There existed a bar in a narrow alley one step off the main road of Royal Capital Silesia. Paintings depicting a magnitude of white flowers in full blossoming were drawn on the walls, and 「Corolla」 – the bar’s name – was written in elegant letters on the dark brown door.
While being a bar that had been running for close to a hundred years now, it didn’t let its customers feel its age, and not only did it function as an eatery where great numbers of guests could eat and drink at the same time, but it also had some private rooms. Those rooms were more than often used for secret talks and dates.
It was almost two koku after sunset that a youth visited the Vouiéltec. He wore a knitted wool hat, a thick overcoat, and had a fox pelt coiled around his neck. His face was almost completely hidden by the hat and pelt, but that was a common sight in the wintry nights of the capital where frosty winds blew across the streets. At least he didn’t raise much of a suspicion with the bar employee who welcomed him.
Once the youth explained that he had a prior arrangement, he was let through to one of the private rooms. His meeting partner was already inside the room – a beauty with long, blond hair, tied up by ribbons, and her body clad in a greenish dress.
As soon as she saw the youth enter, she got up from her chair with her face brightening up.
“I’ve been waiting for you, Tigre. Was it easy enough to find?”
“Yes, thanks to the clear directions you told me, Sofy. They allowed me to come here in a straight line.”
Dark red hair, once he took off the hat, and a gentle smile, when he removed the fox pelt, became visible. His name was Tigrevurmud Vorn. Commonly referred to as Tigre by those close to him. While still only 18 years old, he won a great number of battles, earning him the title of hero who had saved his homeland from its predicaments.
But then again, Tigre himself wasn’t really conscious of his own fame. From his point of view, this was no more than the outcome of him running around to protect what was important to him, beginning with Alsace, his own territory. Even the victories he managed to obtain were only possible because he had the help from his friends, so far as he saw it.
The beauty with the nickname Sofy walked up to Tigre, and helped him to take off the overcoat. Her name was Sofya Obertas. As one of Zhcted’s Vanadis, she held the alias 『Brilliant Princess of the Light Flower』. The dress Sofy was currently wearing exposed her shoulders and allowed for a deep look into her decollete. Plenty of black, floral designs adorned the fabric. Her beryl necklace shone with a honey gleam as it reflected the lamp light coming from the table. All of this caused Sofy to exude a beauty that was different from the one she usually exhibited.
While striving to calm his restless emotions, Tigre somehow managed to squeeze out a compliment, “Umm, you’re very beautiful. ──Thanks.”
His words of gratitude were a show of his appreciation that she had dolled up for him. His praise was shortened down to the utmost limit of mediocrity, but his sincerity had apparently been passed on as Sofy hugged Tigre without a word.
Her sweet scent, which was blended with a faint fragrance of her make-up, tickled Tigre’s nose.
Before he could even count to three, Sofy softly released him from her embrace. Her expression was now unusually stern, lacking even the slightest hint of the smile from just a moment ago. Seeing the power in her eyes, Tigre pulled himself together.
Following Sofy’s offer to sit down, Tigre lowered himself on a chair, and scanned the room once more. It wasn’t a big room by any means. The walls and floor seemed to be kept clean properly, but there was nothing in here besides the chairs used by him and Sofy, a lamp, a bottle of wine, and a table with two wine glasses. The goat horns stuck to the wall appeared to be meant for hanging up coats. Fortunately, the walls seemed to be thick, keeping the cold out.
Watching Sofy pour them some wine, Tigre asked, “Is it alright for you to depart tomorrow?”
The report about the Muozinel invasion had reached Zhcted’s palace today morning. Eugene Shevarin, who was managing the governmental affairs as Prince Ruslan’s proxy, had ordered two Vanadis ─ Sofy and Ludmila ─ to repel the invaders. In accordance with the decree, Sofy was supposed to leave the capital within the day once she quickly wrapped up the preparatory meetings. However, Sofy was still here, obviously. She had pretended to head for Polesia, her principality, but instead returned to the capital in secret.
“Yes, I’ve sent a subordinate with written instructions to Polesia, so it’s no problem.”
Her written instructions recorded the number of soldiers required, their gathering point, and the means of securing provisions and fuel in detail. Sofy frequently made use of such written instructions with her being often away from Polesia since she was regularly dispatched to other countries as ambassador, and similar.
By the way, the instructions also contained a symbol with a unique shading. This was a symbol only Sofy could use since it required her draconic tool 『Light Flower』.
There existed two reasons why Sofy delayed her departure so much that she had to send a subordinate ahead. First, she wanted to watch the situation in the palace to the very last moment to check whether anyone would make any suspicious movements.
It wasn’t just the news about the Muozinel invasion that had been delivered to the palace. Julian Kurtis was raising an army in the northern Bydgauche, and Egol Kazakov had sent a letter demanding Eugene’s deportation from the northwestern Polus. Furthermore, the two Vanadis Valentina Glinka Estes and Figneria Alshavin had escaped from their house arrest.
The Kurtis family was high-ranking nobility competing for the top spot in Zhcted’s north. The Kazakov family had drastically weakened after disappointing many of its supporters when Olgert, the previous patriarch, had lost his life after losing the private war he had started, but even so, they were still influential nobility. Not to mention Valentina and Figneria.
Zhcted was truly down in the midst of war turmoil.
Sofy wasn’t wary about those who had already made their moves, but those who might make a move from now on, and those who were still in the process of acting. If she could grasp just one person of these two groups, it’d make her staying behind in the capital for as long as possible a worthwhile endeavor.
“Let’s toast before we get down to business. Please don’t worry. It’s something even a child could drink without any problems.” Sofy said, and the two lightly clinked their glasses.
When tasting the wine, Tigre could feel a sweetness on his tongue. Honey had apparently been added to the wine, and thus it didn’t look as though he’d get drunk from this if he limited it to one glass. After drinking a bit of the wine, Tigre put his glass down on the table.
Sofy did the same, and stared directly into Tigre’s eyes. There was another reason why she had delayed her departure: her wish to speak with Tigre alone without anyone knowing. Because of that she set this bar and not her mansion as their meeting place when she secretly dispatched a messenger to him.
A shade similar to hesitation flickered within Sofy’s beryl eyes. However, she got rid of it by shaking her head, and asked Tigre with an expression full of resolve, “Tigre, have you ever heard the term 『King of Magic Archery』?”
“King of Magic Archery…?” After furrowing his eyebrows, Tigre lowered his eyes, looking into his glass while probing his memories.
He thought that he should have heard it somewhere, but he couldn’t quite remember where.
Seeing him puzzled, Sofy added an explanation, “It’s about a person from the era before the foundation of Zhcted. He became king after shooting all his enemies down with the bow granted to him by a goddess.”
Tigre spontaneously clapped his hands together. He had finally discovered the term in a corner of his mind.
“Come to think of it, Lim had mentioned it before after seeing my black bow. That she had heard a strange archery story.”
Two years ago Tigre fought against Zion Thenardier after securing the cooperation of Eleonora Viltaria. In that battle, Tigre demonstrated the powers of his black bow for the first time, blowing Zion, who was trying to escape, into smithereens alongside the flying dragon he was riding.
Elen praised the might of the Black Bow, and Limalisha (Lim) told him about that story while looking at Tigre in surprise.
“Did Lim not mention anything else? Like the name of the man hailed as King of Magic Archery?”
“No. It looks like Lim didn’t know much more than what you mentioned just now, Sofy.”
In the first place, ever since then, the topic of becoming a King of Magic Archery never came up in conversation again. This was the reason why Tigre had forgotten about it.
“I know another legend about the King of Magic Archery. Since the book in question is being kept in the ducal capital of Polesia, I’ll need to rely on my memory of it, but I can roughly recount most of it without a problem.”
Tension and anxiety colored Sofy’s eyes.
Tigre was unable to grasp the reason why Sofy was so particular about the King of Magic Archery, but still, as he sensed that her behavior was unusual, he perked up his ears.
“──The King of Magic Archery is an apostle manifesting the goddess’ will in the world. He is one who vanquishes non-human life, and the destroyer of human life. He is the one advancing along the path of righteousness, and the one walking the path of evil – a hero, and at the same time, a demon king.”
Suddenly feeling as if a chill was creeping up his spine, Tigre shivered. He felt like the lamp blessing them with its light had suddenly become very small. Both might be hallucinations, but it was still true that Sofy’s words had given a shudder he couldn’t describe.
Sofy resumed speaking with a soft tone after seeing Tigre sink into silence with a scowl, “Let me say it from my conclusion. ──I believe you to be that King of Magic Archery.” (T/N: I won’t use “Lord Marksman” since it’s a mistranslation as you can see for yourself now. I think the most proper translation would be “King of Demonic Shooting/Archery,” but since he can be both, good or evil, I’ll go with a neutral “King of Magic Archery” for the “Madan no Ou” from the title [Bullet is a term connected to guns, so it doesn’t apply here].)
Tigre blinked several times after being confronted with something so unexpected. It was something where he wanted to burst into laughter, but he knew that Sofy wasn’t a woman who would joke about something like this. Just that alone allowed the shock to strike home all the more.
After letting silence reign for a little while, Tigre brought his wine glass to his mouth with somewhat mechanical movements. Once he regained his calm, he asked with a flat voice, “Why do you think so?”
Seeing Tigre ask her sincerely and in all seriousness, Sofy revealed an expression combining relief and remorse. After nodding lightly, she began to explain.
“Let me first review Tir Na Fal. She’s the goddess ruling over night, darkness, and death. She’s the wife, elder sister, little sister, and lifelong enemy of Chief God Perkunas…”
That was something every child knew in Zhcted and Brune. The people in these two countries worshipped the ten main gods with Perkunas being the chief god.
“Why does Tir Na Fal govern over three aspects, and why does she hold three positions in relation to Perkunas? Titta and you had taken a stab at those questions. You said that Tir Na Fal could count as the general term for three goddesses, or that the three main deities had become one.” There she stopped talking for a moment, and took a gulp of her wine. After wetting her throat, Sofy resumed, “Either way, it doesn’t change the fact that Tir Na Fal possesses three beings. Another proof of that is the Tir Na Fal, who possessed Titta, answering your question of 『Which Tir Na Fal are you?』 with 『Take a guess』. Say, Tigre, you think that the wills of those three goddesses were unified?”
Tigre pinned his eyes on Sofy’s face. It had never occurred to him when he thought about it.
“Going by the way you’re phrasing this, it looks like you’re believing it to be otherwise, right?”
“Indeed. At least I think that one of the goddesses’ wills has allied itself with the demons.”
Tigre widened his eyes in surprise, but he didn’t refute. Sofy still wasn’t done talking, and thus he decided to make a judgment after listening to all she had to say first.
“The objective of the demons is to change this world. They think that Tir Na Fal’s powers will allow them to put that into practice, and therefore they tried to kidnap you, who owns the Black Bow. This is something we also talked about when we were investigating things in Brune, right?”
For some reason or another, Tigre shifted his eyes towards his left hand. The Black Bow, which had accompanied him on battlefields for a long time now as heirloom of the Vorn family, wasn’t with him right now. He left it behind, believing that he’d trigger suspicions when carrying a bow around at night, even if he pretended to be a traveler.
“However, that part got me slightly curious. You might feel bad about this, but Tir Na Fal has been cooperating with you quite a bit, hasn’t she?”
“…I’ll admit that there were times when her help saved me.” Tigre replied with a sullen face.
After all, it was true that he had borrowed Tir Na Fal’s power through the Black Bow, and persisted with it through dangerous situations on several occasions. If he considered that, he should feel grateful towards the goddess, but for Tigre it was unforgivable that Tir Na Fal had possessed Titta’s body, even if only temporarily, and even if it happened for the sake of assisting Tigre by giving him advice. Especially, the event, where she had told him to shoot an arrow at Titta, had left a very bad aftertaste in his mouth he wouldn’t ever forget in his life.
Sofy picked up the wine bottle with a wry smile, and tilted it lightly towards the youth. Tigre emptied his glass in one gulp, and had her refill it with new wine.
“Thanks. Please go on.”
“Tir Na Fal also told you about the objective of the demons. She knew that you’d try to stop them by all means, if you learned about it. I can’t believe that such a goddess would willingly comply with the wishes of the demons.”
Tigre groaned. Sofy was certainly right with what she was saying. If Tir Na Fal planned to grant the demons’ wish, it’d be weird for her to lend her power to Tigre.
“This goes a bit off-story, but do you know a goddess with the name Zorlia, Tigre?”
“No,” Tigre shook his head. It was a name he was hearing for the first time.
“A Goddess of Northern Lights who was apparently worshiped in the era before the creation of Brune and Zhcted. No, it’d be more correct to call her goddesses. I read about those goddesses when I was examining the archives of the royal palace.”
She had continued investigating the archives to find any new information, as little as it might be, about the demons and Tir Na Fal.
Sofy continued with her explanation, “Zorlia was a goddess consisting of three main goddesses called 『Zorlia of Dawn』, 『Zorlia of Dusk』, and 『Zorlia of Midnight』. The book mentioned 『Dawn』 as the guardian of people, and 『Dusk』 as the guardian of the mysterious. Mysterious seems to encompass fairies, midgets, and spirits.”
“Oh, it does sound just like Tir Na Fal…” Tigre blurted out what came to his mind.
Sofy smiled sweetly, and continued, “It might be a writing about the same beings with the only difference between now and in the past being their names. Of course it’s also possible that they’re different. I wonder whether Tir Na Fal might not be the same as Zorlia in having different aspects ally with the mysterious and the humans. Maybe there exists a Tir Na Fal cooperating with the demons in addition to the one cooperating with you.”
Sofy’s expression turned serious again, and shades of gravity dyed her eyes.
“As soon as I considered it like that, Tir Na Fal and the records of the King of Magic Archery connected with each other within me. At the time of the descent of the Tir Na Fal cooperating with the humans, the King of Magic Archery would become the hero who annihilates all non-human life, and in case of a descent by the Tir Na Fal cooperating with the demons, he’d become a demon king destroying the humans. Either way, the King of Magic Archery would manifest the goddess’ will in the world.”
A curtain of silence gently enveloped the room. Tigre closed his eyes. He delved into his thoughts while consolidating Sofy’s words in his mind. A single scenery shown to him in the past by Tir Na Fal revived in his head. A single man nocked an arrow on the Black Bow, and shot it at a metropolis in the far distance. Everything was blown away without leaving a single trace behind in the dazzling light which had filled Tigre’s sight. According to the goddess, the user of the bow who caused this massive destruction lost his life immediately thereafter.
If someone was capable of pulling off something like that, they’d be the very definition of a demon king. And, Tigre thought that it wouldn’t be impossible for him who had continued using the Black Bow for quite a while now. Though he had absolutely no intention to test this theory.
Before long, Tigre opened his eyes.
“It’s something I’ve heard from Tir Na Fal before.” The youth continued talking to Sofy, who looked worried, with a calm tone, “When I asked her whether it was fate for me to have picked up the Black Bow and whether it had been decided for it to be so far before I was even born, she told me that I was completely wrong.”
Tigre smiled wryly.
In Sofy’s eyes it looked as though he was shaking off the gloomy air about to fill the whole room.
“I shall promise you, Sofy. Even if I’m the King of Magic Archery as you say… I don’t know whether I’ll be able to become a hero, but I won’t become a demon king. Never.”
A gleam of unwavering determination dwelt in Tigre’s black eyes. His look and his words were more than enough to disperse the anxiety lurking in Sofy’s heart. Breathing out in relief with tears faintly glistening at the corners of her eyes, Sofy smiled at Tigre.
“You are definitely a hero. For me, that is.”
Tigre shrugged while looking embarrassed, and ransacked his hair.
Afterwards Sofy apologized to Tigre for bringing up this topic only now.
“Sorry, I should have noticed right away when I heard Tir Na Fal’s story.”
Sofy said that she had only remembered the King of Magic Archery today afternoon. She hadn’t paid it any heed because she was convinced that the demons and the Black Bow were unrelated to each other.
“You haven’t told everyone else about this then?”
“No, I didn’t. I thought that it’d just make them worry. I was also unsure whether I should tell you about it.”
Even Tigre might have found it difficult to stay calm when being told something so ominous as him possibly becoming a demon king. However, if she hadn’t told him today, the next opportunity would have been far off in the future. After worrying about it for a while, Sofy decided to trust Tigre’s mental strength.
“But, now I think that it was a good idea for me to tell you.”
“Me too. Thanks, Sofy.”
He had grabbed the Black Bow out of his own volition, and always used its powers for his own sake. He had known that the Black Bow was related to Tir Na Fal. There was no way that he’d be able to throw away the bow at this point in time just because a terrifying future might await him. Tigre believed that he should face whatever happens without averting his eyes.
Tigre had people who walked his path of life with him, and supported him. Because of that, Tigre could believe that he’d be able to definitely overcome anything, no matter what danger might approach him.
While tilting his glass, Tigre asked something that had been bothering him, “Sofy, assuming I’m the King of Magic Archery, what kind of relation do I have with the Vanadis?”
Tigre’s Black Bow was capable of borrowing power from the Vanadis’ draconic tools. He suspected that there had to be some kind of relation between the King of Magic Archery and the Vanadis.
Probably having expected his question, Sofy put on a stern expression and answered without a trace of hesitation, “An ally at the time when you become a hero. An enemy at the time when you become a demon king. That’s how I see it. Also considering the demons’ behavior towards us Vanadis.”
The demons called the Vanadis by their draconic tools. In Sofy’s case, they referred to her as 『Wand』 or 『Owner of Zaht』. Even though they had continued fighting the Vanadis over decades, if not centuries, as destined enemies, they didn’t regard the Vanadis as anything more than troublesome nuisances.
“The Vanadis had fought them until now, thwarting the demons from achieving their objective. That’s why they become an ally of the King of Magic Archery when fighting the demons, and in reverse, when the King of Magic Archery sides with the demons…”
“The more I listen to you, the more I don’t want to become a demon king.” Tigre slumped his shoulders in an exaggerated manner.
Eleonora Viltaria, Ludmila Lourie, Sofya Obertas, Elizavetta Formina, and Olga Tamm were all important to Tigre. He didn’t want to even consider pointing an arrow at them.
“Figures. But, I think you’ll certainly be alright.” Sofy encouraged the youth with a smile that lacked any uncertainty.
Tigre’s determination had bestowed courage and confidence upon Sofy. Seemingly having suddenly come up with something, she leaned her body forward with her eyes sparkling.
“Hey, Tigre, let’s go out somewhere together once things have calmed down.”
“Somewhere as in?” Tigre asked, bewildered by Sofy’s sudden proposal.
“As long as I’m with you, anywhere would be fine, but…oh, right. Please allow me to accompany you on a hunt. I’ve never gone hunting, but even though I look like this, I’ve got confidence in my stamina. I’ll be able to keep up with you, be it mountains or forests.”
“I don’t mind that, but why all of a sudden?”
Even while answering like that, Tigre began to think that Sofy’s plan would be fun. Sofy tilted her head slightly to the side, and smiled while putting her playful mood on full display.
“You’d feel like striving to do your best even more than usual, if a reward is awaiting you, right?”
Tigre churned his hair as if being slightly troubled. Having said that, it was true that Sofy had helped him in one way and another, which gave birth to a feeling of wanting to thank her in some way. He decided that this might be a good opportunity.
“Got it. I think both of us will be busy during the winter, so let’s head out somewhere when spring comes around. But, I’ll need to first inform Elen and Titta about this.”
“Sure. I’ll properly inform those two from my side as well.” Sofy answered with a smile.
Tigre didn’t believe that she’d rashly try to aggravate the situation. Still, it took him all his might to respond with a bitter smile, and, “Please don’t be too hard on me.”
Hearing a voice similar to a whisper from the plain spreading out next to the road, Tigrevurmud Vorn reflexively turned his eyes in that direction. Of course, no one was there.
Because of winter, the grass was sparse and short. There were no trees to hide either. It’d be impossible for Tigre to not notice if someone was actually there. And yet, Tigre didn’t believe that he was just imagining it. After all, that voice had said “Bow” in a way as if being amused in some way. The youth had experienced such things many times in the last few days.
Currently he was advancing along the road connecting Silesia and Lebus, which was located in the northwest of Zhcted. He was straddling a horse with his body covered by a traveler’s outfit. Behind his saddle he had affixed a bag stuffed with things like tools necessary for traveling, food, water, and fuel. The only one he could call a companion was his horse as none of his friends was accompanying him.
There was a reason for Tigre being on a journey all by himself. He had been threatened by Maximilian Bennusa Ganelon, telling him, “Come to the land of Zagan in the southeast of Lebus by yourself. If you don’t obey, I’ll kill Earl Pardu, Eugene Shevarin.”
Of course there were many soldiers around Eugene. But, for Ganelon all of them wouldn’t pose any hindrance.
Valentina had said that Ganelon possessed the power to eat the demons, and keep them locked up within himself. If he made use of that power, it’d likely be easy to kill Eugene. If Eugene were to be killed now, Zhcted would be tossed into the raging streams of chaos and violence, resulting in many lives to be lost. Tigre couldn’t afford to induce such a situation.
Elen had moved her soldiers to fight Figneria. Mila and Sofy were heading south to repel the Muozinel invasion. Liza and Olga had returned to Lebus for the sake of restraining Earl Polus who was making suspicious moves.
In such a situation, Tigre had no choice but to abide with Ganelon’s demands if he was to protect Eugene.
It was said that the gods of ancient times were worshiped in Zagan several hundred years ago. Ganelon had inherited the demons’ will, and was trying to reshape the world by allowing Tir Na Fal to descend. Tigre was sure Ganelon was planning to accomplish that in Zagan.
If he considered the whispers reaching his ears, and the various, unusual phenomenons taking place all over Zhcted right now, Ganelon was unmistakably making good progress with his preparations.
“Still, he sure chose a troublesome place.” He cursed unconsciously.
He didn’t know at the time when he checked the place on a map, but if you tried to head straight for Zagan from the capital, you’d need to leave the road, enter the mountains, and wander through a wasteland, which would all take a lot more time than he had anticipated. However, he couldn’t take a detour from the north or west. It’d result in him passing through Bydgauche, or Figneria’s Legnica. He couldn’t possibly risk going through such dangerous places.
Also, whenever Tigre caught sight of bandit bands in the far distance, he went around them, even if it turned into a huge detour. He didn’t believe that he alone would be able to rout several dozen bandits all by himself, and neither did he have the spare time and leeway to play around with them. He wanted to keep as many arrows with him as possible, too.
For all these reasons, Tigre had only managed to cross half the way even though he had departed Silesia nine days ago by now.
Suddenly Tigre felt a cold sensation on his head. Once he realized this to be falling snow, he hatefully looked up to the gray sky, and pulled the hood deeply over his face.
──Doesn’t look like I’ll be able to camp out tonight.
Even if this snowfall were to stop right now, the coldness dominating the land would remain. The chill would get worse as soon as the sun went down. Spending a night out here with just an open fire and a thick overcoat was something Tigre wanted to avoid at all costs. It’d just rob him of his heat, exhausting his stamina, and thus slowing down his body.
Tigre thought about Elen. Right now, she should be in Legnica in order to fight Figneria. He wondered whether snow was currently falling at her place as well.
“Please stay safe, Elen.”
Tigre knew very well about her strength as a warrior. But, Figneria was definitely no pushover either. It might not end with just a hard fight. Tigre spurred his horse on while praying for the safety of his lover.