Chapter 2 - Three & Nine
At its scheduled time, the ship departed. As he watched the shoreline shrink into the distance, Three of Swords spoke in a cold, flat voice.
'Target presence confirmed. Have we pinpointed enemy positioning? Is our route prepared?'
'Yep. We're good to go.'
The young girl known as Nine of Swords stood behind the boy, answering in a relaxed drawl--the polar opposite of her partner's icy tone. Having been dispatched by the Organization, the two laid the groundwork for their mission: the assassination of the man responsible for this voyage--the wealthy merchant, Halldor Baarn.
The Organization was not particular about how they dealt with their targets--whether in swift silence or via raucous violence, their only real concern was making sure they did not draw the attention of the Bracer Guild or the local police.
As a hard rule, Three and Nine would always select the most efficient method available to them. In this case, their mission was to prevent the ship from arriving in Calvard with Halldor still alive on it. Halldor had strong ties with Heiyue, a sizable criminal organization in the Republic. Should he safely make it to his destination and take refuge under their protection, his extraction and subsequent elimination would prove an exceptionally difficult task.
Aside from the engine area, the ship had three main floors. The lowest housed a considerable number of general passengers. Naturally, this was where Three and Nine's room was located. The second floor contained a hall used for parties, banquets, and meals, as well as other such events. Finally, the third floor featured luxury rooms prepared specifically for noble use. At present, however, the entirety of the floor was reserved by Halldor, who was enjoying the comforts of the room in the furthest back.
Three and Nine put their equipment and tools in order and then sprang into action. Their plan was to head to the hall on the second floor, but not before leaving a little 'gift' on the first. The hall would be packed with passengers once dinner service began. Given that only the ultra-wealthy and those with noble status were in attendance, the menu was likely to be suitably extravagant, yet once they arrived, they found that Halldor had not elected to appear, perhaps out of caution. This was expected, however, and the two took their planned positions in a central area of the room.
Three's quiet murmur was immediately followed by the din of an explosion from the floor below. The passengers began to panic, but their fear slowly subsided to uneasiness as security personnel deployed and headed to the first floor to investigate the situation. In truth, the explosion had been caused by a small makeshift bomb that Three and Nine had planted in an unoccupied room. The blast wasn't particularly powerful, but it was enough to ignite a number of small fires in the area. Their goal was to lure out security and in that regard, the bomb had more than served its purpose. The plan was progressing apace.
'Guess I'm up,' Nine said in her usual lackadaisical drawl.
She gathered up the edges of her skirt in her hands and gently swayed it back and forth, resulting in a number of black spheres thudding down to the floor. A series of muffled pops reverberated throughout the hall, heralding a cloud of smoke and tear gas that quickly filled the room.
'Wh-What's going on?! I can hardly breathe!'
'Aaah! My... My eyes are tearing up!'
The gas wasn't especially strong and would have no lasting effects on its victims. However, it was more than enough to send the already-uneasy group of elites into a full-blown panic. Three and Nine then began the next stage of their plan--their infiltration of the third floor.
Currently, the bulk of security was on the first floor, meaning they would have to pass all the way through the second in order to respond to any emergencies at the top of the ship. The large numbers of panicking passengers on the second floor wouldn't stall security for long, but the situation would still buy Three and Nine all the time they would need.
So far, the assassins' plan had gone flawlessly. Still, that didn't mean killing Halldor would be easy once they had reached him. The two hid themselves in a stairwell on the third floor and scouted ahead.
'Hmm... Two more there. From what I can see, it looks like we'll have five to deal with.' Nine shared her observations with Three in a hushed tone. He silently nodded in acknowledgement.
One look at the men standing guard ahead was enough to tell they were neither typical passengers, nor ship security. They were well-armed, and their combat experience was practically carved into their hardened faces.
It was clear they had been hired not to protect the general guests, but to personally attend to Halldor. Given that his room was located in the very back of the ship, it meant that the only way to reach him was through the battle-hardened veterans that currently barred Three and Nine's path. Avoiding a fight simply wasn't in the cards this time.
'I'll take lead.'
As she said this, Nine began to casually walk forward, her posture relaxed. She made no attempt to hide her approach, and even when the guards heard her soft footsteps and turned to look, they didn't register her as a threat--an advantage afforded by her candy-sweet exterior.
'Little lady, you're not allowed up here without permission,' one of the guards said in a gravelly voice.
'Yeah. We know there's been some kind of disturbance downstairs,' another chimed in, 'but this ain't an evacuation site. Get yourself back to your room.'
Their tone was a bit harsh, but considering they used to be jaegers, their attitude toward Nine was almost amicable. She gestured toward Halldor's room.
'But I want to go in there. Pretty please?'
Nine wasn't putting on the spoiled noble act she had used to sneak aboard the ship earlier in the day. This was probably as close to her genuine, sleepy intonation as she would allow during a mission.
'You wanna meet with Mr. Halldor, do ya? Well, today ain't your lucky day, kid, cause we got strict orders to not let anyone into this room.'
'And there's nothing I can do to change your mind?'
Nine tilted her head as she spoke, her presence beginning to unnerve the guards.
'No, nothing,' one of them finally responded.
'Oh, I see... That really is too bad.'
Despite her words, Nine didn't seem especially disappointed by their response. Taking her plush bear in hand, she suddenly thrust it out in front of her. There was a flash of silver and a loud 'fwip,' followed by the thud of two of the guards collapsing to the ground. Their necks had each been pierced by two needles, which had been tipped in poison--a specialty of Nine's and her mainstay in combat.
Ordinarily hidden within the bear, the needles could be used to quickly disperse various types of poison through a target's body when thrown at a vital point. Nine would typically carry up to ten types of poisons, each suitable for a different situation. Depending on the circumstances, she would even use poison-free needles on occasion. This time, Nine had struck the two bodyguards with a neurotoxin that robbed the body of its ability to freely move. While not strong enough to kill, it was definitely enough to immobilize someone of substantial size for a good while.
Having sensed something amiss, one of the remaining bodyguards down the hallway turned to see what was happening. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a figure quickly moving in his direction. Before he could figure out what was happening, however, a blade flashed before his eyes and he was on the ground, incapacitated along with his comrades.
The swift takedown was executed by Three. He wielded a longsword with a thin blade that appeared sharp enough to cut the very air around it. Its construction resembled that of traditional Eastern swords, albeit with a straight blade instead of the typical curved one. Its design was surprisingly ornate, and curiously enough, it seemed to be missing a hiltguard and part of the blade near its base.
The two remaining bodyguards had seen what had happened and had each already dropped into a fighting stance. No matter how youthful their opponents, it was clear they had no intention of pulling their punches.
'You little bastards!' yelled one of them as he began swinging his axe downward.
Three met the attack with his sword, locking the assassin and the bodyguard in place. Seeing an opening, the other bodyguard drew his sword and attempted to stab Three. While still holding the axe in place with his right hand, Three quickly drew a short sword with his left, using it to deflect the second bodyguard's attack in one clean motion.
The short sword resembled the longsword in nearly all aspects but length. Unlike the longsword, it had a hiltguard. However, it seemed incomplete somehow, as though it was missing a piece. It was much less of an offensive weapon than the longsword, being used mainly for defense.
Despite his best efforts to fend off the attackers, it seemed as though Three would quickly be overpowered. Even for him, it was difficult to hold back the weight of an attack from a grown man with only his right hand. Sensing that he needed to do something quickly, Three intentionally stopped pushing back on the axe, deflecting it harmlessly to the side. With his remaining strength, he whipped around to face his staggering assailant and plunged his short sword deep into his torso.
The other bodyguard quickly launched a flurry of attacks, but Three pushed the critically-wounded axe-wielder into his comrade. The sword-wielding bodyguard was momentarily taken off guard and Three capitalized on the opening, cutting him down with both swords.
'Right, that should be--'
Three turned to notify Nine that the guards had all been dispatched, but as he did, he saw the door to the VIP room open behind her. Out stepped another ex-jaeger, weapon drawn, his sights set on attacking the defenseless Nine while her guard was down.
Too much space separated them for Three to warn Nine in time. He pushed off his back heel with all his might, but stopped his dash a split second later--as did the final bodyguard.
'My, you're pretty sharp. I was wondering how long it'd take you to catch on.'
Nine turned lazily on her heel and cast a derisive glance over her shoulder. Her expression remained unfazed as thin, red stripes appeared over the jaeger's arms and legs, blood beginning to trickle out like sanguine tears.
'You'd do well to keep still. Wriggle too much, and you'll be leaving in far more pieces than you arrived.'
Her sweet appearance made her remarks all the more disconcerting and ghastly. The ex-jaeger understood that this was no empty threat. He truly couldn't afford to take another step. The cause of his painful predicament was a web of superfine steel wires surrounding him. Thanks to their special processing, the wires were roughly as sharp as a drawer full of top-end kitchen knives.
Nine had laid a trap outside the door--one that an unassuming person would have been hard-pressed to detect with the naked eye. Any unfortunate soul who had tried to pass through the area with any degree of speed would have soon found themself the centerpiece of a grisly, blood-splattered tableau.
The wires were connected to specially-designed needles Nine used as her main weapon. Such wire was notoriously difficult to use, and was rarely regarded as being sufficiently powerful to use as one's only means of attack. While there were rumors of true masters who needed no other implements to eliminate their target, Nine had yet to attain quite such a level of skill with them. That said, she was still a menace in her own right, and a fiendishly clever master of traps besides, as the ex-jaeger had just learned.
Nine tossed a poisoned needle at her immobilized foe with minimal effort and her hapless victim collapsed to the floor.
She tilted her head to the side as she noticed Three staring at her.
'What? Is something wrong, S?' she asked, using the nickname she preferred to call Three by. She would often refer to herself as 'N,' which Three took as a shortened version of 'Nine,' but when she spoke with Three, she would use 'S' instead of 'T'. He had assumed it to be short for 'Swords,' despite the word being part of both their names, but had never bothered to ask.
'Nothing. Nothing at all,' Three tersely responded as he turned to face the VIP room door.
At last, the pair stepped into the room housing their target, Halldor Baarn.
To be continued
遊撃士協会に目を付けられない程度に暴れるのも、どちらでも構わない。効率がいいほうを優先するのがルールだ。ただ、このまま船が進み、ハルドルがカルバード共和国に着くことだけは避けたい。彼と強い 繋がりを持つ共和国の犯罪組織《 黒月》に保護されてしまうと、手出しが難しくなる。
用いる毒針である。普段はぬいぐるみの中に隠しているそれを 投擲し、 経絡の特定の位置に命中させることで、毒が素早く全身を巡り効果を発揮する。状況に応じて数十種類の毒を使い分けるが、毒ではない場合もある。
早業を成し遂げたのはスリーだった。手にするのは一振りの長剣。刀身が細く、尖端の構造が東方伝来の “刀”を彷彿とさせるが、刀身に 反りがない。 鍔もまるで一部が欠けているような複雑な構造をしている。
そして今度こそ二人はいちばん奥の部屋、ターゲット――ハルドル・バールンがいる場所へ足を踏み入れる。TO BE CONTINUED
Continue Reading Three & Nine
|⇐ Chapter 1: The Butler & The Lady||Chapter 3: The Assassins & The Target ⇒|