“What is happening?” Akshuler felt a wave of energy—tiny enough that the average person would not detect it—coming from where the mercenaries were.
The camp was pitch black—even the blazing bonfire in the center had gone cold. Only Joshua remained standing in the murky night; the mercenaries lay on their sides, drooling and unfocused like madmen.
“Br-Branch Manager!” Beo, the mercenary who had fled, returned shortly.
The clouds scattered, allowing the brilliant moonlight to illuminate the scene for Beo’s eyes.
Akshuler slowly approached Joshua. He quickly deduced what had transpired there.
Joshua nodded curtly in reply.
“I just don’t like being harassed. More importantly, you’re here.”
Akshuler flashed him a friendly grin, but only for a moment. He turned to the mercenaries and his visage into a grim and terrible countenance.
“As of now, all of you are forever prohibited from serving as mercenaries.”
“Bra-Branch Manager!” Greg, the first to regain his consciousness, pushed his trembling legs underneath him.
“In addition, the guild headquarters and all related enterprises, including the noble families and high-ranking members, will be informed of the crimes you intended to commit today.”
The mercenary guild operated across the entire continent—cutting them off from the guild was a death sentence. Who would be willing to work with someone who violated the most basic trust?
Greg dropped to his knees once again in front of Akshuler.
“I have a spouse and children. Please—” Greg slammed his head against the ground with an audible thump. “Please pardon my wrongdoings!”
“Are you really asking for my permission?”
Footsteps slowly approached from behind Akshuler. Greg trembled like a branch in the wind as he realized who it was.
“I will leave the choice up to you, the customer. Even if you forgive me, as spokesman of the mercenaries I will not pass it on; this is a fundamental connection with God.”
Indeed, trust was the driving factor for all deals. Who would entrust their work to persons who collude to commit crimes against their client? The issue extended over the entire guild, not just the mercenaries.
What Iceline did next was startling: she unveiled herself before all of the mercenaries. Soon, her robe dropped entirely to the ground, revealing her stunning beauty to the world. Besides Greg, whose head remained planted against the ground, the mercenaries were dumbfounded.
“Silent… Chased… ” Iceline’s voice was so frigid that even the air seemed to shiver, yet so alluring you could not escape it. “After all of that, I have learned one important lesson: an indecisive attitude will be my noose.”
Iceline lifted her hand.
“Silence.” A translucent film formed in a 15-meter radius around Iceline.
“Silence” was a 2nd-Class magic, but its range was proportional to the mana applied and the caster’s ability. A typical 2nd-Class wizard could project Silence in a 3-meter radius; Iceline’s skill was, once again, obvious.
“This… will end poorly.” Akshuler turned away sadly.
“Ice Spear.” Iceline produced razor-sharp projectiles without the help of a spell.
“This is crazy—!” Greg leapt up.
Iceline gently waved her hand while Greg spat profanities.
The campsite was silent. The mercenaries’ cries were horrifying, but no one could hear them.
Early at dawn, while everyone was still sleeping, Joshua was roused from his meditation by a faint noise approaching the tree he rested against. Soft footsteps—a lady’s. Joshua knew who they belonged to.
“You never said anything,” Iceline whispered from the other side of the tree.
“I don’t have anything to say.”
“Are you curious as to why I changed?”
Curious? Surprised? Honestly, I would be if this were my first life. However, Joshua already knew her as the Cold-Blooded Killer, so it wasn’t a surprise.
“Not really. Humans are shaped by their environment,” he said, parroting her words back at her.
Iceline was silent for a moment. Only the grasshopper interrupted their tranquility.
“You helped me twice already; first at the inn, and now.”
Joshua didn’t respond.
“Can I ask why you need the artifact I made?”
“I just… It seems convenient. That’s it.”
Joshua glanced back, confused.
“I will prepare a Laypon for you, in spite of your desires. It will take time; it’s not something I can make at will. The components are quite difficult to procure as well.”
“I must carry my task through to the end with no flaws. If there is an issue with the developer’s identity, the items I need will cross the ocean too.”
“Is that so? Can I ask you something?”
“I wish I could answer.”
Joshua paused but pressed on.
“I want to learn more about your family.”
Iceline didn’t respond, as Joshua expected. He waited patiently—recalling terrible memories was a difficult thing; he wouldn’t be surprised if Iceline got up and walked away.
“If you don’t want to—”
“My father… he was slain the same day our family was consumed by flames.”
I had my suspicions, but hearing it from her is different.
“All of his knights were slain, even the best of the best. Everything was razed—the documents, the furniture, the wheat my father stored for the citizens, all gone without a trace. All that remains is what portions of the mansion that were spared by the fire.”
“It’s difficult to say this, but if the house head surrendered, the whole war would stop… They went too far, however—”
“We did—at the very beginning. My father cherished his loved ones above all else; he humbled himself and raised the white flag to protect his family. It was useless, of course. They didn’t even declare war.”
“Is that so?” Joshua’s eyes narrowed. If it really had been a territorial war, Joshua would have heard it from the Imperial family at some point. And if the results had been so terrible, the news should have come even sooner.
But it didn’t… That meant that someone was controlling the information. Joshua could say with confidence that there was only one place with the authority and ability to control an entire region’s information.
Once again, the Imperial family was behind Marquis Crombell.
Emperor Marcus. What are you up to?
The lack of information was upsetting. In his last life, Emperor Marcus had vanished without acting.
However, I can’t just watch in silence. After returning, anything Joshua did could change the future. The matter at hand was evidence, and others would soon follow.
“The estate's inhabitants have been suffering the aftermath of the war for decades now,” Joshua said, thinking of the relief supplies in the wagons. “The nobility is using innocent people to repair the harm that they caused… They have no idea what’s happening, they just keep taking taxes to compensate for their uselessness.
“Humans are shaped by their environment, but their nature is not. You truly are a child of Count Rebrecca.” Joshua rose to his feet. “I’m not surprised that you’ve changed, but… Still, I liked you more back then. Not the ice-cold Iceline, shaped by the hand of reality, but Iceline jean Rebrecca, so full of life.”
Joshua walked away, disappearing into the darkness.
“The past me…” Iceline’s whispers were hidden by the buzzing of grasshoppers.
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