Translator: Adam Seacord
Astarte, changed into her priestess outfit, was walking through the streets of Abram. She would stop and talk with people, from time to time. She would join some men she seemed to know, speak for a brief minute while walking, then return by herself. Astarte had been at this since morning.
She did have the position as a visitor at the temple through Olivia, so there were no issues. She would join the meal handouts in the slums, so someone of the residence there had begun to recognize her. It wasn’t unnatural for any of them to speak to her… And despite her tight attire, her bodyline was evident. Any young man could take his chance with her. …However, if someone had listened in on her entire conversations, they might have noticed something peculiar.
「Hello, miss priestess. Nice weather we’re having… They haven’t found the carriage. It wasn’t in New Town.」
「Oh, long time no see. It’s Old Town, then. It shouldn’t be far off the parade route.」
「Understood. See you soon.」
She had continued these kinds of conversations for dozens and hundreds of times. She spoke with someone new every time, and it wasn’t often that she spoke with the same person twice. Her conversation partners were, without fail men, anywhere from young adult to middle-aged. Not dirt poor but lower to middle class, with their occupations clearly varied. No one other than Astarte knew that these men were all patrons of the “Temple”… All turned partially monster by Elliot.
After her several-hundredth conversation, new visitors approached Astarte. The pair of boys innocently spoke to her:
「Here’s what you asked Chana for.」
Perhaps because of the celebrations, Harry and Fred looked dressed up nicely as they held out a basket. There were small liquor bottles for camouflage and the vial she was after in the midst of it.
「Why, thank you Harry. Fred. You’re not headed to work today?」
「Of course we are. We’re going now.」
「The real money rolls in after the parade. So after this errand we have to head back to get ready. Oh, and she said you can have the target drink it or put it on their skin. But it takes longer with the skin-route.」
「Thank you, you two. Now go make some money.」
Fred pulled away Harry, who looked like he wanted to say something. They both understood that they couldn’t say anything more in such a crowded area. They waved at each other as they parted ways.
A little ways down the road, another man approached. The satchel on his waist, along with his pocketbook and pencil signified that he was a merchant.
「We found what you were looking for.」
「Yes, there’s no mistake. A small carriage without any sigil, just like you said. It’s moving through less populated alleys.」
「…They are moving around, then. Do you know where they are now?」
Astarte continued talking to men baptized by the Temple, as if they were talking about the weather, or about business.
「Then, let’s begin. The package is in, too… Gather everyone, please. And proceed as planned.」
With enthusiasm, the man jogged away. Without even knowing, he would gather his unaware comrades, and head to their destinations. They weren’t quite sure why they were doing all of this work. While Elliot probably couldn’t make them sacrifice their lives, he could force them to do most things. This was the same type of method that Gratina employed. Fully aware of that fact, Elliot used them anyway. She lightly gripped the sea-shell shaped pendant and reported:
「…Master Elliot. We found the housekeeper of House Lambert.」
「Hey, this is bad!」
The coachman looked at the man calling to him. He must have been a merchant, judging by the pocketbook and pencil protruding from his satchel. He didn’t recognize the man, but he seemed to have a common face. He seemed to have rushed over here, as he was panting. There was nothing else noteworthy about him. While he wasn’t anyone to be concerned about, he would have to have the guards behind him deal with him if the man’s bringing any trouble. His mistress was performing some important duty inside the carriage.
They weren’t official knights or guards, but ex-mercenaries or adventurers. Most of them were criminals of some kind, and their crimes were swept under the rug by them swearing their loyalty to Gratina and serving her personal orders. As long as they served the power that is House Lambert, most crimes or violent incidents remained off the records. Once they were accustomed to that sweet taste of honey, they wouldn’t doubt most any order that Gratina would issue. Their privileges were enough to keep them loyal, and so they had been using violence for the benefit of Gratina and House Lambert.
After a glance to the muscles keeping watch in the back, the coachman faced the man again. He couldn’t be too careful. Gratina was seldom a target of attacks, but there a few precedents.
「What do you want? Whose path do you think you’re crossing?」
Even the normally scarce alleyway was somewhat populated with a few people spilling out of the parade crowd. Just as they spoke, a band of drunkards walked past the carriage. The coachman considered the possibility that the man was speaking to one of the drunkards, but he was clearly headed to the carriage. Once he was close to the coachman, he conspicuously lowered his voice.
「This carriage belongs to the Housekeeper of Lambert, I presume.」
Immediately, the coachman was alarmed. Only a select few knew of that fact, and no one who did would send this stranger as a messenger.
The coachman concealed his shock to the best of his ability, but no one could blame him for letting his eyes sharpen in alert. The guard approached from behind the carriage. The coachman contemplated either to keep up his feign ignorance, or call him a drunkard and chase him away. As far as he could tell, the man wasn’t concealing any weapons. Just as he had concluded that he needn’t bother his master with such a trifle… The man abruptly shouted.
「It’s a matter of life or death! Life or death, I say! I must speak to the Housekeeper this instant!」
The crowd, drawn by his voice, turned towards them. More rubber-necks. His mistress wasn’t fond of this kind of attention.
「Nonsense! I have no idea who you are talking about?」
「What’s going on? A drunkard?」
The guard came close, and jostled the man, who continued to shout. Seeing the guard’s sword on his belt, he must have easily deciphered that the guard had no business walking in the streets during the day.
While Abram was a safer city than most, many residents would carry around a small weapon for protection. However, that usually meant a staff or club, and almost no one would carry a blade. There weren’t many shops that carried any sharp tools that weren’t meant for the kitchen, and they were expensive to come by.
While his sword wasn’t comparable to that of an adventurer or soldier who would venture outside of the city, it was rare for anyone to carry a sheathed sword longer than a dagger. In other words, his sword was an indication that he made his living through violence. Any ordinary citizen would take one look and take a step back.
「Well, you see… I mean…」
The man lowered his voice as if he was intimidated by the guard, but he persisted. Even as his words jumbled, he continued to speak.
「…Is something the matter? Whose voice was that?」
The small window of the carriage cracked, and Gratina spoke out.
「Yes, my lady. My apologies. This man is spewing out nonsense. We’ll dispatch him immediately.」
Their mistress paid well, but her punishment for failure and incompetence were severe. He couldn’t spoil her move here and now. However, the response from her after a while was neither an acknowledgement nor scolding, but an order with a rare case of slight agitation.
「…Get the carriage moving, now. Back to the manor.」
「Yes, mistress. But…」
「Cut through them if you have to!」
While her voice was lowered, there was clear irritation in her tone. As far as the coachman could recall, Gratina had never shown as much agitation as this.
The coachman said, and turned to climb the coach box as the guard returned to his position to shove away the shouting man from earlier. Then, they finally realized the change in scenery around them. A crowd had gathered.
The man moved to cling to the coachman. Unlike before, he was clearly trying to pry the coachman from the carriage.
What were the guards doing? The coachman’s enraged exclamation was cut short. Someone pulled his garment from a different direction, and lost his balance. As soon as he realized that another man nearby had silently snuck up behind him, a burning sensation struck below his left eye.
The man had stabbed him in the face with his pencil. By the time the coachman had realized that, another hand entirely was covering his mouth. Someone’s knife was pressed against the coachman’s throat, who was now being pinned to the ground.
His throat was slit without hesitation, and blood sprayed the scene. The last thing the coachman saw was the unopened carriage door, and several expressionless men. His conscious faded for good in the midst of fear and confusion.
He had noticed immediately that the coachman was assaulted. The man who had been talking for some time was evidently not alone. As soon as they had noticed, and began to move the guards were ambushed too, all at once.
After the searing pain hit a moment after the shock, they finally realized that they were being ambushed from multiple directions. The coachman’s voice rang quietly, but faded quickly as he must have been muffled. To the front and to the back, they were surrounded by figures and they were walled in. It wasn’t a coincidence that more people have gathered in the alley, but manufactured. Of course, by the time the guards had noticed that, it was all too late.
The men ambushing the carriage were not experienced in combat, and they only carried simple weapons like knives or pencils. But their number was already growing past the dozen.
And yet, no one watching made a single scream. The guard had cut through one of the attackers, but the others didn’t make a peep. Every time an attacker was taken down, their numbers seemed to grow instead.
Every man in this alley was an accomplice. By the time the guards have realized that, they were already dead.
The number of men in Abram who have been turned into monsters by Elliot was about to reach the triple digits. All of them were Elliot’s eyes, and his ears. Under Astarte’s direction, they were working collectively as a single arm.
They were after a single target.