[NW] The Unbound World's "Normal" is Difficult - 1. Game, Start
"—[Greed]. Hey, [Greed], are you listening?"
Holst's name was called again by this elegant voice, so he leisurely lifted his eyelids.
He saw an extravagant chandelier, an elaborate tapestry, a large table with fine craftsmanship, and a perfectly arranged tea set.
This was a completely normal prison room.
When Holst let out a yawn, the woman sitting diagonally across from him voiced her astonishment.
"Jeez, even though [Sloth] had finally prepared us some tea, you let it cool down."
She was a beautiful woman with glossy, silver hair cascading down her shoulders. Her dress that resembled a negligee slovenly covered her body. This former prostitute, beautiful as a siren, was the queen of this prison: Heidemarie.
"It's fine. The Hanisch tea I have prepared today is a lovely brand that tastes wonderful even when cooled."
Today as well, the former swindler, [Sloth] Morgan, dressed like a distinguished butler and plastered a gentle smile on his face. Next to him, their comrades were drinking tea in whatever they felt like wearing.
"Wha~t? Did you pull another all-nighter because of an experiment?"
Another man raised his neat, thin eyebrows in a teasing mood. He was the former kidnapper who specialized in brainwashing: [Envy] Liesel.
"You know that you were muttering some disturbing things in your sleep, right?"
The one sitting next to Heidemarie with his legs crossed had impressive blue eyes and looked at Holst, deeply interested. He was the former hero, [Wrath] Gilbert. And, the giant who hadn't added anything particular to the conversation was completely indulging himself in scones smeared with clotted cream. He was [Gluttony] Isak.
"…Yeah, a bit. It seems like I recalled the event, about ten years ago, when I thought about burning [Gluttony] to death."
Holst considered the incident where Elma went missing to be Isak's fault. He recalled the irritation and impatience he felt at that time. When he mumbled in anger, Isak looked up, puzzled.
That atrocious yet naïve expression (a terrible contradiction) caused Holst to scoff and deliberately change the conversation.
"Well, whatever. It's in the past. —More importantly, did you change the cushions on the sofa recently? It was really nice to sleep on."
"Oh, you finally noticed?"
Holst pressed his palm against the sofa, checking out how it felt, and Heidemarie on the other side replied in a tired voice. After that, she shrugged her shoulders, her delicate collar bone showing.
"I said it before, didn't I? We got our hands on some ‘extra spending,’ so I renovated the prison furniture."
This time, it was Liesel's turn to be confused as he let out a sigh of amazement. He waved his beautiful, feminine hand and announced without a care.
"You can't do that, Marie. While everything was happening to get little Clemens imprisoned, this one has been cooped up in his laboratory."
Holst frowned at this unfamiliar name and went through his memory. His clear mind even allowed him to immediately draw the uninteresting information from before.
The former Marquis Clemens von Lottner had violated human rights when he attempted to assassinate the royal family and falsely accused them, so the former prime minister was sent to prison the other day.
Holst wondered how this was related to their "extra spending" in his dazed mind, but before he could conclude anything, Morgan explained.
"At this time, the newly enthroned king kindly sent a letter to the 'victims' the former marquis had falsely accused. He intended to release us through a pardon and provide accommodations for our future, but when I wondered how this would happen, our queen gave us her take."
"I am thankful for the sentiment, but wouldn't it be a problem for us if we were released now? Our joyous family is 'right here' after all. I have no intention of returning to life outside of here, so to that effect, I left [Sloth] be the one to convey this message."
And, Morgan demonstrated his impressive skills as a former swindler. Namely that he wrote: "Although we greatly appreciate your kindness, our lost time will not return. We wish not to sully the new king's reign, so we would like to build a quiet place near the prison and live modestly. In that regard, we would be grateful if you can give us some money as compensation." He conveyed their intention very persuasively but without any sarcasm.
Frankly put, they were demanding consolation money.
"…How much did we get?"
Holst was a bit intrigued and asked. Morgan showed a gentle smile and stuck three fingers up. Holst didn't ask for the number of digits…but he knew without having to ask. Morgan had probably blown it up to a suitable amount.
"…As expected of [Sloth]."
"It's nothing. The new king of Luden is simply a tender soul. While he was at it, he also sent us a gift along with that letter telling us we are free to do what we want."
"Yes, a toy—to stave off boredom."
That very gift was the gagged Clemens von Lottner dressed in shabby clothes.
This man was normally dressed in high-class clothes, so despite being a prisoner, he maintained a fair amount of rights. However, King Felix threw him into the nest of his victims and told them to "do whatever they liked," so he clearly wanted them to vent their resentment. The king added that they could gouge his eyes or tear off his limbs if they felt like it.
This was truly a shrewd, spiteful, and coldhearted method.
But, Holst said, "Oh?" with his eyebrows raised in amusement.
"So, where is that Clemens guy? I don't think I've seen him yet."
Morgan looked a bit troubled, but he smiled and opened his arms.
"It was like a wonderful bow was tied to the top of the present when he was sent here, so [Envy] treated him."
"What does that mean?"
Holst asked, so Liesel himself answered as he gracefully sipped his tea.
"It seems that my excellent disciple went a bit too far with her brainwashing, so the man had several screws loose in the head. He continually swayed his body left and right and grew agitated whenever he saw something that looked like string. Marie took one look at him, said 'We don't need this toy,' and became upset. So, he was given to me."
Liesel constantly bumped heads with Heidemarie over the littlest things, but he was fundamentally on good terms with her and enjoyed being relied on. Holst didn't really understand, but this must be what "girl friendships" were like.
"Hmph," Holst nodded and let things slide.
"Have you safely cured him?"
"Of course. I've brainwashed him perfectly. He'll obey my orders during emergencies. Oh, but when I tried to get him to give me a small piece of information, he suddenly couldn't talk anymore. That was a bit concerning."
Liesel put his index finger to his lips, frowned, and looked a bit dissatisfied.
His brainwashing was normally "thorough, strict, and nonchalant." On top of grasping a thorough understanding of the target, he also had complete control over them, making them willing to kill themselves if ordered. Yet, it was his aesthetics to make it so that the target wouldn’t normally be capable of picking up on this.
In spite of that, when he ordered the man to speak, there appeared to be some signs of resistance. This upset Liesel.
"Oh, how rare. To think that [Envy] could fail at brainwashing."
"—You better watch what you say. Who are you saying failed?! It's only natural for some differences in the extent of control depending on the target. I'm more than double with my detailed checks than most, so I noticed this abnormality that ordinary people wouldn't have. Simply that. Let me tell you. His mind is being manipulated so that not only does he not have any memory of being brainwashed, but he also doesn't recall ever meeting me. The work done on him must be very sensitive."
His "fellow female" friend and rival, Heidemarie, ridiculed him, so Liesel angrily snapped back.
Afterward, they smoothly returned to discussing Clemens' current situation.
"Fufu, he actually gives off the feeling of a meek and intellectual man. Certainly like a clergyman should. He might even be like [Sloth]. …Hmm, but he is black-hearted~. I get that slight feeling from him, so he might be far cuter than [Sloth]."
"How rude. I don't see how I exude any kind of cuteness."
When Liesel snickered, Morgan puffed out his chest in an exaggerated expression from the side.
Gilbert had been quietly listening to the conversation and let a chuckle slip.
"Indeed. [Sloth] is more skilled at giving a poker face. The man…Clemens seemed to be quietly looking for a chance to escape jail. He might even be planning on cutting off our sleeping heads while he's at it."
As he said this, he picked up a strand of hair from Heidemarie, who was sitting next to him.
"It looks like this place will also get lively for some time."
He appeared to welcome this as a way to offer entertainment for the woman he loved.
"Oh, is that so?"
Heidemarie bent forward to grab the knife to cut a slice of the deliciously baked pie for her devoted lover.
But, she raised her head, suddenly realizing something.
The next moment, she swung her right hand without any hesitation and threw the knife behind her. The carefully polished silver blade made a dull thud when it pierced into the door inside the room.
With her face still facing down, she took a peek behind her at the door and the corner of her mouth slowly rose.
"Not 'will get', but 'became', right?"
Pressed by the force of the knife, the door slowly opened. On the other side, frozen stiff by the knife before his eyes was—Clemens.
"Eavesdropping sounds so lonely. Don't hesitate. Come right in."
The shaken former marquis couldn't smile. Heidemarie gestured to come inside with one of her elegant hands. Clemens still hadn't moved, so she signaled to have Isak forcefully bring him in. After this was done, her smile slowly broadened.
"Welcome, Clemens. We appreciate you coming here."
Her voice, as sweet as honey, announced. Although Clemens was on guard, he neither screamed nor fell back from surprise. Seeing this, she narrowed her eyes in satisfaction, said, "Enjoy some tea. Let's have a nice chat," and offered him a seat.
"—…What do you intend to do to me—"
"Please relax. This is a very peaceful, comfortable, and uneventful place. I would like you to keep me company for a bit."
Clemens had asked in a low voice, so Heidemarie cast an alluring gaze at him, just as her prostitute self would. She carefully watched as Clemens barely maintained a calm expression before slightly tilting her head.
"Oh, right. Do you enjoy cards?"
It appeared that she thought of the perfect game.
Her decisions were equivalent to the law here in the prison. When Heidemarie showed a playful smile and look, that alone made the men who had been listlessly enjoying their tea slowly stand up.
The swindler, the kidnapper, the mad scientist, the crazed warrior, and the fallen hero all looked like they understood her intentions and stared at Clemens.
Overwhelmed, he became speechless. Heidemarie faced him and said with an elegant smile, "Now then. Shall we start our game?"