“Oi oi, what is this? You dirtied my clothes!” A snarky voice cut through the now silent restaurant.
“Hey, it’s early in the morning, why are you—” One of the regulars was about to step up to confront the commotion at the entrance, when she was met with a fierce gaze.
“Huuuhh?! You say somethin'?”
When her eyes met with the owner of that voice, the woman shut her mouth and sat back down with a pale white face. Looking closely, the other people who were having their breakfast here held similar expressions on their faces; pensive looks unwilling to get caught up on the bad side of this blow-in. It wasn't hard to notice the way his shoulders poised themselves up in a gradual, saunting manner, clear cues that seemed to tell everyone in the vicinity, just who they were dealing with.
That air of superiority, almost as if it was second nature to Vincent, was stifling the air by his own. In its own way, it was impressive that the man who wasn't much older than me, was exerting such pressure.
But while it really seemed that it was eating out the subservience of the people around me, why was I unaffected by it? It almost feels like, this entire charade was conducted by a simple amateur, child's play.
I shook my head hazily. No, what's wrong with me. I, for one, didn't think that I would be able to confront Vincent as I was now without causing a whole plethora of troubles in the foreseeable future.
“Yeah, that's right, you stay out of this, old hag.” Noting in satisfaction at the silence befalling the venue, the man snorts condescendingly with his pretty face while removing his outer coat in an exaggerated fashion, stained by what seemed to be a blotch of coffee.
"Damn, and these clothes were brand new too. Co~mpensation, that's about as straight forward as they can get, right?"
Vincent's eyes crawled towards the coffee-soaked girl lying on the floor, and snickered bemusedly.
"Of course... the terms, we'll first have to see if it pleases me or not~ Riight?"
In these few seconds of disturbing silence, not a single person dared to respond to those words.
It was an unnatural scene; everyone was avoiding the man’s haughty gaze as if he was the one who owned the place. They knew that this was something wrong, but they didn't even move to protect Ruru from this man.
No, they tried to. But from that earlier stunt, a few words were already enough to cement his authority here.
Blonde curls that fell from his forehead and sharp, eagle-like eyes. Forming that strikingly proud appearance that once left a lasting impression on me— Without a doubt, he’s the guy I’d always heard about from the bad parts in the city.
—As one of the royal family’s exclusive merchant circles stationed in Halvan, the Ambercott’s had many connections that allowed Vincent to get away with many of his misdeeds. As Halvan was a fortress city situated far away from natural resources, it had to rely heavily on imports. Without the Ambercott’s monopoly of the trade routes and supplies that kept the economy afloat, business and the extravagant lifestyles the rich had around these parts would deteriorate.
It was clear how much Vincent’s parents doted on him, seeing the glittering gold armor he once wore to the church for his Class Selection. I had been skeptical from hearsay before, but seeing him in person, albeit from a coincidence that one time, it was easy to figure out what kind of character he had. That arrogant poise backed up by the confidence that he would get away with anything he did was not exaggerated by the rumors in the slightest.
Vincent was a bona fide spoiled young master, a proper 'bishounen' who had adopted the good genetics of his elite parents.
I took a glance at Heinesia who seemed to have accompanied the guy. Although I didn’t know what she was doing with a person like that, I obviously didn’t attempt to call her out at this time.
She seemed to have not noticed me yet, so I followed her gaze.
There was Ruru still, doused in hot coffee, grovelling down on the ground while shaking, completely terrified at the turn of events. Watching that defenseless state of hers, my body twitched strongly, almost as if to stand forward and bring that poor girl into my embrace again.
'It must've been a bad experience.' I would coo into her ears as usual.
Everything will be fine, come, let's go next. I have many more people I want you to know—
My hesitant thoughts were pulled back by Vincent, who began to speak again.
As he circled around the broken porcelain shards strewn all over the floor, he resembled a hyena, eyeing a crippled antelope as a toy to break before its meal. Vincent grinned in amusement with those narrow, icy eyes filled with cynicism. He rubbed his chiseled jaw, and looked over Ruru with a sadistic grin.
“Damnnn~ Damn, damn damn damn." I could've sworn Vincent's eyes turned my way as he said that.
"Now isn't this an interesting turn of events? A slave?” Vincent’s eyes glinted with interest. When the corners of his mouth began to rise up, I finally broke out of my miserable stupor.
Her collar. Amidst the tussle somewhere, Ruru's collar was exposed!
I have to act, Ambercott or whatever, my rational mind that had been weighing the risks of getting involved now, was thrown out of my mind without a second thought.
After all, I promised!
I promised her!
“—Nii-chan.” When I felt a tug behind me, my body visibly tensed up. The strength that I had prepared from before was extinguished briefly from that small jerk.
“Nii-chan, what are you trying to do?”
It was Evie. She looked concerned. A little frown had made its way to her face. It was clear that she was unhappy about the fact that I hadn't explained anything to her about Ruru being a slave.
But screw explanations. I had to move now, and talk later! Evie, she would understand me, right?
I digested her words with doubt. I could that she was simply concerned as a friend, but it almost felt like she had laced them with a double meaning.
“...Don’t go. Nii-chan.” Evie pleaded again, her expression turning increasingly unreadable.
“Didn’t you tell me before, that you hated unnecessary attention? That you wanted to live a peaceful life in this world? That guy… he’s an Ambercott, right? If you get involved with someone like him… he’s surely not going to let you off easily.” She whispers pensively behind me.
Eric appears from behind the kitchen, and looks at me with a cautious glare, “Listen kid, I don’t care what you do. But since my daughter seems to hold you as someone important, I’ll just give you a tip off."
Pointing at the back of the tables, at one guy who was holding on to a wooden cane, looking fearfully towards Vincent's direction, I had a guess of what he wanted to say.
"That guy, Brian. He's a regular who once tried to gloss over bumping shoulders with that Ambercott guy rudely. The next morning someone found that poor chap in an alleyway, all messed up. They say one of his legs can no longer be healed, so he's now walking with that cane."
Eric breathed in deeply, and continued.
"Do you know what this means? Healing magic is supposedly the 'miracle cure' that's far better than common medicine and heals even lost body parts. But if that doesn't even work, you'd have to think, just what kind of hell one had to experience, for healing magic to no longer work properly anymore."
"Listen, bucko. Fights are common amongst the drunkards around this part of the city, but that guy? That guy isn't normal. He's a fucking dictator. If you mess with him, for what, your girl over there? Admirable, but I hope you're ready for the consequences of crossing that monster."
Having said his piece, Eric fell silent again, and observed my face with a troubled look.
...Yeah. I already heard those things from the rumors.
About how he ruins lives over the most pointless of things. Going around the city as if he ran it. He surely did, because he was able to get away with many things that were considered questionable.
...I knew all that.
A peaceful life, sure, I’ve said that before. I wanted nothing more than to settle down and live an honest life, spiced with some moments of action expected of an adventurer. Was that too much to ask? To want a normal experience deserving of a life in another world filled with magic and fantasy? Why do I have to keep getting involved in these kinds of shitty situation?
Had I not planned well? Had I not thought of everything that could go wrong?
…No, all of that is not important. ...The important thing to me now is, … what do I want to do.
Right now, Ruru is in trouble, and I, as her only companion, her master, there was only an option I needed to take.
The promise that I made with Ruru, seemingly resonated within my subconscious, driving the engine behind my movement.
Ruru's my important person, I can't let anyone mess with her.
If there was any real opportunity to show that I truly meant my words, then that time was now.
Sensing that I was about to move, Evie held on to the hem of my robe even more tightly. Biting her lips tightly, Evie squeezed out a tiny voice:
“Ruru-chan… she… she’s a slave right?”
I did a double take on Evie's words, almost as if I'd never expected her to start with that.
“You didn't... mention anything about this.... so... I feel bad for Ruru-chan, but… please, if you go now, I have a bad feeling that... that—”
“—That I would get into trouble?” Evie was having trouble finishing her words, so I did it in her stead.
A piece within me, felt like it was revealing cracks. Like rough, jagged lines on an expensive flower pot, it was beginning to show the imperfections, the fragility of my once normal life.
I felt that if I embraced this momentum any further, that 'normal life' would slip further away from my grasp, and transform into something completely foreign.
“Let go. I won’t say it again.”
I turned back and gazed down at Evie. The girl stared at me with a tinge of fear in her eyes, and her grip eventually loosened. For her to appear this startled, I wonder… what kind of expression I was making right now.
Abandon Ruru? Evie-san, I expected more from a girl like you.
No, perhaps that was selfish of me to think like that. Evie could only do so much after all, even Eric didn’t seem to be making any moves in his own establishment. He looks at me with a meaningful stare, and simply shakes his head in disapproval.
“Oi, lad. If you’re planning to go, you better go now.”
I look over at the situation again when I heard that.
—Vincent stares at Ruru’s thighs and then up to her chest, and his grin only grows deeper.
“Not bad~ For a lass your age, much less, a filthy slave, you look ripe enough for my tastes~"
“No...o…” Ruru's eyes swam and found me, she looked at me with pleading eyes. Telling me to stop this.
When Ruru tries to get up and leave, Vincent grabs hold of her wrist!
“Where are you running to, you little slave~? You haven’t apologized yet right?”
Ruru’s body trembled and turned stiff, her eyes staring at Vincent in fear.
“*Whistle*~ Why so nervous, you're going to stain your beautiful face~"
I grit my teeth as I saw Vincent laying his lecherous eyes on Ruru’s dampened chest. It was clear that he was being nice just to keep up with appearances.
"N-Noo!" So when Ruru attempted to resist even more, it earned a streak of irritation that stretched onto Vincent's calm demeanor.
"Ah, you just had to do it, didn't you." Tussling his hair with a mutter under his breath, he drew even closer... His eyes, bleeding with rage.
"I'm telling you, to stop. BEING, SO DIFFICULT."
The blondie yanked Ruru’s hair forcefully even more closer towards his contemptuous face.
“Nooo!! Master, Masterrr!!!” Ruru cries out painfully.
—At that moment, it felt as if something hot rushed up to my head.
I hate it, I hate this feeling.
I want to release this emotion.
This... cathartic violence I could feel, festering darkly within me.
A loud throb pounded in my head.
All of the noise in my surroundings was blocked off for that brief moment.
And then my body moved, as if it were not my own.
With eyes that seemed as if they would burn and melt down completely, the world seemed to slow down and turn slightly discolored.
I dashed forward just as Vincent turned his head from the approaching footsteps, past the spectators who had widened their eyes, past Sharon who was hiding behind the counter, and past Heinesia, who was clearly the one who’s the most surprised out of all of them—
I held that resolve in my head to break Ruru out of that situation, and activated the skill in my head.
Without any kind of pretentious battlecry, I simply swung with all that I had.
Like a barbarian that relied not on reason, but instinct alone.
—I jabbed forward once, and connected the strike with Vincent’s defenseless chest.
“Pu-oahhh!!” Vincent made a strange-sounding yelp, but I instinctively felt that it wasn't enough. Strangely, this set of actions seemed to feel so familiar to me, even though this was the first time I had used this skill in actual combat.
But I didn't question that instinct in my mind, and I assumed the most adept position to continue my assault; While I was still in the rushing motion, I activated a second skill. My body lowered on its own, coiling up the force within my body.
「Momentum」—! The skill shines in a dim orange on my unused left fist, and I repeated a second「Pulse Strike」! The energy expels from my body and springs into my fist, landing right onto Vincent's chest a second time.
The two powerful punches repulsed Vincent before he could react properly, blown away with his eyes rolled backwards.
When his back struck against a wall near the entrance, he knelt down staring at me with eyes filled with grievance, trembling for a full second until eventually he collapsed onto the ground motionless.
When my body cooled from the adrenaline, I noticed that the diner had fallen even more silent.
I look down at the unmoving Vincent, and then to Ruru who was looking at me wistfully, and then back to my hands again.
The use of skills to inflict harm unto others is prohibited.
As a Stray, there are many laws you have to abide by.
As minutes of information flooded through my head, the realization of what I had just done grew on me.