“Alonso!” Dale exclaimed the moment he saw the other lord, his face filling with joy and relief. “I’m so glad you’re alive.”
Before Tetsuko’s wielder could do or say anything, Lucky Chaos shook his hand with both his in a fatherly manner.
Alonso was taken aback, but soon recovered and showed a polite, yet stiff, smile. Just as Enrique.
“Yes… it was an extreme fortune I got out of there alive.” The lord took the seat at the head of the table and gestured for Lucky Chaos to sit as well. “If not for my infiltrated soldier, Rui, I’d probably be dead right now… or maybe worse…”
“And it’d have been my fault…” Dale’s expression darkened as he looked down, ashamed. “I never expected Nicolas would know about that plant… If I did, I’d never have suggested it to you, my friend…”
Tetsuko couldn’t help but let out a dry chuckle. He’s a cunning bastard and a great actor… a dangerous combination… I doubt anyone would ever find out he planned the whole thing…
Alonso ran a hand on his leg and then moved his hand to his waist, where Tetsuko was. Without looking at her, his fingers hovered over the hilt for a moment before gripping around the guard cross.
To Tetsuko’s surprise, their energies stir each other.
So if he doesn’t grab me by the hilt, he won’t suffer like that day… this is an interesting finding… if it wasn’t for this crappy sheath…
As Alonso became more presentable for Lucky Chaos, he sent a soldier to pick up any sheath and a cloth.
To Tetsuko’s annoyance, the soldier brought a sheath that was too big for her.
I can’t believe I’m back to a huge and uncomfortable scabbard again… and with Alonso’s suspicious of me, I doubt I’ll get more than this, the soul in the sword thought.
“Yes. We must thank the Gods for your good luck,” Dale said, flashing a smile worthy of a friend.
Tetsuko snorted, rolling her eyes in the head. Could he be any more fake?
It was only for a heartbeat, but Lucky Chaos’s gaze darted at her before he sat on the chair before Alonso.
That stare was enough to make Tetsuko’s energy grow cold. I’m paralyzing before him… I’m a sword, and yet I’m afraid of a human…
“What do we owe your visit, my lord?” Enrique asked. Unlike the lords, the retainer didn’t sit. He remained standing next to Alonso, almost like a father protecting a son. “And I must admit it was so sudden we didn’t have time to prepare to receive you.”
“I can’t pay a visit to a friend?” Dale’s voice was low, almost menacing.
“Of course, Lord Dale. But my lord is still recovering. And I’ve been sending messages about it to the court.” Enrique kept his voice neutral, unfazed by the tone.
“Yes… I’ve been keeping up with all the updates. Even so, I wanted to see Alonso in person. I owe his father too much to not see his son in a moment like this.” Dale stared at the retainer with cold eyes.
“But it’s not the only reason, is it?” Enrique maintained the stared.
Dale narrowed his eyes. At that moment, his twisted energy stirred.
The energies inside Tetsuko and Alonso reacted.
For a brief moment, the soul in the sword felt the urge to slay the advisor so she would never have to hear his voice again.
With great effort, she quelled down that impulse. Tired, she glanced at Lucky Chaos.
So that’s… how it feels… to fight Dale’s… energy… Then she looked up at her wielder. I was underestimating him… I have no idea how he can fight it constantly…
“It’s okay… Enrique,” Alonso said in a strained voice. He was clutching the armrest of his chair with all his strength. When he relaxed, he raised his hand. “Lord Dale is our guest and we have to at least hear him.”
Dale smiled, but his eyes didn’t match.
I bet he thought his presence alone would be enough to take a hold of Alonso’s soul completely, Tetsuko realized.
“Enrique is right, Alonso. I do have other motives for coming here. Don’t get me wrong. I did come to check how you were…” Dale rubbed his bearded chin and bit his lips.
“It’s hard to say… especially with you still recovering…” Lucky Chaos lowered his head and crossed his fingers. “To be honest, I need your help.”
“What kind of help, Lord Dale?” Enrique asked before Alonso could say anything.
Lucky Chaos didn’t look at the retainer. He remained with his head down, his face getting darker and darker.
“Do you know what happened in this kingdom in the last few weeks?”
Alonso shook his head. “I’ve been… focused on recovering myself…”
“So you don’t know anything…?” Dale’s shock was real, Tetsuko could tell.
“Nothing,” he said, glancing up at Enrique.
“My lord was in a delicate situation. He still is. The healers recommended total rest.”
Dale flashed a sad smile as he looked at Alonso.
“What has happened in these past weeks?” the lord asked, looking between his retainer and Lucky Chaos.
“After the… news about Stone Hill battle, the bandits throughout the kingdom got more arrogant,” Dale said.
“Some even tried to take over cities…” Enrique went on, not looking at Alonso. “One group succeeded…”
“They expelled the entire population from a town south of our borders,” Dale finished, clutching his fingers. “Vidal, the lord in charge of that area, led his troops himself. He managed to drive the bandits away… but…”
The lord grew quiet, his energy stirring in anger.
It doesn’t look like he’s pretending, Tetsuko thought. What could have happened to make the man known as Lucky Chaos angry like this?
The lord let out a frustrated sigh. “Before he could kill them all, most of the bandits flew south and… and joined the Worshipers… To make things worse… Vidal also learned the peasants who were expelled from the city also joined them…”
“In the fight… he was overwhelmed and had to retreat,” Enrique went on when Dale couldn’t. “But he caught a… strange disease… and died…”
He let his words hang in the air. Alonso stared at his most trusted friend.
The retainer looked away at once.
“I had no idea!” the lord shouted, sinking on his seat. Grieve frilled his expression. He covered his face for a long while. “What disease he caught?”
“No one knows… his daughter said it made him mad and violent… he attacked anyone who came close. But when he fainted, he didn’t wake again…”
“Some say it’s something the Demon Worshipers came up…”
Are there… demons in this world too…?
Tetsuko felt her metal body growing cold.
She had seen a demon only once. And she would never forget that experience. It was the first time she had felt fear in her previous life.
Alonso remained in silence for a long time. “When did it happened…?”
“Three days ago,” Enrique answered in a low voice.
“You should’ve told me!”
“I’m sorry, my lord…”
“Alonso, that’s not why I’m here,” Dale said, breaking the silence, his voice urgent. “The situation got worse than the court imagined. And Vidal’s daughter can’t do much… she may know how to fight, but she’s too young to handle this.”
Alonso ran a hand over his face. “What’s the court doing?”
“They’re sending a troop to deal with the situation…”
“What that has to do with my lord?” Enrique asked in a worried voice. “He’s still recovering. He shouldn’t be leading any troops in a long while.”
“I know his family has a long history with Vidal’s family. His father and grandfather joined them in the fight against the Worshipers decades ago,” Dale said. Then he rubbed his chin. “But also…”
“What?” Alonso asked.
“Not only you have deep ties with Vidal’s family. I need someone I trust in this situation…”
“The court’s sending someone already, right?”
“Yes, but… Please, keep this between us,” Dale leaned closer and lowered his voice. “I don’t trust her. I was against them appointing her to lead the troops, but I was overruled.”
The name wasn’t unfamiliar to Tetsuko. Where have I heard this name…?
Alonso and Enrique exchanged looks. “I know she’s the traitor’s sister, but she has done nothing to earn distrust. She’s been nothing but loyal over the past decade,” the retainer said.
Ah… she’s Fael’s little sister… so she was alive…
“Yes, I know. But with recent events… With the death of her brother and the fight against her people, she might hold a grudge… Also, Vidal’s daughter informed there are many sand-dwellers among the Worshipers. Fael did let them in our kingdom and made a mess of everything.”
As Alonso pondered the words, Dale stirred his energy a little. “Please, Alonso. I need someone I trust.”
Alonso looked in pain as the dark and twisted energy stirred inside him.
“Yes. I’ll lead the troops.”