Romaine squatted amongst the ruins, hugging her knees to her chest. Occasionally, she would crane her slender neck, her brown eyes scanning the area. Only when she found that there were no soldiers outside did she make her move. She stood up, brushing off the dust on her skirt.
She let out a long sigh before asking, “Big sister, this is the Holy Cathedral I was talking about, but Brendel doesn’t seem to be here.”
The aforementioned ‘big sister’ was actually a female spirit. Her upper body was that of a charming woman, with her most eye-catching feature being her pair of pointed ears. Her true nature as a spirit, however, was exposed by her lower half, which was an opaque swirl of dust and wind.
In the leather pages of the Book of Witchcraft, she was known as a Contract Spirit. The Queen of Witches had the power to form contracts with any Contract Spirits, but she took pity on White Mist, ‘the Queen of the North Wind’. White Mist was the keeper of knowledge at a glacier, so the Queen of Ice decided to leave her to Romaine, hoping that she would guide the young merchant.
White Mist was a beautiful girl; however, her eyes were like those of a dead fish, purposeless and dull. She glanced at Romaine, then answered lifelessly, “Fate is everywhere around you. Normal people can detect its direction, but they cannot perceive its shape or form.”
“I feel that Brendel should be there. Are the results of divination reliable, big sister?” Romaine could not contain her curiosity.
“Divination is the same as rhetoric. It’s real if you believe it is, and it’s not if you decide to think otherwise.”
Romaine cocked her head to one side, not revealing whether she understood the spirit’s reply. She picked a random direction and walked with a confident. Two steps later, she turned back promptly, picking up a mace from the ruins.
This was a sacred tool used by the priests to exorcise evil spirits. The hilt of the mace was engraved with delicately carved patterns. There was a Light Bomb implanted within the core of the mace. Normally, priests would be very cautious when wielding the weapon, but Romaine did not know about the bomb so she recklessly swung it about, testing its grip and weight. She nodded her head, satisfied with how it felt in her hands.
“You want to use this thing for protection? Wisdom and knowledge would serve you better.” White Mist shook her head with disapproval.
“Indeed I do. I used to have one when I was in Bucce, but Brendel lost it.” Romaine wondered who had picked up that mace after it was left behind. I’m always careful. If it’s not for Brendel, it wouldn’t have been lost!
Elsewhere, Brendel suddenly sneezed.
The two of them were walking through the ruins of Anderla Cathedral when pebbles rolled down from one of the collapsed walls. Out came a person wearing a noble’s clothes, a sword at his hip. His entire body was caked with a layer of dust.
Viscount Benninger narrowed his eyes, waiting for them to get used to the sunlight again. Back then, he left through a secret passage when the ground suddenly split open, spewing out hot magma everywhere. The people who were following him were swallowed up by the lava, but he managed to escape with his life due to the talisman passed down in his family. He relied on his memory of the secret passages to find a safe route out of the tunnels.
He shoved aside the stone slab in his way, spotting a familiar face not far from where he was. Benninger had near-photographic memory, he could recognize that face despite only seeing her once when she was with Magadal.
Romaine was mildly surprised. “Oh, do I know you?”
“It’s me, Viscount Benninger! Does Miss Romaine still remember? I’m with the princess, we’ve met before. Remember?” Benninger was laughing with glee in his heart, ecstatic that Romaine was so gullible. He did not know what was happening outside the Cathedral, but he guessed that the war had already started. The girl in front of him had a close relationship with Brendel, if he could get his hands on her, that would mean that the princess would have one less ally.
Romaine nodded grimly. “I see. It’s too bad that you recognized me. Guess I have no choice!”
“Huh?” Benninger was taken aback, confused at the sudden turn of events. “W-wait a second, I’m the princess’-”
Never could he have known that Romaine would do what she did. She had hidden the mace behind her back. When he came closer, she bashed the mace into his temple.
Benninger was already at the peak of Iron rank, so regular a blow dealt by a normal person would have done little to no damage, but the mace Romaine was using was a sacred tool. There was a flash of golden light when the mace collided with his skull.
Viscount Benninger let out a cry of pain before he fainted.
“And he calls himself a man?” Romaine scoffed. She had picked up Brendel’s habit of scorning his enemies. White Mist just looked on silently.
“Even so, he isn’t that weak either, seeing as your blow did not manage to kill him. He will wake up soon, so I advise that you tie him up first.” The Contract Spirit spoke, not out of kindness but out of duty. After all, it was her job to ensure the safety of her master, the one who had formed a contract with her, not to advise her on ethics.
Romaine agreed with White Mist, quickly taking out a coil of white silk string to restrain him. Still unsatisfied, Romaine took out another purple silk string to further reinforce the bindings. Both of these strings were given to her by the Queen of Ice. One of them could connect the world of the living and the afterlife, ‘Ormis’s String’, anyone who followed the string would be able to go to the realm of the dead. The other string was a relic of the Witch Queen, ‘Tyvo’s Hair’, Tyvo was the titan king of Vaunte. Legends claimed that he was unparalleled in strength, and even his hair was extremely tough. His hair also had the ability to amplify strength. It was a bit of a waste for Romaine to use them for tying someone up.
However, their durability was unquestionable. Just as White Mist said, being a peak Iron ranker, his strength was far above a normal person’s and he woke up merely minutes after being knocked out by Romaine. However, he had been restrained while he was out cold. He thought that he was bound by normal ropes and tried to break out of them, only to find out that they would not budge a single inch.
“What is the meaning of this, Miss Romaine?” Benninger could feel his temper rising. Red splotches were now blooming on his chalk-white forehead. A few beads of blood appeared, like cherry blossom petals on a field of snow.
“I’m holding you captive,” replied Romaine nonchalantly.
“But I’m with the Princess, Mrs. Romaine, I’m Brendel’s friend! The princess and Brendel have fallen into the trap set by the Holy Cathedral of Fire and the nobles of the north. They’re in trouble right now, we have to help them!” Benninger yelled frantically, his face conveying true urgency.
Romaine quirked her eyebrow and asked, “Oh, you know about Brendel. Who are you again?”
“I’m Benninger! Does Mrs. Romaine not remember me?” He let out a sigh. He was getting angrier by the second, but he held it in as he was at a disadvantage.
“Oh~ I remember now! You’re that Viscount Benninger!” Romaine’s eyes brightened in recognition, at the same time raising her mace and slamming it into him again.
The Light Bomb had been used up already, so Benninger did not faint this time, but the pain still managed to wring a few tears out of him. What is wrong with her? What was it that I said this time?! Through the ringing in his ears, the voices he heard were only echoes.
“This guy has been trying to trick you all this time. But how did you find out?”
“Oh, I didn’t. I hate Benninger because he’s more handsome than Brendel. Anyone who looks this good is definitely evil.” Romaine replied earnestly.
Wha…? Benninger was riled up by her words, miffed that he was beaten up just because of her twisted logic. His words were completely negated by his opponent’s lack of common sense.
White Mist was speechless too, but her wisdom allowed her to think deeper than Benninger. “Your instincts are rather sharp. Perhaps this was why she chose you as her successor. The Queen of Witches needs to look past the fog at the Strings of Fate. The eyes of the soul will forever be superior to the physical eyes.”
“So how should we deal with him?” Romaine said cheerfully.
“He must have a reason for trying to trick you. You should ask him about his true motives. The lips can lie, but the soul can never hide its true intent.” White Mist replied.
Benninger’s flushed face went pale. He heard the conversation loud and clear. While the little merchant girl was naive, the one beside her was full of wisdom.
For a self-proclaimed intellectual like him, he liked to solve problems with his brains. He was not like those barbaric militants, but when he fell into a difficult situation, his body began to shiver and he started to panic.
“Why did you lie to me?” Romaine knelt beside him, cocking her head to one side.
“I-I’m not lying, Miss Romaine. I’m speaking the truth.” Benninger clenched his teeth. He knew that it was impossible to resist, but he held on to that one tiny speck of hope.
“The truth, please.”
“I am speaking the…” Benninger tried to stop his mouth, but he could no longer control it, spewing out his plans.
The Truth Curse. The revelation that Romaine was a witch left Benninger’s jaw on the ground. He would have fled immediately if he knew that she was a witch.
Unfortunately for him, it was already too late for regrets.
“So you were a bad guy!” Romaine knocked his head with the mace once more after hearing his plan to use her as a hostage against Brendel. Benninger was reduced to a tear-stained mess after being smashed repeatedly in the face. “That thing that you said about Brendel being a count, what was that about?”
Benninger had already been tortured until he looked inhuman, but the curse was still active, so his mouth continued to blabber on. “Miss Romaine… *sniff*... Marquis Yoakam told me that Mr. Brendel might be the true Count Yanbao. He is mostly known for being a Highland Knight or as the bandit from Trentheim. Yet our sources find that these two cases are rather unlikely. The first time we saw Brendel was at Fortress Riedon, and he wasn’t a Highland Knight then; rather, his actions were clearly those of a noble. This demeanor cannot be faked, he didn’t exist amongst the noble circles…”
“So we concluded that he was one of the king’s unknown descendants, or maybe he changed his name. With the way things are right now, it seems that Marquis Yoakam’s guess might be right…”
“So that’s how it is. Big sister, what do you think?”
“This man wants to harm that man, while you want to protect him. Evil plots are like chains, and he would definitely harm him if he even gets another chance. So why don’t you ask about his greatest fears?” White Mist expressionlessly looked at the sniveling heap that was Benninger.
Romaine’s face blossomed into a sweet smile. In contrast, Benninger’s expression immediately changed into one of pure, unadulterated terror.
“Oh? Won’t you satisfy little Romaine’s curiosity, pretty please~?”