The silence didn’t last long. Someone clapped, and the room was soon filled with applause and praise.
At this point Albus could just take her leave, so we wouldn’t have to worry about the assassination plot, but after inviting dignitaries from afar, she couldn’t leave right away.
When we got down to the hall, Lily’s fear and tension reached its peak. She stuck her head between my arms and didn’t move a muscle.
Zero chuckled. “You look like you are carrying an adorable stuffed animal.”
I looked up at the ceiling in dismay. The chandeliers did nothing to lift my mood.
“I kinda feel bad for forcing her to join the ball now,” Albus said. “Hey, there. We have yummy food and stuff. Do you want some? I can get some for you.”
Albus dangled a fruit-filled baked sweet at Lily in an attempt to put her in a good mood. Lily looked up for a second, and with blinding speed, snatched the food, tossed it in her mouth, and quickly shoved her head back in my arms again.
“As quick as a rat,” I muttered under my breath.
“I am a rat,” Lily replied in a muffled voice.
“D-Do that one more time!” Albus said. “Here, I got some more.”
“Do not pay too much attention to her, you two,” Zero said. “Rat’s timidity is what allows her to sense danger and abnormalities quickly. Even when carried by Mercenary, she is doing her job well as a guard.” She snatched the food from Albus’s hand and shoved it into her own mouth.
“Okay,” Albus said. “Tell me if there’s any danger, then, Lily.”
Lily responded with an unhappy squeak.
Zero casually reached over the tower of sweets and took two, shoving one in her mouth and the other in mine.
When we went down to the hall, everyone simply looked at us from a distance. No one dared to approach. Either they were afraid of me, or Zero’s sinister beauty.
Albus frowned. “This is a bit of a problem, huh?” She pouted.
We had to keep an eye out for the assassin, but Albus herself also organized this ball to strengthen ties with powerful people. Their fear of approaching her would interfere with her goals.
Then, a wild one appeared.
Proud and brazen footsteps came drumming from beyond the wave of people, heading straight towards us. Stocky and gray-haired, he was a head taller than everyone else.
“Excuse me,” he said. “If you don’t have any business with the chief Mage, could you let me through? Oh, thank you. I apologize for my huge body. Oh, excuse me, little man. You’re too small, I couldn’t see you.”
Rather than weaving through the crowd, it looked more like he was parting them.
The man leaped in front of us with a glass of wine in his hand, and as soon as he saw Albus, he flashed a bright smile.
“It’s nice to finally meet you, Chief Mage of the kingdom of Wenias, the Mooncaller Witch Lady Albus! The rumors are true. You’re imposing for your age.”
Gracefully handing over his glass to a waiter, the man firmly grabbed both of Albus’ hands and pressed his lips against them.
“In another ten years, I would love to ask for your personal company, but I’m afraid an old man like me is not a good match for such a young and beautiful witch.” He winked.
He was the very image of a womanizer, and for some reason, he looked familiar. At first I thought I could be wrong, but now I was sure.
“The horny governor of Ideaverna?!”
“You can call me Lord Torres, Fluffy.” The tall, old man gave a hearty laugh.
Torres Nada Gadio, the governor of the largest port city in the Republic of Cleon, Ideaverna.
“What the hell are you doing here?!”
“A foolish question, boy. Did your brain turn into a hairball? I was invited, of course. I am a VIP, after all.” He puffed out his chest.
As always, there was no hint of spite in his arrogance.
Zero slammed a fist into her palm, as though realizing something. “I see. Dog mentioned he was guarding a dignitary from Cleon. He was referring to you.”
“Indeed. Not to brag or anything, but I’m probably the most high-ranking man in this hall. As such, the Chief Mage provided me with a special escort.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “I’m also the next head of Cleon.”
Has a decision been made already? I asked with just my eyes.
He gave a big smile, as if to say that the groundwork was perfect.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes at first, but to think I’d see an old friend again here. Fortune must be smiling on me. The moment I saw the exceptional beauty lording over others from atop your shoulders, I knew that this miracle was real. Oh, Lady Zero. You are as beautiful as ever, like the moon’s reflection undulating on the surface of a calm sea.”
“Long time no see, governor,” Zero said. “You have not changed a bit.” She quietly extended one hand, and the governor gave it a respectful kiss.
“W-Wait a minute!” Albus said. “What’s going on here? How do you know the governor of Ideaverna? You didn’t mention that in your report!”
“Well, I didn’t write it down,” I said.
“Why didn’t you write something so important?!” Albus scratched her head in frustration. There was no trace of her dignity as Chief Mage from earlier.
“She’s much more adorable than I thought,” the governor muttered to himself, watching Albus with great interest. He then poked Albus on the shoulder and smiled at her. “My apologies. I’ve heard about you from them. I should have informed you about that.” He lowered his voice. “But I had to avoid the Church’s terrifying eyes, so it took me longer than expected.”
He was acting concerned of the surroundings, but I knew the man. He must have prepared a good reason so the Church wouldn’t be wary of him.
“Now normally, it would be difficult for a man of my position to accept the invitation, but I made some arrangements. I accepted a request from the Church to observe their enemies’ movements. Besides, for the interest of my country, which makes its living from the transportation industry, I must keep our ties with Wenias. It is, after all, at the center of a very important trade route.”
I knew it. He might seem negligent, but he was actually shrewd.
“I’m sorry, there’s nothing worth observing here,” Albus said. “You can find out what’s going on in Wenias through the remaining Church followers in the kingdom. I wish I could tell you a secret or two regarding witches.” She gave a wry smile.
The governor guffawed. “Now that’s a witch for you. You’re young, yet you talk like an old prime minister. Don’t worry about a thing. You might not believe it, but I’m also quite skilled. It’s fine if you don’t divulge any information. I’ll make do with my eloquence.”
“I don’t know about that,” a cold, hard voice said from somewhere very close.
The governor jumped. It was the waiter—no, actually it was the homicidal priest. I was wondering where he was. Apparently, he disguised himself as a waiter.
“It’s been a while, governor,” he greeted. “As you can see, I’m here as the eyes of the Church, so if you submit an incorrect report, it will adversely affect your position.” He sounded unusually cold.
Then I recalled the time when the governor spoke ill of the priest, driving him out of the dinner table. The governor answered the priest with a provocative smile, indicating he too remembered the incident.
“Well, well, well. If it isn’t the blind priest. Is this payback for my going a little too far at the dinner table? Surely a disciple of God can’t be that petty!”
“Of course not. I am merely carrying out my duties.”
“Then I will do my job as well, which is to pursue the interests of me and my people. How about a contest? Whose words are more important to the Church’s higher-ups, mine or yours?”
“Stop it.” Zero tapped the governor’s head. Since I was carrying her, she could easily hit the large man’s head.
Touching his head, the governor looked at Zero, blinking.
“Due to complicated circumstances, we are currently working together towards a common goal,” Zero said. “If the priest’s standing worsens, we would be in a bit of trouble.”
The governor’s eyes widened. “A witch and a priest joining hands? Interesting! You have gained my respect, priest. I didn’t know you were so open-minded!” Laughing, the governor patted the priest on the back.
The priest brushed off his hand in annoyance. “Anyway, please refrain from doing anything that would bring shame to the name of God.” He then disappeared into the crowd once more.