Chapter 2

 

⋅⋅⋅•⋅⊰⋅•⋅⋅•⋅∙∘☽༓☾∘∙⋅•⋅⋅•⋅⊰⋅•⋅⋅⋅

A secret invitation.

Atalante belonged to the lucky side.

It was practically a miracle that an unknown newborn child that was abandoned in the forest managed to grow up with her four limbs intact. 

Children of the slums that didn’t have adults to protect them, had to learn how to protect themselves and their peers by themselves. 

The day Atalante had lost almost half of her important people and her friends in a war to satisfy the appetites of those with a higher status, was the day she killed another person for the first time. 

She was only eleven at that time.

Atalante gathered the children that managed to survive and created an organisation consisting of a motley crowd, Argo. 

It was the name of an expedition team that gathered all kinds of heroes, as depicted by a bard. They had no choice but to accept all sorts of difficult requests, causing this name to lose its luster. Horrible scenes became a common occurrence, but there was no other way.

A small villain.

Thanks to that, she got a nickname that couldn’t be described as cute when she was less than fifteen years old. 

She spent her days ever since then struggling to survive, and somewhere along the line, Atalante became one of the most notorious villains in the Empire. 

She did commit many evil deeds as befitting of the term ‘villain’, hence it wasn’t unfounded. 

She didn’t have any particular expectations. She had only thought that she’d die while continuing the villainous acts for the rest of her life. 

“You should become a good child, Atalante.” 

Although she would occasionally have auditory hallucinations of her stepfather because she missed him, it’s fine if she closed her eyes and covered her ears. 

That mister was no longer in the world, and Atalante has crossed the line of no return too many times to become the good child he said she should be. 

It would be a lie if she said she didn’t want to wash her hands off this dirty underground world. 

It became common for yesterday’s colleague to aim for her neck today, and she could count on a hand the number of days she had gotten proper rest ever since she started leading the organisation. 

“What’s this?”

It’s been a while since she was lost in her thoughts, and someone had a knife pointed at her neck. Perhaps it was because it wasn’t the first or second time she was ambushed like this, although there was a knife at her neck, she found it more troublesome rather than feeling fearful. 

“Who sent you? Four Combined Society? Seven Star Faction? Was it the Sicilia Faction?”

As Atalante listed the groups that were fiercely antagonistic towards Argo, she used the dagger that was hidden in her sleeve to break the assailant’s long sword instantly. 

It was ridiculous. What kind of power did a small girl have?

The man was stricken with panic at the unexpected counterattack, and was trampled upon by her booted feet before he could make a sound. 

“I’ll send you back peacefully if you answer properly.”

Although she wasn’t sure where she’d be sending him, it was clear that it wouldn’t be his home. 

Before he knew it, Atalante took out a black revolver and aimed it at his head with a chilly gaze.

He was the person that broke into another’s room and drew the knife against her, but the assailant was now shaking under her feet. 

As Atalante looked at the masked man frostily, she checked her surroundings. She sharpened all her senses, but she couldn’t feel the presence of any others. 

Did he really come here alone fearlessly? Against the head of Argo, Atalante?

“Tsk, I’ve changed my mind about simply letting you go. Coming to kill me without even bringing friends along… what a blow to my pride this is.”

As she stomped on the man’s abdomen hard, an ominous sound appeared.

Just as he was about to scream, Atalante shoved the gun into his mouth to block the sound from coming out. If he made a racket, he’ll wake up Yuffie, who was barely put to sleep. 

“Answer me.”

“Uuu, uhhk…”

“Who sent you, answer me.”

When I took out another similarly shaped revolver and placed it on his chest, the man struggled and began making odd sounds with muddled pronunciation.

With a satisfied smile, she removed the revolver that was blocking his mouth.

But the person the intruder mentioned as his backer was someone completely unexpected.

“Em– Emperor… His Majesty the Emperor…”

“Emperor? What’s with the lousy organisation name? You’ll die if you’re lying.”

He looked like he was ten years older than Atalante, but she looked down on the man without caring about it at all.

It was foolish to be particular about age, as there was no order in this place. 

As Argo’s boss gave a vicious smile, trampled on his feet with more force. 

“Ka– Kaiser! His Majesty, Emperor Kaiser has asked me to bring you!”

In order to not go against her mood, the man resisted the urge to groan as he spoke almost weepingly. 

What does he mean by emperor? None of the bosses that she knows of has a name like that… Wait, Kaiser?

“Kaiser Thessalia?”

She moved her red lips and muttered the name that she had heard of before somewhere.

Upon hearing that, the unidentified man nodded crazily.

Kaiser Thessalia. That name, which even the poor memorised, belonged to the ruler of the Thessalia Empire.

⋅⋅⋅•⋅⊰⋅•⋅⋅•⋅∙∘☽༓☾∘∙⋅•⋅⋅•⋅⊰⋅•⋅⋅⋅

There was only meagre candlelight flickering within the darkened secret chamber. She had thought that the Emperor’s invitation meant that she would be going to the Imperial Palace, but she shouldn’t have such expectations.

‘Was it because of my lowly birth that I can’t even step into the Imperial Palace?’

As a self-deprecating smile appeared on Atalante’s face, she looked at the silhouette seated in an old chair.

The traces of wrinkles that told the passage of time paled into insignificance, as an overwhelming aura emitted from the man that was presumably the Emperor. He wasn’t dressed in extravagant clothes or wearing a crown, was it because he was born with noble blood?

“Are you Atalante?”

The voice of the old emperor was too low.

Atalante opened her mouth, trying not to show her nervousness.

“Are you really the Emperor?”

The unidentified man that had invaded her room had even brought out the emblem of the Imperial Guard, but she couldn’t fully trust him yet.

The old man that had been looking at her profoundly, burst into laughter when she answered his question with a question.

“How interesting.”

The man that smirked at something he found amusing, before slowly taking off the robe. 

“Will you believe it like this?”

“…Although I can’t believe it, I have no choice but to believe it.”

Atalante replied with an exasperated tone.

The pitch-black hair and sky blue eyes were the symbols of Thessalia’s Imperial Family. Even she, who’s of lowly birth, had that much common knowledge. 

Another characteristic of the Imperial Family was that their hair wouldn’t turn white with age. The man in front of her had black hair that didn’t suit his wrinkled face, as if it was proof of his status as a member of the Imperial Family. 

‘I’ve heard that the eye pupils of the Imperial Family are really beautiful, but the colour is really pretty.’

Without realising it, she stared into the Emperor’s mysterious blue eyes. After the escorts beside him rebuked her, he leaned against the creaking chair and spoke. 

“Your head is too stiff.”

“It’s because I didn’t learn etiquette as I’m of a lowly birth. Please be understanding.”

Atalante didn’t bow before the Emperor’s criticism, instead giving him a smile. 

She felt awkward speaking with honorifics. It was because she has never used proper honorifics before, not once in her entire life. 

At her response, the Emperor seemed to be uncomfortable as his brows furrowed, but he didn’t purposefully teach Atalante etiquette.

Even if the boss of a criminal organisation was taught the etiquette of nobility, where would she use it?

“…I’ve heard of your notoriety. It seems that it wasn’t just a rumour. My most treasured escort was completely destroyed by you.”

“Oh, that weak No, the knight.” 

The Emperor’s face was once again wrinkled by the word she used, ‘weak’.

It was surprising that the man she had subdued was the vice captain of the Imperial Guard.

But it was the truth. She, who was weak, had only stepped on him a few times, and it resulted in broken bones. 

“Can you get to the main point quickly? As you can see, I don’t know how to treat the Imperial Family respectfully, and I’m a low-born that doesn’t know honour, 

nor do I respect the Imperial Family, I might ruin Your Majesty’s mood.”

“…Aren’t low-borns still Imperial citizens?”

“I lived without being treated like an Imperial citizen.”

In the Empire, it was the nobles, no, even the wealthy commoners, that were treated like Imperial citizens. 

Atalante swallowed back the following words and raised a corner of her mouth.

“It sounds like you’re blaming Us.”

[T/N: the Emperor is speaking with the royal ‘we’, used by monarch to refer to themselves]

“Feel free to interpret it as you please.”

“Haha, you’re such a cheeky girl.”

A girl?

Although she has a slender body and a youthful face, Atalante was the leader of the largest and longest standing organisation in the underground world.

Even the subordinates that she cherished couldn’t say that when looking at the mess in her hands. 

Well, what does he know? Atalante wasn’t the slightest bit interested in the Emperor. She didn’t have any intention of pleasing him.

She didn’t know what made him call for her, but it was clear that they would never meet again, as the worlds they lived in were different.

“There are 15 escorts lurking around this villa, no… Around 20 people? You’ve brought a lot of people along.”

She wanted to take care of all of them, including the Emperor that’s in front of her, and return back to her hideout, but that would cause the country to collapse, so she must remain patient. 

While the country hasn’t done anything for her, she didn’t want to become someone that lost her hometown.

“It’s a very simple matter. There’s something important to request of you, Argo’s boss, Atalante.”

“Please speak.”

“Assassinate the Grand Duke, Lionel Blanc.”

At the sound of the Emperor’s ‘matter’, the little finger that was scratching her ear stopped, and she lowered it stiffly.

If it’s the Grand Duke, Lionel Blanc…

“We don’t like to say things twice.”

“If it’s the Grand Duke, Lionel Blanc, then it’s the Grand Duchy of Blanc’s…?”

“The only Grand Ducal family that’s officially recognised by the Imperial Family of Thessalia, is the Blanc family.”

She was aware of that too.

Lionel Blanc, the ruler of the Grand Duchy of Blanc that protects the Northern border, was a man famed for being a cold-blooded tyrant.

She had heard of the incident where he killed his parents and the family’s vassals in order to ascend to the position of Grand Duke quickly.

An ironic thing was that the Grand Duchy functioned quite well, despite Lionel’s unscrupulous behaviour.

No, it’s not at the level where it’s functioning well… Ever since he took over the reins, the Grand Duchy of Blanc had become a place that was incomparably wealthy with a mighty military than it was before.

“What’s the reason?”

“…There isn’t a need for you to know about that. All you have to do is carry out Our orders.”

“And if I refuse?”

“You’ll die here instead of the Grand Duke.”

The Emperor gave a bloodthirsty smile as he recited threatening lines.

As Atalante gave a similar smile in return, her brain started working.  

Although she was confident that she wouldn’t lose when it came to fighting, it was clear that killing Lionel Blanc wouldn’t be so simple.

If the rumours about him were true, he would be as strong as her, and was a thorough man.

“What’s the reward if I succeed?”

The Emperor frowned when her clear question entered his ears.

Atalante provoked him by saying that although it didn’t seem that way, she didn’t just complete any request. 

As it was an unwilling commission, she planned on making a decision after she heard what the Emperor would give her. 

“I’ll give you a decent fief on the outskirts of the capital.”

“…A fief?”

“You can’t be committing evil deeds for your entire life, can you? A fief and the status of it’s lordship will be yours. It means that We will support you and your members, so that they can lead a peaceful life.”

⋅⋅⋅•⋅⊰⋅•⋅⋅•⋅∙∘☽༓☾∘∙⋅•⋅⋅•⋅⊰⋅•⋅⋅⋅