Chapter 23
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Jake was lying on his microfiber bedding and premium mattress on the antique four-poster bed, looking up at the ceiling.

He ignored the luxurious leather sofa, microphone, and amplifier in the room as his thoughts continued to swirl in his head.

Ten Awakeners, ten interrogations, ten similar stories.

While he didn’t get everything he wanted from the Awakeners who were sent to capture him, but were instead beaten down and interrogated themselves, he had acquired something much more important: corroboration.

It started with the third or fourth Awakener, probing questions that concerned the deaths of Seamus and his team of Awakeners, and by the last one, he knew exactly what to ask, so much so that he had the last Awakener eating out of his hands by the very first question.

Free slice of pizza didn’t hurt, either.

And now, as he lay on the bed, he was finalizing his thoughts and making sure he didn’t leave out even the smallest of details before arriving at the conclusion.

The stars had just begun to come out of the sky by the time the last of the Awakeners left his tent, going to his comrades and joining them as they limped towards the tents where the healers were.

Jake was a witness to that exchange, seeing the capture team finally drag themselves to the healers before he decided to take a moment to lie down and think.

Let’s make this digestible. First, the means. The murderer had the ability to kill six well-equipped and decently-leveled Awakeners, with an bladed weapon, and via stab wounds.

The possibility exists that a powerful weapon was used.

However… Seamus and his party were already injured by monsters in a hunt shortly before the murder, and the guy I talked to said they died nearly all at once, within a few minutes. Opportunity? Yeah, this all sounds like the killer took them out while they were nursing their wounds.

Dick move, if you ask me.

Was this either the power of the weapon, or… were there accomplices? No, the capture team also told me that all the wounds had similar patterns and were also made, more or less, by the same weapon, so yes, it has to be a single assailant.

No magic, too. I’m sure of this, back then, when I saw them dead the first time.

Someone who can kill six people with a bladed weapon under a minute… that much power, only Liam comes to mind.

There’s a problem, though. Motive – we’re all back to square one here, and all Liam does is hunt and train, with a lot of other Awakeners seeing him.

He has an alibi, then,  Jake thought as he crossed Liam’s name off his metaphorical list.

There are two others left.

Kyle has the Chakra Drill sword skill he uses versus stronger monsters. And then we have Emmanuel, who got more popular since Seamus’ party got murdered. His Focused Strike is good... but not enough to kill six people.

Murderers don’t kill people because they can.

They do it because they know they can get away with it.

Which means one of these two Awakeners have a trump card up their sleeve.

Decisions, decisions…

He swung himself off the bed and began putting on his outfit: nothing fancy, but the armor had to be included, sans the helmet, because the people he would be paying a visit to needed to see his face.

Well, if simply asking them won’t help, there is a straightforward and reliable way of getting them to show their true nature.

It helps that it’s also very nice for letting off some tension, Jake concluded with an evil smirk as he sheathed the Swiftstone Sword before leaving his tent, locking the door as he went.

***

“I know what you did.”

“I hear their voices, you know. They want justice.”

“And they won’t stop until I get it for them.”

“Nothing against you, but I must cut you down.”

There were whispers echoing in the darkness in the tent of Kyle.

He was in the midst of a dreamless sleep when the whispers lazily fluttered towards his ears, lulling him into the place between sleep and wakefulness…

“I haven’t done anything,” he slurred in his half-sleep, and only reflexes gained from hunting monsters prevented him from being half the man he used to be when he rolled out of bed, the sword cutting through the space where he had been.

He was awake in an instant, and looking at a pair of cold eyes.

“You know what you’ve done. Time to pay,” the man said, and Kyle immediately recognized the voice as that of the town’s pet psychopath Jake.

With that armor set and that sword of his, he looked less like a joke and more a god of death waiting to claim its latest sacrifice.

He had no time to put his armor on or grab his weapon, and could only crawl backwards, his pursuer taking slow and measured steps towards him.

“Wh-wh-wh-why are you doing this?” Kyle asked in a panic.

“They say it’s the easiest way to get justice,” Jake whispered back, swinging his sword at the Awakener again, causing him to back up even faster.

As Kyle cowered in the corner, he was babbling now; he knew that if Jake attacked again right then, it would be impossible to dodge that sword.

He wanted to live.

He didn’t want to die without a clue as to why.

He wasn’t given the dignity of a response, as Jake took up a stance and swung downward to cut him open from shoulder to hip.

He whimpered, closed his eyes, and prayed for the end to be swift and painless.

The sword sang as it fell.

A dull thud echoed in the tent as Kyle’s eyes opened, only to see the sword swing hit the dirt close by, missing him completely, and Jake was nowhere to be found.

It was only him and his tent.

Except a lantern bloomed to life, filling Kyle’s tent up with yellow light, causing him to gasp when he opened his eyes to see Jake holding the lantern and putting it back into its place.

“Well, that was a clusterfuck,” Jake said with a bit of frustration, before his mood went through a complete turnaround as he returned that huge sword of his back to its sheath on his back. Gone was the stone-cold killer with blazing eyes, replaced with the usual joking fool that Brino had come to know – and fear. “Seems I went to the wrong tent. My apologies.”

Kyle wanted to say something but in his fear his mouth could only make vague sounds.

“You okay or something? No? Well, I did kind of give you the fright of your life. Sorry about that,” Jake continued, sheepishly scratching the back of his head with one hand while scouring his inventory with another. “Darn, I only have full boxes. Oh well, whatever, guess you deserve it for that scare. Here you go.”

He pulled out a smaller box from his inventory and put it on Kyle’s bed.

“Better grab it while it’s hot. Still have some important things to do, names to clear, criminals to catch, so as soon as I take care of that, I’ll formally apologize to you. You cool with that?”

Kyle could only nod dumbly.

“Great! Enjoy that, then,” Jake said pleasantly as he stepped out of the tent and closed the flap before going on his way, the deduction clear in his mind.

Kyle wasn’t the killer.

If he was, he would have tried to fight me back. He was full of fear since the moment I pounced on him, not even thinking about picking up his sword or using his skill at me. He didn’t seem strong enough to take down six people at once anyway.

 After a momentary stop for thinking, Jake headed towards the Emmanuel’s tent.

***

Just like at the Kyle’s tent, Jake decided to bait Emmanuel out, soundlessly pulling the flap back, stepping inside, and readying his sword.

Down went the swing, Jake slowing its descent deliberately to see if his target would dodge.

Just as predicted, Emmanuel dodged his swing as he jumped out of his bed, so Jake swung it once more with a little more speed.

Alright then, let’s see if you can dodge this one, too.

But things didn’t work out as Jake expected.

Emmanuel dodged his second swing as well.

“What the hell are you doing? Are you serious?” Emmanuel shouted with his eyes widened.

There Jake made another swing, with a little more speed than the last one, and with a malicious roar to make the scene appear more serious to Emmanuel.

“Die you murderer!”

This time, Emmanuel couldn’t dodge and tripped himself over and fell onto the ground.

“What is wrong with you! STOP IT! Why are you doing this to me!” Emmanuel shouted in desperation as he was crawling back on the floor.

“Why? Are you seriously asking me why? Because you are the damn murderer! Die already!”

Just like how he did with Kyle, Jake acted out as if he was actually trying to kill Emmanuel.

But that was the moment when Emmanuel’s reaction differed from that of Kyle, and it was completely beyond Jake’s expectation.

“What the… where did he go?” Jake murmured as he got caught off guard.

Emmanuel vanished in an instant.

Jake looked around to find Emmanuel, still sensing his presence in the shadows, but he was no longer could be seen.

It was just then that a flash of silver out of the corner of his eye and the pulse of danger alerted him, and Jake stepped back and dodged the invisible slash.

Another flash of silver arced through the air, aiming for his neck like the previous one, and he couldn’t dodge the incoming threat completely in time.

Damn it! Jake cursed as a sliver of black blossomed on his neck, a fine dark mist spraying out from the cut on his neck that wasn’t there a moment before.

Just a scratch. But breaching my stats and armor? My physical defense?

His indignation gave way to conviction as he knew now that this was the guy behind the murders of Seamus and his team. With the ability to become invisible and hide, it would be child’s play to just sneak up on six injured Awakeners and stab them to death, one by one.

But that wasn’t just the proof.

The proof was also in Emmanuel’s reaction.

Emmanuel was determined to kill Jake instead of explaining the situation, as if there is nothing to misunderstand.

His maneuver was just like an assassin; no hesitation whatsoever, and he was clearly going for the throat.

Such reaction can only be expected from those with killing experiences in the past.

He is the murderer. I can be sure of that now. Never expected him that he could hide in the shadows though.

More flashes of silver from out of the corners of Jake’s eye, and his thoughts quickly dissolved back into focus and reflex as the world kicked back into high gear.

The dagger moved.

But it was intercepted by Jake.

“Wrong guy to fuck with, asshole,” he said as he stepped back.

The sword flashes silver in the moonlight, right before he strikes, Jake thought, sword at the ready. His cloaking skill is good… very good.

But there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

He closed his eyes and flowed into a stance with his sword, visualizing falling cherry blossoms as he did.

For someone who could attack you from anywhere unseen except at the last moment, there was only one way to flush him out.

Cherry Blossom Sword Art is a skill that bursts out a large amount of sword strikes in a short amount of time around the user.

Jake took a gamble and decided to play a dangerous game of chicken with him.

It ends here, tonight.

His eyes remained closed as he focused on deploying the technique right, because if done correctly, he would lure Emmanuel into the buzz saw of attacks and hopefully get sliced to pieces.

Come on…

Almost…

Just a little more…

Jake’s eyes snapped wide open to see the flash of silver.

NOW!

The area around Jake was instantly saturated with gray arcs overlapping one another; the technique moving so quickly that he didn’t sense his sword make contact with flesh.

He only saw the aftermath, a bloody Emmanuel being knocked back, gritting his teeth as Jake’s sword carved a shallow but bloody cut from left shoulder to right hip, and as the killer screamed, Jake smiled.

The man in armor put away his sword and stalked his murderous prey.

“You thought you could pull off that nice guy act, huh,” he said. “Well, it’s over for you now.”

Jake was a lot of things, but he wasn’t stupid.

Someone like Emmanuel -- who actually murdered Awakeners when they should be working together -- was nothing more than a rabid dog who needed to be put down.

Letting him get away now would only mean a problem someday.

Jake had never killed or even attempted to kill someone in the past, but he knew that he had to do it this time.

Murder this guy.

The sword was in his hand, the hesitation from his mind gone, and he readied the finishing blow.

However…

The swing went wide as a jolt from the ground caused Jake to stumble.

What the heck was that? Jake asked, and the ground shook again.

Huge shockwaves enveloped the town of Brino, and combined the sound of falling masonry signified something rather horrible taking place.

The outer walls of Brino were collapsing!

It was all the opportunity Emmanuel needed, as when Jake turned back towards the murderer, he had long since vanished.

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