Chapter 72: In a Slice-of-Life, Plot Holes aren’t Mistakes; They’re Opportunities
In his room, alone, stood a man.
He wore a high-collared white coat, heavily embroidered with red and gold, as well as a cravat that seemed to be too tight for his neck no matter how many times he re-tied it. His waistcoat underneath was a dark red velvet as well.
A light cloak in the red and gold of the Carnus livery was pinned to his left breast around to his right shoulder, and cords of gold wound around at the fastenings.
The Knight Captain of Carnus, Sir Ilyos, stared glumly at his reflection in the mirror.
No matter how many times he had to put on an affair like this, he wouldn’t enjoy it.
Even if he was a Noble, he started out as a soldier. He became a Noble through his actions in the military. And yet now he was supposed to entertain Nobles regularly?
But tonight wasn’t the same dreary party with inane formalities as Nobles from various parts of Carnus, or even other countries, put on false smiles and spoke false pleasantries to each other. Although strictly speaking, that was still something he had to endure this time as well.
Sir Ilyos licked his dry lips nervously and clutched at the white gloves in his hand.
Tonight’s plan … was risky. He wasn’t just using people that the King valued as bait, but also his men and his own family.
If you think Sir Ilyos is a callous man to do something like this, that’s simply how far the situation has progressed.
Illegal Carnesian merchants, though criminals, were still citizens of Carnus, and finding them dead in the darkest alleyways still called for the Knight Captain stationed in Nyl City to investigate.
That was the trigger for Carnus to start their own investigation into Nyl City.
What Sir Ilyos’ spies found, honestly, it was unnerving.
Although Nyl City is a lawless zone, there are still acts that are only conducted in the darkness.
And in a lawless Unaffiliated territory, the dark places are dark indeed.
Large amounts of money were switching hands in this true darkness of Nyl City. Assets that would run a country or move an army were trickling through the dark places that common people could never imagine.
As he and his spies investigated, Sir Ilyos often ran into the Guild’s own operations.
So it really is something bad enough to move even the stubborn Guild leaders into action.
But, every time they cornered a lead, like they were children trying to catch a lizard, both Carnus and the Guild were left holding the discarded tail.
The merchants who dealt in dangerous drugs, slave-traders who acquired slaves through questionable methods, magic tool researchers who did things that offended the morals for their goods…
One by one, as they were cornered, they were found to know nothing about who they were supporting with their … talents.
But then, there was an attack on a brothel.
In that attack, like smoke, the faces of the true masterminds emerged and then vanished in a space of half an hour.
Why on a brothel?
Though they wracked their heads, no one could figure it out, but even though the thugs who were set up as scapegoats for the deed were completely wiped out, nothing more came out of it.
Even though the Guild hired Adventurers to watch the brothel, and Sir Ilyos even sent his own guards to lie in wait for a return visit from these mysterious figureheads.
It was then that a certain Rabbitkin, famous for her role as the person to contact for the prestigious Wind Troupe scout Adventurers, approached him.
“It’s been paid for by the Guild, but the information seems to be useful, so use it however you want.”
Paid for by the Guild, eh?
Sir Ilyos knew even without being told that the Guild was secretly asking, “Won’t you cooperate with us?”
As he flipped through the lightly-encoded documents (Is this Lor’s work I wonder, Sir Ilyos thought idly as he looked them over), his face grew even more haggard.
SOMETHING was found in the ground, embedded in The Queen Mary’s courtyard.
That description of a talisman encased in khystel, with magic gems that pulsated as if they were alive …
To tell the truth, Sir Ilyos’ spies had also found them in other spots around the city – ah, that is noted in the documents as well.
And like the others, it could not be removed. No matter how they tugged and tried to dig around it, those who touched it lost strength. Even if the dirt around it was removed, it would merely stay there, suspended in the exact position it was found.
More than that, they couldn’t get under it at all.
An unpleasant feeling shivered up Sir Ilyos’ spine.
Just what is being planned for, in this city?
“Jun, you’re being too obvious.”
Ah… my bad.
Even if Seimei-san’s the bait for tonight, I’m still unwilling to let him … just get skewered or something.
But apparently I was looking around the room too much.
“Baronet Seimei Hara has entered.”
I’m not sure what to be more amazed at, the fact that there’s someone announcing people as they enter, or Seimei-san, who acts like it’s natural.
Even Ragnall kind of flinched when all the attention is directed towards us.
“Sir Masaki, Sir Tatsu, and Lady Midori have entered.”
I hear the small, “Geh,” that Masaki made as all the attention redirects past us and onto them.
But even as we move further into the room and other Nobles come in after us, there are still quite a few people who remaining staring at Seimei-san and Masaki.
There are SO many more people here than I expected. I mean, this is Unaffiliated territory, so who would have thought there would be enough Nobles to fill the room?
I’m extending my senses so that they can keep track of the entire room, but with this many people, it’s not easy.
Even though I’ve just gotten used to sensing peoples’ bloodthirsts, if it’s like this, it’s kind of hard to tell what’s bloodthirst and what’s ordinary staring.
I guess this means I haven’t gotten used to sensing bloodthirst after all. This is just sensing other peoples’ stares.
I’ve been training my detection senses really hard recently, but in the end I’m just going to have to rely on my fast reflexes, huh?
But with so many people milling about, am I really going to be ok?
Not to mention, I don’t know anyone here, so everyone looks like a suspect.
Haa… This is definitely not a crowd I’m used to… or so I thought.
That Ossan over there… eh? He was a Noble?
Looking closely, as Seimei-san makes his way around the room greeting people, I notice quite a few people I recognize.
I guess there are a lot of Nobles who don’t care about acting like Nobles in Nyl City, because I’ve chatted with quite a few of these Ossans in the city squares without knowing that they were Nobles at all.
Although they look over and give a small nod, most of the Ossans and Obaasans I knew didn’t do anything other than give me a slight nod.
I guess they’re being mindful that I’m working, or maybe they’re actually upholding the differences in status tonight or something.
This kind of formal affair is really stifling …
While trying to remain aware of everything around us, I hear,
“… A sword of this kind of grade, as expected of Masaki-sama… This is a sword from your home-country?”
The weapon-maniac Ossan who’s always flirting with the herb-seller’s daughter – I mean, the militaristic-looking Noble with the muttonchops that I see around the city is looking at Masaki’s sword that he’s hung at his waist with a very troubled look.
Un. The sword is too much; the aura totally gives it away… but because the owner of the sword is one of the over-powered Carnus VIPs, it seems the Ossa – Noble-sama is just accepting that it exists without worrying about it.
Masaki makes a bit of a troubled face and says,
“Ah, yes, it’s a sword made by a smith from our country.”
Although I gave you that drake sword, I didn’t mean you had to wear it on your hip right away … You could have put it in Inventory, right?
Masaki is the only one of the gamers wearing a weapon openly. I understand Midori-chan not wanting to carry a longbow and quiver everywhere, but I wonder why only Masaki has a sword.
Not that it really matters, I guess, since we all basically have every weapon we own at our fingertips.
Hm, but the drake sword really is too much. All the weapon maniacs are focused on it, and because we’re in Nyl City, an Unaffiliated territory that has a large weapon industry, there are a lot of weapon maniacs.
Midori-chan is surrounded by a lot of Noblewomen, and she doesn’t look exactly comfortable… I wonder if they’re talking about that prince.
Yeah, I know, I should be paying more attention to guarding Seimei-san, but it’s not like I even know what I’m supposed to be looking for. Although I was too tense at the beginning, somehow … after half an hour, your mind starts to wander.
Not good. I should focus…
Right when I was thinking that, Sir Knight Captain suddenly returned to Seimei-san’s side, and with him were several other Nobles.
“Excuse me, Sir Baronet.”
Sir Knight Captain whispered something into Seimei-san’s ear.
“… I see. Then. Madam Julia, Sir Kortan, if you’ll excuse me.”
As Seimei-san went to follow Sir Knight Captain, Ragnall also moved after him, but Sir Knight Captain smiled thinly, saying,
“Sorry, Ragnall, but this is a bit of a private matter, so could you two guards wait out here?”
Ragnall put on a face of discontent and mild shock.
“Sorry Sir Ily – Sir Knight Captain, but even if it’s you, this goes against the principles of an escort commission.”
“… I understand that, but I’m sorry, this isn’t really something I can compromise on.”
Ah… they’re really doing it, they’re really doing it.
Ragnall and Sir Knight Captain are putting on a bit of a play for everyone to see.
It makes sense. No one would believe that the “Money Grubber” Ragnall would willingly sabotage his commission. If they didn’t do something like this, it might be harder to make whomever we’re aiming for take the bait.
I try to put a displeased look on my face as well, but as Ragnall argues with Sir Knight Captain, I’m carefully looking over the other Nobles who will be following Sir Knight Captain and Seimei-san into the room.
In the corner of my eye, something bothers me more than any of the Nobles’ reactions.
“Sei – Sir Baronet… Please be careful.”
I say that while darting my eyes towards the thing that bothers me.
I only had to repeat that motion once before Seimei-san understood.
After Ragnall reluctantly (though only in appearance) let them walk away, I felt the tension that was lying dormant in my stomach threaten to bubble over.
Even if I warned him about it, is this really okay? Is it really going to be okay not to do anything and just let them all go into a closed room together?!
M-maa, I know Sir Knight Captain is reliable at least, and the Casanova Ossan and the weird-weapons-lover Ossan are … well, I don’t know how reliable they are, but I’ve at least talked with them before, and they didn’t seem suspicious in those times.
Or like, I feel like you can get to know people pretty well when you’re with them while they get into public drinking contests.
Actually … they were THAT important as Nobles, but they didn’t hesitate to get dead drunk in the middle of the streets late at night?!
I feel my idea of a Noble shattering somewhere in the back of my mind.
Ah! I need to focus. Focus…
Although I’m tempted to send my senses up towards the room Seimei-san has been led towards, I control myself and spread them around the room instead.
“Well, what do you think of that smith girl Jun?”
Late at night, Dobin asked me that question.
“Haa, well, she’s definitely interesting.”
I still can’t figure it out, neither the wire puzzle or Dobin’s motives.
Sitting on the corner of Dobin’s desk, I was originally waiting for him to return.
But seriously, this is too late to keep me waiting, Dobin.
The Guild staff pulls a lot of all-nighters nowadays…
Although, strictly speaking, there’s only Florian the Guild Master and Dobin the Vice Guild Master who are considered “staff”.
Even Minerva, their secretary, is only considered an external hired hand.
The Guild’s spies are Adventurers paid on commission, and the Guild doesn’t bother trying to say, “Hey, don’t spread this information around” to people who are only cooperating for a reward.
Though that just means they have to be pretty discerning on who they hire to do what.
That’s why poor suckers like me and Lor, and the Wind Troupe too, get dragged around like this.
We’re too reliable, hahaha!
“Everyone knows THAT. I’m asking you about your impressions on her, Ragnall. You’ve done more work than anyone else with her.”
“The smiths do more, I think. But, ok, yeah. Horrifically naive, gets obsessed with things to the point of forgetting everything else, and forgets to sleep a lot. Though that doesn’t seem to bother her all too much.”
“Horrifically naive … well I suppose that’s one way of saying it. Haaaa…”
Dobin, don’t you know if you sigh for too long, your soul will come out?
“Is this really going to be ok, I wonder? Although we put her with you to monitor Carnus because she can discern magic as well as you, are we pushing too much on an immature Adventurer?”
Ah, I see. Dobin’s getting cold feet, as usual.
Although he sneers in front of people and riles them up to help him achieve his goals, it’s not like he’s completely a black-hearted merchant of a halfling.
Most of the time.
Although they’re aware of Jun’s achievements, I guess they’ve already forgotten about the night we first ran into her.
If he saw the bodies of those hapless bastards flying through the air, not to mention the body parts, I don’t think he’d be so worried.
Instead of an immature Adventurer, I think she’s more like a disaster waiting to happen. She’s laidback to a fault, but even if she feels some hesitation, when the time comes, she follows through whole-heartedly.
I mean, even though she had such a bad reaction to killing all those guys … not once did I ever hear her say she regretted it.
And that was what I reflected over last night, in my report to Dobin.
Looking at her now, here at Sir Ilyos’ gathering … man, she’s definitely a greenhorn when it comes to being a professional escort, but no one finds it too weird.
The Adventurers who DON’T know what all is going on just assume she’s a Carnus Noble’s escort because of her Barriers, and her face.
After Sir Seimei and the others came, rumors spread that they must be from the same country, so that’s why Jun was asked to be an escort.
There were also rumors that Sir Knight Captain was obsessed with her swords.
Or that she was once a Noble herself.
Well, point is, there were tons of rumors, and about half of them were propagated from that bastard Dobin.
So no one knows that SHE’S the real guard while I’M the investigator.
Although, now we’re BOTH investigators, I guess.
“So you are the new Baronet of Carnus.”
Hm… in this room are the Nobles and Diplomats who are most prevalent in international affairs stationed in Nyl City.
Seimei hides his thoughts as he smiles at the Noble from Fernett.
“Greetings, I am Seimei Hara.”
“Hn… I hear that your house has people with quite the abilities. To introduce people like that to this area … it’s like mobilizing a small army, hm?”
“Not at all. They’re stubborn people who are treating this rather as a holiday, with little interest in the territory itself.”
Speaking “pleasantries” like this, Seimei couldn’t help folding his arms into his soft jacket.
Although it had lapels and cuffs of starched, stiff fabric like a suit that were elaborately embroidered, the rest of the was of soft, woven material that flowed like silk, and the sleeves were dolman-type sleeves, the “batwing” type that narrowed on the upper arms into the sleeve cuffs.
It was a luxurious looking top that was fastened with a chain, and another silk-like fabric wrapped asymmetrically over his left arm, draping down the front.
In other words, it was a loose-fitting, softly flowing cardigan-like jacket with a lot of embellishments draping down the front and side.
It was impossible to notice the knife he had strapped to his side, let alone that he was nervously fingering the handle, feeling like he had to be prepared to draw it at any moment.
Although he had tried with all his might, Seimei couldn’t figure out how to sense magic or mana, nor could he put up much of a barrier no matter how Jun tried to explain things to him.
In Mourning Star, he had designed his character Skill Tree to disregard defensive and buff magics, and focused on all out offense and curses. He was optimized to fight behind a vanguard, after all, so there was no point to defensive skills.
But now, he had a distinct feeling of vulnerability.
A man who could be compared to a nuclear apocalypse was feeling vulnerable; how ludicrous.
While he was conversing with the Nobles in this room, Seimei-san was carefully observing their characters.
Back in Japan, the only way he could have climbed up the ranks so fast was thanks to his abilities to see behind the natures of others.
And also a lot of overtime and lost vacation days… but he didn’t really like to think about that.
Sir Ilyos the Knight Captain had made his own assumptions about the matter at hand and said he was most suspicious about the Nobles of Fernett, but Seimei couldn’t agree.
Sure, they’re greedy for power and willing to grasp at anything they can get, but they also have a strong sense of pride that refuses to give anything up even if they’re asking for something.
Just by watching them probe his own intentions on being in Nyl City allowed Seimei to make that judgment.
If they were willing to compromise or had a policy of negotiating their pride, probably the country of Fernett wouldn’t still be a tiny country in the mountains with a declining population and failing power.
Well, even if he didn’t think they were the suspects, they weren’t pleasant people to talk to.
If they’re wrapped up in the matter surrounding Nyl City, Seimei expected to find their involvement on the surface, not at the root.
Several Carnus merchants were found guilty of illegal (by Carnus’ standards) deeds that related to the matter, but none of them were aware that they were being used.
Someone – no, most likely multiple someones – with a sliver tongue wove deals that were too good to pass up, and orchestrated a whole mess of things that no one would be able to see unless they pieced together the whole lot of it.
Seimei couldn’t help but feel that both the Knight Captain of Carnus and the Guild were too naive in their conclusions.
A Noble from such-and-such country, or a black market dealer in such-and-such market…
Although the Knight Captain and the Guild were concerned with the movement of money, Seimei felt a chill up his spine as he realized that pawns from every country or non-country were being used without their awareness.
If it’s something like this, isn’t the network of this unknown threat clearly an organization? The coordination between separate events that led to finding the strange objects buried in various spots … all of them were orchestrated by different people, through different people, for different people.
Unless it was The Man with 1000 Masks incarnate that they were chasing, Seimei felt sure that it was the movement of an organization with hundreds devoted to their cause.
The word “cult” was brought up in his mind.
Truthfully, tonight’s little charade was all Seimei’s doing.
It was impossible to deal with the problem by dealing with the suspicious people, because the people involved were never aware of it in the first place, and so Seimei suggested a plan and advised the Knight Captain against talking about it even to his own subordinates.
“Let me be the decoy,” he said, “and perhaps we can drag whomever it is out. Perhaps it’s someone with a lot of influence, so let’s see what happens if we give him an opportunity to strike against us.”
Like that he persuaded the Knight Captain to hold a party, and then even separate the people with the most power within that party into an isolated room.
What the Knight Captain didn’t know was that Seimei was actually thinking the opposite of what he was saying.
Let’s gather all the people with power over here. All eyes will be on the Knight Captain’s mansion. All the attention from the Guild, the employed Adventurers, and all of the Nobles and military men of every country will be over here.
If there is something going on in the city, now is the perfect opportunity for those lurking in the shadows to make their move.
As if in tune with his thoughts, right before Sir Knight Captain began to address the (made up) reason he had gathered everyone here together this night, all of a sudden Seimei felt that “something” move.
<a/N: Thanks Warlald, Magnadra, and Vincent for your donations!
Take the title as you will.
OMFG, this was classic “I’m here at point A in the storyline and I have to get to point B. Brain, any suggestions?”
Brain: “Dafuq you asking me for?”
And so, various POV chapter. Because Jun is a “wing it” type of person, so if I went over everything exclusively though her POV, it would take another 4 or 5 chapters … Why did I do a conspiracy theory arc with this type of MC? Let’s go explore and use magic again soon, ok? Jun?>