27. Gambler’s Den (5)
The next morning, Ellin yanked open the door to Tom’s room.
“Oh! Mister! You’re going to the casino today… as… well… right?”
She had initially called out in a bright tone, matching her bubbly personality, but her voice gradually tapered off as her eyes widened.
“Ah, you’ve come?”
The young Holy Knight was wearing a smile as he toweled off the remaining water on his hair. At the sight of his splendid muscles—disproportionate to his small stature—and his completely unclothed body that was covered with scars, Ellin’s face reddened. Without another word, she quietly closed the door, the corner of her mouth twitching all the while.
Tom tilted his head quizzically, before hearing a voice speaking with the volume of an ant from the other side of the door.
“Wear… your clothes… please.”
“… Why the polite tone?” Tom asked with a frown.
Meanwhile, Ellin was leaning her back against the closed door, covering her face with both hands.
‘Completely and utterly naked!’
She had glimpsed the various parts of his body, though only for a moment, yet he had continued standing there unashamed and unaffected.
‘Strange! He’s strange, after all! Are all Holy Knights like that? But…’
Ellin was growing even redder in her bewilderment when she recalled the scars—horrifying scars—on Tom’s body, which seemed to be very old, marks consisting of burns and deep gouges. Curiously, there were traces of treatment for those injuries he wore from head to toe, as if he had suffered through ‘torture’ and was stitched back together with holy water or potions.
She brought up Tom’s face in her mind, which was clean and smooth save for the big scar over his right eye. His smiling face did not fit with the scars on his body.
‘… He’s strange after all.’
He was a Holy Knight who was truly unsuited to be wearing a smile like that.
While Ellin was leaning against the door with a flushed face, feeling inexplicable nostalgia, someone called out upon discovering her.
“Oh! Here you are!”
She looked sideways in the direction of the voice and met the gaze of a familiar person, who she immediately pointed at before shouting in surprise.
“… Ahhh?! What’s Mr. Pissy-pants doing here?!”
“Don’t call me pissy-pants! Uhh, you see, I was too excited yesterday. Felt it a shame to let go of a hotshot like that, so I came to see how you lot will fare, just for today! So, where’s the Holy Knight?” As he approached Ellin, Halsem took notice of the girl’s beet-red face. “Eh? Your face is red like a peach, missy. Got a fever?”
“… I’ve no such thing. And the Holy Knight is inside right now.”
Halsem stared at Ellin for a moment before glancing at the door to Tom’s room.
“Oh? Looks like the two of you enjoyed the night together? Thought you were an innocent young miss, but it turns out you’re a player, eh? But a runaway noble lady having that sort of relationship with a Holy Knight is…”
“It’s nothing like tha… Wah!”
The door she was leaning on opened, and she fell over backward with a yelp. Tom looked at her as she lay on the floor before turning his gaze to the old gambler.
“Oh! Brother Holy Knight! I came over to play a little. You’re going today as well, aren’t you? To the casino, of course!”
“Didn’t you say you were going to rest today?” Tom asked, recalling their conversation from the previous day.
“That was the plan, up until the excitement got to me. It’s just for today only! I’m thinking of guiding you to somewhere a bit big.”
Halsem gave his suggestion with a silly laugh, which Tom contemplated over before replying with a smile.
“Ah, thanks for the offer. However, I’ll be going to the same place as yesterday.”
“Hnn? Why? You said you wanted to meet Lord Kelvin!” Halsem exclaimed. “If so, then you should play big! There’s a huge gambling place I know… Lord Kelvin won’t come unless the stakes are high!”
“If he won’t come…” Tom continued with a beam. “I’ll just have to make him come.”
Kelvin was in the living room of his mansion, opening a chest with shining eyes. Inside lay a somewhat short gun engraved with runes. It still looked rather weighty but was relatively easy to carry around.
“Ohh? Is this one of those magic guns which I’ve heard so much about?” Kelvin asked as he picked up the magic gun, scrutinizing it.
“Yes! How is it? Unlike the rifles used on the battlefield, this was designed to be a pistol. One of these alone is worth an enormous sum that even most noblemen can’t afford.”
“So, this is capable of killing even demons?”
At Kelvin’s eager question, the chubby merchant before him replied while dabbing the sweat on his face with a handkerchief.
“A shot to the head of small demons such as goblins will result in an instant kill. Unfortunately, it isn’t very effective against medium-sized demons like orcs…”
“… What?” Kelvin asked, disappointment evident in his voice. “So, you’re saying it’s trash?”
Kelvin immediately put down the magic gun he was holding, treating it as junk.
Putting aside everything else, magic guns were akin to a symbol of wealth. It had been invented approximately 20 years ago by a woman named Akareal, the queen of the Kingdom of Magic, Aylans. It was widely known that she had created these guns in order to strengthen her country, and to make just one of these, it was necessary for dozens of experienced mages to inscribe runes for 3 whole months. Furthermore, there was a huge cost involved—over a dozen tales of silver—to make just a single magic bullet using magic stone.
It was an item that came with an incredible price tag, astonishing even the wealthy nobles. You would have to literally spend money like water to effectively make use of a magic gun.
“Ah, bu-but, it’s truly good for self-defense! So much so that even the highest-ranking generals of the Hero’s Allied Forces carry one with them for safety! Though it might not be capable of killing an orc in one shot, the noise it makes when fired sounds like thunder; it’s so loud that it’ll scare away entire packs of demons!”
This was true. The sole strong point of the pistol lay in the ‘sound’ it generated. Its accuracy was extremely low due to its recoil and short barrel, while its reloading speed was 30 times slower than bows and 8 times slower than crossbows. As for its power, it was so low that even most wooden shields could block it. In the end, the exploding noise it produced was its greatest feature on the battlefield, as it could send most creatures fleeing in fear. A single gunshot could break the morale of hundreds of enemies through intimidation alone, just like a wrathful warcry of a mighty general.
“Is that so? Mm… that’s good.”
“Wha-what do you think?” the merchant asked hopefully.
“I’ll buy it!”
Kelvin clapped his hands, and a chest full of silver was placed before the merchant.
The merchant stared at the chest in surprise. Although it was full of silver, in actual fact, this was still not enough to buy the gun. The correct sum called for gold, not silver—that was how incredibly expensive magic guns were.
“Pardon me… I think that the money…”
“Is this not enough?”
“Eh?” the merchant asked, confused.
Kelvin took the magic gun in his hand and spoke.
“What happens if a person is shot with this gun, I wonder?”
“Ah, well, of course… a shot to the head would spell death. A shot to the chest could also kill, but even if the target survives, there would be a severe burn as it’s said the gun functions based on the theory of firing compressed mana…”
After listening intently to the explanation, Kelvin aimed the magic gun at the merchant.
“Is that right? Then let me ask again. Is this not enough?” The merchant broke out into a cold sweat as he hurriedly nodded his head, the sight of which caused Kelvin to smile in satisfaction. “Perfect. I’ll make good use of it. And don’t think of stealing gold from me; your lifespan will shorten.”
Kelvin left the mansion to go to one of the extensions of the Golden Casino, which went by the crude name of ‘The Fortress of Money’.
On each finger he wore gold rings embedded with large jewels while his outfit consisted of a gaudy velvet tunic, hose, leggings and breeches, all of which were decorated with gold embroidery. All in all, it was as if he was announcing to the world that he was loaded. He climbed onto an extremely heavy palanquin made out of gold, which he forced his debt slaves to carry through the streets.
The residents of the fief shrank back at the sight of Kelvin and avoided his gaze. However, there was one child who picked up a stone and prepared to fling it at him…
“Oi, what are you doing?”
“I, n-nothing…” he mumbled in fear.
“I asked what’re you doing!”
In the end, the boy was surrounded and beaten by Kelvin’s mercenaries.
These mercenaries that Kelvin had hired protected him at all times and would ruthlessly beat down any and all who so much as slighted the de facto lord of this fief.
Kelvin licked his lips as he swept his gaze around. Countless people were frightened out of their wits at the sight of him and bowed their heads, causing him to nearly moan in euphoria.
This was his land, where he was the King. Every single person here would bow their heads and submit to him, no matter how stubborn they were.
“Haha, let’s go see some gold today as well!”
Kelvin cried out in a cheerful tone, smiling. But that smile froze when he looked ahead and saw what covered the branch of a tree in front of him. Black crows, dozens of them, were perched on the withered branches of the tree, staring down at him. And all of them had peculiar, golden eyes.
Kelvin cried out in terror, feeling as though he was having a heart attack. His slaves stopped moving, startled by his scream, all of them turning their heads to look at him. For this, he rewarded one of them with a swift kick to the face.
“G-go elsewhere! Go elsewhere now, I said!”
“Un-understood.” one of them quickly said.
The palanquin changed direction on his order.
Nevertheless, murders of crows could be found perched on trees wherever he went. Yet every time they crossed paths with one, Kelvin would yell for them to go another way.
Kelvin’s mercenaries looked at him speculatively; even after all this time he continued to spout nonsense such as this.
“Aahh! Crows again! Elsewhere, go elsewhere!”
The mercenaries turned their heads to where Kelvin was looking. Although he claimed there to be crows, they could see nothing other than the bare branches of a tree.
This didn’t stop Kelvin, who continued to howl with bloodshot eyes.
The slaves carrying the palanquin lost their strength from the continued abuse and toiled on unsteady feet, barely keeping their master afloat. They had virtually gone in a full circle around the fief, and incidentally, it was then that Kelvin’s visions of crows came to an end…
“Let’s have a riot today too, Brother Holy Knight! I’ll back you real proper, so you just wait!”
Hearing his boasting, Ellin snickered. “You sure talk a lot for a pissy-pants.”
“Missy! Will you please change the way you address me?!”
As the two men and woman were walking down the road, a golden palanquin was moving up the street behind them.
Halsem was startled, seeing the palanquin coming from over his shoulder, and quickly bowed his head.
“Eh? What is it? Why are you doing that so suddenly?”
Instead of replying to Ellin’s question, he urgently grabbed her head and lowered it by force.
“Idiot! It’s Lord Kelvin!”
Ellin froze with surprise at his warning.
The palanquin passed by them without anyone taking note of them.
‘Kelvin? The enemy… of my benefactor?!’
Ellin grew agitated, her heart thumping hard, and as rage numbed rationality, her gaze and expression turned cold. But just as she hurriedly shook off Halsem’s grip and was about to run toward the palanquin, someone caught her hand.
Ellin twisted her head and stared at Tom, who had grabbed her hand and was muttering to himself while looking at Kelvin.
A chill ran down Kelvin’s spine for a moment, as if grasped by an invisible hand. The strangely icy sensation caused him to cry out in terror.
The slaves stopped on the spot out of surprise, while Kelvin gasped for breath, his body stiff. He was certain that he could feel a gaze fixed on him from behind. Fear took over his mind, but the curiosity in him began to overwhelm his horror as time trickled by.
‘Who does this gaze belong to? Who is staring at me with such hatred and malice?’
Failing to stop himself, he turned his head back in the direction of the gaze.
And there, he saw a Holy Knight who met his eyes with a smile.
The Fortress of Money was an underground arena. Inside was a circular hall with a large metal cage in the center, inside of which dozens of human debt slaves were currently fighting. Holding weapons and shaking in fear, they had been tasked with fighting against an ogre—which was already covered in wounds—armed with a club. Cheers full of excitement rang out from the surrounding and what looked like tickets were fluttering about in the air. The atmosphere was electric and intoxicating, boiling the blood of the onlookers.
“Now, make your bet! It’s a gamble! A gamble that can yield huge returns! A fortune that can change one’s life!”
“Win! Slaves! Show your spirit!”
“The ogre’s almost dead! It’ll die even if you don’t fight it! So just hang in there!”
“Ogre! Kill ’em! Your opponents are merely slaves! Eat ‘em!”
“Don’t be losin’ to debtors! Ogre!”
Ardent voices could be heard from here and there while bewitching women who wore scant clothing tempted the surrounding people to make bets.
“I’ll wager on the ogre.”
“Then, I’ll wager on the slaves to make it fun.”
Masked noblemen made their bets with female slaves by their sides.
Whether it be nobles, merchants, or commoners, all of them gambled their money to try and obtain a fortune.
Over the din of the hall, the emcee cried out with a voice full of enthusiasm.
“Now, now! Who will win? Please look at the ogre, by the way! Those wounds all over its body! It has already fought for a month straight now! Will it hang in there this time as well…?!”
Ellin frowned while walking by the spectator seats.
“… What is this?”
She stared at the wounded ogre and at the demons locked in cages on the other side. All of them were thin, injured, and behind bars, their miserable fates quite evident.
This was the Fortress of Money, a place of gambling where humans were made to fight against demons, and money was wagered on the outcome.
“Oi! Lady, don’t be spacing out!”
A mercenary working for Kelvin roughly pushed Ellin, and she staggered due to her hands being bound behind her back. She scowled at her aggressor before looking at the people walking in front of her: Tom and Halsem, whose hands were also tied.
The place they arrived at was Kelvin’s private reception room.
Kelvin’s eyes shone at the sight of Tom’s belongings, he was entranced by the gold and gems inside the latter’s money bag, his face brimming with delight.
“Ohh, oohhh! This is amazing. Oi! Release him, quick!”
The mercenaries undid the ropes binding Tom’s arms and brought him a chair.
Tom took a seat and then looked at Kelvin.
“I didn’t know a precious guest had come. Who would have expected a Holy Knight to be making small coin in a shabby place like this?”
Kelvin ordered a mercenary to return the money bag to Tom, which the latter received with a smile.
“It’s simply too fun, this activity called gambling.”
“Haha! Isn’t it? Everyone enjoys it as a small pastime.”
‘Small pastime? This sort of gambling where you wager your assets and become a slave is a small pastime?’
Ellin wore a dumbfounded look.
At this moment, the door of the reception room opened, and a Holy Knight entered; he was the knight and acting lord of Fief Golden. Kelvin clapped his hands at the sight of the man, who—unlike Tom—was not in uniform, but was wearing plate armor that covered his entire body with a sheathed sword on his belt.
“Ohh! Sir Rahon, you’ve come at just the right time!”
The Holy Knight called Rahon placed a hand on his chest and quietly bowed towards Kelvin.
“It has been a while, Lord Kelvin.”
Rahon went over to Kelvin, who furtively showed him a document that was placed on the reception table.
Rahon spoke as he read through its contents.
“… It is real: this token of a Holy Knight. Still an apprentice, though. And he possesses a small territory like I do. I don’t know where it is, but it’s likely to be a rural area since I’ve never heard of it.”
“Is that so?”
Rahon nodded. He gazed at Tom for a moment before directing a wicked smile at Halsem and Ellin at the side, causing Ellin to tremble as she felt a chill spread throughout her body.
“Th-that Holy Knight, he’s looking at me with strange eyes!”
“Ahh, that indeed seems to be the case. He must’ve taken a liking to you, missy.”
Rahon moved to stand before the two and threw a question at Tom.
“Who might these two be? Your acquaintances?”
He asked in a polite tone as per decorum, seeing as they were both Holy Knights.
Tom glanced at the two and shook his head.
“We met in a casino.”
“Not so close then, I see.”
The Holy Knight Rahon licked his lips and lowered his eyes, which were flashing with a cunning glimmer, and then turned to Kelvin in order to receive permission.
“Ah, you’ve taken a liking to that one? Do as you will. An interrogation to determine whether they’re a heretic or not should be fine.”
With a satisfied smile, Rahon reached out his hand at Kelvin’s words, which drew out an expression of disgust from Ellin and caused Tom’s gaze to grow cold.
And… Rahon’s hand came to gently caress Halsem’s chin.
Tom and Ellin released dumbfounded noises, while Halsem froze up.
“I’ll be kind to you. Let us get to know each other well… And deeply.”
There was but one thought now coursing through Halsem’s mind.
‘You swing that way—?!’
— Ω —