The Golden Lion and the Sword Saint
Riot in Flanders I
—The room was saturated with the thick stench of blood.
To be precise, rather than there being a thick stench of blood, you could say that it was the scent of blood that lingered.
The people gathered in this room, without exception, had survived whilst being splattered by the blood of their victims—consequently, the smell of blood was ingrained into their very beings.
The atmosphere within the room was dominated by the undiminishing scent of blood and the hint of violence that stung one’s skin; everyone stared at each other, their eyes filled to the brim with tension, which was akin to blades of hostility being contained in their scabbards.
In the place where imposing men and women had gathered, there were several who gave off a particularly prominent smell of blood—they shared an appearance that was not inferior to the other in any way and had a glint in their eyes, evidence that they shouldered duties and self-awareness that befitted their positions.
It was indeed so, for the so-called big shots who ran society from behind the scenes had gathered here in Flanders, a city they controlled from the shadows that could be counted as one of the five largest cities in the kingdom.
“This is the sixth occurrence this month… Give me a break… I’ve had enough of this.”
What had broken the blood-swelling atmosphere was the sweet scent of tobacco smoke and the languid voice of a woman.
Laid back in a chair was a beautiful woman in the prime of her life wrapped in a dress, boldly exposing her captivating legs, a golden tobacco pipe nestled between her lips. She had tannish skin, and her voluptuous body was rich in feminine charms. Her devilish good looks could entice men and women alike to give in to their passions at a single glance. She was also known as the Wicked Temptress, a truly befitting name.
This beautiful woman was Toto, the proprietress of the Flower Prison Garden, one of the people who gave off a particularly thick scent of blood.
When Toto, who had started the conversation, saw that no one followed suit, she took in a chest-full of smoke, gave a sidelong glance to a man at the back of the room, and then sent smoke and words his way. “Not saying much today, are you, Manfred? Which way is The Balance learning towards? Cowardly opportunism? Or perhaps you’re unable to speak because you placed your much-vaunted tattoo on your tongue?”
“Shut your trap, you damn whore. If I feel like you’re fussing too much, I’ll grab all the women in your place and turn them into lapdogs. Then I’ll train you thoroughly and present you to my boss.”
The one who had responded with vicious words to Toto’s provocation was a slim man leaning against the wall.
Although he was tall, bald-headed, and wore long robes, the skin exposed on his head, neck, and even his face was densely packed with tattoos of balance scale motifs. It was likely that they extended even underneath his robes.
It was one of The Balance’s rules that every member had to be tattooed with balance scales where they were visible, and he had gotten more tattoos than any other. This was an obvious sign of loyalty in the eyes of the organization; therefore, he won their favor, and they gave him the position of an executive in the organization in Flanders. ‘Tattoo Face’ Manfred Madison was the name of the young wolf spearheading The Balance here.
The proprietress of the Flower Prison Garden and the representative of The Balance; the two of them carried the responsibility of being part of the three big factions operating underground organizations in Flanders.
And then, the third and final leader of the underworld, the head of the Black Silver Coin, spoke. “—Did you gather here just to have a childish dispute? Know your place, you pigs.”
A deep, solemn voice reverberated throughout the room, and the two who had been bickering shut their mouths instantly.
It wasn’t that the owner of that voice inspired fear. It was simply that they inspired awe. Self-aware of that fact, Toto and Manfred had slightly discontented expressions etched onto their faces.
However, said person who had made the two faction leaders make such faces simply sat in the furthermost chair, not paying them any mind, although he felt cramped. “What, have you nothing to say? —Not even a You’re the one who’s a pig?” The large man said as he shrugged his large shoulders, sounding bored.
“…I just can’t understand the mind of a guy who’d crack such daredevil jokes at the Pig King.”
“And as for me, it’s simple. I simply have no intention of going along with such an unamusing joke, Mr. Doltero.”
Hearing Doltero’s remark, Toto and Manfred explained why they had remained silent in their respective attitudes. Listening to their rebuttal, the giant man clasped his wide fingers together above the table. “Don’t understand the mind of a guy who’d crack jokes, huh. I suppose you’re right.”
“—? It sounds like you’re making an implication. Did that remind you of something, perhaps?”
The grumbling man did not answer Manfred’s question, the corner of his mouth slightly curving.
He approached around two meters tall, his thick and mighty width a good match for his height. His limbs were as strong as a log, and his physique was like that of a large tree in comparison to Manfred’s, which was like one that had withered away. In contrast to his powerful body, he had blond hair that was combed back and azure eyes that anyone would find attractive, giving off a certain distinctiveness within the pig race that was known for its ugly appearances.
He was the Pig King, Doltero Amule—the leader of the Black Silver Coin, the largest criminal organization and faction in Flanders, and the most feared man in the city.
Even the Wicked Temptress and Tattoo Head could not carelessly go up against the Pig King. For Doltero had been in an influential position for much longer than them, giving him reign over the whole city.
—Within an underground tavern in a neutral area within the city, the representatives of the three major criminal organizations of Flanders met face-to-face. It was a suitable place for holding secret meetings, and they had made use of this venue to hold these Regular Meetings quite often.
Members of the underground society assembled together for Regular Meetings. They were held for the purpose of maintaining brittle, peaceful relations, and a balance of power, centered around the underworld’s Big Three. Though they had originally been enemies, they were without a doubt business rivals now, so not once had they tried to move towards building an amicable atmosphere when they met up.
However, even following the general conventions of a Regular Meeting, the tension in the air today was abnormal.
The reason for that was… “—Let’s get down to business. Have you figured out the identity of the criminal…of that low life?” Doltero fired off that question, bringing up the source of the Regular Meeting’s bloodthirsty atmosphere.
In the last couple of months or so, there had been a number of injuries and deaths in Flanders—none of which were unusual if looked at individually. Though it was unfortunate, incidents that resulted in casualties seemed to be a rather commonplace thing.
However, for the people who understood the connection here, this wasn’t something they could ignore.
“If all the victims are related to us, the situation is quite serious. Who is attacking us?” Doltero asked.
“Who knows?” Toto replied. “I was certainly looking forward to clearing up this matter here today. I thought they would at least declare war on us. Right, Manfred?”
“The prostitute over here is spouting some nonsense, but I think so too,” concurred Manfred. “I was also looking forward to it. That’s why I can put up with the womanly smell in here, which stinks more than usual.”
After exchanging gazes infused with the intent to kill, Manfred and Toto continued to give each other threatening glares.
Among the Big Three, the relationship between these two was the closest to being the worst, and they had actually attempted to kill each other in the past. If the head of an organization were in a rage, it would make sense that the ones below them would take that as a sign to be ready for anything.
The fighters from The Balance began to move, and the flowers from the Flower Prison Garden gave them sharp looks. Before they thoughtlessly went at it, Doltero crushed the armrest of his chair.
The iron armrest was deformed as if it were molded into candy, before being twisted off the chair. Like that, Doltero flung the detached armrest to the floor. “Keep chattering pointlessly if you want to die in a similar manner. Time is short for the elderly. Use it efficiently.”
“Even though you are just as impatient?” Toto retorted. “What a cunning man, trying to pretend to be the only clever man in here… Don’t you think so as well, Miss Golden Bug?”
“Pardon? Are you peeerhaps referring to me here? Rather than serving as a peacemaker, wouldn’t involving me just be adding fuel to the fire?”
Having smiled sweetly in the face of Doltero’s warning, Toto tried to draw a third party out, the golden pipe still nestled between her lips. The one who’d frowned at being called upon was a petite woman who hadn’t even spoken once until now.
She was sitting in the corner of the table, as if she had been erasing her presence since the start of the Regular Meeting, wearing a well-made black suit. Not only a black suit, but she had even been thorough enough to include a black tie, gloves, socks, and shoes. She also had dark green hair that looked black depending on the amount of light. A woman of unknown age, her hair was tied into a knot on either side of her head, the slight smile affixed to her face hiding whatever she was truly thinking.
Once her presence was pointed out, Manfred raised his finger and said, “Yeah, right,” and then continued, “Why the hell’s Helaine the gold eater even participating in this meeting, huh? This woman shouldn’t even have the qualifications to participate in the Regular Meetings.”
“If that is what you say, then my lowly self has no words to reply with… Ah, and the name is Golden Bug, not gold eater, Mr. Manfred,” Helaine replied.
At Manfred’s identical attitude to Toto’s, who also did not hide her feelings of disgust, the woman in the suit—Helaine—scratched her cheek weakly.
The one who had extended a helping hand to Helaine was none other than Toto, who was puffing out tobacco smoke. As if trying to emphasize her voluptuous breasts by crossing her arms, she gave Helaine a sidelong glance. “It was I who invited her. That should be a good enough qualification to join us, yes?”
“It’s nothing but unpleasant to see these women hanging around each other, one reeking of blood, and the other of iron. You must’ve been prepared to be shunned since you bothered to show yourself here. You have something to share, don’t you?” Clicking his tongue, Manfred threatened Helaine as he touched the tattoo on his face.
Receiving the vicious but hypocritical threat, Helaine broke the ice with an “Actually…” then continued, “As I am sure everyone is aware, our company has received the patronage of this city for a long time. This gift was only possible because of the daily assistance of everyone involved…”
“Enough with the introductions. Get to the point,” Doltero declared.
“—Our company’s office was attacked, and the precious lives of my employees have been lost. I am utterly ashamed of my negligence and lack of preparations for a time of emergency, as I had taken the harmony of the city all of you created for granted.”
None of the Big Three took Helaine’s humble, self-deprecating words at face value.
Though Helaine was ashamed of not being able to protect it herself, by no means was she as sorry as her words seemed to suggest. She was a so-called moneylender belonging to a company called the Golden Bug. Based on that, her being able to participate in the Regular Meeting was simply a result of her having a lot of clients from the underworld.
Of course, their clients included personnel involved with the Big Three, and the Golden Bug was an inviolable domain thanks to their patronage. No fighting there and no aggression against them were unwritten rules, so if the Golden Bug were ever threatened, the organizations, including the Black Silver Coin, would do everything in their power to crush whoever was responsible.
The guarantee of security that had been included in that unspoken agreement had all but been broken.
She continued, “Whether it be the loss of money or human life, we would like to avoid any further losses. And as one who can serve as a representative of private citizens, I’d like to humbly request your esteemed selves to swiftly get this situation under control.”
“What an obvious lie,” Manfred spat. “Calling yourself a representative of private citizens.”
“I implore you to make haste in restoring our sense of security and peace of mind. —Otherwise, the trust that has been cultivated between us and all of you will be in danger of being broken.”
While Helaine was politely lowering her head, even Doltero couldn’t help but feel disgusted due to her words. The existence of the Golden Bug itself was like a type of magic in Flanders, after all.
The Golden Bug lent money to people from underworld organizations to guarantee the safety of their operations within the city. If they were unable to do that, it was only reasonable for them to resort to methods that allowed them to get the money they had lent back.
Not a single soul here was foolish enough to brush her rash remarks off as being those of a mere moneylender.
“To sum it all up, the absolute buffoon in question brought disgrace to us by sticking their nose where they shouldn’t have,” Toto began. “We must pay them back in kind and be thoroughly vicious about it. What say you?”
“Fine by me,” replied Manfred. “We’ll find them and carve balance scales onto their eyeballs. Anyway, it seems like quite the fool had the nerve to show themselves here. On our turf; in the Pig King’s territory, no less.”
As ash fell from Toto’s pipe, Manfred took over from her, introducing a course of action.
When he’d finished speaking, Tattoo sent a meaningful look Doltero’s way.
“Nothing. It’s just that even the worst of the worst would tremble in fear of the Pig King, but now a guy who isn’t afraid of you has appeared. Perhaps times have changed? Maybe you aren’t as powerful as you once were?”
“You seem to prefer having your head crushed before that low-life’s.”
“That’s what I’m talking about. If you were truly like what I’ve heard about in the legends, wouldn’t you have already crushed my head effortlessly before threatening me?” Manfred did not back down at Doltero’s dangerously low voice, sneering at him.
A look of displeasure on her face because the flow of the meeting had been diverted off-course from its destination, Toto spoke. “That’s enough!”
Breaking into the conversation was Helaine, who’d raised her black-gloved hand. “Now, now, please calm down, you two. You have nothing to gain by fighting like that. Please consider it as allowing us to save face…”
Doltero roared, “Why should I allow you to save face and let this insolent piglet off the hook?”
“That’s… Well, because I have something good to tell you! Indeed, it might have something to do with the incident that happened recently.”
In the face of Doltero’s increasingly intimidating air, Helaine placed her hand in her breast pocket and pulled out a piece of paper.
“And what would that be?” Toto asked.
“An investigative report,” Helaine replied. “In order to do something for the surviving family members of the employees’ that had been lost, and unwilling to simply wallow in despair, we forwent from eating and sleeping to conduct an investigation into what had happened.”
“Did you find anything?” asked Manfred.
“Though I am not entirely certain, however… The aforementioned criminal who did it most certainly does not know how the city works. And this made Hakuchuri’s Sword Saint weigh on my mind.”
“…Wait a damn minute, are you serious?” Manfred blurted out in surprise.
The second those words had left her mouth, everyone in the meeting place started to lose their composure. Manfred and Toto were included, and even Doltero wasn’t an exception. However, the way Doltero had reacted was quite different compared to everyone else’s surprise, which no one had noticed.
The Hakuchuri’s Sword Saint was a disaster that the people from the underworld must never get involved with.
Seeing that there was a possibility that he had a part in it, everyone there went up into an uproar, prompting Helaine to quickly wave her hands. “Oh, please do not misunderstand me. We need not concern ourselves with the Sword Saint himself, but rather the young lady he brought home with him.”
“Young lady… So, that royal selection candidate, then?” Toto inquired.
“Selection battle for the throne… You mean that young lass who’s just there to make up the numbers?”
Realizing that the disaster wasn’t at the center of what was going on, Toto and Manfred threw themselves back into the conversation.
The royal selection was currently the biggest matter of interest for the people of the Kingdom of Lugunica. Since every member of the royal family had died due to an illness, the kingdom had announced the start of the Royal Selection in order to select a new ruler.
And one of the candidates for the royal selection had a base of operations in the town of Hakuchuri, which was close to Flanders. However, she didn’t even have a proper sponsor, for she had just been a pitiful girl they’d found to make up the numbers to start the royal selection—common knowledge for the people of the underworld who were sharp-eared for information.
Helaine, however, threw another piece of information into the pot, one that was worthy of causing a stir. Which was…
“If our investigation is anything to go by, the aforementioned young girl met with the Black Silver Coin, or so I have heard.”
“We also heard she had been extremely discourteous towards you, sir. If that is really the truth, then I cannot imagine her as being anything but fearless, but… Perhaps she did that as a part of increasing her popularity?”
Bringing her hands in front of her slender chest, Helaine declared that cheerfully, in clear contrast to the content of her words. However, those listening to her nearby were unable to maintain a peaceful state of mind, unlike her.
In particular, the person in question, Doltero, could not prevent himself from being drawn out to explain what had happened.
“Is what she just said true, Mr. Doltero?” Toto asked.
“…We had some qualms with each other, yes. However, I’ve already taken care of it.”
He didn’t really feel any inclination to explain further, his intention having been implied in his statement. However, upon hearing that, Toto and Manfred’s eyes flickered with seemingly profound emotion.
“If it’s true that they had a dispute with the Black Silver Coin, the gold eater’s words won’t be something we can laugh off. The hopeless young lass might be trying to bring herself back from the brink by cleaning up the darkness of the city…perhaps.”
“Though it’s only the foolishness and cute rashness of a child, she does have the capacity to actually pull it off.”
“The Sword Saint…” uttered someone in a low voice, gulping as they did so.
Toto’s and Manfred’s attention shifted over to the young female candidate, ignoring Doltero, who had little to say. Setting aside whether they saw her as the one responsible for their present circumstances, or whether they were interested in her as an individual.
“Credibility aside, shouldn’t we first talk with the girl, at least?” Toto posited. “Especially since the girl we are speaking of is in the neighboring town…with an adorable face that will most certainly shine if polished.”
“Ugh, there we go again,” Manfred replied. “Your tastes are pretty damn lame. That said, we’d be in quite a rut if we didn’t go greet her, huh. —What was that lass called?”
“Hmm, let me see… If I’m not mistaken—”
Manfred touched the tattoo on his face as Toto gave a captivating smile, then looked at Helaine. She tilted her head at that—stealthily looking Doltero’s way.
With that action alone, it was as if Helaine’s immeasurably detestable nature had wrapped its claws around him, trying to bring him into its embrace.
Then, without alluding him to it, Helaine continued to smile.
“—Lady Felt. Her name goes something like that, I believe.”
In the moment she instinctively knew she wouldn’t be able to evade it, she heard the pleasant voice of a man running towards her.
Before she could react to that shout in any way, something collided with her forehead. It split open with a flash of red, giving off a watery sound.
As a spray of red emerged, her slender figure fell backward. Her defenseless body collided with the wooden crates behind her, kicking up a large cloud of dust as they were smashed to pieces.
The girl, having fallen into the differently sized wooden crates scattered about, had miraculously fallen into the one spot that allowed her to remain unharmed.
Facing upward with the blue sky in her view, there was nothing being reflected in her crimson eyes. Her confident look, her cute, well-defined features, had been dyed in red by the wound in the center of her forehead. Her golden hair, which seemed to sparkle like the rays of the sun itself, had also been stained by it, and one could not help but avert one’s gaze at such a terrible sight.
In fact, there had been many who had seen that sight and averted their eyes, their shoulders lightly trembling. However, among the many who had reacted in such a way, there was one who could not look away.
He jumped over the fence, seemingly flying, and the wind flowed beneath the girl. No, not quite the wind, for the young man had kicked off the ground with such power that it could have been mistaken as the wind.
“Lady Felt…” said the man down on one knee, peering at the fallen girl’s face. He had an amazing physical appearance. That manifestation, which had deep crimson hair that seemed to burn as brightly as a flame, blue eyes that were so beautiful that they looked as if they held a clear blue sky within them, and whose handsomeness was so heavenly that not even an unparalleled sculptor with a lifetime of experience would be able to reproduce it, was there.
The handsome young man knelt down, his well-shaped eyebrows distorting with remorse, and murmured something softly. “My deepest apologies. I, was unable to reach you in time…”
His voice was tinged with sorrow, revealing his feelings of regret and responsibility for what had happened. It looked so excessively tragic that if it were put into a painting, it would be a timeless masterpiece capable of making anyone who saw it weep.
Within that scene that seemed to be detached from reality…
As if by some sort of miracle, the girl spun a word together with her lips, letting out a murmur. And then her arm, which had powerlessly fallen to the ground, rose, her fingertips slowly drawing closer to the young man’s cheek.
The young man watched the movement of her fingers, his breathing slow and faint—and then she pinched his nose.
“Hey, you! Haven’t I told you to stop doing stuff like that because it totally kills the mood?” Pinching his nose, the girl, irritated, replied to the young man’s muffled words.
From that position, she stretched out her legs, brought them up, and then swung them down with enough momentum to upright herself.
After that, she wiped off the red stuff that had gotten on her face with a hand. “Wooow, it’s so sweet! Friggin’ amazing. Now that’s what I’m talking about!”
“I am not sure if it is sanitary to lick the stuff on your face, milady…”
“Haaah?” she replied. “Are you implying that my face is ugly? I’m gonna kick your ass for that!”
“No, you have an incredibly lovely appearance, Lady Felt. Though that has nothing to do with whether or not it is sanitary to…”
“Ugh, shut up—I can’t stand you—you’re so annoying!” said the girl, rudely, while covering her ears.
She—Felt—then got up, seemingly jumping as she did so. She brushed the dirt off her clothes and then said, “Hmm?” while taking a look around. “So, the reason you barged in like that wasn’t just because you’re a total airhead, huh…”
“That is correct, milady. Though it pains me to say it, your team has lost.”
“Tch, can’t be helped.” Putting a hand on her waist, Felt smacked her lips, accepting her defeat. The young man—Reinhard—gave a wry smile at the sportsmanlike behavior, then gave her a cloth to wipe her face with before stepping into the middle of the square.
He then declared in a sufficiently clear voice, “Well then, the winner of the Harvest Festival game this time is the team from the West District!”
They took in Reinhard’s declaration for a moment, and then immediately following that, there was an explosion of cheers. The town of Hakuchuri wasn’t all that large, but it was still amazing to see nearly every resident gathered in the town square. While wiping her head, Felt’s expression relaxed at the sight of everyone embracing each other and cheering.
“Ah, I lost, I lost, damn it! …And some of you guys still have the nerve to turn your faces away!” Felt scowled in the direction of the spectators, sharply thrusting her finger at them. Everyone she was pointing at had turned their faces away with their shoulders trembling when she’d taken a fall.
Felt suddenly narrowed her crimson eyes at those who were continuing to act like that. “No need to bottle up your laughter,” she said. “I know I look pretty damn funny as I am now.” She proudly showed off her tometo-covered self.
—A roar of laughter seemed to envelop the town square, reverberating unreservedly throughout the rest of the town..
Section three coming soon!