Translator: Adam Seacord
The crowd stirred. Sara began her incantations energetically. Her clear soprano voice echoed… Blossoming flowers of flame above the plaza. The crowd cheered, their eyes all glued to the flaming flower field. As for eyes looking somewhere else…
In one of the numerous alleys leading to the plaza, perhaps atop a pile of objects, a man was poking his head out of the crowd. In his hand, Layla could see a crossbow. She also spied a conspicuous woman in the crowd, on the other side of the carriage.
「In the alley, to the left, up ahead! A man with a bow!」
With a shout she swung her horse’s reigns, putting herself between the man and the carriage. She drew her sword and indicated the direction of the man to the knights and soldiers on-guard.
Sara ducked, Olivia pulled her shield up. The crowd started murmuring, and everyone in the direction of Layla’s sword took a step back. A part of the Parade broke off, the knights reforming to protect Olivia from the indicated direction.
At that instance, the bow released an arrow. Layla had already dismounted, dashing away from the carriage. The arrow landed on a knight’s shield, with no one hurt. The soldiers chased after the man fleeing through the alleys. Layla had crossed over to the other side of the carriage, towards a woman in the crowd. A woman on the older end of middle-age holding a baby in her arms. She tries to walk away with the rest of the crowd, but Layla gripped her shoulder.
「L-Lady Knight… May I help you?」
Without a word, Layla grabbed the cloth swaddling the babe, and tore it off. The contents of which fell to the ground, causing the crowd to cry out in… Surprise. It wasn’t a baby at all, but a small crossbow. The tip of the arrow loaded onto it was stained dark, indicating the presence of poison.
After watching the woman, tied up and cursing up a storm, being dragged away by the soldiers on guard, Layla was finally aware of herself again. The messengers called for the parade to resume, and Olivia stood up in the carriage, exclaiming to the crowd:
「Thanks to our diligent knights on guard, we have captured the traitor!」
Triggering an immediate and collective cheer from the crowd. Even a scare like that was merely a memorable show once it had been resolved without any casualties. Of course, Olivia was grateful for how this attack turned out, since she could not stop the parade one way or another.
More wary than before, the parade resumed.
「…It’s rather loud up there.」
The cheering of the crowd watching the parade even reached Daria, who was walking through an underground waterway. Was the small explosion followed by a moment of silence and the return of cheers caused by some sort of entertainment?
「As soon as I find that thing, I’ll have to hurry back.」
Daria was headed to Elliot’s shop, through her familiar but now nostalgic route. While the shop was closed from the streets, a simple control could open up the shop from the underground waterway. Luckily, even after House Lambert had discovered this waterway, the contraption remained intact. However, deep in the labyrinth of waterways here, there were traps set by Elliot, along with tricks to make an intruder lose their way and some monsters on guard. Some, while not many, have lost their lives here.
With the symbol on the wall, she knew that she had arrived to her destination. Just as she was about to trigger the contraption, Nubia, who had been walking behind her, silently stopped her from doing so.
Her voice lowered. She knew that this man was deliberate in anything he did.
「Someone’s here. There are a few of them… Expecting anyone?」
「…If they’re robbers, it could get messy. Once you move the wall, I’ll go in first.」
Daria worried for a moment that it might be Layla’s nanny, but she concluded that she wasn’t the type to break in without permission. The fact that Nubia could sense their presence meant that they were in the storage area in the back of the shop. They were not respectable guests.
「…Thank you, Nubia-san.」
「Excuse me. Does this carriage belong to Jemma Firm?」
With this sudden approach, the coachman of the small carriage was puzzled. He looked down to see a man, most likely a city noble, carrying some luggage.
「No, we have no affiliation with them. As you can see, I just take people places, but… This parade isn’t good for business.」
The coachman opened the door of the carriage to show that no one was in it. The man nodded, and apologized.
「Well, I’m in the same boat as you. The carriage with our cargo’s stuck somewhere, and it’s carrying the wrong stuff to begin with. I’ve been looking everywhere, but with this crowd…」
「With a crowd like this, main street’s not budging. A small carriage like mine could navigate the alleys, but even those are crowded today. If I were you, I’d just get out of town.」
After some conversation, the man left in a worry. The coachman held back a yawn, and climbed back to his seat on the carriage to watch the parade in the distance.
「What kind of blunder did Jemma Firm pull, anyway? That’s the third guy today who thought my carriage was the Firm’s.」
「That commotion… Is something the matter?」
Gratina called to the coachman from within the carriage. What she had heard were screams among the cheering, and a small explosion. As it was earlier than their plan, it must have been caused by something else.
「From here, I can’t really tell… I could hear a small explosion, but the crowd is cheering again, now.」
If the result is cheering, and not screaming. There was no major issue, if anything. The housekeeper pondered for a moment. They weren’t the only ones who wanted the future Countess dead. They even intentionally leaked information on where there would be least security. However, it was only meant for Gratina and Lubreo to send in assassin’s where they wanted, and they ensured that nothing would interfere with their plan. At most, it would earn the knights on guard some pats on their backs. If the explosion wasn’t caused by an assassin, someone else must have.
The magician on the carriage, no doubt… It would be fortunate if she would use up her magical powers, now…
Gratina thought, then decided not to dwell on it any further before calling her Eye in the sky, and check on the parade.
「It’s all right. Keep course.」
Feeling the carriage slowly roll ahead, Gratina’s mind traveled upward. The coachman’s voice became distant, as if it was coming through the room next door.
Gratina looked down at the city from the sky. The parade was slightly slower than planned, but Gratina didn’t see a major issue with that. While all waterways were supposed to be shut down for the day, some of the curious and well-to-do citizens were awaiting the parade on their boats in the waterways. In the anticipated parade route, people flooded the streets, and even the alleys were considerably populated.
Gratina felt some sort of oddity in the movement of people… And pinpointed it. A flame had erupted from a building deep into the shopping district in Old Town. It was Elliot’s magical items shop, where Gratina had visited several times herself. One root of concern seemed to have been eliminated.
In the silence, his exhale reverberated. A sound akin to cracking a watermelon followed, as the first foe’s cranium blew up.
「What is that thing!?」
There were three intruders, all robbers without much of an armor. They were career assassins who felt no remorse in murder, but they were in no way experienced in battling monsters. The client had told them that there was a hidden passage to the depths of the underground waterways, and that activating some kind of contraption would open the door. They did not expected anyone to interfere.
The shop was empty. While they had looked around for some valuables, they had covered up their tracks, and were waiting for the shop’s owner to return. Once he was taken care of, they were going to take what they wanted before setting the shop ablaze and disappearing. It was supposed to be a simple job. Simple enough that, three skilled robbers with reasonable experience in assassinations were supposed to be overkill. Even if the shop owner had had some mercenary experience, a three-on-one ambush had no chance of failure.
…Only the final intruder had enough time to scream before his death.
「All clear, Daria. As far as I can tell, there’s no one else here.」
The bull-headed giant with twisted horns growing from his head (Minotaur, as a legend in a distant nation would describe him), the monster Nubia spoke.
「Thank you, Nubia-san… Who were they, anyway?」
Daria, after emerging from the waterway, rummaged the now silent corpses for any form of identification.
「Someone’s hired blade, no doubt. They even prepped the shop with oil. They were ready to kill Elliot and set the shop on fire.」
Nubia added under his breath:
「This place will smell like oil for a while, unless you scrub it down real good.」
They weren’t mere robbers. Then, their client was most likely…
「Someone from House Lambert… I’m sure. I’m just glad no one else was here.」
「I acknowledge our fortune that no innocent blood was spilt, but I have no idea who is behind this. We did what we came here for. Let’s hurry back.」
After saying so, matter-of-factly, Nubia began carrying the bodies out to the waterway. Daria, in contemplation, dug out what she had come here for from Elliot’s drawer in the corner of the workshop, where we would mostly keep prototypes and failed experiments. It was a pendant with a dull gem and not much of any detail on it.
Daria stopped herself in her tracks to think. What did their situation signify? What will this outcome lead to? How will House Lambert act, if they were truly behind this attack?
「…Nubia-san. Please pick out the body with the closest body-shape to Master’s, and leave it in here. We will strip it, and cloth it with Master’s spare clothes from the closet in the second floor… After that, we’ll set the shop on fire.」
Nubia turned around, confused.
「We have to think ahead, like Master does… If they were sent by House Lambert, they would discover their failure soon if the robbers never return to report on it. That will make them more careful than ever.」
Her eyes down, she talked to herself in order to keep her thoughts moving. Just like her master would.
「Think. Think… What would Master do? He would say that we can at least buy time. It would be easy to explain that they hid out somewhere else after the deed. We have a problem when another group of assassins come to check on the shop… So if we can make it look like Master had been murdered… Even just a little…」
「Daria. You have the same look that Elliot has.」
With astonishment and amazement, Nubia observed.
「I didn’t think you were as bad as him.」
Daria’s tension eased a little, hearing that. She realized that Nubia, in his own way, was trying to relax her.
「…Yes, I’m a villain’s apprentice. You know…」
Before she could say more, a knock was heard at the front door. Because of Elliot’s enchantment, any sound from within the shop barely traveled through its walls. Even the robber’s scream would have been inaudible to anyone not standing directly in front of a door or window. But the smell of blood and oil was a different story, and once the door was open, they would see Nubia’s monstrous form.
Tension filled the air, and Daria silently ran to the bowl of Water in the back of the shop. She had memorized how to trigger it by watching Elliot numerous times… And since Daria was turned into a monster by Elliot’s magic, she had some of his magical powers within her. The view of the Eye set outside the door appeared in the water.
「Daria, what are you…」
Before Nubia could finish, Daria headed to the door. It cracked open. Several men stood in front of it.
「Elliot’s Magical Items, right?」
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