a single drop and then left under Enrique’s silent command.
Lucky Chaos accepted his drink. Then he took his time observing the maps as he drank.
“So the bandits got away,” he said in a low voice, putting the glass down, the smile fading from his face as he looked at the younger lord.
It was hard to tell if he was mocking Alonso or not.
“The battle… was tougher than I predicted… I underestimated the bandits,” he admitted, lowering his eyes. The frustration was plain in his voice.
“Don’t feel ashamed, my friend. I’m not blaming you. And I doubt anyone important will,” Dale said, drinking another sip of his wine. “The forest’s bandits were never to be taken lightly… But now that’s in the past. What’s important is the next step. Do you have any clue where they headed?”
The lord and his advisor exchanged looks.
What will you do, my wielder? Will you tell everything to the man who could be your ruin?
Tetsuko observed the man who swung her struggle to make his decision.
Before Lucky Chaos had arrived, Alonso and Enrique had discussed sharing their knowledge with the other lord.
The advisor was against it, saying they couldn’t afford to check for themselves if Lucky Chaos’ reputation was true or not.
Alonso felt the same, but since lord Dale was more important than him, he could destroy the younger lord’s name in the court with ease.
After a brief silence that felt longer, Alonso leaned over the table and pointed to a place on the map.
“Our scouts haven’t been able to find them, but we believe they’re heading here… or here,” he said, showing the other potential hideout for the forest bandits southwest of the first.
“The Stone Hill Labyrinth or the Swamp,” Dale said in a serious voice, putting the rest of his wine on the table, safely away from the maps. “From what my men say, there’s still a number of bandits left… Your scouts didn’t find anything?”
“Unfortunately, no,” Enrique said in a frustrated voice, clenching his fist. “Despite being out of their lair, they know the land much better than us. Not only that, our maps of the area are somewhat outdated…”
“That’s not good… this area changes a lot during the raining seasons…” Dale rubbed his thin mustache as he hummed. “I think I have a more updated map. I don’t mind sharing with you.”
“It would be most helpful, Lord Dale…” Despite his excitement, there was more caution in Alonso’s voice.
Even if you’re in need, you’ve said yourself that he’s brings chaos to the others. Why are you accepting his help?
The soul in the sword didn’t believe in such rumors. But after sensing the man’s energy, she wanted distance from him and any help he offered.
She could tell her wielder share her feelings. But at the same time, the thought of help in this hard situation was too tempting. Even if it came from a man known as Lucky Chaos.
Dale stared at the younger lord for a while.
“You hesitate in accepting my offer,” he said in a low voice.
Alonso didn’t meet his eyes.
Lucky Chaos turned to the map, tapping on the swamp region.
“You do know about the group that lies here, don’t you?”
Both Alonso and Enrique’s expressions grew dark.
“Then you know the kingdom cannot afford to have those two groups band together… especially now. You need to get rid of the forest’s bandits before they have nowhere else to run but the swamp.”
Alonso’s face lost some of its color with the idea.
Tetsuko understood why.
If the swamp’s bandits grow in numbers, they’ll be a great threat. Much more than simple thieves…
If that happens, the kingdom will have to call one of the armies protecting the borders… leaving them vulnerable and open to foreigner threats.
“You seem to be getting the idea, Alonso. But you don’t know the whole story,” Dale said, letting out a hollow and tired laugh.
“What do you mean?”
“The swamp’s bandits’ leader…Nicolas used to be the Sword of the King,” Dale said in a dark voice.
“What?” exclaimed Alonso and Enrique together.
“Yes… he was a cunning and ruthless commander… but thanks to him, the kingdom won many battles and expanded its borders… Because of that, he was given the command of the royal army, the highest military post… but a few years ago, he disobeyed a direct order from the king…”
“What order…?” Enrique asked.
“Our neighboring and allied nation was under siege. A foreign army managed to get their prince as a hostage. Your father and I were among the lords sent by the king to help the Sword Nicolas sort the situation… But then he ignored the king’s order and attacked… the prince of our allied nation died because of his actions…”
“I remember that… it was when father…” Alonso grew quiet.
“Yes… it was when your father died,” Dale said shaking his head, a shadow cast over his eyes. “The Sword Nicolas was sentenced to death, but he managed to escape and has been living as the Swamp ruler ever since…”
A heavy silence filled the tent.
After a long time, Dale reached out of his glass and finished the rest of his wine in one gulp.
“I’m sorry for bringing that up… I know you loved your father and that he died too young…”
“Thank you, Lord Dale,” Alonso said, but his mind seemed far away.
Lucky Chaos brought the glass down with too much force, bringing the younger lord’s mind back to the tent.
“If you can destroy the forest’s bandits, there’s no need to worry about Nicolas.”
“Y-yes… you’re right,” Alonso said in a shaky voice.
“And I’ll help you with that,” Lucky Chaos said with a fatherly smile.
“What? I appreciate, Lord dale, but there’s no need for that…”
“These bandits are getting in the way of my business too. I’m more than happy to help you get rid of them. And for that, I have something that might help you. Enrique, could you tell my soldier to bring it?”
Enrique didn’t understand what it was, but he still walked through the flap of the tent.
Dale rose from his chair and gestured Alonso to follow him. When they got outside, the lords waited.
His soldiers were bringing a cart to the entrance of the tent. Tetsuko couldn’t help but noticed they wore clothes to hide their faces.
“What’s this smell?” Alonso asked when the cart was close enough.
Coming from the cart, was a disgusting and foul smell, as if there was something rotting.
“A plant that I found on the monkeys’ florets,” Lucky Chaos said proudly. Despite trying not to show, even he was bothered by the smell. “I was lucky to find them in such quantity.”
It was plain on her wielder’s face; he had no idea where and what use those plants could have, but still smiled in a lordly manner.
“Good for you, my lord. Lucky, as always,” he said, not managing to hide the jest.
Dale either pretended he didn’t hear or didn’t care.
“I’m giving it to you,” he said, tapping the younger lord on the shoulder.
Alonso looked between the foul cart and the owner.
“And what should I do with it?”
Dale flashed a smile as he shook his head…
“Ah, you don’t seem to be creative on the battlefield, I see. Too bad.” He nodded and hummed. “If you set it on fire, the smoke created by this plant will make it impossible to breathe. If you do under the right circumstances…”
“We can smoke out the bandits!” Alonso completed the thought.
“Exactly. The smoke from this plant is heavy. If you burn it before the sun is high in the sky, the smoke will remain close to the ground. No bandit will be able to breath and you can kill them when they run out to breath.”
“But we’re not certain they’re going to Stone Hill Labyrinth…”
“I’m certain they are, my friend. My scouts have found traces of a large number of people traveling in that direction in the night.”
Alonso widened his eyes. Then he stared at the sickly green and yellow plant.
It’s an interesting plan, Tetsuko admitted. If the smoke stays close to the ground, with the right wind, the soldiers might draw out all the bandits… and without the advantage of the area…
The former human could tell her wielder was thinking the same.
She also knew why he hesitated. I don’t know his whole fame as Lucky Chaos, but if you want to end this chase as soon as possible, you have to take his help.
After a long time, Alonso closed his eyes and nodded.
When he opened them, he turned to the other noble and offered his hand.
“Thank you for all the help, Lord Dale,” he said in a sincere voice.
The other noble smiled and took the hand.
“No problem. Just a friend help another.”
The soldiers watching this had the same concerned expression.
Tetsuko looked around. Even the advisor had that expression.
How strong is that man’s fame?
Either way, she didn’t care.
Because the soul in the sword was eager to be used again.
To slash the foes, to drink their energies.
When she realized what she was thinking, a hollow laughter echoed in her mind.
Guess that I’m truly a sword now…
But she didn’t feel bad.
It was who… what she was.
I’m a weapon… a weapon meant to be used.