III & IX (3と9) is a book series that can be collected in Trails of Cold Steel IV.
|1||Little Butler & Little Lady||August 7||Sigyn (Fortuneteller's House, Elin)|
|2||III & IX||August 7||Lakelord II (Inn, Parm)|
|3||Assassins & Target||August 10||Majorie (Casino Alisha, Raquel)|
|4||III of Swords||August 15||Flotte (Vingt-Sept Café, Crossbell City)|
|5||The Warden & Reports||August 21||Basani (Harbour District, Ordis)|
|6||IX of Swords||August 24||Nash (Entrance, Titus Gate)|
|7||Tears & The Promise||August 26||Tilia (Alster)|
|8||Gravity & Artifacts||August 27||Lucy Seiland (Marquis Hyarms's Mansion, Saint-Arkh)|
|9||Anger & Conjecture||August 29||Sammie (West Street, Crossbell City)|
|10||Three & Nine||September 1||Kargo (St. Ursula Medical College)|
The story begins with a noble girl and her butler boarding a passenger ship that ferries from Remiferia to Calvard when the butler drops the invitation in the water. She has him follow the letter and after making a scene, the ship's crew steps in. The girl, sporting a doll-like face with sapphirl eyes and twintails, introduces herself as the daughter of Baron Cles Reinhardt,[JP 1] Seria,[JP 2] who would be attending on her father's behalf. Once inside and inspecting the ship, they discard the act: she pulls the orbment hidden within the teddy bear and casts her arts. He is Sword of Three, she is Sword of Nine, and the both of them are contracted killers.
The "Organisation" has tasked them with the assassination of merchant Haldor Baarn[JP 3], or at least make sure he doesn't make it to Calvard where he has ties with crime syndicate Heiyue. In her dress, Three walks into the hall and drops a black ball, which fills the hall with smoke. In the chaos, they head to the room where Haldor would be residing. They defeat the jaeger drop-outs, Three wielding a tachi and Nine a little sword and steel wires. They advance into Baarn's room, who sends a 2-arge spider-like archaism he bought at a black market from an unknown organisation unto them.
The archaism stands on two of its legs, wielding a sword, axe, spear and gun in four of them. Nine's attempt to cast arts at the merchant is impeded by the archaism's gun. Realising she would be no use in battle, she tells Three to deal with the rest and takes a nap at the couch. Three continues the battle while Baarn mocks him, until Nine wakes up, completing her analysis. She explains that she had to focus for her analysis, so her nap time was merely an act to be left alone. Despite knowing the archaism's weakness, Three's swift strikes at those spots had no effect. Thus, he uses his shortsword, usually for defensive purpose, alongside his longsword to strike at those weak spots mentioned by Nine. He then combines his sword into one, which increases the overall weight of the weapon but doesn't improve the potency of the weapon itself.
Baarn laughed like crazy and mocked Three using a toy sword. Three continued to slash at the archaism's weak spots with his combined sword, triggering a blast at those spots. This was the real forte of the combined sword: the swords had become something resembling an orbment, but rather than a battle kind, it's closer to a general orbment capable of using a single art. With the archaism torn to pieces, Three reached out to the panicking merchant preparing to end his life. He said in cold tone that Baarn had the right to know how was about to kill him, and Three introduced himself, pierced his heart and told him he's an assassin with the Organisation.
Afterwards, III & IX escape by jumping into the sea. Nine pulls out her emergency rubber boat from her stuffed bear. She joked that if the mission would have been on an airship, there was no way they could escape this smoothly. Three looked solemnly, not quite pleased with what he had done. Nine consoled him, telling him the merchant is a terrible person anyway and went to sleep. Three looked at Nine, remarked that she is his trustworthy partners, but also someone he had to be wary of the most.
Three has a nightmare, in which he is chased by the countless peoples, among them was a familiar face that tried to strangle him. "Don't come near me!", he screamed and wakes up in cold sweet. Since Nine was still sleeping, he decided to make a report to his superior.
Then he was deep in thought about himself and the Organization. The Organization took in children with poor backgrounds to train them as assassins. This usually took 3-5 years, but some could not make it. Three was adopted by the Organisation when he was 7 years old. He made it through the training at the age at 10. Graduating from the Training School meant he would be granted a low-ranked name according to the Minor Arcana of Tarot. High-ranked members were named after the Major Arcana.
Assassins were expected to work in pairs and carry out various missions for the Organization. There was a rule that if one of them discover their partner's betrayal and managed to present the evidence, he or she would be granted freedom. This is why partners are constantly aware of each other during missions. Three's previous partner, Ace of Swords, decided three years ago that if both of them would betray the Organization, things would work out.
Ace is described to be a brilliant older member, wielding a greatsword which he also used to shield his partner. Hence his name, Ace. His strength was speculated to reach the level of high-ranked members. Ace and Three decided to wait for the opportunity when they were sent to the furthest land to carry out the plan. Then they were sent to carry out mission in Erebonia, but they didn't predict they couldn't escape the grasp of the Organization even there.
With their combined strength and coordination, they managed to beat two waves of hired assassins. The third wave, however, weren't low-ranked members but superior members referred to as Executors. The Executors were too much for them. Exhausted and desperate, Ace and Three enjoyed their last moment together at bonfire. Three said that he was happy to have Ace as his partner, only to see Ace bare his sword at him, asking him to fight to death. That question comes from the last rule of the Organization: if one of two betrayers managed to kill off the other one and presented his corpse to the Organization, he would be forgiven. Ace screamed he couldn't die yet, and they had a fight for survival.
By the time Three came into his senses, all that was left was the corpse of his former partner. He went back to be a tool for the Organization and lamented his fate. There he got appointed his new partner, a girl called Nine of Swords, who was one year younger than him and regarded as a genius after she graduating from training within a single year. Three also thought that her skill at using various poison needles and steel wires, she would be far more suitable at being assassin than him. Although a genius, Nine lacks common sense, so Three had to be a mentor to her. He considers her to be a trustworthy partner, a little sister and also the one he had to be aware of most of time.
III & IX's hideout is located in Lucent, a border town in Remiferia. You can see Calvard's gates walking eastward. Walking westward leads to a dangerous mountain path not known by many, which can be used to get around the gate's security and enter Calvard's territory. Just outside their hideout, Three heads to the designated point before sunset to report on his progress. Awaiting him was a man clad in a black uniform, covering everything with a tattered robe, so much that Three can't clearly make out his body or face.
This man is Three's superior, one of the high-ranked members of the Organisation. His title is the Emperor, but people also call him Executor, and, as his title implies, his job is to manage low-ranked members like Three, assigning them missions, receiving reports and using them as the 'tools' they are supposed to be.
Three reported his previous mission on the ship, and then was asked about his partner Nine's actions. This was also how the Organization works: they privately call out each individual to report on the other. Any inconsistencies has them question their loyalty and deal with them.
After reporting, the Emperor asks Three if he still plans to repeat his actions three years prior. The Emperor is said to have the authority to execute betrayers, and he was the one who cornered both Ace and Three to slaughter eachother three years ago. Three could feel the same killing intent pointing at him like that time.
Three initially panicked, but believed he had been very careful of his actions. If the Emperor had any evidence, Three would already be done for. He concluded that he was being tested: showi any panic and he would fall into the trap. He played it cool, confirming that he would be that foolish again, and repeating he was merely a tool for killing. The Emperor was silent for a moment, but he would take that answer for now. He said he expect a lot from Three, and left.
Three was totally exhausted from the confrontation, because he actually had a plan to escape again. These past three years, Three had been yearning for freedom, for a chance to become an existence called "human". With his hands, tarnished with human blood, he had been living a life of a tool, which took form as a human. Should he continue this way of life, he wouldn't stop at being merely a tool, but a monster. And he was definitely scared of that future, which is why he has to succeed this time.
To ensure the success of the plan, he should avoid direct confrontation not only with the Emperor, but also with his partner. He realises that should the plan succeed, he would have to leave Nine alone. He struggles with that fact deep inside. There were numerous time he wanted to tell Nine about this plan, but the image of Ace pointing the sword at him would deny him from further action every single time. He didn't want to experience it again, and he decided to trust only himself.
That night, Three prepared the last step to execute his plan. His plan was waiting for Nine to sleep and go through the mountain path to reach Calvard. There he prepared an orbal car, which he would use to drive to reach a big city in the north, and from there board an airship to Liberl. But he didn't have any idea what to do afterward, should he stay in Liberl or go to Leman? As long as it faraway, it's all good.
Suddenly, a bird arrives at the window, carrying a summoning order from the Emperor. Three was confused since it had only been few hours since their last appointment. He felt anxious since he couldn't overlook this order. Should he successfully complete the mission, he could escape before the Organization managed to mobilize the assassin to come after him, but should he decline, they would definitely be aware of his betrayal.
He decided to accept and arrive to the meeting point. Waiting there were two shadows: the Emperor, and Nine herself. Seeing that same tattered robe, Three remarked he should be called the Hermitwith that appearance. Three asked the Emperor why he was summoned only to be demanded an explanation by the Emperor.
It turned out Nine had been reporting of Three's betrayal, presenting the evidence, including his airship ticket to Liberl, for which he used a fake name. More importantly, this fake name had been used by him a long time ago on a certain mission, so she suggested that he'd been planning this since then.
Nine revealed herself to be Ace's little sister and had been keeping an eye on him since she became his partner. If Three didn't plan to escape, she would forge a fake evidence and corner Three into a point of no return. The Emperor asked Nine if she would execute Three by herself or let the him do the job, letting her do the finishing touch. She chose to do it herself. Three was flabbergasted from the revelation and couldn't maintain his composure. His experience, however, made his move react automatically to deflect the needles thrown at him by Nine.
As she kept closing in on Three, he wouldn't move from that spot. Theoretically speaking, Three would never lose in close combat against Nine, but he wasn't himself at the moment. She wrapped her steel wires around his neck, moving her finger to make it tighter. Three thought that was it for him, remarking that the freedom he had been yearning for would be snatched away by Ace's little sister. Karma, he thought.
Under the Emperor's mask was a surprisingly beautiful boy. There was once an extremely tyrannical king in a small country and upsetted the people with his tyrannical reigning and misgovernment. When the king died, his son the prince was enthroned. The new king was a kind person and did whatever he could to not repeat his father's mistakes. But because he instilled no fear, the people refused to listen to him. No one was able to complain while the tyrant was still alive, their dissatisfaction gained a voice after the previous king and ultimately spawned a revolution. The revolutionary armies attacked the royal palace, interrogated the new king about his role in the misgovernment and re-established the country as a republic. The new king barely managed to escape alive, lost everything and fled his country.