༺ Eyes of a Dragon and the Human Heart (17) ༻
Anger was a volatile emotion.
It burned hotter than anything, igniting like a fervent flame. Yet, as it waned, one could quickly regain their rationality. Therefore, I preferred to remain silent when my mind simmered with heat.
Because I was uncertain of what I might do in a fit of anger.
Furthermore, as a noble of the Empire and a skilled swordsman studying at the academy, the weight of responsibility accompanying my actions was incomparable to that of ordinary citizens.
Perhaps it was because of my stoic existence, but I had never once reached the peak of anger.
Today, for the first time, I understood.
Anger was not a fiery emotion. Rather, the more intense it grew, the calmer the storm in my mind became.
It manifested as a serene and cold force.
Only a bone-chilling hostility gripped my heart, akin to a finely sharpened blade, focusing solely on crafting strategies to slaughter my opponent.
This realisation struck me the moment Emma crumpled after the forceful slap.
The pale-faced woman I had seen in the Temple’s intensive care unit.
Her father weeping… It might have been my fault. No, deep down, I knew it was my fault.
Scenes from my mind overlapped.
Snowflakes fell on the woman sprawled on the ground—her face drained of colour, and her body adorned with scars. Even the sword she had clung to until the very end lay discarded at her side.
The woman softly whispered into my ear.
How am I supposed to live?
He wanted to ask in a trembling voice, but the words escaped him.
The memory shifted again. This time, ushering in a different season.
A man stood amidst the crackling remnants of a fire. In a solemn atmosphere, priests and soldiers knelt, offering their prayers.
A ritual to guide a soul to the heavens.
He observed the flames in silence. Within the pyre, layered with wood, must have rested the woman’s body. Overwhelmed with emotion, the man bit his lower lip.
He was wrong.
He had been far too complacent. Why did realisation always come too late? To avoid regret, one had to be more ruthless than anyone else.
So that no one would dare challenge.
Teary golden eyes gazed into the distance.
The hazy landscape, veiled by the dust, headed towards the desert. There, a woman stood.
Her sealed eyes showed no sign of opening.
She was blind.
Thunderous reverberations shook the land. Annoying, raspy breaths echoed.
Off in the distance, a colossal entity stirred. A living, darkshadow, one of the Seven Stars of Original Sin.
In this overwhelming sight, silence and fear cleaved through the thousands of troops present.
Pale faces were everywhere. It was not a circumstance where you could rally fighting spirit.
Even the man faltered before this colossal being. His golden eyes went blank for a moment.
The notion of ‘victory’ seemed impossible.
Yet, the blind woman remained serene. A faint smile adorned her lips.
“Sir, please leave”
The startled man tried to shake his head, but the woman’s resolve was firm.
“You still have obligations to fulfil, don’t you?”
He opened his mouth, then closed it.
His head drooped powerlessly.
“….I’d rather die here together with you.”
“Then, it’s an order.”
With that low declaration, countless shapes began to materialise in the air.
Dense mana infiltrated the natural laws, much like moisture. The air itself quivered under the might of an Archmage.
The woman smiled, despite being blind.
“I’m simply facing the consequences of my actions. So, I request you, Sir…”
Her voice burrowed into his heart like a curse.
Neeiighhh, the sound of a horse neighing echoed across the desolate land, a mournful cry.
As he continued to run, the man clenched his teeth.
It was because he was weak.
That’s why he had to run away. His life was such that he couldn’t even be granted the mercy of dying together.
Never, Never will I run away again.
Never again would I yield.
The voice repeating those vows echoed persistently in his ears, his eyes tinged with red.
One by one, those dear to him had perished.
Etching each name of those he had lost into his heart, leaving indelible scars, the man moved falteringly.
Even in the encroaching darkness, his golden eyes gleamed brightly.
I must kill.
Though a faint whisper, the voice tickling his ear resonated crystal clear.
I must kill them, or at least chop their limbs off.
So they could no longer rebel.
Suddenly, my vision cleared.
A woman looking up at me with trembling eyes came into view. She was in a pitiful state, with limbs torn off, leaving only one leg.
It was a brutal sight.
But surprisingly, I felt nothing.
I spoke in a chilling voice.
“Who said that?”
It was an abrupt question. The expression of Young Lady Lupesia turned blank, then she stammered in a trembling voice.
“W-what are you… I-I’ll tell you! I-I’ll tell you everything!”
But as my sword rose into the air, she immediately curled up, desperately trying to gather her wits.
Her bleeding was severe. Even for a well-trained academy student, that much blood loss would lead to anaemia.
Her head must have been dizzy, but she was still trying her best to think. Young Lady Lupesia suddenly shouted as if she had realised something.
“…The Press Club!”
My arm, sword in hand, halted abruptly.
The Press Club—a name I had heard before.
Wasn’t that a branch of the Imperial Intelligence Agency?
Heh, a scoff escaped my lips.
It was laughable.
“I-It was the Press Club… Th-They were the ones who said you didn’t want to be expelled! Th-They hinted that we needed to harass those close to you in order to curry favour with Her Highness the Princess… Th-That’s what everyone was saying!”
Finally, the puzzle began to piece itself together.
Those disguised as the Press Club were, in fact, agents of the Imperial Intelligence Agency, naturally skilled in manipulating information and fuelling propaganda.
But how they managed to deceive the fickle nobles of the academy remained a mystery to me.
That was something to uncover in due course.
A visit to the Press Club to rough up a few agents should do the trick. After all, most of the Imperial Intelligence Agents these days hadn’t even properly completed torture tolerance training.
Peace was indeed terrifying; one would slowly become tired of the same everyday life, infiltrating like an untreatable poison.
Huff, huff, Young Lady Lupesia still gazed up at me, breathing heavily, her pupils dilated from the blood loss.
I pondered for a moment.
Whether to set an example now to ensure no one dared to lay a hand on those close to me again, or to let it pass.
My hand, clutching the sword, tensed and relaxed repeatedly for a while.
Unexpectedly, someone put an end to my hesitation.
Upon the call of the girl I had forgotten, my thoughts momentarily drifted.
Who was she again?
I slowly turned around. There, auburn hair danced in the wind.
The woman embraced me as if seeking refuge in my arms.
Gradually, memories flooded back with her gentle touch. Right, it was Emma.
The one I had to protect.
Suddenly, I snapped back to reality. The distinct sensation of being abruptly yanked from a dream into reality struck my mind.
Gasping for breath, I stumbled backward. My head throbbed with pain.
The light green eyes gazing up at me were pitiful. In those trembling eyes, a whirlwind of emotions swirled.
Surprise, concern, and fear.
Emma was afraid of me. It made sense. Who wouldn’t be afraid of a lunatic who chopped off limbs without hesitation?
But still, Emma suppressed her fear and approached me. For my sake.
Only then did I look around with a clear mind.
Crimson bloodstains smeared everywhere. It was a gruesome scene.
“I-Ian… are you, are you okay? You, you didn’t seem right…”
At Emma’s distressed words, I slowly pieced together my memories.
I had severed limbs one by one. In response to Young Lady Lupesia’s provocation, I had unleashed even more brutal violence.
Why did I do that?
Initially, I had only meant to rough them up a little and be done. Maybe break a nose, and if that didn’t work, I could always claim that they had insulted my noble family as an excuse for a further beating.
Duels over a noble’s honour was always a matter of life and death.
But once my thread of rationality snapped, I couldn’t restrain myself.
Emma’s slender body trembled lightly, still not recovered from the shock. This was certainly not something she should have witnessed.
My expression darkened.
“I-I’m okay… So, you can stop, Ian. Look at you… You’re all covered in blood…”
Choking back tears, Emma pulled out a handkerchief from her embrace and started wiping the blood off my face. I remained silent throughout.
Emma’s voice resonated with self-reproach.
“It, It’s my fault… this, this shouldn’t have escalated this far. I’m sorry, Ian… for being a commoner girl who causes nothing but trouble…”
Before she could break into sobs, I gently rested my hand on her shoulder.
Emma flinched at the touch, then met my gaze.
I managed a weary smile.
“…It’s fine now, Emma. It looks like I lost control for a moment there.”
I shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts.
The groaning female students were in a bad state. The severe bleeding was likely the cause. Even the strongest students of the academy had their limits.
Mana was definitely useful but it wasn’t omnipotent.
Prolonged severe blood loss could prove fatal. So, I asked Emma.
“Emma, do you have any potions?”
“Uh, y-yes? I have a few…”
Then the solution was simple. I carefully made a request to Emma.
“Can you first give them emergency treatment? Then, go to the Temple and call for the Saintess. Tell her I sent you, she’ll understand.”
I momentarily fell silent.
Emma’s eyes were filled with concern. Despite her fear of me, she still cared. Seeing her worry like this for me was oddly reassuring.
But once begun, I had to see things through.
I gave her an awkward smile.
“I need to go to the dormitory and change my clothes. Strolling around like this is too conspicuous, right?”
It was a reasonable excuse but also a lame one.
If you create a mess, it’s only right to clean it up before you leave. Yet, giving this task to Emma, a third party, before leaving didn’t sit well with him.
But Emma appeared too shaken to question it. She simply nodded her head.
As I was about to leave the scene, I paused to look at the havoc I had wrought.
Fortunately, the cuts were clean. With the Saintess’s expertise, reattaching them wouldn’t be a big issue, although they’d need to rest for a while.
Even at that moment, I might have been trying to exercise some restraint. Though honestly, my memory was hazy, almost as if I were half out of my mind.
Yet, one thought remained firmly lodged in my mind, akin to a nail stuck in a frozen pond.
I had to head to the Press Club.
If I didn’t subdue that place, incidents like this would continue to occur. With that resolve, I slowly started moving.
My eyes turned cold again.
The Press Club was an organisation with its own history and tradition.
Although numerous clubs published newspapers, only one bore the name ‘The Press Club.’ That alone spoke volumes about its esteemed reputation.
This was despite the subpar quality of their ‘newspaper’.
Thanks to this, the Press Club had a whole building to itself, unlike other clubs. Though it was a small two-story building, this was a special privilege considering that typical clubs were only allocated a room.
I stood in front of its main entrance. A passing club member cast a glance my way.
My clothes, stained with blood, were undeniably unusual.
The member, noticing me, cautiously asked.
“Excuse me, what brings you here…?”
Ignoring him, I flung open the main door. The startled club member quickly followed me inside.
Entering, a long corridor stretched ahead. Other members, busy with their tasks, turned their attention to me.
The member who had followed me from outside grabbed my arm, shouting in panic.
“H-Hey, you can’t just barge in like that!”
“…Imperial Intelligence Agency.”
Instantly, all activity within the Press Club ceased.
The club member looked at me with a strange expression, tilting his head slightly.
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re with the Imperial Intelligence Agency, right? Wouldn’t it be bad if this secret got out?”
The club member clutching my arm looked confused, as if he couldn’t understand what I was implying. Most people would have retreated at this point.
But I had a premonition.
Here it comes.
A dagger streaked like a streak of light, grazing my arm. Swiftly, I twisted my body, freeing myself from the club member’s grasp.
Clang, the sound of metal colliding echoed.
The hatchet in my hand clashed with the dagger, emitting red sparks. Given the narrowness of the corridor, using a hatchet instead of a sword was more effective.
The club member’s eyes widened in shock probably because they hadn’t expected me to respond to the ambush.
That was the end.
Crack, the hatchet blade embedded into his shoulder, shattering the cartilage.
With a faint groan, the club member staggered backward.
The gazes of all the Press Club members in the corridor converged on me.
“So, cut the crap and come at me.”
Taking my words as a signal, the club members discarded the papers they were holding and pounced.
It marked the start of the battle.
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