Translator: Adam Seacord
「Elliot. I believe you had some connection to the circus troop in New Town. Is that right?」
Asked Knight Layla, who worked for House Lambert. That’s what she said out of the blue when she stopped by on her way home, four days after Nem’s training had begun.
…Things are on the move, I see.
「Hello, Layla-san. That’s kind of out of the blue… Well, I the ringleader and I know each other from way back. That’s partially why my shop is backing the circus.」
I had no option to feign ignorance here. I could only lie enough to hide it in the majority of truth. Seeing Layla enter the shop, Daria brought back some cold juice. Before I could start missing winter, a season that calls for breezy clothes was approaching fast.
「Right, so… Oh, Daria, thank you. I’m sorry I can’t contribute much to your revenue… Well, I heard that a wanted personnel was in that circus, and I was wondering if you knew anything about it. 」
Layla never beat around the bush, it was almost refreshing. Her straightforward personality was gleaming at times, and it was a very favorable trait for a neighbor.
「Wanted…? You think something like that would get checked when anyone comes into Abram.」
In reality, not all guards would know about wanted personnel, and there were various ways to get past the gate by putting on a disguising or hiding among cargo, et cetera. But, I had no reason to point that out, and it wasn’t an unnatural question if I were to be assuming that this person was wanted by our country.
「Well, it looks like he’s wanted by another country. I don’t know much about it, either, but I’ve heard he’s a gladiator on the run after killing his mater two years ago. Also that he kidnapped the master’s daughter with him… It’s utterly apprehensible. But, to be honest, I can’t imagine that the daughter is unharmed.」
…Normally, I would agree with her. No one would imagine that they were both keeping a low cover under the guise of father and daughter. The problem was, if they already narrowed it down to the circus, it won’t take long for them to get to Nubia and Nem.
「The ringleader used be a mercenary in this country, and I think was already leading the circus two years. It should be easy to look into that, so can I tick him off the list?」
「That sounds fine… Well, unless someone took his place, like some opera.」
「I’ve known him back when I was a kid, so pretty surprising to me if someone had taken his place.」
「You’re right… So, if there’s something you can ask the ringleader, could you try doing so? But, you’re not my only lead, of course, and if you have business with him, maybe you can throw him a question, is all.」
…From how she phrased that, I could tell that she really only came to mention this as part of a small-talk. In other words, House Lambert had already set their eyes on the circus, and begun looking into it.
「Right, I’ll have a delivery tomorrow, so I could ask him them. In any case… Why are you worried about a wanted man from another country?」
I finally asked the question I wanted to. I was also curious where House Lambert got there information form.
「I didn’t ask explicitly, but… Well, if one commits a crime in another country, there’s no reason to think that he won’t do so in this country. Besides, an ex-gladiator wanted man could have a few reasons to come to Abram. Now, this part is my guess work, of course… But the most alarming possibility is that he is after the lives of Earl Abram, and Olivia-sama, his niece and second in line. 」
Her last remark made my juice go down my windpipe, causing me to cough it off grandly.
Right! I hadn’t thought of that!
「W-What’s wrong? Are you all right, Elliot!?」
「Master, please calm down!」
I nearly spat my drink all over Layla. I took the towel from Daria, and covered my mouth with it.
「Cough… I’m okay, sorry.」
Ah, I see.
As far as I could tell, she wasn’t someone who could tell lies. My bet was that this stoic knight had no clue of her master’s dark side.
「Master, speaking of Olivia-sama…」
Daria gave me a look.
「Layla-san, the other day at the circus…」
It was risky to leak some information to Layla, who was part of House Lambert. But the fact that Olivia and I knew each other had already become public knowledge among the shopkeepers. The risk was unimaginably greater if I didn’t say anything now, and if she found out later. I had to avoid her thinking that I was intentionally hiding Olivia and I’s relationship, at all costs.
「What!? You two were old friends with Olivia-sama!?」
I had to say, seeing Layla’s jaw on the ground was quite entertaining. She was usually such a stoic and rational woman, her rare glimpses of pureness stood out.
「Yes, we didn’t notice until Gordon-sama mentioned it at the circus…」
「I played with her a lot when we were kids, but… I never expected both of us to be living in Abram.」
I told the same story that I had used for Old-man Jemma and the others.
「I see, a reunion after some years… Hold on. Does that mean you all are…」
A shadow was cast over Layla’s face. Of course, she must have heard of Grandle the mining town where the villagers were genocided… Later known as the Man-Eating Dungeon.
「The truth is that we got out of the village a few years before the incident… Of course, I wouldn’t be here with my business, otherwise.」
「I see. It must have been terrible that your hometown ended up the way it did…」
Layla showed a look of regret for asking a taboo. Come to think of it, Layla seemed to have her own hardships regarding her father, which may be why she was more curious about these kinds of things.
「That being said, both Daria and I left the village because our family had passed, so no kin were left there already. There may be a few other people that have left the village in time, but… It just doesn’t feel real.」
I wasn’t the one who created the root cause, but I would never divulge that I was the one responsible for the village’s nickname of the Man-Eating Dungeon. In addition, although I still wasn’t sure who sent in the mercenaries to the village… House Lambert was a plausible candidate.
「…Don’t overexert yourself. I understand that you can’t show too much weakness in your line of business, but… If you keep wearing a mask, you won’t be able to shed a tear when you need.」
While her remark was off the bullseye, it still grazed the mark. Layla was one of the people I wore a mask around, so she might have caught on to that. Luckily, she misunderstood my intentions for doing so… But Layla was pretty sharp sometimes.
「I’m sorry. I hope I didn’t overstay my welcome.」
After some more small talk, Layla exited the shop. Preparing for the next day wasn’t a particularly laborious task, so I didn’t mind.
Then, I had a thought.
Is Layla keeping something from us?
While my impression of her was that of an honest, good-hearted woman, but that could be an act. She could very well be wearing a mask like I was.
「No, we didn’t get any other customers, so it’s not any trouble… By the way, Layla-san.」
「Yes? What is it?」
「You talked about always wearing a mask… Do you have any experience like that?」
I remembered what Layla had self-deprecatingly told me before, that Layla’s father was a criminal. While she has the clout to be trusted to lead a parade as a representative of House Lambert, she was a contract knight without her own land. It was quite rare to see a knight without land nor manor and renting a room.
「…Hmm. In a way.」
Layla’s eyes seemed to focus on something at a distance.
「Even I have many aspects of myself that I keep hidden from you. And to the people of this town. Just because I’m a knight, does not make me a very respectable person. 」
I almost asked if that was because of her father, and thought better of it. …I just felt like it wasn’t something I was allowed to ask about.
「Elliot-kun. If you’re not interested in a political marriage… Or a marriage that would benefit your business, rather. If you’re not interested in that sort of thing, you should make Daria a happy wife.」
I was taken aback by the sudden remark, but Layla’s tone was very serious. She was looking away from me, in the direction of Daria working in the shop… As if she was too bright to look at for too long.
I felt that, at the very least, her eyes were not lying.
I remembered something after Layla had left. It was a fortunate that Nubia had not visited that day.
What will happen if I told Nubia what I’ve learned?
I went back into the shopped, and asked Daria about it.
「…I think Nubia-san would disappear alone, within the day.」
Her guess was identical to mine. Nubia’s number one weakness was Nem. He loved her as a father, and despaired not to love her as a man. If he knew that he was putting Nem in a dangerous situation, he would try to deal with it on his own. He wouldn’t ask for my advice. I had built a certain degree of trust with him, but there is a place for Nem in the circus, and I hadn’t established enough trust with Nubia for him to put Nem in my care.
「Timing is key, here… But I have to use Nem.」
It was a matter of when and not if, House Lambert would find out. Before they did, could I turn Nem and Nubia into monsters? Nubia was a seasoned gladiator, who was repressing his bestial lust with his superego. An ordinary talking-to would never convince him to accept my terms. So, I had to coordinate things so Nubia would come to me.
「Daria, prepare communications, please. After calling up Diana, I’ll have to contact Olivy through Sara.」
From what I have been told by Dora, Nem’s training was progressing smoothly. But, I hadn’t poured my semen into her yet, since I couldn’t change her into a monster yet, and I wanted to prevent her from developing any feelings toward me.
The next night, I would have to make my move. For location, I would use a section of the underground tunnels rarely used. There were a few sections close to the border between Old Town and New Town, but under the Assassin’s Guild’s territory, so I could easily tell if anyone approached.
This was my plan: I would have Nem slip away and come to me. At the same time, I will put a hit against Nubia. Not by me, but soldiers dispatched through Olivy. They were the beaters. The most obvious route for Nubia to hide in was the underground waterway that I had showed him. He didn’t know all the routes, but I had showed him from Spider’s Web up until the gate into the waterways near the entrance of Old Town.
I had showed him so he could not be seen by the townspeople in the first place, so I easily predicted that he would use that route. But, I couldn’t predict the course of things after this. It wasn’t unlikely that he would think that I would sell him out. Therefore, it was extremely likely that he would go down paths that I have not shown him. I’ll have to narrow these down to guide him where I want him to go.
In addition, there was a reasonable chance that there will be additional forces (than the soldier) going after Nubia. According to both Sara and Layla, it was safe to assume that the information of the wanted man in town was already known to everyone who could do anything with that information. It was very likely that Lambert soldiers, bounty hunters, and adventures would be after him. Worst case scenario, I may be forced to use Miyabi.
If I could prepare a dummy corpse, it would be easier to get away with this, but even if I could do that for Nem, I didn’t have any access to a body of a large man… A large Southern man at that, like Nubia. So, I gave up on faking their death, and decided to orchestrate the matter, so the story would end with them making it out of the city, headed to who-knows-where.
After I had compiled my plan, Daria, all ready for action, came to call me. I turn around, and hug her from behind to turn her back to me and steal her lips.
「Could you close the shop for me? I will be using a lot of magic today. So, after it’s all over, I will have you… All right?」
「Do not ask, Master, command me. I am yours, Master… Use me as you please.」
Daria said, her cheeks blushed. This was our usual confirmation of our relationship. I left Daria there, and went to boot the communication contraption that I had set up underground… Water to show the visuals, and a magical item that fed me the sound.
Diana answered right away, and after a few propositions, I ordered her to come back to this spot at midnight. Sara looked like she had just gone to sleep, and was very cranky, but immediately lit up with curiosity as soon as she saw my face.
「…That’s what I want you to tell Olivia tomorrow.」
「Understood. About House Lambert. Like I said before, they seemed to have rigged things up on the streets, recently. Also, they hired more ex-adventurer mercenaries. Outsiders, nonetheless.」
「Interesting… On top of the knights they already have. I’ll look into it, too. By the way, have you seen a knight named Layla in court?」
「Right, your little neighbor you told me about. I don’t hang out often where the knights do, but… There aren’t many female knights, so I think she would stand out. I could ask Olivy about her. So, what’s with this Layla-san?」
「Her actions let me know that House Lambert already knows about this wanted man… But guess what she was worried about. Layla was worried that the ex-gladiator wanted man would be under someone’s hire to go after Olivia.」
「…If she’s not playing you, she’s quite a character. Oh, but she doesn’t know your relationship with Olivia, right? So… Right, they’ll be checking out New Town at the end of the month, so she must have that on her mind… Quite a character she is.」
I didn’t know about that event. If House Lambert happens to make a move, how I should I deal with that?
「In any case, I will let her know. But, my, oh, my… Why can’t you leave things be?」
Hearing Sara said so, made me realize something I hadn’t even contemplated before.
「…I’m not sure why. I think that Nubia is a straightforward man, and a strong warrior, physically. I know I thought that Nubia would make a powerful monster.」
I wasn’t lying. But, I wasn’t sure if that was the only reason.
「…Fine by me. Don’t be too much of a good Samaritan and stick your nose into…Messes.」
Sara said, with a slight smile. Unfortunately, I didn’t really understand why she was smiling.
There was still some time before Diana would arrive. I slept with Daria, while in a state akin to drunkenness and exhaustion after making all preparations. Feeling the familiar sensation of Daria’s skin and her internal heat, I contemplated my next moves.
About Nem and Nubia. How to manipulate Nubia, and the route to send him down. My assumption of anyone to come after Nubia, and any unexpected situation that might arise.
「…These underground waterways woven like a spider web is my labyrinth. Nubia, you won’t like it, but I welcome you… Welcome to the spider web city.」