Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 491
Claude widened his mouth and glared at Sheila, who was leaning against the bed. His long stare even caused her to think there was something on her face. Being not able to find anything, she said, "What are you staring at?"
He shook his head and snapped himself out of it. "No, I mean, you just used Magic Missile like that without even considering the fact that he was a royal?"
"Nope," she said confidently, "I hate him. On what basis was he calling you a traitor? Was I supposed to obey him just because he had a high status? He was just a drunk, not so different from the sailors in the dockside taverns. He even dared to lust after me. After I pushed him away, he threatened to kill my whole family if I didn't let him have his way. So, I blasted his head off. He wasn't any different from the other crooks I've killed."
Claude was speechless. He could only smile in resignation. Who knew the once-heroic and reputable Hansbach would die such a death. It was too pitiful.
Even Claude thought that, even if Hansbach died, it would be by his own hands as befitting of his status. He would die a tragic and glorious death, leaving his mark in Freian history as a tragic hero.
Yet his life was taken like a dog's. It couldn't have been more embarrassing. It was no wonder there was no more news about the matter right after word of his death spread. They didn't even mention the perpetrator. His subordinates from his four armies split up his territories swiftly and the reason for his death was covered up just like that, leaving many people hanging.
Sheila was the only one who didn't understand how much she had changed history with a single Magic Missile. Had the first prince not died, his four armies would've remained united under his firm grip and the newly conquered territories would've been held firmly. Not even Shiks and Nasri would dare to pine after them. Perhaps in a few more years, he would even launch an attack on the part of Aueras he had yet to conquer.
That came as quite a disappointment for Claude. Given his impression of Hansbach, he never would've imagined he would die for such a reason. Perhaps the forced retreat from Whitestag and losing what territories of the original mainland he captured came as quite a blow to Hansbach, causing him to have to vent his anger somewhere. It was too bad he chose a wrong target for that. Sheila was not a weak girl who would stand being bullied, but rather a magus not unfamiliar with killing.
"You escaped just like that? Why did you remember to take that revolver then?"
"What else would I do but escape? Wait to be killed?" she proudly spat, "That first prince must be some kind of coward to have so many guards hidden around him. When I was brought in, he was playing with his revolver as he drank wine. Only after his guards made sure I wasn't carrying any weapons did he dare ask his hidden guards to go further away from the room. I only felt something was off at that time.
"Also, I've played around with revolvers before when I was at the western coast. One female magus I know stole two revolvers and tens of bullets from a local viceroy. Those revolvers came in really handy, but we had no choice but to discard them once we ran out of bullets. So, I snagged the revolver immediately since I had the chance.
"But the moment I left the mansion, the guards noticed that the first prince had died and started chasing me like mad. With Blackwind's help, I managed to kill four to five of those who came the closest and snuck to the port to get myself a fishing boat. I left port that night itself. When I was on the ship, I recalled that your hometown was Whitestag, so I spent a month on the little fishing boat sailing the coasts to reach there.
"When I arrived, all I saw was ruin. I asked many people but they hadn't heard of you before, nor knew where your house was. Later, an old man told me that most of Whitestag's original inhabitants had already left. The first and second princes fought there for a year and a half and the original inhabitants were either killed or had escaped. Those that were there at that point were refugees from some other place.
"Then, he told me that many Whitestag folk fled to the three sister prefectures to their relatives and suggested me to go there. I was really tempted to do that and was just about to leave, only for the first prince's guards to end up tracking me again. I had to run all over Freia for the next half year, but I wasn't able to shake those mad dogs off at all..."
She sounded rather agitated while describing the hunt for her. It just didn't occur to her that killing a drunk thug of a prince would cause her to go on the run for three long years away from the rabid dogs that just wouldn't give up. Fortunately, she wasn't some softie. While she no doubt suffered much in the three years, she reduced her hunters by at least half, much of it thanks to Blackwind.
Claude could do naught but console her. The truth turned out to be just as the two formerly surviving Watchers confessed. Hansbach's assassin not only managed to kill him under their noses, she even managed to escape. That was a scar of lasting humiliation for them which they could only wipe off by killing Sheila. It didn't help that their hate grew as more and more of their own were killed during the chase itself. Eventually, they were driven by nothing more than their hatred and desire for revenge.
Sheila didn't understand how they managed to track her even after she shook them off, though it seemed quite obvious to Claude. Her voyage in a small fishing boat along the coast to Whitestag seemed innocuous enough, but it left a bright trail for the Watch to follow.
It wasn't too hard to find that a fishing boat went missing after the port city was sealed. Fishing boats could at most sail along coastlines, so there was only one route to follow. She could also only get her supplies from fishing towns or villages near the coasts and the paper trail left behind made her destination obvious.
Her being unable to shake off her pursuers for half a year was even easier to explain. Firstly, Watchers were expert magi trackers in the first place. That was the purpose for which they were formed. Sheila wouldn't be able to shake their specialised skills and training off that easily.
Additionally, Eastern Freia was home ground for the Watchers. They already had informants and traps laid all over the place. It would be all too easy for her to be discovered after she entered a shop to buy food. They could pinpoint her location and send more people to swarm her, forcing her to have to escape once more into the wilderness.
"Oh, so that was how they did it... No wonder I only managed to get three months of peace after getting on a ferry to sail to the western coast of Nubissia to find my magi friends..."
Even the Watch wouldn't send their members and informants to Nubissia; they didn't have a reason to. So when Sheila finally sailed there, they were no longer able to keep track of her. By the time they reached the western coast and found her again, three months had passed.
Those three easygoing months had caused her to let her guard down. She thought the matter was all over, only to be shocked to find herself in another encirclement. Had it not been for Blackwind's alertness, she might've died from that ambush. Yet, she managed to escape heavy encirclement, but the rogue magi couple that sheltered her were killed in their own home.
It was only then that she understood how strong the mad dogs' hatred was. Both sides had to settle matters once and for all for it to end. However, she had difficulty dealing with a pack of wolves alone. Though a five-ring magus she was, the level of the mad dogs on her tail weren't much worse than her own. At the very least, they were able to cast Energy Barrier. As long as Sheila couldn't take them out in one hit with her spells, she would be under fire barrage after barrage. In the end, both sides resorted to using their firearms to fight.
She then set a trap and used a local garrison force to help her wipe one tent of Watchers out. However, they paid her back by committing murder in her guise in various colonies of the western coast, causing her to end up becoming a wanted fugitive across all of them. She had no longer been able to hide in towns and cities to avoid them.
Claude hugged her in his arms gently and stroked her hair. He couldn't imagine how she managed to spend those two dangerous years on the western coast.
During the course of two years of running, she managed to halve the forty-plus Watchers. Eventually, the murder cases pinned on her were so many that she could no longer stay at the western coast. She left for the region through a near-shore passenger ferry of the region.
To confuse her pursuers, she intentionally got off at the most distant spot, Port Cobius in Tyrrsim, rather than Port Vebator or Port Patres, which won her half a month's time. But just as she was settling down in Lanu, her pursuers arrived.
Thankfully, the autonomous region had great security, causing the Watchers to be unable to fight her in broad daylight. Their only option was to strike the house she rented at night. Being long prepared, she managed to leave a false trail for them to make them think she had escaped.
Just as they were about to follow her tracks, she returned and shot two of them dead, using the gunfire to attract the constables in the meantime. The Watchers couldn't risk being discovered, so they quickly left the scene.
Then, Sheila hid nearby the station and rented another hideout. She wanted to shake them off this time using the train. But the pursuers managed to predict her moves despite being wanted by the constabulary themselves and rushed to Dorinibla River's bank ahead of her to have someone keep watch on the floating bridge between the stations. The moment Sheila disembarked from the train, she was spotted.
According to the testimonies of the two watchers, they confirmed that she had gotten off and hurried to buy tickets of their own. The moment they were certain nobody could get off once the train started moving, they began searching through the cabins. The staff member that tried to stop them was shot dead in an instant. The gunshot, however, alerted Sheila to draw her own gun to fight back. The cabin became a battlezone. Later, Claude's guards came and eliminated the Watchers, whom they thought were bandits.
It turned out to be quite fortunate for both Claude and Sheila, for them to be reunited after a decade. Luckily for them, what remained of the Watch's field operatives were eliminated in one go. She would no longer have to worry about them any longer and could finally put the matter to rest. It was as if Lady Fate herself had ordained the end to this chapter of her life.
"It's all over now. We're finally together again. The future is still long and we have more than enough time. Sheila, what you need to do now is to heal up. Let me take care of you. You don't have to worry about your safety any longer," he consoled.
"What? I'm not worried about my safety. I only care about finding you. I always believed that you wouldn't die on the battlefield. When the first prince called you a traitor, I was quite happy. That meant you were still alive and doing quite well. It's too bad he didn't tell me where you were before he tried to stick his hands on me and threaten to kill my family... I couldn't help killing him in anger."
"Stop!" Claude wiped the sweat off his forehead. "Sheila, don't ever mention the first prince to anyone else ever again, alright? He's a monarch in one sense or another. Even if his kingship isn't recognised by the kingdom, his position gives him claim over a title like this.
"If word of you killing him ever gets out, you'll be seen as a kingslayer. Killing monarchs is a great taboo in every nation on Freia. I don't want your life to suffer because of that."
At least, she seemed intent on listening to his advice. "Fine... I won't mention it is all... Killing him didn't feel any different from killing anyone else anyway... So what if he's a monarch? Only weaklings die from a single Magic Missile... By the way, you don't really train your magic nowadays, right?"
Claude nodded. "Well, it's certainly been less often than before. I rely on rifles and cannons on the battlefield, after all. And I have tens of thousands of troops to command as a general, so I spend much more time thinking about defeating enemies. I didn't have much time to meditate during the wars with Shiks. I haven't even made it to the fourth ring. By the way, how did you know I don't train often?"
"It's simple. When I fought those fellows on the train, I used most of my mana on maintaining Energy Barrier and a few support spells. By the time your soldiers came, I was hurt and mostly drained. I could only cast a few more Vine Wraps.
"I wanted to use Vine Wrap to hold you all down and get Blackwind to subdue you before escaping with you as hostages. If you had kept training, your level wouldn't have been lower than mine and you'd be able to break free of Vine Wrap easily instead of lying there and getting licked."
Claude made a pained smile. When he met Sheila, he was further along in his training than she was. The Vine Wrap she used on him had practically no effect at all.
But now, she was a five-ring nature magus. The spell she used bound even his fingertips and suspended his legs in the air. Even if he was a four-ring magus, he wouldn't be able to do anything about it as he couldn't even cast a basic spell from that position."
"Alright, I won't give you trouble for that. I'll stay by your side to supervise your training and meditation," she said with bright, glowing eyes. She was in a rather good mood. "Claude, you're so high up in the hierarchy now and no longer young. You told me about your experiences on the battlefield just now, but you haven't told me about your family.
"I trust that you already got married, unlike me. I didn't hook up with any men in all these years. Well, tell me about your wife and kids. How did you get married and how many kids do you have now?"
Perspiration began to run down his forehead.