As Kanna and I toured the Dukedom during the Summer’s End festival, I received a report regarding the condition of the Hero and the Observer’s in the refugees' settlement.
Lips bit with a hand over it, not good, not good! I paced around the bed-chamber.
“Your Highness, would you like me to delay our departure?”
After halting my steps, I faced Erina and said, “please do.”
From the side, “I’m sorry Lia, but I can’t think of anything.”
Shaking my head, “no, it’s fine” I said, “thinking up plans is not your specialty after all.”
After the door closed shut, I approached the bed and flopped on top.
“Lia,” sitting on a chair near a drawer, “is there no other choice?”
“… None, it’s a deadlock. I can’t move, neither the Hero nor the church can.”
If only I don’t need to care about the aftermath!
Shutting my eyes, “I can’t move, but I have to.”
Puzzled, “that’s contradicting.”
“If I delay this any longer, more of the church’s personnel might arrive, however, if I move recklessly, the observers will take the refugees as hostages. On the other hand, the Hero can’t move due to the observer’s threat.”
Clenching my head, “aaaah!” I kneaded it and said, “if only I can remove the observers without gaining the doubt of the refugees!”
With a clenched fist, I pounded the mattress several times.
Heaving a sigh, “haah...” I fell on the bed, “I need to think of something to break this deadlock.”
With a neigh, the horse clopped its hooves as I fixed my feet on the stirrups.
“Mia,” glaring, Erina called, “don’t be reckless.”
Shadowed by a hood, I returned a frown.
“I know, but please, make sure the relief, the mages, and the carriage arrive by morning.”
From the other side of the mansion, a series of claps and loud cheers reverberated.
Reining the horse towards the street, “Erina, I need to go.”
“Haah...” she sighed, “please be well.”
Whipping the reins, “I will,” the horse began to move.
Urging the horse by the rein, rumbling hooves filled the streets unimpeded, one alley after the other. In the distance, a passage on the gray wall emerged. Again, with a whip, I increased the horse's pace.
Please bear with it.
As I neared the passage leading outside, Guards stood nearby, however, rather than decreasing my pace, I maintained it. Passing by, they took a quick glance before returning to their post. Upon exiting the passage, a gentle breeze knocked my tattered hood, revealing my silver hair. Through the fields of green, upon noticing my figure, five horsemen moved. Heading towards their direction, we marshaled en route to the settlement.
Riding beside me, a horseman dressed in an aged clothing said, “your Highness, Captain Maize has proceeded with the instructions.”
In response, I nodded.
“The status of the settlement?”
“There’s no change.”
With a glance, “have the observers noticed?”
As we galloped in silence, “your Highness,” the black-haired horseman called, “how shall we proceed?”
“Listen,” I commanded, “at about a hundred meters before the settlement, we will split up and enter the settlement at different locations. Upon entering, mark all the observer’s in your vicinity, but make sure to stay away from their sights. Regarding them taking action to gain the refugee's trust, don’t bother. It’s impossible to take them down without involving the refugees. One last thing, don’t make any move that will endanger the lives of the refugees! We don’t want Laurel’s image to shatter like glass!”
Like I briefed, we split with each other and looked for a Guard in the vicinity. Leading the horse, I approached a Guard on standby. Descending from the saddle, the horse splattered series of breaths from it’s bubbling mouth. Stroking its thick yet mellow shoulder, “you can rest now.”
Turning to the Guard in wait, “please take care of him.”
“Yes, your Highness,” saluted the Guard.
After receiving the Guards response, I took out a parchment and reviewed the marks written on it. Afterward, I crumpled it and said, “please dispose of it.”
While walking towards the settlement, I started collecting my hair from the back. Pulling it down to my shoulder, I held it down with my left as I took out a band of fabric and started tying up my hair. Then, taking out a shard from a pouch, I fitted it between my fingers.
“That should do it.”
As I neared the settlement, I started chanting for Cloak of Concealment. Upon completion, I poured mana into my horn. Then, with the help of reinforcement, I sprinted, speed comparable to a horse's gallop.
After entering, I passed by a rough cube-like structure molded from earth. Reducing my pace, I took out a clip from my pouch while calming my breathing. Roaming my eyes around, more of the cube-like houses and wooden shacks littered the surroundings.
What a mess.
Looking around for an opportunity, I walked into an alley, swept my fringe and clipped it, hid my horn and fixed my hair, and cut off the mana supply on Concealment. Then upon exiting, I blended with refugees roaming around the place.
Maintaining an indifferent expression, “we need to relocate them as soon as possible,” I whispered to myself.
Scanning, I failed to see a proper ditch for the wastes to flow. Scraps were scattered around. And the residents, children, adult, and elderly, though a small number, were holding down their stomachs with pained expressions.
Inwardly, I rasped my teeth.
Whoever you are, someday, I’ll return this favor.
The deeper I went into the settlement, the more I saw groups of people receiving reliefs from persons expressing prudent smiles.
With clenched fists, I resisted from unsheathing the dagger from my waist.
Weaving through the residents, I arrived at the settlement’s square. Dotted with pale refugees, the sight of them coughing and wheezing drove needles into my core.
Just a while longer, please stay strong.
While avoiding eye contact, I roamed my eyes, searching for a street leading to a slightly larger cube structure. My attention grabbed by the disorderly line, I took the chance to approach a refugee at the end of it.
Slightly hunching my back, “H-hello...” I pinched the sides of my robe and said, “my brother got sick… and...”
Returning a frown, “I’m sorry for your brother,” the man shook his head in reply, “but my Mother is sick and unable to stand, so I need to ask the Saint to get her cured. So I'm sorry, you have to fall in line.”
“But man, what’s going on? We've been receiving relief now and then, but everything keeps going downhill. Is it because of the season changing?”
Bowing, “a-anyway, I have to get back to my brother soon. Thank you! ” then I turned around and vanished into an alley.
Nothing goes well with the church!
Around a few blocks, I skirted around while heading towards the start of the line. Locating the source, I casually passed by from a few meters. Unfortunately, I was unable to garner any information due to the crowd surrounding the structure.
It’s no use, I thought, I need to wait.
Distanced from the structure, I went towards the middle of the line. Then taking a detour into an alley, I sat down on the dirt while taking note of the line’s movement.
While waiting, my stomach responded with a low growl.
Slipping my hand into the robe, I glanced at the surroundings and muttered, “not again...”
Hunched in a corner while fumbling, a child sat quietly. Unable to ignore it, I stood from my seat and approached him. Ruffling his hair as I sat beside him, “here,” I took out a jerky and offered it to the boy sulking beside me, “it’s not that good, but it will fill your stomach.”
Meekly, the boy grabbed it and took a bite.
Smiling, “you’re welcome.”
Barred by a moment of silence, “say,” I broke the ice, “mind telling me what happened? I’m willing to listen.”
Leaking tears from the corner of his eyes, he sniffled and brought his hands to his eyes.
Stroking the boy’s back, “there, there,” I pulled the boy into an embrace, “it’s fine to cry.”
I wonder what could’ve happened if someone lent a hand back then…
As time ticked, I comforted the boy and listened to his story until chatters from the direction of the line grew incessant.
Standing from my seat, “I have to go.”
“But...” With endearing eyes, he looked up to me.
Wryly, I crouched before him and said, “as long as you keep living, good things can happen.”
Then with the last rustle of his hair, I quietly stood and left.
Approaching the previous structure, I weaved through the residents spatting cries and insults as they leave.
“What about me?!”
“My child! Please help us!”
“My mother can no longer move! Please!”
Then from the center of the crowd, “please understand! We the Saint is too exhausted! Please return tomorrow!”
As voices jeered back and forth, I moved into a corner, quietly spectating the commotion. When the crowd calmed, more and more started leaving, but several figures of men in the distance remained. Slipping back into the alley, I waited until nightfall.
Opposite the direction of the structure, I moved while muttering a chant. With a step, I took a sudden turn, then broke into a run, careful enough to avoid emitting unnecessary noises.
Confirming the presence of the observers, I snuck into the building. Within, a figure of a black-haired girl, breathing erratically, laid on the floor, curled like an infant. Beside her, a brown-haired girl sat while stroking her back.
“You did good today,” commented the girl.
Beside the wall, I took refuge and quietly observed their figures. After a short while, I removed the clip then returned it into the pouch. Afterward, I took a step closer and drew my dagger. Annulling the cloak, I poured mana into the shard between my fingers, conjuring an illusion similar to the interior of the room and its contents.
Right before the girl was able to shout, I cuffed her mouth and placed the dagger’s blade on her neck.
Staring at her quivering eyes, “quiet,” I whispered, “if you can promise to stay silent, I’ll withdraw this dagger, if not...”
In response, the girl gave a quick nod.
While retracting the dagger, I glanced the Hero who immediately stood in a stance without relieving my hand over the girl’s mouth.
“I-I don’t want any trouble,” muttered the Hero dripping with sweat.
“Neither do I,” reversing my grip on the dagger, I replied, “you’re the runaway Hero aren’t you?”
Surprised, the Hero trembled for a moment while I pushed harder on the mouth of the similarly surprised girl.
Sparking a glare, “I don’t care if you’re a Hero, but you’re endangering the lives of the refugees.”
With trembling lips, “T-that...” her pupil shrank with a quiver.
“You know it, but you’re afraid of being captured,” I said, “but listen to me, please, surrender to the church.”