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“So there is a traitor, but you don’t know who it is.”
The agents looked at each other worriedly as Isaac’s gaze swept through them.
“That is why we’ll be interrogating.”
“With your elven specialty?”
“Yes. We’ll be able to pick up on their lies as we interrogate them one by one.”
Lanburton answered confidently, but Isaac smirked at the idea.
“And how long is that going to take? I’m sure they’ll have plenty of time to escape by then.”
“But that is our only lead.”
“Finding the traitor is easy enough.”
“What? You have a method to find them?”
Lanburton exclaimed, surprised, while Rivelia and Security agents trembled at the looming ambiguity.
“Everyone who was in Port City today are excluded.”
Most of the agents rushed out of the gap as the line of North Bears parted ways for them, relieved. Once the group exited, only six agents were left, and they all looked worriedly at Isaac. The non-humans surrounded them, forming rings upon rings around the six.
“Are they the suspects?”
One of the left behind agents desperately cried out.
“This doesn’t make sense! You can’t just treat us like traitors just because we weren’t in Port City!”
“Then let me ask this one thing. Why weren’t you there?”
“What? That’s because…”
The agent who tried to argue back frowned in frustration. Why did the agents go to Port City? Because they wanted to switch to Laila’s side.
Most agents of Security were veterans who had served Central for over 10 years except for a select few individuals. That was why they’d be willing to quit the Directorate of Security if Laila were to employ them as officials in her vacant administration.
Even the few agents without a decade of service could ride the wave through lateral positional transfers, which was why they also a.s.sembled in Port City to demonstrate their support. So staying behind in New Port City itself was inherently suspicious.
The agents of Security had initially applied for generous future rewards. But suddenly, there was an alternative route to an even more bountiful reward—and sooner as well. No matter the excuse, inconsistencies popped up left, right, and center regardless.
Because of their task as double agents? Because they were sick? Because they wanted to rest?
Those excuses meant nothing when they survived through contests of survival thinly veiled as training, and especially surviving vile treachery all around afterwards—only to land in a muddy ditch. Kicking away an opportunity to escape made no sense whatsoever.
“Nothing to say? Subdue them.”
The North Bears subdued them roughly before the agents could even react. Kneeling, the six agents sent silent, pleading gazes for help from their fellow agents, but everyone had made up their mind to ignore them.
“There are agents of Surveillance and a.n.a.lysis among them too.”
Rivelia commented, convinced that of all the directorates, a.n.a.lysis would be the last to betray them. Isaac nodded at her.
“Let me apologize in advance.”
Isaac signalled one of the nearby agents to bring him a chair. As everyone wondered why Isaac apologized, he sat on the chair and crossed his legs.
“There is the possibility that one of you really is innocent.”
“That’s right! I am innocent!”
“But as you know, we don’t have time. There’s a lot that needs to be done. So if you are innocent and don’t know anything, keep saying that. I’m going to kill you all regardless.”
A chilling silence fell around them. A declaration that innocent deaths were just unfortunate and nothing more.
“Kukuku. Yeah, kill us. But you won’t get any information out of us.”
The sudden change in the agent pleading innocence turned everyone’s heads as they watched.
“Robert, have you truly betrayed us!”
One of the agents outside the perimeter—apparently one of his good friends—cried out in disbelief, only to have Robert shout back.
“Who do you think you are calling a traitor! We are the Order of the Empire, and we swore to dedicate our lives to the Emperor and the Empire!”
“… What are these stupid Order of the Empire r.e.t.a.r.ds?”
Isaac asked, and Rivelia stuttered as she answered, her face pale from shock.
“The Order of the Empire… is an organisation of Central agents who have sworn fealty to the Emperor and the Empire. But Sir Jackson, you were a va.s.sal of the Pendletons. How could you!”
“The Pendletons are the threat splitting the Empire into two. Do you not see how much suffering is had for us humans because the Pendletons prevent us from being united as one? I swore my fealty to the future of mankind long ago.”
Rivelia stepped back, trembling.
“See how convenient it is when you reveal your ident.i.ty? Let’s just make things easy for both of us. Who killed Kalden?”
Robert looked at Isaac begrudgingly and spoke.
“I have nothing to say to you. You may have escaped thanks to luck this time, but you and the wh.o.r.e you follow will meet their demise by the hands of the Order of the Empire!”
“Your death will be a clean one if you cooperate.”
Robert snorted at Isaac’s offer and shouted.
“Our conviction is hard as steel and our loyalty to the Empire undying. We will never submit to any amount of pain and suffering!”
“We are the Order of the Empire! We are the hidden blade that protects the Emperor and his Empire!”
Robert chanted loudly, and the other agents repeated after Robert in unison.
Isaac watched the scene unfold for a moment and sighed. He stood up and dragged his chair behind him as he approached one of the members of the Order.
Krrk, krrk. The sound of sc.r.a.ping wood echoed in a silent plaza as Isaac approached Robert, who was among the other subdued members of the Order. He set the chair facing away from Robert, placing his arms on top of its backrest and resting his chin on them.
“There was an author I personally liked in the previous world. I don’t know if this author commented himself or plagiarised it, but he left this phrase. ‘Man starts wars when there is something more dear than life and ends them when nothing is more dear than life.’ Now, let me ask you one last time. Is your conviction more important than your life?”
Robert replied immediately without even giving himself a second to consider otherwise. Isaac nodded and muttered, “I see.” Isaac gazed at Robert’s face.
“Is it too big? Open his mouth for me.”
Isaac gauged the size of the eggbomb as he spoke, and the North Bear restraining Robert grabbed his jaw and ripped it open.
With the chilling ‘crack!’ the jaw opened ajar.
“I can’t keep the bomb stable now. Go find something to fasten it.”
Isaac spoke with a frown, and one of the elves swiftly provided the North Bear with a rope. Isaac took the eggbomb out of his pocket.
Robert was writhing in pain from his broken jaw when his eyes bulged at the sight of Isaac taking out the eggbomb. Isaac twisted the eggbomb and immediately shoved it into Robert’s mouth.
“Tie it up nicely so it doesn’t fall off.”
Isaac spoke indifferently as Robert struggled against his restraints in vain. Isaac dragged his chair to the member of Order next to Robert.
“I respect a man with conviction. Using an entire mana crystal to kill a man is a grand death matching their conviction. Don’t you think so too?”
Immediately, Robert’s squirming head exploded. Isaac and the agents around him were bathed in his aftermath. Isaac roughly sc.r.a.ped off the flesh that dripped down the barrier and smiled.
“So, what is more important, your life or your conviction?”
The agent quivered for a moment, and then shouted out with his eyes closed.
“Kill me! I have sworn my life for the Emp…”
Isaac glimpsed at the North Bear, who immediately broke the agent’s jaw. Isaac shoved the eggbomb into his mouth and moved to the next agent.
The pause before detonation seemed to be shorter this time, as the agent’s face exploded before Isaac could repeat the question. This time, however, an elf shielded Isaac from the shower of blood and flesh.
“Stop! Sir Jackson is part of Pendleton. Leave his punishment to me!”
Rivelia quickly stepped forward when Isaac’s wrath turned toward Jackson, but Lanburton blocked Rivelia’s path.
“We reject Pendleton’s intervention.”
Rivelia weakly stepped back in face of Lanburton’s emotionless gaze. This incident involved Rizzly’s kidnapping of all things. Even a Pendleton couldn’t stand in the way of the non-humans, who were most sensitive to damages affecting fellow non-humans.
Isaac glimpsed at the scene for a moment before asking the question with a smile still present.
“Oh dear? It seems not even the Pendletons can save you?”
“… I forfeited my life the moment our plan failed. Central’s scrutiny is unavoidable.”
“Now doesn’t that sound like you had a way out if you succeeded in killing me?”
Isaac asked and Jackson closed his eyes as if he had nothing more to say. He opened his mouth, demanding to be killed.
“Good! I am impressed. I’ll let you live. No. Not just you, but the rest of you as well.”
Jackson’s eyes opened while the non-humans looked on with great discontent, unable to discern the reasoning.
“You can’t do that. They must pay with their lives!”
One of the North Bears argued back, but Isaac grinned and answered.
“But I don’t want to? Why should I kill these brave souls who would forfeit their lives for their conviction? I will be managing them personally from now on. Anyone who dares to harm them for vengeance and what not will be taken as an offense against me, be it Central or non-human.”
“… What are you planning to do with them?”
Lanburton asked Isaac. The North Bear may have just had a short fuse, but Lanburton knew Isaac didn’t act in kindness. Isaac replied, cigarette in his mouth.
“Go find their family, relatives, friends, partners, and whatnot. Every single one.”
Jackson’s eyes widened.
“My family has nothing to do with this!”
“If you visit Smarta.s.s, you’ll see what happened to the idiots that attacked the city. Go and do the same to them. Ah! And make sure you relay this message to them: that we did this because they knew a brave soul who valued their conviction over their lives.”
“You demon! Just kill me instead! Kill me!”
Jackson and the other members of the Order renewed their struggle, fiercer than before.
“Hm? But who’s going to take care of your family afterwards? Someone needs to help them. Aren’t you curious if you’ll be able to hold onto your conviction to the very end, or if you’ll regret it after listening to the wails of your friends and family?”
Isaac snickered and the members of the Order quivered. Isaac sat on the chair again, his arms and chin resting on the chair’s backrest, and spoke.
“Now, my brave souls who’d gladly sacrifice their lives for conviction, let me ask this. What’s more important: your conviction, or your family?”
(End of volume 8)