After sending Nina home, I gained…… to be precise, I pried information out of her in order to guess the motives of Lubreo. Just in case, I had tampered with her mind so that her memory of me would be vague…… but I wasn’t used to changing anything that isn’t physical. In the first place, I can’t pry information from people without embracing them and removing the shackles of their minds. Even though this can all be achieved just with a single gaze using Gratina, it’s not easy to use it at all.
I still didn’t know the full extent of the power of Gratina’s Eyes. I did know that I couldn’t underestimate her. And she wasn’t my only enemy. There was her Lord Lubreo and his father, both of whom were masters of the house. I had no idea what they were thinking. House Lambert was a big monstrosity with multiple heads. There were just too many duties to fulfil, and even though their options were more limited than ours, they were still an opponent we could not underestimate.
「So, when were we gonna take down that Roland tomboy?」
Sara’s question posed a concise explanation of the children of the Lambert house.
「The day before the parade…… but wait, is she really a tomboy?」
Olivia had returned with Nina, so I couldn’t ask for her opinion. After all, it was rather difficult for them to make time to come all the way here. However, Sara often listened to Olivia, and they also did an adequate amount of research in the royal palace. Well, their personalities weren’t exactly amicable to begin with, so I was a little uneasy.
「Even with the few rumors I’ve heard, and from a distant perspective, she didn’t seem like a tomboy. She’s nice to her family and friends, but can get angry and violent…… Well maybe not exactly, but if she took off her dress, she could be mistaken for a female recruit, don’t you think?」
House Roland is known for its strong martial spirit and its tendency to value the strength of the individual. On the other hand, there are also rumors about them being more uncouth than House Lambert, and the readiness of their knights in getting into arguments. However, I wondered if it was true for the master’s daughter as well……
「I also heard that she single-handedly fended off a wolf attack using a longsword.」
「You’re serious. Still, Olivie has the minimum amount of practical experience. Wouldn’t she be able to do it, even if she didn’t come out of it unscathed?」
「It was a whole pack of wolves, you know?」
「……I take it back.」
Yup. It was certainly abnormal for a girl of nobility. Leaving aside the knight Layla, it’s certainly tough for one person to take on a few wolves at once when they have the advantage in numbers. In fact, she could probably kill me in an instant.
「His older brother is even more of a musclehead. Actually, all of the House Lambert successors are one, but he’s on another level.」
……I didn’t really want to think about that. Personally, I think I’m just about average in terms of physical toughness.
「House Blair is full of weaklings, House Roland is always arguing, and House Lambert is wicked…… that’s my take on the masters of each house. At the very least, it looks like the Rolands will be carrying on their family tradition in the next generation.」
Why is that Lubreo so insistent on childishly insulting a girl like that? He probably has a few tricks up his sleeve, but his boldness impresses me as much as it shocks me.
「……I would very much like to see what you will accomplish, but with Gratina around, their chances of success is high…… or rather, almost guaranteed. I still don’t know what they’re planning, but their success won’t be advantageous to us. We’ll interfere with their plans.」
At the very least, House Roland had almost no chance of outwitting House Lambert. It’s not like they lacked people with the talent to hatch any devious plans, but it was simply too slow for them to make any moves. One of the nobles of House Roland had come to me, and acted alone without getting help from anyone else. Because of that, it quickly ended in violence.
That was why Olivia had come and talk to me in the first place. I didn’t hear the full story on what she was afraid of, but it was clearly the better option compared to ignoring it.
「Even if you say that, what are we going to do? Don’t tell me you intend to coax that tomboy?」
「That wouldn’t be too difficult, but I haven’t even met her yet, you know?」
「We hadn’t met either when you made me a monster. She may have a different background, but isn’t it still pretty much the same?」
……Hmm. It’s true that I hadn’t thought of that at first, since she’s a girl of nobility. There’s no reason why we can’t do what Lubreo and the others are trying to do. I wonder if we could somehow steal his thunder……?
「I don’t know if I can do it, but I may be able to try something. If they intend to use Nina, then we may be able to use her against them instead…… Sara, I want you to spread some rumors in the royal palace, this time with Olivie.」
「Wow, you really get into it when you think of wicked plans…… So, what kind of rumors?」
「Like the one I first taught you. Something like, “Olivie has thrown Nina into her harem”.」
「That’s fine, but…… Wouldn’t the Lamberts notice that we’re up to something?」
「They’re busy until the parade begins, and I think they’ll probably ignore it anyway. The rumor is meant for…… Nora, was it? It’s for that tomboy.」
That night, I finally went back to the Underground Waterway Dungeon to conduct my experiment. I needed more hands, so I called for Daria and Sara to help with the experiments.
「Master, should I put these magical tools here?」
「Elliot, this won’t have any internal effect. Is that okay?」
Daria had always been by my side, retaining all the knowledge of magic and rituals I had seen before. Sara always had more magical knowledge than I did. They were the only two people who could help me. Miyabi probably wanted to be of assistance, but I could tell that she was too afraid to speak up.
「Couldn’t we just use the visual distortion cloth we used in the Mining Village?」
Sara asked while moving her hands.
「I only use that when the opponent is far away…… And it’ll be too obvious if we use it in the day. Also, I doubt we could use it to protect Olivie when she’s in the carriage.」
There are various ways in which assassins can do their jobs. A direct approach would probably be difficult for them, but there was always the possibility of killing all the guards as well.
I had to wonder if the assassin would risk their own life just to kill Olivia. If they were being hired by Gratina and hunted for their crimes, then they might not bear grudges toward their targets. That’s why I assumed that they would also consider their own safety. That meant that they would resort to a ranged attack using bows or magic. The next possibility would be bombs that could blow up the entire carriage.
In my hands were a blueprint for the carriage and a jewel that used illusory magic to distort one’s senses. I had been using that jewel in my failed experiments for making disguises. I placed the magic tools on the blueprint as if they matched it.
My calculations were done. I left the work to Daria and Sara, and went to the table with a map of the town on it, confirming the route of the parade. The assassination would surely occur during the parade. That’s how popular Olivia was in Abram. That wasn’t because she defeated the monsters in the Mining Village, but because the count of Abram had ruled well despite his image as a weakling, and gathered strong support from the citizens.
Plus, the parade was also a ceremony to introduce Olivia as the successor to the count of Abram. Even though he was just ruling over a city, Abram is one of the biggest cities in this country. There would be many people gathering from other cities, from merchants, nobles and the king, to the envoys who would bring the approval of succession. With that many people there, merchants would surely see it as a good opportunity for business. Already, the inn at the business district was already full, and some of the brothels had become temporary inns.
With that much traffic, it would be easier for intruders to impose themselves, and it would also be harder for us to stay alert.
Olivia had told us her large-scale plan for the guards to「keep the people from going wild or causing panic」. Our main objective of preventing an assassination became secondary to them, and that was why we had to cover the gaps in our defenses.
「Nubia, Diana, if you were to target someone in the parade, where would you do it from?」
Diana thought deeply for a while, whereas Nubia spoke while thinking.
「There’s gonna be a lot of people, so…… I would throw an axe from the crowd. But if anything goes, then…… probably the roof.」
「The roof? Oh, you mean stationing archers on the roof?」
「That’s right. I think the guards will keep an eye out…… but if the assassins were to use a large catapult, they could take out the carriage from the roof. I’ve heard rumors about a mercenary archer killing an ally and being chased all the way here into Abram. I only know from the rumors, but the mercenary is nicknamed “One-Eye”, and is excellent at ambushing and sniping. But…… he’s not named for his skills, and if he really only had one eye, he would really stand out as an archer…… Still, there’s no proof he was hired at all.」
On the roof, huh…… It’s certainly a spot that cavalry won’t be able to reach.
「Well, we have to think of a counterplan against bows either way. Of course, the knights are probably developing countermeasures. I’ll exchange information with Olivia later, but we’re the only ones who can cover the gaps. Let’s assume the worst case scenario.」
The knights aren’t incompetent as guards. In fact, many of them are talented. If they had no talent, they would’ve died on the battlefield. Also, dealing with assassins and intruders aren’t their only job. The ones they have to watch out for is the number of spectators.
Olivia had a distant relationship with the count of Abram, and started working from a low position. She was popular in her business relations in Abram. Also, it was natural to expect not only the nobles from the neighboring towns, but also curious merchants and neighboring villagers to watch the succession. As expected, the civil servants began complaining about the number of people coming in, and the fact that the inns are full is already old news. The knights are just as busy on their feet as the nobles are.
I didn’t know exactly how many knights there were in Abram, but I estimated about a hundred of them. Excluding contract knights like Layla, knights are privileged as part of the nobility, so there aren’t that many of them to begin with. There were probably about ten times as many soldiers. Including the guards patrolling the neighboring villages, it would probably be difficult for the assassin to get past half of the guards in the city.
I was staring at the map while Nubia taught me about vantage points. Just then, Diana changed the topic.
「It was poison that killed some of the members of the Assassination Guild. It’s safe to say that someone there knows how to use poisons…… Also, I don’t really have proof, but there was one who died in a fire.」
Diana sounded more on guard than usual. So many survivors from the Assassination Guild have already died. Clearly, someone was after us.
「Have you found out anything else since then?」
「The person investigating it was the one who died in the fire. It’s a little too unlikely to be an accident…… Although, the neighboring houses were burned down too, so we don’t know if he was being targeted, or if he simply died in the fire.」
The investigation didn’t go well because it was in the slums. I had Chana analyze the poison and mass produce an antidote, but it would probably take a lot of effort to develop the antidote in the first place. Also, it was rather dangerous that we still didn’t know who used the poison.
「Weren’t there any survivors in the neighborhood?」
Diana proceeded to answer Nubia’s question.
「No. We don’t know who lived in the hideout in the slums, and almost everyone there was found dead and burned.」
「In that case, we can assume everyone was killed in order to destroy the evidence. That’s similar to the work of ill-natured mercenaries.」
Whoever did this didn’t care about causing collateral damage. On top of that, he hadn’t been identified yet. He or she must have been rather crafty, or wearing something inconspicuous.
「If only we could find out what the killer looks like……」
「Well, since we don’t have any survivors…… Also, it seems that a soldier was dispatched from the castle to investigate the fire. Oh, right. I’ve found out about something…… both of them.」
「First, I’ll hear the more urgent one. About the man who was guarding Lubreo…… the one called Number Three.」
「I’m not entirely sure on this, but he seems to be the assassin who caused the incident in the capital. The murder weapon was a close range one. Either a knife, a blade, or his arms…… there are many who strangle their victims to death. His nickname is Three Arms. He most likely works alone. He disappeared for about half a year, but……」
「I do remember him being strong…… Three Arms is an apt nickname. He would have to go up close though. Maybe it’s just me, but I couldn’t feel his presence at all……」
「……Someone who can hide his presence. Elliot, you’re no good in a fight, so there’s also the possibility that you just didn’t notice……」
「Yeah, Master is horrible at fighting.」
That was harsh, but true. I couldn’t complain.
「When we’re in the shop, the only way to get in is through the front or back door, or through the windows. I’m sure we would notice if it’s anyone ordinary. On top of that, someone who is hired as a personal guard for nobility must be the real deal.」
「Can’t we do something about it? There wasn’t any trace of magic.」
「Master, it’s really important to figure it out without relying on magic, you know? ……You can see magical energy, so it comes in handy when we’re fighting enemies who use magic though.」
「……We’ll just have to pass through a wide open area.」
Nubia’s response was on point, but cold. At least, that’s what I thought. I tend to forget that even though he doesn’t talk much, he does know how to talk.
「It’s dangerous when you can’t spot the assassin among the crowd. The most straightforward solution is to plant only certain people there beforehand, so anyone else would be easy to spot.」
「Hey, Nubia. Can you explain it simply?」
……I’ve only noticed lately that Nemu has a habit of cutting people off halfway.
「We’re talking about how to spot anyone suspicious, Nemu. Sorry we’re boring you out.」
「Nemu, even I am resisting the urge to gain attention from milord. You would do well to resist as well……」
It seemed that Nemu had gotten tired of waiting. While Daria and Sara were working, I was having a meeting with Nubia and Diana. Chana was in the middle of another task for the Assassination Guild. I had sent Astarte and Dola, along with Harry and Fred, to work at the Shrine. Shiro was looking after Lily in the Spider’s Nest, while maintaining discreet contact with Jemma Co.
There was only so much time left until the day of the parade. Not only did we not know the goal of our opponent, but we also didn’t know when and how they would strike. Think, think, think……
「……Milord, I was hesitating whether to speak to you about it, but you are frightening us with your expression. You must be so tired……」
Miyabi spoke hesitantly. Did I really look that scary?
「Your eyebrows sure are in a furrow.」
Nubia chimed in, followed by Daria and Sara.
「You do look tired. Master, you haven’t rested in the past two days……」
「You’d get tired from working that long. Leaving aside your spiritual energy, you need physical energy, right?」
But there was still so much I hadn’t been able to figure out. There was so much I needed to investigate and accomplish. I had no time to rest.
Nubia called my name in a soft voice. It was rare for him to speak when I hadn’t asked his opinion.
「You really look tired. In battle, people who lose their cool and their health are the first to fall. Right now, you look like you’re losing your cool because you’re tired. Just take a break.」
Why do they have to order me around…… That’s what I thought, when I felt my blood rising to my head. Why is there so much blood rushing to my head?
「You’re right…… I lost my cool for nothing. You’re right, Miyabi.」
Nubia looked a little relieved. As their lord and master, I can’t turn my back on them.
「Sorry, Daria, I’ll leave you to continue the experiment. Sara, you have to go back once your time is up, so don’t push yourself.」
「Yes, Master. I can’t move an inch from here, so allow Miyabi to escort you.」
「It’ll be over soon, so sleep well. We’ll be done by the time you wake up.」
Compared to House Lambert, we probably had a lot less power. But still, I have companions who could make their own decisions and do what is necessary. When I make mistakes, they are there to guide me. I truly felt that there wasn’t just one monster leading the Mining Village. I could trust them to do what I can’t, to do our best before giving up. Either way, in cases like these where we knew nothing about our opponent, we never knew just how much we had to prepare, and we wouldn’t stop preparing.
「Milord, rest yourself on my back♪」
「That’s charming, but I’ll walk by myself when I can. Miyabi, let’s hold each other’s hands and go.」
Everyone here was either a monster I had turned into, or a monster I came to rule over. Even still, they followed me because they desired to. Even though we were linked through mutual benefit or through a master-servant relationship, they helped me without me ordering them to. That made me really happy.
「Alright then. Sorry, but I’ll rest for now…… Thanks, everyone.」
I was stumbling a little, but I didn’t fall because Miyabi was holding my hand. Leaving the trivial things behind while walking through the Underground Waterway, we emerged at the desolate spot next to the shop.
I entered the shop, closed the door, drank some water, and collapsed into my bed without bothering to change clothes. Thus, I entered a dreamless sleep.