Three & Nine (3と9) is a book series that can be collected in Trails of Cold Steel IV.
|1||The Butler & The Lady||August 7||Sigyn (Fortuneteller's House, Eryn)|
|2||Three & Nine||August 7||Lakelord II (Inn, Parm)|
|3||The Assassins & The Target||August 10||Majorie (Casino Alisha, Raquel)|
|4||Three of Swords||August 15||Flotte (Vingt-Sept Café, Crossbell City)|
|5||The Overseer & The Report||August 21||Basani (Harbour District, Ordis)|
|6||Nine of Swords||August 24||Nash (Entrance, Titus Gate)|
|7||Tears & Promises||August 26||Tilia (Alster)|
|8||Gravity & Artifacts||August 27||Lucy Seiland (Marquis Hyarms's Mansion, Saint-Arkh)|
|9||Anger & Analysis||August 29||Sammie (West Street, Crossbell City)|
|10||S & N||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.
Nine’s mother passed away soon after her birth, so she grew up with her father and brother. Her father became an abusive man wasted on alcohol. Her brother Ace was always the one who protected and took care of her. One day they ran out of money and her father sold her brother off to the “organization”. At that point she stopped thinking of him as her father. Three years later, she got a letter from her brother telling her he had been forced to become an assassin and it was clear he was enduring a harsh life with much pain and anguish. They exchanged letters for a while and those letters often mentioned a partner with warm words like pals, buddies, a boy around the same age as him. Before long, her house ran out of money again. This time her brother’s letter told her he was planning to escape together with his partner. He promised to surely return, and to take her out of that house. But the last two lines were like a bad omen: Even if the escape fails, I’ll surely let my buddy live on. If anything happens, rely on him. This letter was the last. She was sold off after all. Her father received some dangerous drug and she thought this time he would perish, but she didn’t care anymore.
Nine learned of her brother’s death by the hands of Three while in the organization’s training facility. She became heartbroken and as if to escape from reality she threw her all into training as if she had no heart and were just a doll. At night, she couldn’t shake off the fact that she’s all alone now, and her hands were all dyed in blood. She would lie in bed shaking in fear until morning. She only managed an hour of nightmare-plagued sleep each night, two on better days. After only one year, she graduated. Then she met him—her brother’s partner.
Once a betrayer, Three had just finished retraining and Three and Nine were paired up. At first, Nine hated him for being the murderer and observed him vehemently. After a few days of intense observation, either because her exhausted mind reached its limit or her instinct decided it was ‘okay’, after finishing that day’s mission she fell fast asleep beside him. It was her first deep sleep after a year. She felt safe like being with her brother. When she woke up, she realized many things and unintentionally started crying. With each sob it was like the chains binding her heart released themselves and she regained her human heart. Three tried earnestly to comfort her but that only made her cry even harder. She discovered he’s just like how her brother’s letters described. Blunt, a bit awkward, but he’s actually kind and truly cares about his partner. Even though he’s bound by the “organization” and forced to kill, he still never gave up on being human and is strong. But he shoulders a deep sadness which can only be because he is living on by betraying her brother. She could easily guess the truth from his letter. This person would surely insist to die himself rather than kill his partner. Her brother must have pretended to betray him and tricked him into it, in order for him to live. She thought her brother was so cruel for inflicting such a great wound to the one he trusted the most.
From then, Nine felt safest by his side and as if making up for all the lost sleep in the past year, she took every opportunity she could to take a nap beside Three. He would sigh but watch over her. Whenever Three slept, she noticed he was still tormented in his dreams. She wanted to tell him the truth, but it wasn’t the time yet! He’s bad at acting so he’d easily be found suspicious. She knew he has been planning to escape. She was sad that he didn’t tell her. But the problem is he is already a suspect to them. She would never report anything unfavorable towards him, but it can’t be helped if they saw through his bad acting. His demise would be in a matter of time.
After the assassination of Haldor Baarn, Nine faced her superior, the Emperor. The executioner of evil who monitored them and forced them to kill was a robed man with a wicked aura. This time he had eyes like a hawk excited to devour his prey. She knew he was certain of Three’s betrayal and was about to kill him off! Now was the time to execute her plan. She knew the Emperor wanted her to take revenge for his brother on him and have him fall into despair for the second time—so he could revel in the entertainment. As tools to the “organization”, they were his toys. She’d give him just what he wanted.
After her report, Nine presented evidence of Three’s betrayal, then suggested a place for them to lure him out to kill. The Emperor agreed and in the hills Three came to meet them there as planned. His betrayal exposed, Three was visibly crushed. When she revealed her relationship with Ace, his face became overwhelmed with shock and despair. Seeing his expression, she too became saddened. Even so she continued to glare at him with hatred and scorn, hurting him with her words filled with killing intent. Any hesitation would make it impossible to fool the Emperor who stood right beside her. She stepped forward to attack, tightening the wires around his neck. But her real intention was to move away from the Emperor. There was no strength in Three’s resistance, the battle was decided. With a slight move of her finger, she could take his life. She raised her voice.
“This is, the end!”
The invisible threads she pulled followed her command and created a complex geometric pattern from the trees in the twinkling of an eye. They circled and enclosed her target, the Emperor who was waiting for the moment his toy would be slaughtered.
The impeccable timing caught the Emperor by surprise. The invisible threads weren’t as strong as the steel wires but Nine had some other wires prepared. She pulled on them and the rocks above rumbled and a boulder larger than 10 arges came crashing down right towards the Emperor below. The impact of the rockfall was as if it were an earthquake. The Emperor would not have survived, or he would be buried alive under the rubble.
Three just stood there fazed. So, Nine called out to him, “Su-chan~~”, and jumped into his chest. He was where she felt safest so she pressed her head to him and wouldn’t let go. It was the first time she did that, but she was really scared. She apologized for saying such cruel things, and for deceiving him. He didn’t fully understand everything yet, but he patted her on the head. Before he could finish asking what was going on, the rumbling sound of rocks started again and small rocks from the giant pile started floating into the air. Their eyes widened. Three recognized it. “That is the Executor’s—the Emperor’s ability!” As more rocks started floating upwards, Three took Nine’s hand and started running. After a considerable distance, they heard a gigantic explosion and turned around. Like a volcano erupting, large boulders were blown into the air.
In a cave a bit away from the mountains of Lucent, Three and Nine were taking cover while hiding from the Emperor. Nine told Three everything about herself, Ace, her plan, and the truth from three years ago. Three asked questions at first, but soon listened silently while looking downcast. The friend he thought had betrayed him actually hadn’t betrayed him at all, and even gave his life to save him. The sister of his friend who was supposed to take revenge on him, also risked her life to protect him. His mind was full of confusion because until now he hadn’t been able to trust anyone. There was relief and joy mixed with shame but above all, he was angry at himself for being so stupid. The mingling of warm and dark thoughts made it hard for him to breathe.
“Su-chan, are you crying?” Nine asked. “I’m not.” Three bluntly denied but she continued and asked if he wanted her (Na-chan) to comfort him. When he denied again she said “Su-chan is bad at acting but even worse at lying outside of an act.” Nine crept up close to Three who was still sitting with his head down. She gently embraced his head and softly pressed it to her heart. Like a mother comforting a child, she tenderly stroked his hair. “It’s okay~ it’s all okay now~” At first Three tried to object but he couldn’t reject Nine’s gentle touch. She was younger than him both in reality and in appearance but flowing with warm compassion. Three had grown up without knowing what motherly warmth felt like so this was perhaps his first time experiencing it. “Su-chan tried really hard. Na-chan knows that well so everything is okay~ it’s alright now~” Suddenly Three couldn’t stop but break out into sobs. “I’m really… pathetic…” His voice broke, and hot tears streamed from his eyes. “Why is a guy like me still alive, when Ace had to die??” Nine kept gently stroking his hair and answered “That’s not so. Na-chan was saved because Su-chan is here so don’t say things like that.” “But it’s my fault Ace…” “So, please, keep living on in place of my brother too, okay?” After that Three couldn’t make a proper reply because he started crying very hard. Many years of pent up emotions were all released at once, and the flowing tears cleansed all that was bottled up in his heart.
After a while, Three seemed to have calmed down a bit. “It’s okay, Na-chan is right here so don’t cry~ but you can cry all you want to~” “…Make up your mind.” After regaining some of his composure, Three realized his face was still buried in Nine’s chest and hurriedly backed away. He hid his embarrassment by suggesting they reorganize their (situational) information. To stop the Emperor from killing Three himself, Nine had stepped up to trick him to let her do it and attack the Emperor by surprise first. Three slipped that she could have told him but got pointed out again that he’s bad at acting. He couldn’t argue because it was painfully obvious that both had caught up on his escape plan. Nine’s timing and execution of her plan were perfect, and she had waited for the moment the Emperor was least off-guarded. Yet he still wasn’t defeated. Three said his ability is likely gravity manipulation because he and Ace had been pursued by him before three years ago. No matter what they tried, when facing the Emperor, their bodies became heavy and moving became difficult. On the other hand, the Emperor moved even more lightly and swiftly. Three and Ace were quickly overpowered. Three observed that there was no indication of artes nor could a portable anti-gravity device be that powerful, so either it was his special personal ability or an artifact. He likely survived because he erased the weight of the falling rocks. That was all the information they had.
Nine concluded that if they fought the Emperor head on, they would surely lose and die. Three began to say “If it comes to that, this time you should kill me—“ but Nine loudly objected “No way!!!—“ She rarely cried out like that. “If Su-chan dies, Na-chan will follow you and die too! I’ll take my own life!!” Her voice gradually became smaller. “I can’t take those sleepless nights anymore, and I don’t want to be all alone ever again…” Three sensed the heaviness in her feelings and her resolve. She was serious. He sighed and took a deep breath. “I understand. I promise. Whatever happens I will protect Nine.” “That’s not enough!” “Ah, I get it. Then I’ll promise this too. Whatever happens, I’ll definitely survive and live on with you.” Nine looked up at him with teary eyes. “Really?” “Really. So to do that, what we should do now is… set up a plan to defeat the Emperor!” With chances that the Emperor would be weakened from the surprise attack and before he gave their location away to the organization, now was their best chance.
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.