"You actually don't know about Nigruela?" asked the warrior as he stared wide-eyed at Leguna, a hint of amazement hidden in his voice.
"Is he famous or something?" Leguna asked, "Why should I know him?"
"He is very famous," the warrior continued solemnly.
Leguna soon learned about Nigruela. The man used to be the target of a local thieves' guild's overtures. They called themselves Dancers of the Night and were considered the largest thieves' guild in the empire. More importantly, they had deep ties with the imperials. Most of the empire's information on Stok came through them.
Larwin wouldn't allow such a huge force to do as they please within his territory. But their operations were far too covert; he could do nothing about them. He sent troops to sweep their hideouts countless times, but they were never found. Most operations came up completely empty-handed, and even when one was successful, it never caught more than one or two grunts.
This continued for several years… until Wayerliss appeared. He was the head of the largest thieves' guild on a continent. He was not someone the Dancers of the Night could match. The newly formed Bureau of Military Intelligence quickly wiped them out. Most were killed, several captured.
Nigruela was one of the latter. He had been one of the most talented elite of the guild, but was captured during one of his missions. He was not a loyal man, however. He quickly told the bureau everything he knew.
The bureau acted on his information and soon had two of the guild's leaders, members of the night council, in their grasp. Nigruela had joined the fight and killed a 15-strata warrior.
The bureau quickly spread rumor of the guild's fall with Nigruela's signature, turning him into the scapegoat. He subsequently became the focus of everyone's rage and retribution.
The bureau wasn't completely heartless. They did not trust him because he so easily betrayed, but he was talented. They decided to keep him on as a low-level henchmen.
It was his association with the bureau that kept him alive despite many attempts of his life. In exchange for their protection, Nigruela killed two generals on the battlefield in the south, which further added to his reputation.
Apart from Dark Requiem, famed for wiping out Bloodhand single-handedly, Nigruela was the most famous assassin on the continent.
Leguna was quite surprised. The assassin's arrogance had made Leguna think he was some bigshot, but it turned out he was just a henchman, little more than a thug.
He had not yet decided whether to help Kurdak take his revenge. Kurdak, after all, was not Leguna. The latter could fearlessly proclaim his intent to beat up Nigruela, but Kurdak was not the same. He had none of Leguna's strength and Nigruela, like Leguna, punched well above his weight. Leguna was unconfident in Kurdak's chances should the two fight.
He wondered whether he should get rid of Nigruela on his own, but, given how sharp Kurdak was, he would know what had happened. Kurdak might not hate him for it, but his pride would take a hit. How could it not when a child had taken the revenge he, as the victim's man, could not.
As for messing with Nigruela before the next round started, it wasn't that different from killing him outright. Kurdak would know immediately as well.
In the end, Leguna was left without a way to help out. He waved his hand in frustration and let them go to treat their friend.
The single, remaining, unharmed fighter -- seeing his comrade was freed -- initially wanted to rage, but he decided to hold back after his leader gave him a stern staring. If they really got into a fight, the three would die quickly.
They would come to thank their lucky stars a few days later when they watch the kid's next match. But that was a matter for another day.
The three left the inn with hateful gazes.
Leguna sat at the table, alone, as he tried to think how he could deal with this dilemma, but, try as he might, he came up with nothing.
Since it was still uncertain whether Kurdak would actually encounter Nigruela, he decided to leave things be for now.
It turned out the next day that Leguna had indeed made the correct decision.
The tournament organizers announced the hundred that made it through the next afternoon. Fifty were from the low-order segment. The rules followed.
It would be a series of matches. The 14 the empire nominated would join in at this point. The 64 were split into 16 groups of four. Each member in the group would fight every other in three rounds, a point awarded to the victor of each round. The two with the most points would advance.
Leguna and Kurdak were in different blocks. All three of the faces in Leguna's group were fresh. Nigruela was in his own group, paired with Annelotte. This turn of events attracted quite a bit of Leguna's attention.
Annelotte Ladis. When Leguna saw the name, his heart skipped a beat.
He finally had word of her. He had finally seen her... name. Though it was only a name, the mere sight of it washed the boy's worries away.
He had feared Annelotte would choose to withdraw at the last moment, worried that she would choose to disappear and that he would never see her again. He didn't know what he would do if that had turned out the case.
Thank the gods you showed up, Annie, he thought.
He finally had certainty the two would meet soon.
He stared at the list blankly, his hands shaking. Kurdak, who stood beside him, turned some when he saw the girl's name as well. He patted Leguna on the shoulder.
"Alright, you'll meet her in a few days. Vera's injuries aren't healed yet, so I have to go back for now."
"Finally... I can finally see you again." Leguna took in a deep breath and looked at that name again. After making sure once more that it was the name of the one he yearned for, he turned to leave with Kurdak, finally assured.
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