On the first day of Year 576, more specifically, during the night, Claude had rather sour luck. Though he had started out with the intent on looking for Arbeit for payback, he ended up in a fight with Blacksnake and allowed the bastard to escape.
However, he had vented his pent-up rage on the guards watching the den and was no longer in the mood to look for his brother. He left while his identity still wasn’t discovered and left.
As for his encounter with Kefnie, it was but a small diversion which Claude didn’t take to heart. He had disguised himself completely and even wore a mask that showed his eyes. He didn’t think that Kefnie would recognize him. The two of them only had a more engaged meeting during new year’s last year at the moon shrine and didn’t interact much during the past year. Her being able to recognize him was a ridiculous notion. Claude had never thought of himself as someone so charming that he would leave a lasting impression on the little beauty’s mind.
So, he casually returned home and didn’t bother to clean up the mess he made at all. Hell if it’s got anything to do with me, was Claude’s mentality. It appeared that Blacksnake’s roots ran quite deep, for them to be able to set up such a den in Whitestag. A few dead guards was but a small matter. They would take care of it themselves.
At that moment, the hall of the den was filled with people. More than three hundred gang members dressed differently were gathered there. Almost all the members across town had been summoned, many of whom were pulled out from their beds. They were dressed unkemptly and yawned nonstop, but none of them dared to utter a single word of complaint nor chatter loudly as their angered boss, Bidlir Blanche, had axed one minor leader that had misspoken in front of everyone else.
“Boss, it looks like 35 of our brothers died in the den in total. The 27 people working tonight’s shift are all dead. There are… f-fourteen d-dead… and… and two crippled. Eleven other heavily injured brothers managed to be tended to in time.”
One of the leaders of the gang stood near Bidlir Blanche and shakingly reported the results of the clash.
The boss grimaced and groaned, “Pay a pension to the families of the dead. The crippled will be covered by the gang for life, and the heavily injured will be rewarded. Have them take a break to recover their injuries. Tell them that they did well. Not a single of the 27 brothers on shift tonight escaped and insulted our gang.”
“Understood. You are ever so benevolent, Boss,” thanked a leader as he bowed.
Bidlir waved him away. “Bring them to me.”
Soon, a few burly Blacksnakes appeared. The hands of two of them were bent in a horrible shape. Upon closer inspection, they were the members who brought Claude into the den. The thinner one could no longer speak and was leaking bloody foam from his mouth.
“Boss, these are their testimonies. We’ve confirmed that they weren’t lying,” said one of them with the transcripts of the testimonies.
Bidlir Blanche gave them a cursory look and furrowed his brow. He waved them away. “Deal with them. Haha… Even though they said that they’re trying to bring more business to our gang, they were foolish enough to bring in someone of questionable origin and cause me such a huge loss instead. So many brothers… dead…”
He waved the transcripts in his hand around. “Do you believe what that man said? Some sailor who’s going to buy a house in town? Someone who has money and loves to gamble instead of fooling around with a woman? Someone who tips a whole thale? Fools! What kind of sailor would give such a large tip? He’s no shop-owning merchant! Not a single one of you discovered this hole in his story? Hmph!”
The two bloodied humanoid figures were dragged away. Their fates were unspeakable. They were the second and third gang members Bidlir dealt with personally for that night. One of them was a minor leader of the group who was foolish and often struggled for more power. The moment he came to the den, he chastised the ones in charge of security for not doing their work properly, resulting in the boss raising his axe and chopping his head in when he was annoyed enough. Bidlir called for him to be dragged out immediately.
It wasn’t the time for internal strife after all. The man was stupid enough to see the state the gang was in. Someone like him wouldn’t be missed when dead, so the boss took the opportunity to get rid of some troublesome members and making an example out of him to the other gang members as a wake-up call for them to know what was appropriate to do and what wasn’t.
Bidlir Blanche turned around and saw Hurian standing behind him. The fat old man had been called out during the middle of the night and still looked half asleep.
“It does look like the magus from the last time did it. However, this seems even more practiced than before.” Hurian inspected all the wounds and yawned. “Last time, most of the wounds were caused from close combat. But this time around, only three were harmed in close combat. The rest are all hurt by Magic Missile. It’s even worth noting that while the missiles didn’t hit vital spots the last time, this time around, they seemed intentionally targeted at vital spots. Based on what I see here, most of them were killed in one hit. It’s especially ruthless. Looks like he was coming for you.”
“I know.” Bidlir nodded. “I’m sorry to trouble you so late at night, Master Hurian. Krido, send Master Hurian back and take the carton of fine wine along with you.”
The old, fat man looked awake immediately. “Don’t feel bad about it. We’re good friends since a long time back, so it’s only natural for me to offer my aid when you need it. I’ll help myself to the wine, though, thanks to this sinful mouth of mine.”
After Hurian left, face full of smiles, Bidlir looked at the leaders and gang members inside the hall. He rubbed his brows and started naming some of them. Messen, take Baldie Alaika’s place and pick a fresh new group of guards for the den, a few times more than before. I hope you pick men who don’t fear death like those who died or got hurt today, understood?”
Startled, Messen hurriedly said, “Yes, Boss. I will definitely not disappoint you.”
Bidlir Blanche stared at him squarely before nodding. “Remember what you said today.”
After looking the leaders in the eye, Bidlir pointed at the men in the hall and said, “Have them disperse.”
“But, Boss, are we going to take this loss just like that?” One of the leaders couldn’t bear it and spoke out.
Bidlir turned his head back harshly and stepped forward towards that leader, causing the latter to retreat backwards in fear.
He tugged on the man’s collar and roared, “What would you suggest we do then?! Tell me! Where do you suppose we can find this mysterious magus?! Do you know where he lives? His name? Even if you do, tell me how we are supposed to pay him back! You want to count on those protection-fee-collecting, women-bullying pussies of yours? Huh?”
The boss let the leader go and the pale-faced man sat onto the ground after he wet his pants.
Bidlir looked at the other leaders and said, “Do you think I don’t want revenge? Do you think I want to take this without retaliating? Thinking about our dead brothers makes me feel like my heart is being cut open by one knife after another. It hurts so much that I struggle to breathe… When did we ever suffer a loss as huge as this…
“But what can we do now? We can’t find who did it, there’s no outlet for our vengeance. So, we can only endure. The 27 brothers who dared to fight and struggle for our sakes are our core force, yet they died from a single mysterious magus just like that!
“There was only one person! He was able to kill all the guards in our den and disappear in the snow outside! Think about it, which one of you can do it? If you want revenge so much, let’s see you stop him the next time that magus comes knocking our door! Will it be you? Or you? Huh? What about you…”
Every one of them lowered their heads as their boss rebuked them. They all understood that they were crying out for revenge superficially. If the magus really returned, they would be the first to run.
“What we need to defeat magi are not crossbow bolts or blades. We only need guns! But which one of you dares to carry a firearm publicly on the streets? None of you, right? Remember your statuses! You are not dignitarians, you aren’t qualified to own a gun! The moment you are spotted carrying one on the streets, you will be sent to labor camps for more than a decade of service or be shot dead on the spot!”
Bidlir slowly stepped towards the leaders, causing them to lean back more and more.
“I know that recently, some of you have been privately criticizing me, saying that I shouldn’t give so much of our riches to that vampire, Robert. You think that I shouldn’t bear the cost of the garrison for Whitestag. But now, you understand my reasoning, right? As long as we aren’t able to carry firearms legally, we will be helpless against any magus that comes to trouble us! We won’t be able to continue running our gambling den! Our brothers would’ve died in vain!
“Only by joining the garrison clan will you be allowed to legally carry firearms. If our brothers had guns today, it would’ve only ended one way. With a loud bang, that magus would be ended. When we catch him and find out who he is, we can deal with everyone related to him one after another. Do you understand?”
“We understand, Boss,” said the leaders in unison.
Bidlir nodded with satisfaction. “Just get things together in the next few days. Behave for now and fight to restrain your impulses. After the 15th of the month, the prefectural capital should be sending word back to us. I won’t let any of you drag me down at such a crucial time! Otherwise, I will make sure that any such person regrets coming out of his mother’s womb! Got it?”
“Got it, Boss! We promise to not get in the way of your plans.”
“If you get it, you may leave. Make sure to watch your men well. Listen well to the talks around you and notify me once you have any intel.”
The leaders then left with their respective men.
Bidlir went to the second floor of the den and saw the elegant-looking, middle-aged man Claude saw before waiting for him. Beside him was the tall and lanky guard.
“I’m sure it must’ve been terrifying, Mister Kristoff.” A gentle smile surfaced on Bidlir’s face.
However, the middle-aged man no longer sported an elegant aura. He asked Bidlir a little nervously, “Mister Bidlir, has the truth been found?”
Bidlir stopped smiling and replied with a hint of regret, “No. All we know is that the other person was a magus. How old he is, what he’s called, where he lives and how he looks like… We know none of that. The only thing we can be sure of is that it’s the same magus that got into a conflict with us back then. His methods are cruel and savage and most of our men who faced him ended up dead or severely injured. Some of them were even crippled for good. However, we can be certain that he came for us this time around.
“I-I knew t-t-they would never let me off so easily. Even though I hid in such a backwater place and changed my name, they still managed to find me so easily. Mister Bidlir, I can be certain that they’re here for me. That magus must have been employed by them. Thankfully, I escaped through the secret passage the moment I saw him use magic. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to meet you like this…”
Kristoff was so nervous that he took out a handkerchief and kneaded it unsettlingly with an anxious expression.
“How about this, I have a farmstead at the outskirts of the prefectural capital that only few know about. They are all trusted subordinates of mine. Perhaps you can hide there for a period of time. Consider it a short vacation, alright?” suggested Bidlir.
“Okay. I’ll leave immediately!” Kristoff rejoiced, “If I can get out of this predicament, I will forever remember how you helped saved my life.”