Rakuin no Monshou:Volume2 Chapter5
Chapter 5: Masked Clash
Orba left the detention camp early that morning. His match was in the afternoon. His trip back to, and then return from the palace took approximately two hours.
There were only a few short hours until the opening act. The gladiators were training in groups in preparation for the upcoming fight on the stadium grounds. Like the other day, the masked gladiator set foot in there with them. And like last time, they tried to ignore him, though in fact, their attention was stolen away by him the entire time.
The masked gladiator did not hold a sword in his hand, nor did he remove his clothes to do stretches, only continuing to walk around their vicinity.
Ever since Pashir cursed him out as a ‘dog’, the other sword slaves no longer viewed Orba as the same slave that they were. Instead, he was now an enemy that worked for Mephius. In fact, most of the eyes chasing after that masked warrior held hostility.
If that Mephius-hating Pashir is following through with this plan alone, then the plan must match along with his goals.
That was what Orba suspected. In that case, it was better to get closer to Pashir and those who hated and resented Mephius. He might even be able to take part in this plan himself if things went well. Orba smoothly stroked his bare face and began to climb down the stairs of the stadium seats. Yes, since some time ago, Orba had been looking down at the stadium grounds. And to this gladiator walking around the grounds,
He called out. He could only force a smile at the irony in calling out his own name, and jumped down onto the stadium grounds.
The masked gladiator made his way towards Orba. Well aware he had drawn the attention of everyone,
“I have to say, you did a great job yesterday. You’ve made me proud. But don’t think I’ll be satisfied with just this.”
‘Orba’—or rather, this masked gladiator, did not respond.
“Your opponent today seems to be Gash, an enemy soldier from the ten year war with Garbera, said to have beheaded a hundred men on the battlefield. He’s a freak feared as the ‘Demonic Beast of a Hundred Kills’, once freed from being a slave for his services, and cast off as a slave a second time for killing his commander. He’s also attracted the people’s attention. You get it, right? What the people want to see is for that hero to be struck down by the sword of the new hero, you. Then the value of me, who appointed you, is sure to go up. Listen up. Kill him quickly and surely. I won’t permit a close match. Kill him with a single blow. Understand?”
In truth, the masked gladiator said nothing. However, he pulled off an act as if he had. And opposite him, Orba suddenly slapped that mask off his face.
“Don’t talk back to me, scum! So you already think you’re a hero? Who do you think the one who saved you from being a slave is? Gash is a strong opponent? Yea, he’s not weak, I’ll give you that. But, if that so called strong Gash won’t be killed by you, then I have no more use for you. I’ll have you made a slave again in under a minute! Got it?!”
Orba shouted in all his arrogance, leaving the masked warrior in the dust.
He cast a fleeting glance at the lowly gladiators, who sent hateful looks his way.
“All set,” Orba murmured, and then he headed towards the dragon’s abode, which happened to also be located near the stadium grounds. The dragons used in the gladiator games were all put in cages. There were also noticeably larger cages whose interiors stood empty. On the final day two days from now, the two men chosen as Clovis and Felipe would lead two hundred slaves to fight against several large dragons. The cages were likely readied for that purpose.
Hou Ran called out to him using this name. Although there were no signs of anyone around, he raised his fingers in front of his lips in a panic. “Shh!” Hou Ran, finding it humorous, imitated him and performed the same gesture.
“How complicated, having two names that is. Dragons associate no meaning to the sound of names, but I can teach them the general concept. Which one do you want me to teach them?”
“Can’t you just go with whichever?”
Unreasonable as it may be, he held a grudge against Ran. But he had now forgotten it.
“How about it, which Baian can I handle best?” he asked.
The battle with Gash in today’s semifinals was on dragonback, riding the medium-sized Baian. This was something that even Orba had only experienced a few times.
“If you’re looking for those used to people riding their backs, there are some. They’ve been trained for military use so they listen to commands. It’s just that this child here would suit you better.”
Hou Ran caressed the snout of the sole dragon struggling to jut its head out between the cage bars. She narrowed her almond eyes.
“Do you remember him? You’ve ridden him before.”
Orba nodded in response, though it did not mean he remembered its face. As Ran mentioned, there was a time back when he was still a sword slave that the dragons were brought out and he had ridden on a Baian’s back. Thinking back, Fedom came along immediately after and set him up as the prince’s double.
“This child here is the best for you. It’s gotten attached to you. See? It looks so happy now that Orba’s come.”
The Baian’s eyes glistened and snorted roughly as it incessantly flicked its tongue in and out.
“...I’m not seeing it, as usual.”
Orba spoke unconcernedly. Gaining a dragon’s affection was the same as being treated as its meal.
“On the other hand, which one would I least likely be able to handle?”
“What are you going to do if I tell you?” Ran said, piqued by his strangely found interest. “Are you going to pin him on your opponent?”
“And what if I were?”
“It’s called strategizing.”
Orba smiled, revealing his white teeth. He returned to the palace, and once it neared evening, made his way to the stadium once more.
Of course, this time he did so wearing his tiger mask and leather armour.
Tomorrow, the four contenders for the title of Clovis and Felipe would be chosen and they would each hold a one-on-one match against one another. Today, the nobles’ seating area was one thirds filled for the battle that could be called the finals qualifiers in the selection of those chosen four.
Just before noon, the emperor Guhl Mephius appeared, having brought along several of his retainers. The emperor was not a man particularly fond of the gladiator games and last year, with the exception of the final round, rarely showed himself. Everyone rumoured that Orba had caught his eye.
And also having caught possibly even more attention than the emperor was the presence of Vileena Owell. Because she had not shown herself in a public sitting until now, the people packed in the venue had temporarily forgotten the game as they gazed at this foreign princess.
Held in between the several matches today would be the coming of age ceremonies.
Amongst the nobles’ and commanders’ sons aged twelve years and older, four had stepped forward. Rogue Saian’s son, Romus, was the youngest at age twelve, but what caught their attention most was Commander Odyne Lorgo’s second daughter, Lannie Lorgo. Indeed, this young girl was strong of heart, appearing completely unscathed by the dragon being brought out towards her.
The Baian’s neck was wrapped in chains and muscular soldiers held the chains in both hands. Lannie lightly hopped onto the dragons back and easily moved the dragon. As she basked in the cheers, she gave a single bow fit for a lady.
Lannie climbed down the dragon, and smiled at Romus who waited on line. She then whispered something into his ears. From an observer’s point of view, she appeared to be encouraging Romus and giving him words of advice.
“I’ll praise you for coming here and not running away with your tail between your legs. But it’s impossible for you. Before you cry yourself to tears, why don’t you go ahead and say you’re suffering from stomach cramps?”
But this was what she actually said. These two had shared such a relationship since far back.
In little to no time at all, Romus’ turn was up. The soldiers urged him on, but without treading a single step, his gaze turned to search his surroundings.
“Daddy won’t be coming to save you,” Lannie said softly.
At that same time, he spotted Hou Ran at the gates where the gladiators entered from. Ran smiled at him and gave a nod. Returning an assertive nod, Romus valiantly walked towards the dragon and jumped on its back.
In doing so, the dragon’s body twisted left and right. It may have been a young dragon, but even the slightest of movements was enough to pull along the soldiers holding onto its chains. Even Romus found himself starting to fall off, inducing the crowd to give off cries of horror. However, Romus never lost his calm. He lay sprawled on the dragon’s back and placed a hand on the back of the dragon’s neck. The dragon let out a low groan, and gradually began to calm down, then it finally began to move its feet. The largest outpour of cheers rained down on Romus on this day.
His parents both heaved a sigh of relief, and Lannie, far from being angry at having the spotlight stolen from her, stood in incredulous shock.
The coming of age ceremony ended without incident, and so began another series of gladiator matches. They were all gladiators who had won through their battles since the first day, so their skill was undisputed. The stadium shook in anticipation of these high levelled battles.
And indifferent to the wild enthusiasm surrounded her,
“Princess, is Orba-sama’s turn still yet to come?” Theresia spoke with a paled face. “Truthfully, I cannot bear to watch. Please tell me when his turn has come. Until then, I will be keeping my eyes closed.”
“What in Garbera’s name do you think you’re saying?”
Vileena’s own expression wasn’t looking too good. Even now, necks and limbs were sent flying and bloody entrails spewed out beneath them. But Vileena never averted her eyes, only watching motionlessly as she formed two fists above her knees.
Before long, a Baian was reined out from the eastern gate. The matches here on would proceed on dragonback; that is to say, it was just about Orba’s turn. For one reason or another, the colour returned to Vileena’s face when,
The emperor’s page came and kneeled before her.
“His Majesty has extended his invitation to you. If you do not mind, he wishes to enjoy the game together with you. By all means, the person accompanying you is welcome to join as well.”
Vileena and Theresia both looked at each other.
She had no reason to refuse. They stood up, and while they walked towards the area the emperor was seated, Theresia pulled at her sleeve and whispered in a hushed voice,
“I’m begging you, please do not bring up the issue of Lord Kaiser when you meet with the emperor. In an arena setting, these gentlemen are more fervid than usual. I fear that a minor mistake could lead to an irreversible situation.”
“As I would expect of you, Theresia. You pay careful attention to your surroundings.”
She jested lightheartedly, but on meeting the emperor’s eyes, she gave a bow while unable to hide the anxiety that appeared across her face. Guhl Mephius prepared a seat beside him for Vileena. And as if right on cue, the names of the two gladiators in the next match were called out and they began to enter the arena.
The masked warrior, Orba, and the gladiator who once earned his share of achievements during the war as a slave in the battlefield, Gash. At the appearance of these two men, whose figures they were already well familiar with, the arena’s excitement soared.
“The new hero and the former hero,” Guhl Mephius suddenly spoke. “In light of this country’s future, I’ve come to realize one could employ tricks here to prevail as the new hero. However, I will not permit this within the arena. Those who cannot cut open their own path through their own power are not worthy to be called a hero.”
Vileena showed no inclination to respond. Guhl then asked,
“Do you favour the gladiator games, princess?”
“I do not,” Vileena immediately answered, paying no heed to Theresia’s horrified expression. “They are slightly overwhelming. In all honesty, I feel faint from being struck by the smell of blood and surrounding fervour here.”
The emperor gave a lighthearted laugh.
“You say the same things Lana would.” He mentioned the previous empress’ name. “The label of savage that other countries have given to Mephius is admittedly true. However, this entertainment is just as necessary to the citizens as the bread that fills their plates. Not only does it foster the emergence of powerful warriors, but it is a must in preserving our militaristic traits. Men assemble under the banner of a strong sword. And because they believe they are protected by a strong sword, they are able to pass their days peacefully. This is something the princess also must have experienced.”
“Well, peace with Garbera has been established at long last. Next year, I hope to be able to invite many airship pilots from Garbera and engage with them in a racing contest. It is sure to generate a festive mood. I hope to receive the princess’ assistance on its occasion.”
The emperor said half-jokingly. Vileena cast her eyes slightly downwards in contemplation. This emperor gave off the atmosphere of a kind, good-natured old man, yet he surely planned to feed any of his retainers who dared voice an objection against him today to the dragons. She understood this by seeing the various expressions that coloured the statesmen's faces. Although she understood, it was not something she would concede to.
Orba and Gash both stepped into the middle of the ring. Even amongst all the named gladiators gathered in Solon, they were particularly famous. Their names were both repeatedly called out in throat wrenching cries. The emperor surveyed the uproar from start to end. When it subsided, he asked,
“Who do you believe would be more likely to win, Princess?”
“I do not know the peculiarities that lie in the sword. I simply wish for Orba to win.”
“I see. Orba is the sword-slave who infiltrated Zaim Fortress and rescued you. It is not unreasonable for you to want to support him.”
“It might be brazen of me to ask, but who do you believe will win, Your Majesty?”
“That would wholly depend on who the god of fortune smiles upon,” Guhl spoke curtly, “...Is what I would like to say, but that would be discourteous of me. Princess, how about we place a bet? If the princess desires for Orba’s victory, then I shall bet on the gladiator Gash.”
“What are you...”
“There is no need to worry. This will only serve as a friendly wager. Should the princess win, I shall grant you any one of your requests. And if I were to win,”
“...There is nothing I could hope to offer you.”
“I would like to be given the honour of naming my grandchild.”
Vileena was breathlessly taken aback. That single remark had brought back those distant memories of her grandfather residing in the Garberan royal villa, whom she had been separated from.
What sort of child will you give birth to and raise up?
I would like to see that endearing visage of you cradling the baby in your arms.
The Mephius emperor, Guhl Mephius, and the former Garberan king, Ainn Owell. These two elderly personages, who were as different as the day and night, had been connected through their thoughts of a grandchild.
Vileena remained clueless, not knowing what to say. During this time,
“The two warriors, who now approach death’s door, offer up your salutations to His Imperial Majesty!”
In conjunction with the decreed voice, Orba and Gash faced the emperor, and placing one hand on their chest, pointed the spear in their other hand up towards the sky.
Two Baians, one size larger than those used in the previous ceremony, were brought out in front of these two men. Their horns glistened and their body brimmed over with energy; these dragons were fully ready for battle.
Orba and Gash moved in opposite directions, severing contact with their eyes. Gash’s body was cleanly shaven. Variously coloured tattoos were imprinted throughout his body. It may well have been a trait of those who lived in the remote regions, or possibly done for appeal when he was marketed as a sword-slave. In terms of physique and appearance, he was similar to Verne, whom Orba fought back at Ba Roux. What differed him from Verne was the way he smacked his crimson tongue across his lips. He held a glint of unlevelled cruelty.
Now they would get on dragonback with the Baians This too was likened after the hero Clovis, who fought on the battlefield saddled on a dragon.
Orba had little experience riding a dragon.
What’s worse is—
Orba gazed up at the Baian beside him without finishing his thoughts. He was unable to hold back his feelings of unrest thinking about the fight that was about to follow. It wasn’t only because he was unfamiliar with riding on a dragon’s back. It was because he did not plan only to win.
On the signal, both of them saddled onto their Baians. After settling himself onto the saddle, he stuck his feet into the stirrup, and took two different spears from the guard into his hand. The first was a dragon lance, a ten-metre long hilted lance. This lance bolstered a considerable weight, such that while riders readied themselves, the spear would be tucked under their arms and fixed onto the saddle ring to the side. The other spear was an ordinary one, two metres long. And strapped on his other hand was a small buckler.
In accordance to the command, several sword slaves released the chains wound around the dragons’ legs and neck. Orba’s Baian gave off a roar that flipped one of the slaves off his feet.
On the other end, Gash sprawled down against his dragon as it began its charge.
Orba struggled to assert control over his dragon. The Baian stood on its hind legs, and even now was trying to shake him off. Even as Orba tried to rein in his dragon, Gash headed straight for him. No longer having enough time to dodge the assault, Orba decidedly laid his body down and clung tightly to the dragon’s back. In an instant, his body suffered a blow as if struck by a giant fist. He could feel his bones cracking beneath his skin, and his clenched molars seemed ready to snap off at any moment.
Naturally, Gash, having initiated the charge, was quick to recover. He whirled up the tip of his dragon lance that had grazed the flank of the dragon carrying Orba, and on distracting Orba, struck with his other spear.
Orba managed to repel it with his shield. His attack foiled, Gash endeavoured to gain one point in his favour. However, his dragon thrashed its body furiously causing him to lose his stance.
His Baian swung its claws and tail, and shook its neck as if it wanted to sink its fangs into the opponent’s throat. Orba and Gash both exchanged a blow with their spears. They were in a scenario akin to fighting on a boat floating on a turbulent sea, where the best tactic was to sweep the opponent off his dragon instead of taking the enemy’s head. However, this discrepancy came as all but nigh as their lances clashed time and time again. Based on the sole premise that he survived up to now, Gash was greatly skilled. He was also experienced in handling dragons. And the dragon given to him was one ‘thoroughly’ trained, whereas a single lapse in judgment by Orba would lead to his death.
Orba frantically clung to his Baian regardless and while focusing wholeheartedly on defence,
“That’s all you’ve got?” he barked.
“Gash, killer of a hundred men, you’re not fit to don the helmet of Clovis. The people also want you dead. Go fuckin’ die and feed yourself to the dragons.”
Gash dropped down from above, and he thrust up towards Orba with his spear. Orba received the blow with his shield while his body was being tossed back and forth.
Almost simultaneously, Orba’s Baian stretched out its neck. Gash pointed his dragon lance up towards the dragon about to bare its fangs. He waved his lance left and right after the dragon’s head.
“Kid,” Gash bellowed through his ground teeth. “You say that when you possess only this level of skill? I’ll have you eat those words!”
Gash kicked the side of his Baian, and once his dragon had pulled back, made a dash towards a corner of the ring. Blood pulsed violently throughout the muscles of the men and their dragons. Both sides had sustained countless wounds either from the opponent’s spear and the dragon’s fangs, or possibly both.
By the time Orba realised Gash’s intent to charge a second time, he was no longer able to have his dragon give chase. The distance was already a far cry away.
A gulp sank through Orba’s throat. Should he take on the next encounter or not?
Everyone in the arena watched in breathless silence, likely bearing that same thought.
Here it comes –
He raised up his dragon lance, and taking a confronting stance, gave a cry loud enough to split his iron mask.
On the other end,
Gash’s piercing voice reverberated through the air.
Lying face down, he began his charge. The light sent from the tip of dragon lance struck Orba’s Baian in the eye. For a second, the Baian tried to flee and Orba’s spear swerved.
“You fell for it!”
Just before the dragons collided a second time, Gash slipped his feet out of his stirrup. Orba, caught in the ensuing collision, was knocked off his dragon.
His back slammed against the ground. Gashed furiously swooped down on Orba, who for a moment lay limp like a lifeless doll.
Orba rolled on the hard ground and dodged it by a hair’s breadth. He quickly lifted his body up.
However, there was no weapon in Orba’s hands. He was still disoriented from the collision.
The dragons violently pit against one another behind him. Gash repeatedly delivered a series of attacks, under the veil of the clouds of dust.
Within the nobles’ seating area, Vileena instinctively averted her eyes.
Though he wore a mask, it was possible to tell he was still dazed. His movements also appeared unsteady. Driven by a sudden impulse and forgetting she sat beside the emperor, Vileena’s mouth gaped open. As Gash’s spear was about to pierce through his mask,
A voice roared down like thunder, projecting below the seating area and away from the gates.
Orba instantly opened his eyes and in a series of nimble movements, provokingly circled around the pursuing Gash. With each thrust of the spear, a blast of air struck against Orba’s mask. Blood ran down his neck and shoulders.
Soon after, Orba’s feet came to a halt. Seeing this chance, Gash diagonally lunged from a predictable location. It was easy to see through his projected path. Orba dodged his lunge, and while taking hold of the extended arm, kicked him in the knee and threw him forward.
It was already impossible to tell which dragon belonged to whom, but one of them had finally pinned down the other and was about to bite into it from above. The pinned down Baian struggled to push off the dragon and swung its tail, striking Gash in the chest.
Coughing up a spurt of blood, this time Gash was the one to stagger backwards. His variously coloured tattoos were dyed in a bloody red.
Orba picked up the spear that Gash had dropped on the ground. And showing no hesitation, he performed a single thrust into the heart.
A chill ran through Orba as he felt the spear make its mark. Blood splashed his mask as he pulled the spear out. For a short time, he stood still in silence, not wiping off the steaming blood off his mask.
The people encircled around the ring clapped their hands and stamped their feet, whilst Vileena collapsed onto her chair and heaved a big sigh of relief. She didn’t notice her breathing had stopped until just now.
“Vileena-sama, it’s about time you let go of my hand.”
Theresia said. She had unconsciously squeezed Theresia’s hand. Coming back to her senses, Vileena did as told, and saw a distinct red outline where she had been holding.
“It appears to be the princess’ win.”
As he said this, the emperor stood up from his seat. Reassuring the frantic princess who also attempted to stand up to see him off, he said,
“Should you find something you desire, do not hesitate to say so. A Mephius emperor does not stray from an agreement.”
From a seat facing opposite them, “Oh?” Noue let out this single remark. He was not the least impressed by the situation at hand. Though he claimed himself an avid captive of the gladiator games when he spoke with Simon, he was a man who did not hold interest in anything except the art of conquest and warfare—or to be more precise, held no interest in anything where he could not employ his resourcefulness.
So his name was Gash. I’m fairly certain he was invited to participate in the plan...Well, no matter. It’s not as if I require them to be skilful. With so much as the discharge of rebellion, the pus collected within Mephius will catch fire and spread undeterred.”
However—Noue’s worries turned towards a different direction. Prince Gil was not present amongst the nobles in the seating area opposite him. He had gone as far as come to Mephius to learn more about Gil. However, it was impossible even for Noue and his foresight to draw upon these fragments of knowledge with his seldom encounters with Gil. But that no longer mattered now. As long things went the way he imagined them and produced the results he desired here in the lands of this foreign country, it would attest that his ability of foresight had not rusted. As a result, Noue had lost most of his interest in Gil.
As Orba made his way back to the gate, he passed by Pashir, who would be participating in the following match. Compared to last time, their positions now reversed. Moving forward in an unsteady gait, right before their shoulders met,
“Why did you call out my name?”
“Ho? So you heard it.” Without slowing his pace, he continued, “Then it looks like I’ve successfully returned the favour.”
“Not to you. To the one you serve, the prince.”
Not saying another word, Pashir headed in the direction where his battle would take place.
Pashir and the warrior who more or less won through all the matches unharmed would similarly, face off in a battle on dragonback. Being a veteran warrior, it wasn’t surprising he was skilled in riding a dragon. On the second assault, he pierced the enemy Baian, and walking along the dragon that now tumbled over, he approached the warrior who had fallen off his dragon and finished him.
With this, the names of the four gladiators participating in the final decisive battle were decided. They became the targets of bets, and not only within the arena, but all throughout Solon, “He’s going to win,” “No, he’s going to win”. Why they believed so was because these were the best of the best. They engaged others who like-mindedly held their own one-sided opinions.
And so, the final gladiator game of the day had concluded, and within the arena, Kaiser Islan’s execution took place as scheduled. Vileena of course, could not bear to watch, and immediately took her leave accompanied by Theresia. Practically none of the Mephians thought to return home, likely finding even that entertaining.
As she was leaving, Vileena voiced her thoughts.
“If I had told the emperor to rescind the order for Kaiser’s execution as the receiving end of my wager at that time, what do you suppose the emperor would have done?”
“Even thinking about it terrifies me, princess.”
Considering her mistress, anything could have happened. Theresia trembled at the thought.
The figures of men and women dispersed, and evening welcomed the arena. It was covered in a silence that almost made the afternoon uproar seem like a lie. Burned a deep red by the setting sun, blood and organs lingered on the stadium grounds, their distinctive smell hovering in the air. In such a place, Prince Gil Mephius appeared for the second time. He pushed past the flustered supervisor and continued to walk in heavy steps.
Right then, he came across Orba, who had taken no more than a single step out of the infirmary. The impact from the Baian’s charge had caused injuries throughout his body, and his walking was also unsteady. Gil and Orba’s feet stopped in front of the other gladiators, who now watched quietly.
“Is there something you have to say for yourself, Orba?”
Orba—rather, the masked warrior did not give offer any response to Gil’s words.
“You not only had trouble with someone like Gash, but as one in the glorious Mephius Imperial Guards, you dared to handle your dragon more clumsily than a sword-slave? It would’ve been better off if the dragon’d eaten you.”
“You must be thrilled now that you’ve shamed me.”
The prince grabbed hold of the iron mask and shook it. The swordsman did not attempt to put up any resistance, but also did not avert the gaze through his mask away from the prince.
“What’s with those eyes?”
He snatched a whip from a nearby guard, and suddenly beat the masked swordsman with it. The mantle the masked swordsman wore tore, and immediately after he let out a groan, he was lashed out at once more.
“I can’t stand the way you look at me with those filthy eyes...when you’re nothing more than a piece of livestock in my keeping!”
Gil kicked the swordsman in the face, and then forcibly pulled him up. “Come!” He gripped his arm and pulled him along. The slaves wordlessly saw them off, as Gil pulled the swordsman to a place where no eyes lurked, and finally let go of the hand.
“That was cruel of you, Orba.”
The swordsman spoke in a pained voice. Of course, Prince Gil being the aforementioned Orba, the one hidden behind the mask could not be him. It was the gladiator who bore a similar physique to him, Kain.
“I went easy on you, you know.”
You say it’s cruel, but it’s even crueller for me.
The one who received treatment in the infirmary was none other than Orba. In addition to injuring his back and waist when the dragons collided, he banged his shoulders when he fell of his dragon. It was fortunate his body didn’t suffer from any debilitating injuries, but he could hardly be said to be in perfect condition for tomorrow’s match. Swinging the whip alone was enough to send pain running throughout his body.
“I’m fine with becoming the masked swordsman Orba, but could I ask for an easier job next time?”
“I’ll give it some thought.”
Orba received the headpiece and leather armour from Kain, and returned to the form of a masked gladiator a second time. He threw the whip in his hand at Kain.
“Should I bring this back?”
“No. Use that to hit me.”
“Eh, that’s all right. I don’t hate you that much.”
“You idiot,” Orba wryly smiled. “I need lash marks.”
Kain timidly complied. He had previously took on, and furthermore, acted out the role of the prince’s body double. At that time, Orba came in contact with Kain as Prince Gil and did not reveal his true identity. But this time, he felt it a necessity, and exposed his face bare.
“I knew you were mysterious, but I would’ve never imagined you were the prince. Could it really be ‘that’? You were confined by an adversary and they forcibly put that iron mask on you. Then you were stripped to the status of a slave. You heroically survived through the ordeals, and now you’re about to take back the country that rightfully belongs to you. Well isn’t this a tale to behold!”
Or so Kain would melodramatise, making it a mystery to Orba just how much of the situation he understood.
Tch. Damn you, Kain.
After finishing his preparations, Orba leaned a hand against the wall, and walked in shambles. Half of it was an act, but the other half was real. The first two lashes, Kain held back, but Orba pressed him, “Do it harder!” and the next lash was sent with all of his strength. Deep marks that took on the shape of a worm were etched on his arms, legs, and back. Fresh blood dripped from his neck.
Orba walked up to where sword-slaves were present, then tumbled over. It was a miserable act, but he could not afford to nitpick. There, a hand suddenly extended out. He grabbed the hand and pulled himself up. It was none other than Pashir.
“Do you still intend on being the prince’s dog after suffering such treatment?”
His voice was calm, but his face twisted in anger.
He answered indifferently, while convinced Pashir had been caught in his net. To that end, he had specifically chosen a difficult to handle Baian, and assigned Gash a Baian trained for military use.
“You might be praised as a hero now, but you’re expendable. You should already know that.”
“What would you bloody know?” Orba glared at him, coughing up blood onto the ground. “That’s right, I’m a slave. As an imperial guard, I ultimately have no choice but to kill on command. Besides that, what else is there? Are you going to tell me that you, with that prided sword-wielding arm of yours, will destroy Mephius, will destroy this fuckin’ country this instant?”
Pashir stared at Orba’s burning eyes for some time, at a loss for words.
That evening, Pashir seated beside Orba in the dining area. In the presence of the slave girl introduced as Mira who waited on them, Pashir mumbled on about his past.
He grew up in a western Mephian village and lost both his parents early on. In order to feed himself and his younger sister, his last remaining family member, he chose to work at a nearby mine. The working conditions were far from good and few measures were taken to guarantee their safety. Deaths were frequently tolled from overwork and cave-ins. No matter how many times they protested, they saw no improvement. The driving reason was because they saw the workers as little more than slaves.
Even then, it was a highly sought after job. Pashir quietly continued to work.
“Why was I born? What was I able to do? I never paid them a single thought. I was alive. That was all that mattered.”
Pashir said. Hearing nothing but the mumbles of fellow slaves, Orba could once more feel himself returning to his time as a slave.
Once, there was an incident that even trampled upon that meagre wish of Pashir’s. His sister, after procuring meat in the marketplace, showed up at the mines Pashir worked at. The person she asked for her brother's whereabouts was a bad one. He was a slave supervisor known for his lust.
He made up a lie and said that Pashir had committed an atrocious wrong. He then brought the younger sister indoors, where he proceeded to ravish her.
“I happened to pass by there, whether by some stroke of fortune by the Dragon God, or some terrible prank played by some evil unnamed god.”
His resentment having built up, Pashir immediately flew into a rage and beat the supervisor to death. It wasn’t too surprising Pashir was then restrained and sold off as a sword slave. It had been five years since then. He moved from arena to arena and survived them.
Orba finally recalled that name. He was a veteran warrior, and also a sword-slave who would never be forgiven for his crimes. Like Orba, he had a plain fighting style. He did not adorn his body with any showy ornaments, nor did he try to adopt a gaudy personality. He fought plainly and won. That was why his name hadn’t spread far.
But those kinds of people are the strongest.
“It might be word of the mouth,” Pashir drank up the cold, tasteless soup and then expressionlessly continued, “but I’ve heard my younger sister has also been made a slave. Of course, I don’t know her whereabouts. There’s no way I could hope to know. I curse Mephius. I swear to bring Mephius to ruins. Supposing even if I die halfway, my soul will take over the one who killed me and I’ll make sure all of Mephius gets what they deserve.”
“The same goes for me. The hundreds of sword-slaves I’ve killed; their souls all cling onto mine. All day, all night, they whisper to me. ‘Kill the Mephians. Roast the nobles. Take back everything they’ve stolen from us. That is the mission imposed on you, the one who killed us.’”
Armed soldiers were situated in all four corners of the eating chamber. Orba paid them no heed.
“But with the way things are, nothing will change; only that the number of souls clinging on top of your shoulders will increase.”
“Exactly. If things continue the way they do, at least.”
Pashir was young and held the status of a sword slave, but he commanded a presence far heavier than any Mephius commander Orba had seen.
Afterwards, Orba also spoke of his own past. It was a past he did not want to mention. But to earn his trust, he had no choice in the matter. There was no need to exaggerate what really happened, nor put up an act. All of it was Orba’s truth. It was the truth, one Orba deemed he had to mention to deceive Pashir. He spoke of how the Mephius army burned his village, of how they stole his family away from it. As he spoke, his hands trembled. His body trembled. Oubary’s face came to mind. Oubary was within his reach, yet why had his chances of killing that bastard constantly escaped him? The answer was obvious. Because it was obvious, he needed to pretend it wasn’t. A man with the same circumstances. A man who bore the same resentment. A man who also consoled in him.
Before he knew it, Pashir’s hand rested on his shoulders. “What are you—” his mouth closed as he halfway muttered these words. He currently felt extremely sad for some reason. More than anger, he was overwhelmed in a pool of grief. Orba laid down his head and leaned his body against Pashir’s shoulder.
“Sorry for calling you a dog. You’re also the same as me. A gladiator burdened by their souls.”
Pashir then stared into Orba’s eyes. In a voice far more hushed than ever before,
“I’ve got something interesting to tell you. With those feelings, I’m sure you’ll become one of us.”
Here it comes.
Orba never felt more grateful to his iron mask than now. The sentiments that arose within him in that instant parted in a flash, replaced by the tension and temperament of a warrior now seeping out of him.
“What are you talking about?”
He tried to ask doubtfully. The surrounding sword-slaves were watching him with dagger glares. Pashir directed his gaze towards them. As if to end the silence, a few of them quietly nodded.
This made it clear they respected Pashir as their leader.
Pashir slowly revealed the plan to Orba. Of course, they took caution to lower their voices so the acting guards of the detention camp would not be able to hear them.
Who would’ve thought...
Orba thought as he listened on. It wasn’t something Orba hadn’t already considered, but this plan wasn’t exactly bold, nor was it very endangering.
Pashir planned to make use of the tournament and have the sword-slaves rise in rebellion.
They would rise to action the day after tomorrow, once the deciding match tomorrow ended and the victorious two to lead the two hundred slaves in a battle against the dragons were decided. On the climax of the festival, the seats of the imperial family and the senior statesmen would be fully occupied. The objective was to take them hostage.
“A sword will be handed to each of the slaves to eliminate the dragons. The surrounding guards will, of course, be watching over us carrying guns, but other than these two hundred slaves on the stadium ground, there are seventy or more gladiators who had previously participated in a match. The first move will be for them to raise an uproar and split the palace guards in half. There will be slaves attending to the services of the nobles and the affluential in the seating stand. I’ve brought some certain individuals amongst them over to our side. They will incite the other slaves.”
A grandiose plan. It was hard to say whether this plan would succeed or not, and even supposing it were to succeed, a great number of casualties would result. Not only the slaves and the nobles, but also the Mephians situated within the seating stand would likely end up caught in between.
“Will you do it?”
Pashir asked only this. Orba was aware the question held several implied meanings. If he didn’t agree, he’d likely be killed here in this place. His corpse might end up as dragon fodder, or be thrown into the incinerator found in the arena, each as likely to happen as the next. Orba spoke up.
“I have one condition.”
“What is it?”
Anxiety suddenly ran through him. A menacing gleam lodged within the surrounding slaves’ eyes.
“Let me kill the prince, Gil, with my own hands.”
After mentioning this, Pashir instantly bent his back. He burst out in laughter. To give his response, Pashir put his thick hand on Orba’s shoulder.
“That sits fine with me.” Pashir flashed his white teeth at the slaves. “He’s your prey. Do whatever you want with him.”
The slaves barely slept that night. They lay sprawled in a manner that didn’t arouse any suspicion from the guards, and as they pretended to snore, talked about the plan that would occur two days from now and joked of what would happen in the future to come. There were those who boasted how they would capture the nobles and make them take part in the arena. There were also those who thought of breaking into the nobles’ homes and quickly making a fortune. And there were those who insisted that they should set fire to Solon in order to issue a manifesto to all the slaves. But the majority of them, not too surprisingly, wanted to return to their hometown.
“There’s no place left for me to return to,”
A middle-aged slave said with a weak smile.
“Over twenty years have passed since I was made a slave. My mother was already getting old then, and now I’ll bet she’s long gone. I don’t even know if my village is still there or not.”
Even then, they insisted on returning. There might be nothing and no one there, but they still remembered their village. Clear in his mind was the figure of himself perched atop a rock, looking up at the sky. “I’ve come back!” Not as a slave made to kill others in public, but as a human being.
“Pashir, what will you do?”
One of the slaves asked. After thinking it over a bit, Pashir replied,
“Come to think of it, I haven’t really given it much thought.”
He said while forcing a smile. Another slave teasingly chimed in.
“Aren’t you going to be taking Mira with you?”
“What, how did it come to that?”
“Anyone’d think that after seeing you two. After we break free, that Agon chap might just take her away, you know?”
Everyone let out a snigger. Pashir turned the other way. They weren’t sure how long it’d been since they had been taken to the detention camp, but in these past few days, Mira and Pashir seemed to have gotten fairly intimate in their eyes.
While watching the lively scene before him, Orba being Orba thought of different matter. He had never heard the names ‘Oubary’ or ‘Noue’ amongst those taking part in the rebellion. Most likely, the instigator that taught Pashir and the slaves this plan never mentioned these two’s names.
What does he hope to gain out of making the sword-slaves act out a rebellion?
The same was for Princess Vileena.
The timely assassination of Vileena in the midst of the confusion; that would clear Garbera of suspicion, but what would Noue gain from sacrificing the princess’ life?
Orba cursed at himself for knowing nothing. If he were slightly more knowledgeable about international affairs, he would at least be able to draw some clues as to what Garbera, and more importantly, Noue could hope to gain from bringing disorder to Mephius.
This was different from a simple fight where he just picked up a sword and fought only to survive. Many motives were entwined, and a vast knowledge of affairs was required. The same went for war and politics.
Pashir returned to his serious face.
“After the final match, the emperor will personally hand out the golden helmet of Clovis. But that won’t be the time to make our move yet, Orba. Killing the emperor alone won’t grant the slaves freedom.”
The motion to assassinate the emperor at that time as the first phase of the plan had been considered. Though of course, even the victor would have his weapon confiscated during this occasion, and the slaves wouldn’t exactly be in the position to move. And the emperor would be surrounded by soldiers armed with bayonets. The success rate was never high to start with, and even supposing they killed the emperor, while it might strike a big blow to Mephius, it would only serve to meaninglessly strengthen oppression against the slaves.
Supposing then, the uprising successfully went according to plan, what would ultimately become of the slaves?
Orba might not have voiced it out, but his chest seethed with anger.
It’s fine to go back to your hometown. It’s fine to kill the nobles. But then what? What will happen to Mephius and the people living in it?
Orba’s anger wasn’t directed towards the slaves. Noue, Oubary, Zaat—it was towards these devious characters and also one other, whom was unable to fully share the slaves’ feelings of anger because of his position—himself.
There’s bound to be lots of casualties. I’m worried the provincial lords, in fear of the slaves’ uprising, will slaughter those leading them.
What was he thinking and who was he thinking as? Orba’s mind was a wreck.
At any rate,
A portion of Noue’s laid out plans was now in his hands. It was for this sole purpose that Orba returned to being a sword-slave a second time. He had also stained his sword in blood.
I’ll have you pay me back duly.
Orba returned to the palace well after the break of dawn.
It being a time of the festival, the guards pleasantly greeted the prince. No one made mention of his illness or anything of the sort.
It had been a while since he stayed awake all throughout the night, but Orba was wide awake. He couldn’t forget the figures of the sword-slaves at the detention camp. Amidst their dirt and grime-covered faces, their eyes shone profusely. The majority of those slaves did not speak of the future. They did not know whether they would live to see tomorrow. It was pointless even if they thought about it. And despite this, the sword slaves that gathered around Pashir all looked towards the future together. Though that being the case, it wasn’t as if they foolishly bet everything onto this plan. Rather, the thought of not knowing whether they would die the next day weighed on them more than anything.
And yet, they were willing to shed their blood, break their bones, and give up their life for this future that until now, they could never hope to have. What would they do if they found out they were being strung along?
Orba felt an urge to kick the wall. Would it be better if he were only nothing but a gladiator? Then he would have burned the plan onto his body with awakened interest, embrace his overflowing anger and eagerly fight against Mephius without giving a second thought. However, the current Orba was not so. In exchange for his iron mask, he had obtained the mask of Gil Mephius. To protect this mask that possessed the authority to help him retrieve the many things he’d lost, he would unfortunately need to protect Mephius.
Dinn greeted Orba in his room as he was deep in thought.
“I’m going to take a nap.” At hearing Orba’s unexpected announcement, Dinn’s eyes widened.
“Please wait, your highness. Vileena-sama has entrusted something to you.”
“Entrusted something? So she came here again? Did you manage to deceive her this time?”
“No, it was Theresia who had brought this along with a message from the princess.”
What Theresia presented was a golden medal wrapped in cloth. The medal was fastened to a thin chain, and seemed meant to be worn around the neck.
It was once a customary practice amongst the Garberan royalty to award those who performed distinguished war services or other meritorious deeds. The medal was said to bestow the name of camaraderie to its holder, and be given to loyal friends and subordinates. It had primarily evolved into something royalty still in their adolescence and the sons and daughters of nobles gave to their retainers in half jest.
Inscribed on the centre of the coin was Garbera’s national emblem of a horse and a sword, and also inscribed was Vileena’s name, a gesture that implied proof of their ‘unyielding and everlasting friendship’.
“‘Please give this to Orba-sama’—she said.”
“To Orba? Not to me?”
“Like I said, to you.”
Oh, Orba finally registered. Orba intended to face Dinn wearing the mask of Prince Gil, but the situation had produced a moment of confusion.
The medal had a diameter of five centimetres, and didn’t seem likely to hinder him even if he wore it under his clothes.
Orba is a dear friend
Those words rang in his ears. It was, at the very least, proof of Vileena’s friendship with he who tread near death’s door.
After changing into the clothes Dinn brought to him, he threw himself onto the bed. His body was fatigued, but he had a considerably hard time falling asleep. Though he understood a significant portion of the enemy’s plans, there were so many parts still veiled that he couldn’t easily make a move.
Getting a feel for the enemy’s moves and taking over their plan from the beginning was the safer way. Furthermore, it would enclose on the enemy’s guarded measures, and contain their next move.
However, it was a fact that it would bring about many casualties as a result. If the sword-slaves were to rise in rebellion simultaneously with the slaves within the stadium grounds, the number of deaths would be nothing to make light of. What was he to do? Should he execute the plan as a gladiator and keep the damage to a minimum?
Orba brooded over his alternatives, finally falling into slumber.
Winding the clock back a bit, it was around the time Orba was at the detention camp listening to Pashir’s stories of the past.
Tomorrow, the time when the gladiator tournament reached its climax, would be welcomed by the boisterous citizens celebrating the festive mood and oppositely, the sullen faces of those tormented in agony.
On the western edge of Solon was a mid-sized parade ground. It served as both the point of arrival and departure for air carriers. There lay a one hundred and fifty metre tall tower whose top floor was used as an aircraft dock. The occasion was a naval review—in other words, an air parade. Watching the ships take off to the sky was also a sight of grandeur. In addition, some tens would be selected from amongst the people to board a cruiser and observe the assembly of formation of a fleet from the sky. This matched the battle against the dragons taking place in the arena as the centrepiece on the final day.
Of course, even the docking area had undergone strenuous preparations before the festival. The mechanics and the slaves that were charged with supporting them through labour and menial tasks worked tirelessly without sleep or rest, and some twenty slaves had collapsed. And to show the fruits of their labour, the dock was now decorated with air carriers lined neatly against one another.
However, a problem arose before the awaited day of the parade as they performed their final check. When they checked the ether emission firsthand when doing a trial run for flight functionality, the air carrier gave no response. The one with the problem was the Solon garrison flagship that would be placed in a key position on the parade two days from now.
The mechanics were urgently called back from the festival and quickly performed an inspection, then switched to repairs. However, whatever the problem was, it did not seem they would fix it until the beginning of the parade. Presently, the dock within Solon was cluttered with ships, and while it may be called a parade, civilian ships were lent out for money so as to increase a province’s fleet size in every way possible. The fleets of the other provinces were in no way inferior by means of appearance—Mephius was after all, a country that did not have many dragonstone ships in its possession—and they currently had no ship capable of filling in the vacant space left by the flagship.
There, perchance a man of character happened to come see the ships. He was the commanding officer of the Blue Bow Division comprised of soldiers under Lord Zaat, Gary Lynwood. He held the qualifications of a Winged Dragon Officer, and was expected to have his own fleet of air carriers within the Blue Bow Division at some point in the future, or at the very least, be suitably promoted and given command his own air carrier and unit and ascend to an important position.
“You’ve come right when we need you.”
On hearing the mechanics’ troubles, a joyous countenance spread across his usually long, drowsy face.
“In a base stationed between Solon and Idolo my unit plundered from Garbera during the war is a dragonstone ship. In order to study their technology, we repaired it and kept it intact. Our Blue Bow Division had wanted a ship, so we turned it into a Mephian one—mainly in appearance—and also refurnished it. I’ll bring it here. Considering the time now, I’ll have it over late into the night if you won’t mind.”
The mechanics expressed their deepest gratitude. They couldn’t even begin to imagine what punishment might be handed down to them if the parade were to suffer a setback.
Normally, no one was allowed into the air carriers within the district of Solon, with the exception of the garrison guards. This was thoroughly reinforced without exception and until the day of the festival when the parade came to a close, they would not be able to return to their bases. Naturally, security both in and outside of the dock was strict. Late into the night, the guards took turns to keep a lookout even when Gary brought over the arranged ship.
Although that was the case, their guard duty likely never entailed them meeting any suspicious individuals or catching any intruders, for they only stood watch and never bothered going inside the ships. They were completely unaware that Gary, known as the Thunderclap, and the outstanding members of the Blue Bow Division waited in anticipation, nor that someone had arranged for the garrison’s flagship sabotage and that the one to do the deed had been a former mechanic posing as a slave.
Translator's Notes and References
- Orba literally tells him to get beaten to a bloody pulp and end up as dragon fodder.
- Pus here symbolizes the wounds inflicted onto Mephius caused under poor rule.
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