Chapter 97 is here! This chapter was edited by Fordoom, who did an excellent job, as always 😀
For the Patrons, chapter 98 and its preview are available here.
Anyway, I hope you’ll enjoy it!
He was gazing at the golden flowers that were growing on the wayside, as he walked on a path which he had already grown used to by now. Had he taken the carriage that he habitually used for his job, this trip would only have taken him a dozen minutes. But it was only after walking for more than an hour that his destination finally came into view.
He was faced with the scenery of an ordinary town dotted with commoner houses (Minka houses). One of the houses that was completely blended among them was a place that was frequently visited by Zen, who worked as the coachman of the Stokes family.
The house’s garden couldn’t be said to be wide in any way, but it was very well maintained, and there was even a small kitchen garden in its corner. There, were fresh and fruitful red groots, which Zen was already familiar with from a long time ago. It seemed like both the garden and the person managing it were still healthy and well.
While thinking about such things, Zen sounded the knocker that was installed on the entrance door. After a short interval, the door opened with a clank.
【”Yes, who’s there?”】
【”Good day, madam.”】
【”Oh, Zen-kun. Please come in.”】
The person who greeted Zen was a woman who was between 60 and 70. As she made way for him, Zen headed towards the living room where a grey-haired old man, who was rooted in his chair, was waiting for him.
That man, was Zen’s old coworker who had retired a few years prior, Norman.
【”Hey there, Norman-san.”】
Zen smiled as he greeted him in a purposely familiar way. Norman accepted the greeting and returned it as he also smiled similarly.
【”Hello. I’m glad to see that you look well.”】
【”Same to you. Oh, here, I have a present.”】
The present was a wooden knitted basket. Inside was an assortment of breads which had been baked at Zen’s home.
【”Thank you, as always. Come on, take a seat.”】
As Norman urged him to do so, Zen sat down, directly facing him.
Despite his old age, Norman didn’t have any big sickness, his days were going by peacefully after his retirement, but even so, there was still something that had been weighing on his mind for a long time. That feeling was well understood by Zen, and so, as time passed, he would sometimes come to visit Norman and share the reports that he occasionally received from Harold.
Five years had already passed since Harold had left the Stokes family to become a member of the royal saint knight order. In that time, Zen and Jake regularly sent him sealed letters by turns in order to inform him about the household’s recent status, and although Harold had resigned from the saint knight order, he was still in the royal capital so the exchange of letters was still continuing at present.
Those letters were sent once every two or three months and Harold would only answer them one out of three times.
【”So, what was it this time?”】
【”We didn’t get any instructions in particular. Just that, as expected, the household’s situation has been worrying him lately.”】
Harold had been speaking of this for eight years. Back then, he had confidently said that the Stokes family would fall sooner or later. In order to delay that fall, he had invented a new farming method called the LP farming method; furthermore, he had expanded that into a large-scale project and won over the household of the one who used to be his fiancée at the time.
With the assistance of the Sumeragi family, the Stokes territory somehow recovered in a financial aspect, but the popular support was still low. There was a clear population outflow as the locals were leaving town, and although the household was temporarily getting more money from taxes thanks to the LP farming method, the farming production of each zone was limited due to the present conditions, so the household was probably grasping for its last straws.
From the very beginning, Harold had been thinking of “delaying” and not “stopping” the fall of the Stokes family, so he probably already had the assumption that the current situation would occur.
【”Is that so? In the end, it seems like there isn’t much we can help Harold-sama with.”】
Norman seemed sad as he cast down his eyes. Zen could sympathize with that feeling to the point where it felt painful.
Ever since he was a child, Harold had been excellent. He was strict yet kind with his words, he was extremely resourceful, and he was strong in both mind and body. To top it all off, he had a diligent personality that did not allow him to neglect his efforts.
He could manage most things all by himself, and although Zen was proud to work for him, at the same time he was also vexed that he could not be of help to him.
【”You’re right, and he’s also showing concern about Huey-sama. Although they’re born of a different mother, his younger brother is really adorable.”】
【”To begin with, Harold doesn’t care about his position or his influence. He probably isn’t interested in fighting for succession.”】
【”Heh, he just wants to cherish his brother, doesn’t he? He even sent Huey some clothes and toys last time.”】
Moreover, Harold had actually sent two boxes full of those presents. Due to his situation, he could not easily come to meet his brother face to face, so he delivered a mountain of gifts to him instead for his birth celebration.
Perhaps it was hard to imagine that action coming from Harold since he was usually cold and gave the impression that he wanted to keep people away from him, but Norman and Zen were actually not surprised. When Harold had been told about Norman’s retirement in one of the letters he received from the usual exchange, he had sent an expensive pottery in commemoration of that, and when he had been informed about Zen’s marriage, he sent him a huge sum of money as a congratulatory gift.
Moreover, together with that, he had sent a single, simple message【”You’re probably going to need that, one way or another.”】.
As one would expect, Zen had hesitated about whether or not to accept that excessively awe-inspiring gift, but considering Harold’s personality, it was easy to guess that he wouldn’t let Zen argue about this. So Zen kept the money without using it, saying that he was saving in preparation for an emergency, just in case.
After all, that was the kind of person Harold was. He appeared to be cold-hearted, but he was full of kindness.
However, since he himself still seriously hated letting that part of him come to the surface, there were many people in his surroundings who were afraid of him.
While thinking about what to do, Zen reached out to a cup that was placed on the table in front of him. He lifted it up from its handle up to his lips, but in the middle of his action, the cup suddenly lost its weight.
It fell down noisily and the coffee that had been poured inside was now spread out over the table.
【”Aah! I-I’m sorry….”】
【”Are you alright?”】
【”Yes, but the cup is…”】
Zen had broken the cup. This cup was Harold’s retirement present for Norman.
Zen had a lump in his throat as he apologized, for he knew that this gift was important for Norman.
【”Don’t worry about it, everything breaks eventually, it’s only a matter of when… Still, it broke really cleanly.”】
Only after being told about it did Zen realize. He thought the cup had slipped from his hand, but he was actually still holding the handle.
Then, why had the cup fallen? Zen noticed that a cross-section was left after the handle was separated from the cup, as if someone had cut it right off.
As Norman had said, everything would eventually break, that was inevitable.
However, although Norman had been using the cup for a few years, would it really break in such a peculiar way because of it being deteriorated over time? For some reason, this felt like it was a bad omen.
【”….Is Harold-sama safe right now?”】
Norman muttered that question with a small voice while wiping the table with a cloth. However, Zen did not have any answer to offer.
Why did things turn out like this? Harold no longer remembered how many times he had asked himself that. He had kept asking himself that same question ever since that day eight years ago, when fate or some sort of higher power had pushed him into taking over Harold Stokes’ body.
But that was in the past, what he was thinking about was his current circumstances.
Because while Harold was very capable in combat, the one who was in control of his body, Kazuki Hirasawa, was a normal person that could be found anywhere. So far, he had been taking advantage of the cheat knowledge he had gotten from the game’s story, but the truth was that he was just an ordinary man.
However that did not mean he had outstanding smarts or talent as a tactician, because if not for his knowledge regarding the original story, it would have been impossible for Harold to get other people to assist him with his task, or to outwit Justus.
It was due to being aware of this that Harold was so obsessive with keeping a development where he could make use of his game knowledge. He believed that was the best decision for an ordinary man like him to survive.
However, even though this reality resembled the game, it was different since both this world and its people were actually real. So it was not strange that, consequently, things did not go as Harold expected. So, as that kept happening over and over again, Harold finally decided to give up on keeping the flow of the original story.
That was because he believed that this decision would most likely lead him to the safest ending, and the one closest to the original story’s conclusion.
He still did not know if that was the right choice.
However, at present, the elements that Harold had been anxious about had all stunningly turned into reality.
As if he was in the middle of a tempest, his skin was grazed by a windstorm that was brought about by a sword’s slash. The sword strike that had been aimed at him was so absurdly powerful that it made Harold wonder if the wind that came with it would be enough to lacerate him.
While barely dodging the attack, he took some distance from the opponent that was standing in front. “I didn’t expect any less from him.” Perhaps that was a carefree remark, but still, Harold couldn’t help himself from thinking like that.
【”Looks like the title of the knight order’s leader isn’t just for show huh, Vincent.”】
Vincent Van Westervoort. As the young leader of the saint royal knight order, he was a heroic figure in the public eye. But in『Brave Hearts』, he was a so-called boss character, who blocked the way of the hero’s party during the last stage of the story.
He and Harold were currently crossing swords.
Harold had honestly not expected that he would fight Vincent at this point in time. In the first place, he had not expected at all that he himself would end up fighting against Vincent.
Then, why had he fallen into such a predicament? The reason was very simple.
【”Harold Stokes…… Enemy…. top priority elimination target……”】
Vincent had an odd look in his eyes, and he was repeating the same words over and over again as if he was talking in delirium. No matter how one looked at him, he was not in his normal condition.
That meant that Justus seriously wanted to kill Harold now.
After separating from Liner and the others in the Sumeragi territory, Harold had returned to Harrison’s place by foot. He was then informed about the location of the last remaining treasured object and he headed towards there. Of course, he did it without Justus’ permission.
There were already six of the treasures in the hands of Harrison, but really, that just meant they were in Justus’ possession. However, Harold did not feel like following the flow of the original story anymore and he was ready to fight to the bitter end in the few months that still remained. So he figured that if he snatched away the treasured object he would be able to delay Justus’ plan.
However, that was just an ordinary man’s idea, and it seemed like Justus had seen that coming. What was waiting for Harold in the ruins where the treasured object was said to be was a Vincent who had lost his sanity.
【”Hey, trash! Why the hell are you attacking me?”】
【”Harold is the top priority elimination target…..”】
With a strange light in his eyes, Vincent just repeated the same words he had said before. Harold had tried to converse with him many times since earlier but there were no results.
It was likely that Vincent had been brainwashed. Much like the two people from the stellar tribe, he had lost his free will, but perhaps the brainwashing was incomplete considering that he could still speak words.
Therefore, Harold tried to see if he could solve this through dialogue, but he didn’t have much hope for that.
While taking a step so powerful that it sunk the ground, Vincent drew out a big sword and attacked with a large slash. Harold dodged, and went towards Vincent’s back, which was full of openings. He would have no chance of winning if he tried to attack right from the front given Vincent’s high attack power. Hence why Harold opposed him with his own forte instead, his high speed.
However, Vincent stopped the attack that came from his back with his left hand gauntlet. That attack was carrying Harold’s speed and strength with it, and yet Vincent had easily stopped it with a single arm. He was so robust that Harold felt like he had slashed at a wall.
On top of that, Vincent was using only his right hand to swing a big sword that seemed like it would be difficult to even lift for a regular person. His offense was also sharper and faster than the average knight’s. But rather than slashes, he made use of crushing blows.
In the game, a character would only lose some HP upon being hit by these kinds of attack, but in this world, a single blow would be fatal. Although Harold considered using his R-Guard, he was afraid the strike would ignore his defense and hit him, so he abandoned the idea and continued dodging.
Because of his heavy equipment and heavy weapon, Vincent’s speed did not feel like it would be a threat, however, he made up for that with his outstandingly high durability and attack power. But the most troublesome part was that, in the span of the moment when Vincent swung his sword and the moment when he blocked Harold’s sword with his gauntlet, he became fast enough for him to deal with Harold’s speed.
It was difficult for Vincent to maintain his own speed due to the stamina that it consumed and due to the burden there was on his body from his equipment, but during the decisive parts of the battle, his offense and defense’s speed would become astonishing. This was yet another element that was different from the game, and it made sense.
Because, even though Vincent had a high attack power and a demon-like durability despite being slow-witted at the moment, that alone probably would not have been enough for him to climb up to the rank of the leader of the knight order. In reality, he had earned that position simply because he had little to no exploitable openings.
There were two choices facing Harold now.
The first one was to give up on the treasured object and escape. With Vincent as his opponent, getting away was not going to be difficult.
However, if Harold did that, all the treasured objects would be in Justus’ possession. Although in a certain sense, things were going the same way they did in the game, Harold could not throw away his suspicion that the original story’s events might occur ahead of schedule. If that were to happen, then perhaps Liner and the others’ progress would not be fast enough for them to be ready by the time of the last event.
The second choice was to defeat Vincent right here.
Originally, Vincent was supposed to be prompted by Justus into fighting Liner and the others at the last stage of the story, but in this world, that was most likely not the case. Because in the game, the main reasons why Vincent had been coaxed into working for Justus were that after the Beltis forest battle, his best friend Cody had left the knight order, moreover, following the massive killing of the stellar tribe’s people, the order had lost its authority. The accumulated mental fatigue from these happenings had weakened Vincent and Justus had taken advantage of that.
However, since all of these things had been prevented by Harold’s actions, he had thought that Justus would probably not be able to coax Vincent into working for him, and that was indeed the case.
Therefore, Justus had resorted to a more drastic measure: brainwashing. But it wasn’t in order to kill the Hero, Liner, rather, it was to kill the one who played the part of the villain, Harold.
If Harold were to withdraw, then Vincent, in his brainwashed state, would join Justus as his subordinate. He would become Justus’ trump card, his joker. Thus, Justus’s plan would surely progress even faster.
Harold would not have enough brains to read through the timing of such a development that would diverge completely from the original story. No matter what he did, Harold would end up falling behind for sure, and he was afraid that he would find himself driven into a corner, unable to stop Justus because of that.
So he had no choice but to defeat Vincent here. However, looking at this from another point of view, it was a golden opportunity to reduce Justus’ war potential.
Therefore, Harold resolved himself.
【”…… Vincent Van Westervoort. This place will be your grave.”】
This was a battle against an opponent that Harold wasn’t sure he could beat, and if he lost this fight, he would most likely die.
In reality, he did not want to use “it” until the very end, but if he kept being so particular about that, he would likely die with all his efforts amounting to nothing. Right now, the only thing he was thinking about was defeating Vincent, and he was going to do everything that was in his power for that goal.
Harold shouted, and the jade green crystal that was embedded on the sword in his right hand shone with a subtle sparkle.