Translator: Adam Seacord
The sky was clear. That blue morning forebode a comfortable weather and a moderate heat that will cause some precipitation for the day. Cloudless, in fact, as if to dismiss the recent overcast days as a hallucination of the mind.
It had been said that the population of the waterway city of Abram had doubled that day. While that was quite an overstatement, there were enough people flooding the streets to make it sound plausible.
During the previous day, a simple fence had been put up along the parade route that started from the castle plaza, limiting sections where people could cross the route. Some brand new soldiers, who obviously had close to no experience in battle and clad in ostentatious leather armor, were busy organizing the crowd. They would make reports to the full-time soldiers on patrol.
Bars and inns had lined up tables in front of their establishments since the crack of dawn, shouting this way and that in order to sell their overpriced snacks. Children played chicken by crossing the parade route before the parade, and mothers’ scolds followed.
It was the first day of Abram’s harvest festival, and it was the day that the Paladin Olivia, the Earl’s niece who had vanquished the monster of the Man Eating Dungeon, would be publically acknowledged as Abram’s next-in-line. Her new position had already been approved by the King in the capital and the Church; all that was left was a ceremony to announce it. Since Olivia was originally a public official of Abram, trusted by the merchants, her reputation was respectable. She also had plenty of publicity, neither good nor bad, by means of lowly rumors that claimed she took other beautiful young women as lovers. Long story short, most people expected a run-of-the-mill ceremony that day.
「Lady Gratina. How is Lord Lambert?」
「Lord Lambert has locked himself in the castle since late last evening. You needn’t wake him, and he has told me to forbid anyone from entering his room.」
The Lambert manor was already half empty. Four out of ten of the soldiers guarding the parade belong to House Lambert and the houses under them. About the same number of soldiers belonged to House Roland, constant rival to House Lambert, and the houses under them. The rest belong to House Blare, the margrave. That adds up to more than eight out of ten knights of Abram taking part in the parade.
And, even though the parade started in the early noon, it took time and effort to build a formation and move the parade along without a hitch. Any ceremony requires much more time in preparation than the duration of the show. So, the knights and soldiers, along with the advisors who took care of business backstage, were already out and about.
「I-I see… If my lord has left without telling me, he must have really been in a hurry.」
The maid in charge of the lord’s room stood there, unsure of what to do. Gratina the housekeeper glared her down and continued speaking. This maid was only associated with a lower noble, and wasn’t a noble herself. Still, Gratina knew that the maid was proud of being one of the lord’s favorites. While she couldn’t defy Gratina, she was disliked by the other maids, and many complained about her.
「I also need to attend the parade, so I will be leaving soon. I recall giving everyone staying here the day off, including you.」
「Oh, yes. I just thought that, if my lord had stayed, he would need someone to…」
Right. You just want to climb atop the lord while I’m out, and even bear his child if you’re lucky.
While the head of House Lambert wasn’t a man to lose himself in bed, he was rather soft for any woman he had slept with. Staring into the maid’s eyes, Gratina spoke slowly.
「Then, let’s have you prepare for the lord’s return. Bring the meat cleaver from the kitchen…」
She was just a maid, oblivious to magic. All Gratina had to do was rob her of her thoughts with her Cursing Eyes and make a simple command. After this, she wouldn’t even remember being under a spell.
Ignoring the maid and her soulless eyes, Gratina headed to the carriage she had prepared. While she had it guarded with private soldiers loyal to House Lambert, since they had to spend more men to guard the parade in response to the challenge of House Roland, the number of guards were slightly less than usual.
Over the stepping stool the coachman had placed, Gratina climbed into her very own small carriage. She had already told the coachman where to go. The carriage slowly starts moving towards the center of Abram.
「While making a scene is worse, so I don’t need more than the bare minimum…」
Her tone was slightly irritated. If there were ten schemes, it was natural that two or three of them would not go smoothly. Gratina, and her master Lubreo both knew that well, and didn’t plan anything that would be ruined by some unforeseen circumstances.
Including their plan for this day. Whether the assassination of Olivia succeeds or fails, there would be a major profit for them. The only difference would be in how quickly Lubreo would acquire Abram.
「Still, I didn’t expect the Blare girl and the Roland brat to do such a thing. It’s not likely that they are forming an alliance… But it’s late.」
She took out a bird from the cage that had already been placed in the carriage. The bird was staring at Gratina’s eyes, charmed. It was her familiar, trained for this day. She took out a bracelet-sized jewel from her pocket… An Eye, created by Gratina. She placed it on the bird. With a crow, the bird flew away. Gratina picked up the polished mirror from within the bird cage, and concentrated as she spoke an incantation. Footage appeared on the mirror, from what the Eye on the bird was seeing.
「Now, all that’s left is to watch her die. Undoubtedly, that monster will try and sabotage us… Where are you?」
Then, the carriage stopped. She opened the window and peered outside, across the street, where a part of a wall slid open like a window, where a short man poked his head out.
「A new mission. Your target is the magical items merchant Elliot, in Old Town. You may take anything from the store. It is likely that he is in the shop, but he may be watching the parade. He’s not a fighter, so it shouldn’t be hard. As soon as you find him, even in a crowd, kill him.」
「I can leave the body?」
「If possible, hide it somewhere. While the parade won’t stop, we don’t want unnecessary riots. You already have the payment up-front. You’ll get the rest after we see that the job is done.」
The window closed, and the carriage started moving again. They were bandits, not working under House Lambert, but controlled by Gratina personally. Of course, none of them understood that they were being controlled by her.
The fact that she had lost the Assassin’s Guild had made things surprisingly difficult to pull off. While she hadn’t counted on them for reconnaissance, the upside was that they could put up a decent fight, and would never have betrayed her.
「Now, that’s one hazard gone. I might receive a stern word from my master, though…」
The small carriage carried Gratina through the alley. The sun was approaching its zenith, and shining brighter.
A small room. There was a magic circle on the floor, and loads of seashells… Audio-transmitting items on a small shelf I had built myself. Between the ones I had given to Jemma Firm, and the ones I used myself, over a hundred of them were working simultaneously. Of course, I couldn’t listen and understand them all at the same time. But if something caught my ear, I had it set up so I could focus on that particular item. And, since I had made these myself, I could tell the general direction and distance of each piece in relation to myself. If I hear a suspicious noise, I could tell which other items were near that one as well. Along with the big trick using this room, I was working on this until the last minute.
「All set… Phew. How many all-nighters do you think I had to pull for this?」
Sara, clad in an immobilizing and extravagant robe, complained. Her blue outfit would make Olivia the star, stand out in her outfit even more. Since Sara wasn’t much of a horse-rider, she was set to be a part of the show as a magician, next to the carriage.
「Thank you, Sara. I’m counting on you during the parade.」
The magician knocked on the case full of catalysts on her waist, and daringly smirked.
「I went through all this work. I’m not going to mess it up, now. Besides, Shiro’s group is on the move, too…」
She said, as she exited the room. It was already bright outside, and I could hear the crowd anticipating the parade in the distance.
The magic I had gained from the Spider’s Web and the Temple was stored to the brim of my body. I acknowledge the hazy flow of magical power like that, gave it direction, and slowly let it swirl around my body. I shaped it like a string, and poured it into my fingertips. Tracing the magic circle on the floor, I slowly activated the spell. I need to adjust it. The parade, from start to finish, would take a little less than an hour. Even for just that long, I would have to gradually pour my magic into the circle. And, I had to get used to that now. During the parade, I would have to give directions from this room to everyone.
I had given up on bringing down a bowl of Water. I couldn’t see different locations at once, and I probably couldn’t keep track of all of the sounds alone. Besides, we were following a plan, but starting with Olivia and Astarte, I knew that everyone would think and act on their own when it came down to it. All I could do, was to keep up this circle, gather information, and continue to analyze them, while doing my best at keeping up communication with everyone. I couldn’t fight, and I didn’t have any real power or position. What I could do alone was so little, but as the monster of the Man Eating Dungeon… We stood a chance.
「…Master, we’re ready. We just need to go get it, now.」
I heard Daria through the audio-transmitting item. It was a last-minute idea, but I thought of using something left alone in the shop for a while.
「I doubt it, but you might see someone at the shop. Even if it’s Nunna-san, for example, be careful not to be seen. It might be better to get you a bodyguard…」
「Nubia-san will be on the move, too. We’ll head to the shop together.」
「Oh, I see. Give that pendant to Astarte later… And have you told Nubia the location?」
「Yes, where the adventurer disappeared from the city… That’s the attackers’ hideout, most likely… I’ll tell him. …Master, um. Please be careful.」
「Thank you, Daria. Say hi to the gang over there.」
Daria now completely understood me, so much so that she acted in our best interest even without me having to tell her. It was likely having another… Me.
I searched for the other end of the magical items. Chana, continuing development at the Assassin’s Guild. Diana and the Assassin’s Guild survivors hidden among the crowd for the parade. Shiro, searching the rooftops in the city. Nem, searching for the sniper from above. Miyabi, hiding in the waterways. Daria and Nubia on the move. And Astarte with our trump card.
That accounted for all of my cards. While we weren’t weak by any means, we stood no chance fighting fair against House Lambert. The minute we start to fight fair, we would lose. Even House Lambert… Even Lubreo and Gratina had a weakness. They were nobles with public position and power. Their on-the-record power and military strength were also their shackles of responsibility.
Just as Olivia had schemed, after House Roland had challenged them on their honor, Lambert had to place the majority of their public resources in the open. This meant that they couldn’t as easily use those resources to back up their shady operations.
When the adventurers cried out in agony before the magical items stopped working, they were in a house outside the town center. According to the guard plans, soldiers working for House Lambert were supposed to guard and block the roads there. If Lubreo’s strategy was going according to plan, the adventurers would not have been able to get into the house at all. So, their plan was not being executed perfectly.
However, there were a lot of things that I could see but not yet understand. That three-armed guard was clearly one of their trump cards. Most likely one of Gratina’s assassins was killing off the survivors of the Assassin’s Guild. There must have been several teams of these assassins staying in Gratina’s property outside of town. Where they were, and how many, I didn’t know yet. As I started drowning in my own thoughts, Shiro’s voice pulled me back up to real life.
「Master! The reconnaissance you requested from Jemma Firm is back.」
Jemma Firm? What did I ask them to… There were a few things. Which is it?
「Can you read… Right, you were still studying reading and writing.」
「So I just met up with Diana, so she can read it.」
「Good job, Shiro!」
Even though she can’t read, she went to an ally who could. Shiro was good at delegating, so these kinds of solutions seemed to come naturally to her. Her giddy laughter switched to Diana’s voice, which was quivering…
That bad, huh.
「Master, as you’ve heard, I have the document here… There are a few things.」
「Tell me in the order of what you think is important.」
「Only one of them is dire. We have the list of graduates from the Academy in Palmira. There is follow-up information on most of them, as well. Like where they are working now.」
I was impressed. Either they liked making documents, or recognized the value of networking.
「There was only one magician named Gratina in the past three decades. According to Jemma Firm’s research, Gratina the magician has been dead for twenty years.」
「…Dead? Then the Gratina we know…」
「Isn’t the real Gratina, to say the least. They would look into her background before hiring her, but once they do…」
Not real. So, whoever this was is taking advantage of the real Gratina’s name and position, after she was either killed or died. It was now very likely that Gratina was a monster…
What does this mean? Before me, before Miyabi and Arachne, there was already a monster in this city?
「And, this is from another source… but Gratina starts appearing on the records of deals made with House Lambert from ten years ago. Don’t you find this strange?」
「…What do you mean, strange?」
「I might be reading too much into this, but… She’s too young. Ten years ago, she was already working as the housekeeper.」
Now that I had thought about, Gratina looked just as young as Lubreo. Mid-twenties, I would say. It was already weird that she was the housekeeper at that age, but her being a magician made me give her the benefit of the doubt.
「Ten years ago. A magician who doesn’t age. But she’s not who she says she is…」
Something wasn’t right.
What happened ten years ago?
…I thought about Layla. Her father was executed unjustly for the crime of spying for Rodania to the east, about ten years ago. A simple, low-ranking noble and a valiant knight had to be murdered in cold blood… Why?
…No, it can’t be.
I was jumping to conclusions. Why would such a thing be necessary? I shoved my first thought to back of my head, and tried to concentrate on the task at hand. Still, it kept popping back up like a storm cloud.
Why was Arachne, an officer of the Assassin’s guild in contact with House Lambert? Even though she was a monster, she was a runaway slave from Rodania, who had no influence in this city or this country. What if someone had set her up to take over the Assassin’s Guild…?
「Then… Then… House Lambert…」
A trumpet blared, and the people cheered. The parade had started. My flooding thoughts changed course.
Keep gathering information. Keep thinking. Keep ordering. That’s all I can do, now.
If we could figure out the assassins’ moves first, or somehow survive their attacks, we would win. The race had just begun.