When my hand was suddenly grabbed, I was surprised and swung, aiming for the opponent's neck. The other person ducked and, at the same time, pulled my arm to disrupt my center of gravity to avoid the swing. Then, the opponent smoothly put their foot between my legs, twisted it to make me fall, and bent my arm behind my back.
"Ugh!" I almost fell with a pained groan from my arm being bent, but I barely managed to remain standing by putting strength in my legs.
"I may be old, but you're still no match for me in close combat."
At the familiar voice, I said with a playful smile, "Ouch, that hurts, Aunt."
I'm not kidding; it really hurt. I was rather confident in my physical strength, but with my aunt putting me in a joint lock, I couldn’t get out of it at all. Indeed, one had to have several times the strength of the person holding the joint to escape using pure muscle. However, Aunt Talaria's strength was 1.5 times stronger than mine, so I didn't have the ability to escape.
"Who told you to attack without even looking at your opponent?" Aunt put more strength into the hold and lifted my bent arm.
"Keuk! It hurts. I'm sorry."
Normally, I would have escaped with magic, but that was too difficult under the current circumstances. Revealing my identity in a place already full of monsters was nothing short of suicide.
"Tsk tsk, Gallahad or Gawain would've gotten out in no time."
I answered curtly when my aunt clicked her tongue, "My brothers have fully developed adult muscles while I'm still growing. Besides, I'm a magician. Could you not lump me with the barbaric warriors?"
Of course, I also know the technique for releasing a joint without using magic. However, I would have to move my body in a flashy way, so there was the risk of drawing attention, which is why I simply remained captured.
"Oho, you dare say that even when you know that I'm a warrior?" My aunt raised my arm higher.
"Ouch, I said it hurts."
My feet couldn't touch the ground anymore because she had raised my twisted arm so far. My aunt let go of my arm with a sigh. Aigoo, my arm’s all stiff now.
"But what are you doing staying here so leisurely? Are you dying to be taken back home? I came to pick you up myself because you were taking forever to come to me.”
At my aunt's nagging, I replied curtly, massaging my twisted arm, "I was just about to bolt out of here now."
My aunt pointed to Elder Weger, who was guarding my third sister closely in the center of the banquet hall. "Oho, your teacher-nim is over there, and you think you can get away without magic? I think you’re aware of your teacher-nim’s senses, correct? Right now, teacher-nim’s senses are detecting the mana in the whole banquet hall."
Obviously, Elder Weger's senses were sharpened and on edge because he was protecting my third sister. In this situation, it might be fine if I was blended in with the crowd, but there was a high risk of being marked as soon as I left the banquet hall. That’s why I was trying to leave the banquet hall before the people from my hometown showed up. Yet, they arrived at the banquet hall way earlier than I expected.
"That's why I was waiting for a gap in Elder Weger-nim's detection."
Apparently, Bendis of the Butterfly Tribe said that the prime minister asked for a show of force to make the nobles realize the power of the battle races. If that was true, then the Dragon Tribe and the Crow Tribe would have been given the same request.
If this was true, then it was clear that the Dragon Tribe and the Crow Tribe would also display power comparable to the level of force shown by Great Elder Arpen in the sky over the capital. In particular, it was guaranteed that the people of my hometown would display more force, as they hated to lose in terms of power. That would be the golden opportunity to escape.
"I can roughly guess what you're thinking, but aren’t you thinking too little of your teacher-nim?"
Aunt Talaria looked at me quizically, and I smiled and shook my index finger. "I know well just how monstrous Elder Weger-nim is. I've watched my father and Elder Weger spar before.”
It was really scary at the time. If the two men's battle mistakenly moved close to me, I was confident that I would die in one shot. Throughout the battle, my father kept launching powerful attacks strong enough to break apart a mountain, and Elder Weger completely deflected every attack with a single technique.
The spar itself was a wonder. In the end, my father won due to Elder Weger's physical exhaustion, but I still vividly remember him clicking his tongue, saying that the win was not clean.
"Really? Then what are you going to do?” My aunt looked at me interestedly.
I shrugged as my aunt looked at me, wondering how I would overcome this adversity. "Ayy, what do you mean? Aunt came to pick me up. Let's just use the method Aunt prepared."
My aunt definitely prepared a way to escape, so there was no need for me to struggle with thinking of a different method. Of course, I thought of at least three plans before I met my aunt, but it probably couldn't stand up to the method she prepared.
My aunt looked at me with blunt disappointment. "And if I say no?"
"There's nothing much I can do. I’ll have to leave in the most barbaric way." I sneakily pulled out a white half-mask from my pocket space and showed her.
Then, my aunt sighed and frowned. "Okay, let's go using the way I prepared."
She's a great aunt. As soon as she saw my mask, she immediately realized that I was going to use the most barbaric method I thought of: to go on a rampage and make my escape. As expected, it was nice not having to bother explaining my intentions when my opponent was clever.
"Tch, you manipulative brat." Aunt looked at me as if she were looking at a psycho.
As far as I'm concerned, it was unfair. No matter what kind of strategy I came up with, alone, I could only use myself as a chess piece in my own strategy. On the other hand, my aunt had the power of the Big Mama Information Agency, and using the chess pieces "organization members," she could come up with more diverse and surefire methods than I could.
As such, wasn’t it clear that the arrangement my aunt prepared would be safer and guaranteed to work? And so, to embarrass my aunt who sought to test me, I suggested the method that would produce the most casualties, sew discord into the various forces, and leave aftermath that would be complicated to clean up.
"Thank you for the compliment."
For reference, my aunt had to hide my identity even if I made a big scene. Or she could choose to endure the curse of a malignant athlete's foot, hair loss, and debilitation, which were the consequences of breaking the magic contract with me. But my aunt will probably stick to the contract appropriately.
If my aunt was alone in the contract, she might have ignored it. However, Milpia also had a part in the contract, and the curse of debilitation could possibly be fatal to her. Of course, Milpia was fully aware of that fact when she signed it, so the risk of not being able to uphold the contract would be entirely on her. I didn't force her to do it, but rather, Milpia took the initiative to sign it.
My aunt gave me a whack on the head when I smiled playfully. "Don't smile. I might grow fond of you."
Aunt whispered the outline of the operation to me.
* * *
In the center of the banquet hall, Hestia looked at the prime minister. The prime minister was smiling, but his expression slightly hardened as he looked at the necklace around Hestia's neck.
Hestia read the prime minister's expression and greeted him with a big smile, "On behalf of my father, the chief of the Crow Tribe, I thank you for inviting me to the capital."
Arcanta greeted her with a slight bow of his head, showing courtesy due to the envoy of another kingdom. "I thank you on behalf of His Majesty, the Emperor, for your willingness to accept the invitation."
In fact, these greetings had already been exchanged with the emperor before the banquet began. However, the meeting with the emperor was an informal one, and the empire had to prove to the nobles that the relationship between the imperial family and each tribe was equal by publically exchanging these greetings.
In this unusual situation where representatives of each tribe came directly to the capital, it was especially necessary to prove this equality. This was because the alliance with the battle races not only served to prevent wars with enemy states but also curbed the nobles from trying to erode the imperial authority.
The prime minister greeted Hestia, followed by the great elder of the Butterfly Tribe and the Dragon King of the Dragon Tribe.
"On behalf of the Butterfly Tribe Senate, thank you for inviting me to the capital."
"As the ruler of the Dragon Tribe, thank you for inviting me to the capital."
The greeting order at this meeting also had significance; it was the order in which the empire began to trade with the tribes. Keeping this order indirectly revealed the preference for traditional alliances and was showing consideration for the Crow Tribe, who were the first to form an alliance. At the same time, it was a political gesture telling the Butterfly and Dragon Tribes to increase their trade if they wanted to gain preferential treatment.
"Kuahahahaha! What a showy banquet. It's full of a sweet musky scent." The Dragon King laughed loudly while casually scanning the surroundings.
The greeting order contained the prime minister's delicate intentions, but Hestia of the Crow Tribe was the only one who understood it correctly. Reading the subtle meaning behind this order was difficult for the Butterfly Tribe people who only thought of magic and the unsociable Dragon Tribe.
In fact, the Crow Tribe also had a culture of confidently displaying their innermost thoughts, so they would never have been able to understand this underlying message without Hestia. After reading the expressions of each tribe’s representatives and understanding this fact, Arcanta sighed inwardly.
"This banquet is also for you honored guests, so I'd appreciate it if you had an enjoyable time." The prime minister smiled outwardly and looked at each tribe.
In fact, not only was there the issue of each tribe being tactless, but also the number that each tribe mobilized. The Dragon Tribe brought 120 people on their large airship as well as their dragon partners. The Butterfly Tribe also brought 100 madosas and great magicians through a super-difficult magic, spatial movement.
However, the Crow Tribe only came with 30 warriors. At a glance, the stark difference in numbers could have distorted the balance of factions in the empire that supported each tribe. And most of all, the prime minister looked at the Crow Tribe worriedly, judging that the other two tribes might think lowly of them.
"Huhut." Feeling the prime minister's gaze, Hestia only smiled as if telling him not to worry.
In fact, in the latter half of the prime minister's worries, it was a grave misunderstanding because he had basically non-existent knowledge of the tribe’s power. The strength of the three tribes gathered at the banquet hall was equal, as if they were all the same weight on a scale.
Rather, considering that the Crow Tribe was the minority, the actual scale was tilted. Instead of being jealous, the Dragon King and the great elder simply admired them. They had to admit that the Crow Tribe of the current era was at its highest peak in their history.
"Kuhahahaha! It’s too bad we don't have Doomstone Blade, the king of your tribe, here. I wanted to see with my own eyes the legendary man whose fame reverberates even in the closed-off Mephisto Canyon. Kuhahahaha!"
The Dragon King mentioned Doomstone’s name out of a desire to meet him and simple, pure regret. Yet, when Doomstone's name was heard, some older high-ranking nobles trembled as if scared to death. It seems it hadn’t been long enough to forget the horror of the name, Doomstone.Previous Chapter Next Chapter