The Land of Wolves: Death unto the Weak, Mercy be None 4
—Man, what a weird situation for someone to be in.
Todd looked at the situation he was in as if it was someone else’s business and grumbled in his mind like that. Basically, he disliked it when things didn’t go his way. You might think that it was like that for everyone, but for him, everything was a matter of life or death.
Having such a mindset, he felt like his life hung in the balance whenever he made a mistake in his calculations. And that was something that the man named Todd Fang couldn’t bear.
But it could be said that the situation Todd was in at the moment was an exception. Since—
“—So, you are the person who brought General Arakiya back to us.”
The man who said that and looked at Todd in a room filled with elegant furniture from behind the elegant, custom-made desk, was an old man who had a full head of gently arranged white hair.
His narrow eyes that could be mistaken as being shut—which Todd felt was an ability sent down from on high since it allowed him to hide his emotions while talking—were a gift from the gods that hid the emotions in his eyes.
In reality, there was no doubt that that talent was a great help when you considered the man’s position. It was because he was one of the top dogs in the world of political warfare full of trickery and deception.
That old man was Berstetz Fondalfon, the prime minister of the Sacred Empire of Vollachia himself—
“Lord Berstetz Fondalfon.”
“I am honored to have been blessed with an opportunity to meet you like this.” Todd knelt down on the carpet and bowed his head deeply at the man in front of him—Berstetz Fondalfon—and gave him a few words of greeting.
It’s merely a formality, but I’m sure I did it well enough.
Even if Todd was like that, he was the fiancé of a nobleman’s daughter, so he had been sensible enough to learn the bare minimum of etiquette so that he wouldn’t embarrass his wife-to-be.
But I never thought that I would have the opportunity to showcase my skills in front of the highest civil servant, the prime minister of the Empire, but it’s always good to be prepared.
All this was happening because—
“You don’t have to be so formal, it’s fine if you make yourself comfortable. Your actions have greatly contributed to the future of the Empire. So I simply wanted to show my appreciation and convey my gratitude.”
Berstetz conveyed his appreciation for what he had done with an air of dignity, not even trying to make him feel comfortable. The reason why the prime minister had invited Todd—a mere soldier—to his office and was entertaining him personally was because of the person he had brought back to the imperial capital. It was because he had acknowledged Todd’s achievement of rescuing Arakiya.
Arakiya—who had experienced an unexpected defeat in the fortified Imperial City of Guaral—was a member of the Nine Divine Generals, the strongest beings in the Empire. Losing her would have been a great loss for the Empire.
Thus Todd, without regard for his own safety, followed his righteous indignation and sense of duty and did his utmost to rescue Arakiya. At least, that was what the reports that got sent to the imperial capital said.
Todd himself let things be since he felt no need to correct it, but it ended up spreading around and wound up reaching the ears of the imperial prime minister himself, and so here we are. He hadn’t thought lightly of it in the slightest, but he’d never expected he’d receive such treatment for saving Arakiya, and it made him seriously reflect on his naivety.
“I am not worthy of such words. I only did what anyone would do in that situation. General Arakiya is a person that this country needs, after all.”
“Truly such exemplary loyalty. His Majesty, the Emperor, would be very pleased to hear that a man such as you is among his Sword Wolves.”
With a respectful look on his face, Todd thought that his response was hollow. It was an open secret among the imperial soldiers that the Emperor and the prime minister of the Vollachian Empire were on bad terms.
The Vollachian Way had always been to appreciate anyone with good skills, but this way of thinking was even more pervasive during the reign of the current Emperor, Vincent Vollachia. There were many who were hired by him on merit who had once been his enemies.
Imperial Prime Minister Berstetz was one such enemy. Berstetz, whose master got killed, was serving the person who had ordered for their murder. Even Todd, who thought of himself as someone who could change his attitude on a dime, could imagine just how complicated his situation was.
“I think I heard about this from Jamal…”
Jamal, who had vanished into thin air in the fortified city, was as cunning as his appearance suggested, and he liked poking his nose into other people’s affairs and got excited while talking about rumors. And yet, he was also an imperial noble, so he had no shortage of sources of such topics. Thanks to that, Todd got to hear about things without wanting to and thus became equally well-informed. So, even though he was meeting Berstetz for the first time, he did not feel like they were meeting for the first time.
In any case…
“General Arakiya has asked me to reward you handsomely. Though she said it in her own unique way, so that’s how I interpreted it… Is there anything you wish for?”
“Anything I wish for? Not particularly. Just…”
“In order to rescue the general, I lost a friend…not just my friend, but my fiancée’s older brother. The first thing I want to do is break the news to her and then be there for her as she grieves.”
With a docile expression and voice, Todd turned into a man being concerned about his lover that was about to experience a great tragedy. In fact, his heart ached with pain when he thought about how his fiancée would feel, so he wasn’t lying.
It was just that he could finally think of Jamal as his friend after his death. He felt relieved since dead people couldn’t get back at you.
“───” Berstetz became silent for a few seconds after listening to Todd’s earnest desire.
Todd couldn’t guess what kind of thoughts the prime minister had during that moment of silence since he couldn’t glean anything from his emotionless eyes. That made him realize that he wasn’t really compatible with him. It was someone he felt he needed to kill in order to feel safer. He couldn’t wrap his head around why His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor, would keep someone like him close just because he was capable.
Perhaps answering Todd’s prayers, Berstetz said “Alright” with a nod. “It is an imminent situation. Whatever you are going to wish for, you can do it after you calm your loved one down. We weren’t considerate enough of your circumstances. You may go now.”
“Yes, my lord. I am grateful for your consideration.”
After exchanging the necessary pleasantries, Todd, who had been ordered to leave, felt relieved.
On the other hand, he felt a bit sympathetic towards Berstetz since he was in a position where he couldn’t forgo such troublesome exchanges. A man was bound by his position. That’s why Todd preferred to be in one that allowed him to be somewhat free.
“You have my gratitude for taking the time to meet me at a time when His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor, is absent.”
“—. Where did you hear that His Majesty isn’t around?” Berstetz quietly inquired as he raised an eyebrow at Todd’s farewell right as he was about to leave.
After being questioned, Todd said, “Oh no,” and gave a quick glance at the top of the prime minister’s desk. “I do apologize, but I just happened to see some of the papers sitting on top of the desk. I assumed that they were being approved by Your Excellency on His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor’s, behalf.”
The Emperor is probably away from the imperial capital on a military expedition or an inspection tour. I’ve heard that His Imperial Majesty, Vincent, moved around so freely that his subjects were having a tough time.
It was to the extent that imperial citizens joked about meeting the incognito Emperor while walking around the imperial capital. It was fine as a funny story, but it wouldn’t be so funny if it ended up being true. It was something that Todd couldn’t think of as someone else’s issue now, so he decided to at least store it in his memory.
Leaving that aside… “I will be leaving now. —Since I am making my fiancée wait.”
“—You complete pest!” a girl shouted as the vase she threw hit the wall and shattered, splattering its contents and the broken pieces everywhere.
He gave a quick glance at the vase that had hit the wall quite a ways away from him, then shrugged. “Did you miss because you care about me, perhaps? If so, there was no reason for you to throw money away like that.”
“I was definitely trying to hit you, okay! It just didn’t go where I wanted it to…so hold your tongue!”
“I haven’t said anything. Ah well…”
Todd smiled wryly after hearing a high-pitched voice reverberate inside his skull, then told the maid to clean up the shards and leave. As it was a chance for them to meet up after a long time, it would be natural for one to think that he wanted to be alone with her. However…
“I’m sorry about Jamal.”
The one in front of Todd’s eyes that he had just apologized to was a young girl who was at a loss for words, her cheeks tense. It was a girl with long, dark brown hair arranged in a braid, and her downcast eyes made her seem gloomy. The clothes she was fond of wearing were dark in color, and she exuded an aura that made even the people around her feel depressed. But her face was pretty, and her frizzy hair—one of her loveable flaws—was just like her brother’s.
Yes, she is perfect. She is a loveable flawed item that is perfect just as she is.
That was Todd Fang’s fiancée.
“How-How dare you show yourself in front of me!” Todd’s call made the girl’s—Katya’s—eyes flash with anger, and she threw the book next to her bed at him. It missed him once again, further fueling her irritation.
The things falling on the carpet of Katya’s room—which wasn’t luxurious or very magnificent at all—were the belongings she kept next to her bed that she kept throwing at Todd one after another.
All of them were gifts from either Todd or Jamal. They were everything that made up Katya’s small world since she was weak from birth and didn’t have much freedom. She was prone to illness and couldn’t bear children. She was a fragile person who couldn’t even make herself pleasant to people at social gatherings. In Vollachia, which demanded strength, she couldn’t perform any of the things expected of the daughter of a nobleman, so she was a pitiful girl who had been written off by society. Even in her family, only Jamal, her biological brother, cared for her. That made her the most attractive, ideal, and lovely girl to Todd.
“You abandoned…Jamal…my brother, and shamelessly returned… You should have…”
“Died in his place?”
“You can’t say it, can you? I know. I know every little thing about you.”
When she hesitated to say something harsh in return, Todd closed the distance between them in an instant. He grabbed her slender wrist and snatched the book she was gripping tightly away while being careful not to break it, then put it back on the shelf. She couldn’t hit him even if she tried, and just that was enough to make her start taking ragged breaths. She was frail and weak and couldn’t live without relying on others.
Todd gently pinched the teary Katya’s chin and stole her lips. He felt the soft sensation as well as a sign of resistance.
She immediately turned her face away and slapped him. “You…per-pervert! You vulgar man! What do you think you are doing…!”
“It’s proof that I love you. And you are right.”
“I let Jamal die and shamelessly came back. I know I’m not worthy enough to show myself in front of you. But I just wanted to see your face. I wanted to touch you,” Todd said, gently caressing the cheek of the girl glaring at him.
“—Ah.” Katya couldn’t deny his words, and when she tried to move her quivering eyes away from him, her eyes darted to-and-fro.
But when Todd called her once, “Katya,” she timidly met his gaze.
“…How was, my brother’s, end?”
“He covered our retreat to save me and the general. He did not utter a single weak remark until the very end. I believe that the word brave was made just for him.”
“If that’s true, then you are a coward, Todd.”
“You’re right. But his death wasn’t in vain, and I was able to return to you like this. I’m thankful that I’m a coward.”
Even if the words I use to describe others are a lie, when talking to Katya, I feel like the words I use to describe myself are all true.
Todd was a coward, and it was because of that that he was able to return alive and meet Katya.
“I was able to achieve a great feat. That’s why I’m sure that they will assent to my selfish request of wanting to stay by your side in the imperial capital. You won’t have to be lonely anymore.”
“Eve-Even if you aren’t here, I would…”
“Jamal won’t come see you anymore. Even if that’s the case?”
Todd tried to get the words he wanted to hear out of Katya’s mouth by talking cruelly.
Katya broke down in a fluster, on the verge of having a mental breakdown, after hearing the truth that she had been ignoring in her anger. She was made to realize, once again, that her brother, who had cared for her so very much, was dead.
“D-Did he, my brother, that brother, really die?”
Todd silently embraced the girl he loved, who had started to sob and shed tears. She timidly returned his embrace, wrapping her arms around his back. He then cradled her head, which was wetting his chest with hot tears, and thanked the heavens that the blood pumping through his veins was devoid of heat.
Because his body was like that, he could feel the heat of Katya’s warmth as he held her in his arms, and even the heat of the tears she was shedding too, which felt so sweet to him that it made his very soul tremble.
—At the same time Todd was enjoying his meeting with his fiancée…
“That private first class… Todd Fang, was it?” asked Berstetz.
“Yep,” Arakiya replied.
It was almost evening in the imperial capital, and the person he was speaking to in his office lit up with orange light was Arakiya, who had come to visit him first thing after her wounds had been treated. It was reported that she had been greatly wounded, but she seemed perfectly fine at first glance. Donning her usual expressionless face that left people guessing as to what she was truly thinking, Arakiya had visited Berstetz and presented the proposal that had been mentioned in the beginning.
Berstetz touched his chin thoughtfully at Arakiya’s unusual proposal. “May I ask what you have in mind? Are you saying that you want to recognize his feat of saving you from behind enemy lines and reward him for that?”
“…I won’t say anything, difficult. I just want to give him a chance.”
“To avenge his friend.”
Everything made sense to Berstetz after hearing Arakiya continue her words. Todd, who he had just talked to in his office a couple hours ago, had also told him that he had lost a friend in order to save her.
Naturally, Arakiya had heard about it on the way back. That’s why she wished to give him a chance to avenge his friend.
“───” For a moment, Berstetz’s mind went back to what Todd had said after he had asked him to leave. It was engraved in his memory that Todd was quick-witted since he was able to figure out that the Emperor was away just by looking at the papers on his desk. At the same time, it was also true that he felt a vague, dark presentiment.
He could not tell if it was just a groundless fear or an omen for something, but… “Anyhow, there’s no way I could say no if you are the one vouching for it. I have no objections.”
“…That’s good. Then.”
“However, there is something I need you to do before you return to the eastern front, General.”
Arakiya’s red eyes flickered in dissatisfaction. Seeing that out of the corner of his eye, Berstetz took out a document, the very one that had come into his view.
“I want you to go to Gladiator Island. To fulfill a duty that only you are capable of doing.”
Thus, he ordered the general to get rid of the internal problem that was shaking the Empire.