The Land of Wolves:
Death unto the Weak, Mercy be None Zero, Priscilla
“Hey, Miles my brother. Is she really out here in a place like this?” pointed out a young man by the name of Balleroy Temeglyph while rubbing his chin without a care in the world.
He was a dashing young man, carrying a spear with a long shaft on his shoulder. His red and black armor was proof of his status as a soldier of the Vollachia Empire, and his insignia marked him as a private. His carefree attitude wasn’t evidence of his recklessness but proof of his prestigious skill with the spear. His stance with his beloved spear might appear defenseless, but anyone coming at him with ill will would find themselves cut down in a flash. He knew Balleroy better than anyone, so he forgave his easy-going demeanor. Although, one could say that he had given up trying to change his friend.
“Yo, brother. Are ya listenin’?” asked Balleroy. “Is it actually on the outskirts like…?”
“Ooh, shut up!” cried Miles. “Ya think I have any clue as to why we’re here?! I’m just goin’ by what the rumors said! Shut the fuck up and follow me!”
“Ya don’t have ta yell like that…”
When pestered constantly like that, even a steeled heart would snap in anger. But since Balleroy would never reflect on his actions, Miles just sighed deeply.
The two of them were out in the middle of a forest, searching for a very troublesome target. Normally, Winged Dragon Riders like themselves should be in the sky, but since their target was walking along the ground, it couldn’t be helped.
Miles felt his head ache at the missing person—and at his brother-in-arms who lacked solemnity.
Miles had a rather long relationship with this foolish brother-in-arms. It started back when they were still wandering orphans. He had always been skilled but lacking common sense. But when he became an imperial soldier, he followed him and became one as well. Whether he was following someone he knew, or he just didn’t know any better, Miles didn’t know. He believed the latter was very possible, so he had stayed with him since. A good example of this would be how this mission of finding a missing person was assigned.
“I feel like the High Countess is just messin’ with us for fun…” Miles remarked.
Flaming auburn hair and good looks marked by a white scar… Someone you could lay your eyes on once and never forget—the cunning matriarch, Serena Dracroy. She was beautiful and capable, and Miles felt indebted to her since she hired him. But he still didn’t like being used by a woman in whatever way she wanted. He hoped to one day turn the tables.
“Miles, Miles,” pestered Balleroy.
“What is it, ya damn idiot?” replied Miles with irritation. “Have somethin’ else to complain about?”
“Nah, not that. But isn’t that what we’re looking for?” Drawing back his shoulders, Balleroy pointed his spearhead diagonally. Following it, Miles carefully observed the path that had been hidden by the trees.
There were two things necessary to become a Winged Dragon Rider; one was being compatible with a Winged Dragon of course, and the other was having excellent eyesight. Thanks to this, Miles and Balleroy were able to lock in on their target’s location. Which was…
“…Good lad,” praised Miles. “There’s no mistakin’ it. That’s the rumored bandit fort.”
“Excellent. So, what’s the plan?” asked Balleroy.
Seeing his fellow soldier return his spear to his side, Miles closed his eyes. It was obvious what they had to do. “Kill every bandit in the fort. The High Countess told us ta bring her back, even as a corpse.”
“…Gah.” His throat pierced with a spear, the large bandit’s eyes rolled back into his head as he fell to the ground. His body twitched and a steady flow of blood came out of his mouth instead of air. He hadn’t even managed to grab the large sword propped up against the wall. What a pitiful death.
“I’m done here, brother,” said Balleroy.
“Right,” replied Miles. “Good work.”
Balleroy skillfully spun his spear in the low-ceiling room, clearing it of blood. Stepping over the bodies at his feet, Miles checked around the room, which was scattered with junk.
It was a bandit base. He wasn’t expecting it to be neat and tidy, but being so far removed from even the general notion of order and structure made his head hurt.
“Man… I figured this guy had to be the boss based on the layout,” commented Miles.
“You thought she would be in the boss’s room?” questioned Balleroy.
“Yeah, I mean, she’s nobility, practically a princess. If she was caught by bandits, then the boss would be the one ta force himself on ‘er.”
But since they couldn’t find hide nor hair of said girl, his guess was off. Either that or the boss got rough while having his way with the young girl and killed her.
In that case, trying to find where they hid her body would be a huge headache, but…
“In any case, it can’t be helped if she ain’t here,” mentioned Balleroy. “Let’s see if there’re any other survivors…”
“…Oh, so it was you two.”
“Huh…!?” Miles exclaimed in surprise.
As they were thinking of finding someone to interrogate, a voice suddenly called out to them from behind. Miles quickly turned to face them, while Balleroy moved to protect him. But once they saw the figure that approached them, the two quickly stopped.
After all, the person standing there was Miles’s target, the person they were looking for.
“You’re…” started Balleroy. “Lady Priscilla, you’re safe.”
Balleroy’s surprise turned to relief as he lowered his spear. The girl, Priscilla, snorted with her pretty nose, posed haughtily, and replied, “Why wouldn’t mineself be?”
Despite being in her early teens, her haughty attitude suited her well. Blessed with fine features, she would without a doubt become a world-class beauty when she grew up. Hence why Miles had the sadistic desire to watch her cry, but leaving that aside…
“It’s good to see you alive and well, Lady Priscilla,” said Miles. “We were terrified when we heard that you’d gone missing after escaping Pendleton Manor.”
“And Miles here heard rumors that bandits around here had captured a similar-looking girl,” added Balleroy. “It was quite the achievement.”
While Miles was bowing deeply, Balleroy proudly explained his friend’s achievement. In all honesty, Miles wanted to punch Balleroy to get him to bow down but held back due to Priscilla’s presence.
After hearing their report, Priscilla just shrugged her thin shoulders. “I see,” she began. “Mineself thought you were just an ugly man, but you seem quite sharp.”
“…Nice to see you haven’t changed either, Lady Priscilla,” replied Miles. “This is a bandit base. I was panicked thinking that you might have been violated.”
“Hmm. Well, it is obvious that gazing upon the beauty of mineself would drive many a man to vulgar fantasies.” The suggestive exchange between them brought a cold smile to the young crimson beauty’s lips. “But…” said the girl before glancing around the room and stopping at the corpse at their feet. “But such a thing shall forever remain in the realm of fantasy. The reason why mineself was with them was because I was leading this group of fools.”
“Ha-ha-ha, that’s a good one… That’s a joke, right?” Balleroy laughed at the sudden confession, but Priscilla made no indication that she had been joking. Looking towards the body, the reason she was safe started to become evident.
These bandits were taken in by Priscilla’s overwhelming presence, and they accepted her as their own without being able to use her in any way. But that state of peace had been broken by the entrance of the intruders: Miles and Balleroy.
“Well then, shall we go? You two were coming to retrieve me.”
After one glance at the corpse, she felt no need to say anything. There was no emotion or thought left, and even Miles felt pity for the bandit.
That’s why he was only slightly relieved at safely retrieving Priscilla.
“Right, understood. The High Countess will surely be pleased. After all, Count Pendleton was executed for treason, which really took its toll on her.”
Priscilla’s gaze hardened at Miles’s unnecessary utterance. But he did not apologize nor go further. Knowing when to stop was the whole reason he had survived this long.
“That was kinda mean, bro,” said Balleroy.
“Shut it,” Miles snapped back, still tutting at his longtime partner for seeing through it.
“First, let me say it’s good to see you safe, since I have yet to repay my debt.” High Countess Serena Dracroy welcomed the young girl, who had changed her dress, and reiterated her joy at her safety and their reunion.
Opposite Serena in the parlor was Priscilla sitting on a sofa, all cleaned up after her bath. Despite having stayed in the desolate conditions of the bandit base, her appearance had regained every ounce of its allure, showcasing her beautiful hair and skin. Even Miles was astonished.
“Miles, Balleroy. Good work on completing your duties.”
“You’re too generous with your gratitude,” gushed Balleroy. “But I did next to nothing to find the lady. That was all my brother, Miles.”
“Yes, indeed…or so I would like to say,” began Miles, “but clearing out the bandit base was all Balleroy. This achievement was only seventy percent mine.”
Balleroy tried to casually pass over the achievement, but Miles passed some of it back with a bitter look.
Balleroy didn’t care for societal approval or acknowledgment of his achievements. If left alone, there was the risk of all of his deeds being passed onto someone else. Miles, on the other hand, knew that if he kept claiming praise, he’d eventually be tasked with something that he couldn’t fulfill and get into trouble.
Announcing your deeds honestly—with just a little embellishment—was best.
“I see,” Serena replied, full of pride at their report. Her face was gallant and unreadable as she turned back to Priscilla. “I’ll say it again, but it’s good to see you safe. After what happened to the Mid-Count…at Pendleton Manor, with your whereabouts unknown, I was quite shaken up.”
“Such concern towards another house is so philanthropic of you, very unlike a Vollachian noble. Perhaps you had some illicit feelings towards mine husband?”
“Even if that were true, that would not be a sign of poor taste… Jorah Pendleton’s last moments would honor any imperial noble’s name,” Serena declared, lowering her eyes that were adorned with long lashes.
Jorah Pendleton had been accused of treason and lost his life when he fought one-on-one against Goz Ralfon of the Nine Divine Generals, who had besieged his mansion.
At first, when Miles heard of his fierce death, he thought it was some kind of a joke. In all honesty, he didn’t think that highly of Jorah. Mainly because kindness was looked down upon in the Empire, which was why Jorah had been exploited many times and often drew the short end of the stick as well.
That same Jorah had been accused of treason by the Empire, but instead of pleading for his life, he drew his sword and fought in a one-on-one duel against one of the Nine Divine Generals…
“…The power of love, or so they say,” muttered Balleroy.
Miles elbowed Balleroy, who was thinking of the same thing, for letting his inner thoughts about the situation slip out.
As if something that picture-perfect could ever happen in reality. Whatever relationship Jorah and Priscilla had was unfortunately beyond Miles’s understanding.
But whatever he was willing to give his life over, it was definitely not love.
“W-What is it, milady? Did I…?”
Miles noticed that Priscilla was looking at his face out of the corner of her eyes when he gritted his teeth. His body shivered at the sudden eye contact as Priscilla shook her head. “No, it is nothing important. It is just that mineself thought that you’d probably end up destroying yourself because of your narrow-minded views. Keep it in mind.”
“…I don’t get what you’re saying, but understood.” Miles simply nodded at the riddle-like advice, since he couldn’t just brush it off.
The haughty girl looked at him like she knew exactly how the world worked. In her crimson eyes was a perception unbefitting one her age. And that know-it-all manner of speaking closed off any attempts at rebuttal or comeback.
In any case…
“We had been requested in advance by the Mid-Count to look after you if anything ever happened to him,” Miles explained. “It seems that he was aware that would happen beforehand.”
“That sounds likely,” replied Priscilla. “He didn’t panic when separated from me. It was quite unlike him.”
“I see,” added Serena. “I wasn’t there at the time, but if you say so, then it must be true.” Serena had a deep friendship with Jorah, so hearing that directly from Priscilla made her visibly relieved.
Goz Ralfon was a superior warrior, so there was the possibility that Jorah’s final moments had been fabricated to preserve his honor. But that possibility had been eliminated by Priscilla.
Priscilla was not one to hide or embellish the truth, even if it was about her husband.
“Then, now more than ever,” said Serena, “I would like to fulfill his wishes.”
“Hmm, what are you planning?” questioned Priscilla.
“I’ve called on some favors with a company that I’m on good terms with to arrange for you to leave the Empire.”
Priscilla’s shapely eyebrows twitched at Serena’s declaration to help her escape.
Whether it was anger at being told to run, or a reaction to thinking that her proposal was worth considering, Miles felt as if the temperature of the room had increased and cleared his throat.
However, this was a dangerous proposal. To be caught assisting in the escape of the traitor Jorah’s wife, Serena and any associates would be marked as traitors themselves. They would be executed for treason.
“Why would you go that far? To repay your debt? Or did you truly have feelings for mine husband?”
“…Right after I killed my father, when I was struggling to hold House Dracroy, the Mid-Count…Jorah…helped me out a lot.”
“He was a man who went against the Empire’s idea of strength. Even so, there are times when you’ll befriend someone who wants to do everything they can for the sake of others, regardless of profit or loss.”
That’s why Serena was willing to put her house in danger to help Priscilla—no, for the sake of her friend Jorah’s request to help save his beloved wife.
“Brings a tear to your eyes, doesn’t it, brother?”
“You shut up, ya damn fool.” Miles berated Balleroy for getting overcome by emotion, but he didn’t complain about what he had said.
Serena Dracroy was a High Countess of the Empire. She could give into emotions once, but it wouldn’t happen twice. If this was her one selfish desire, then it would be their duty as her subordinates to let her do as she pleased.
“Even if you stop being Priscilla Pendleton,” began Serena, “the fact that you were my friend’s wife will not change.”
“What an admirable thought… How long will mineself be treated as a child? It seems my husband never treated me as a woman, even to his very end.” Slipping that out with a sigh, Priscilla closed her crimson eyes.
Behind her closed eyes, the memories of times gone by with Jorah swam around in her mind. They were both a sentimentality that others wouldn’t understand and a time far too brief.
“So, your arrangements?” As Priscilla opened her eyes, she showed that she had accepted Serena’s proposal.
Her attitude was completely uncharming, but Serena began to explain at her request. The two ladies seemed wise and dignified, and showed no weakness. Watching them, Miles sighed.
“Hey, Miles my brother. The two of them look pretty good together, don’tcha think?”
And he felt just a bit envious of his brother-in-arms’s carefree attitude.