From the roof thatched with dry sedges, rain dribbled in thin strands of streams. As they fell, the streams broke into fragments of droplets and rippled on the surface of an open canal. There, water flowed sounding harmoniously with the rain.
Within my sight, veiled by a hood, posts glowed dimly in green, some in flickering orange. It was dark. It was still dawn. Nevertheless, my feet, fastened by thigh-high leather boots, trod lightly over puddles that pooled on the pavement laid with discolored gray bricks.
As I breathe in mists of white, my eyes darted from left and right, sighting broken boxes and barrels on the sides of the alley. With my left hand raised to my shoulder, I paced my hand in support of the cracked wall.
At the end of the alley, red lights blinked invitingly. As I neared the lights, voices started to filter through the rain.
Upon exiting the alley, the voices became prominent. They were from both men and women, but dominantly women. There were giggles. There were seductive calls. But those came from women standing on a fenced platform, wearing thin clothes while waving their fans and handkerchiefs.
While frowning, “I'll never to get to like places like this,” I said. “I better get over this with quickly.”
It was the red-light district of the dukedom. A place littered with brothels.
With my sight turned to the street, I blended with the passers-by clothed with similar brown robes. As I weaved through the busy street, the voices started to tone down. Then, it turned into a complete silence, leaving only the sound of the rain.
I’ll never try to intercept the thoughts of these scums again, I thought, reminded of the time I checked the messages sent through telepathy.
Past the bustle of men, I went deeper into the street and turned into an alley with a gaudy signed post hanging from a rod. Behind, as I entered, a splash of steps followed closely. Taking a glance, I saw a robed man grinning underneath his hood.
Swine, I thought, as I poured mana into a shard I held on my right.
As he lost his balance and tumbled forward, I twisted to my feet and delivered a roundhouse kick to his face. With a light crack, he fell unconscious on the ground, his face directed at the open canal.
“When will people learn that even the red-light district doesn't allow sexual assault,” I muttered with a sigh. [Maize,] I called using Wind Whisper, [take this man away then make him choose between his arms or his manhood,] I said and turned around without waiting for a reply.
After I reached the end of the alley, I turned right at the fork. As I strode forward, a casual splash of steps followed in a fix distance from behind. Unconcerned, I continued towards the structure painted lavishly in black and gold. At the door fixed with glasses, two large-built men stood at the sides.
Stopped at a meter away from the two men, I raised my hand from my robe and started animating my fingers. Three-Five-Two-One-Two-Four. As soon as I finished, the men nodded and opened the door. On the other hand, the splash of steps from behind withdrew.
Upon entering the structure, a fancy reception table welcomed me. Then beside me, a butler offered his hand. Removing my robe, I passed it to the butler and moved towards the reception table. Without uttering a single word, I took out a white card from my pocket and slid it towards the female receptionist.
After a few seconds of inspecting the card, the receptionist stood from her seat and walked towards the door on my left. Following closely behind, I was lead to a hallway filled with doors. It was a maze of doors. One after the other, we finally reached a door marked with a silver leaf. Promptly, the receptionist stood by the door and opened it with a clack.
Within the small room with nothing but a light ball freely floating at the ceiling, two sets of chairs, and a low table at the center, a medium built man stood. “Greetings, your Highness,” the black-haired man said.
Without responding, I took the seat opposite the man. Then the man followed.
Crossing my legs, “Tell me what you know,” I said.
“Your Highness sure is hasty,” the man said with an unwavering smile.
“I'm sure you knew what happened,” I said, “There's no point in discussing such matters. Probably, Mother had already predicted this outcome, didn't she?”
“Well, her Majesty intended to relax the borders to lure the Hero, but as expected, not everything went as planned.”
“And you mean?”
“Her Majesty didn't intend to let the church blend with the refugees along with the hero, but that is fine too, you've already resolved it after all. In addition to that, you've proven the usefulness of wyverns in battles. His Majesty will surely be delighted.”
“What?” I asked in surprise. “Wait, you don't mean that Father already had planned on using wyverns in battles? I've never heard of this. Nor was I informed of anything pertaining this.”
“True,” he said with a chuckle. “Remember when his Majesty took the front-lines and led the wyvern subjugation three years back? Fortunately, or maybe, unfortunately? His Majesty found wyvern eggs at the nests which gave him the idea of riding wyverns.”
Ah, now that he mentions it, Father did not react to the fact that I received and rode a wyvern from the Tribe. Haah... I missed something again. I thought Mother just suppressed Father's comments regarding that matter...
“That got out of hand, but I'm sure this is something yet to be shown to the public, no?”
“Indeed it is,” tapping his fingers on the armrest, he said. “However, the Order of Scales is yet to be official.”
“Order of Scales huh,” I said. “Can't Father think of a not so obvious name for the order?”
“Please complain directly to his Majesty.”
“Don't worry,” I said with a nod, “I will.”
“In any case, his Majesty wishes for you to attend and observe the training for the Order of Scales. Possibly, act as a temporary commander while the Knights learn to ride the wyverns.”
With a sigh, I placed a hand on my forehead and said, “Father should ask the Tribe instead of me. Or is he telling me to take command since I'm the only one with a direct connection with the Tribe? Well, even if that's true, I don't think Sylvar will mind as long as there's a proper compensation or exchange.”
“Your Highness, please sort that out with your Father. He'll visit the duchy a few days from now along with the Knights.”
I sighed and said, “He's too willful...”
“In any case,” I said, “the nobles from the borders, you have information right?”
“Why of course,” he replied.
“Then tell me what you know,” I said, flicking a coin to his direction.
The man caught the coin and said, “White-Gold huh, that's pretty generous of you, your Highness.” Then he inserted the coin into his breast pocket.
“Enough with the small talk,” I said. “Tell me what Mother had prepared and the task I need to finish.”
With his hands reached out from under the table, he took a stack of papers and placed on the table and said, “Well, just as you thought, her Majesty had been eyeing the church for a time now. With the chance that the Hero went southwards, towards Laurel, her Majesty loosened the border patrols.”
While he spoke, I took the stack of papers from the table and flipped it while listening to his explanation.
“As expected, the Nobles were either bribed or threatened into submission. With this chance, her Majesty placed investigators in advance to collate evidence before, during, and after the events happened.”
My eyes moved from one line to another of the report and said, “Then the evidence has already been gathered huh.” Halting from reading, I moved my sight towards the man and said, “Tell me, which of the entire play went along with Mother's plans? And which of it strayed from her script?”
“Everything went as planned except for the Hero remaining with the refugees instead of fleeing. There's also your unexpected use of wyverns. Aside from that, the church's activities in the forest west of here is still a mystery. There's hardly any information to conclude what specific activities they've been doing there. At best, we could say that there's a form of transportation in that area to return the Hero to Libet.”
“Possibly teleportation huh.”
“Are the details included in this report?”
“Yes, of course. I've also added some rumors circulating among the Nobles that visited the brothels. Really,” he said with a chuckle, “those Nobles can't help blabbering when they're bedding another woman other than their wife.”
“And most of them are sons of the Nobility who can't keep their pride of being born in a high society right? Scoundrels who aren't fit to rule their fief.”
“Which is why her Majesty took this chance to cull the Nobles in the borders.”
“True,” I said with a nod, “I'm sure that's what Mother intended.”
Just how many birds did mother successfully hit this time with one stone? There's also that culling to be held next year at Mark's coming of age. I'd be second in line to the throne if it proceeds.
“She said, 'Focus on Academia, and I'll let you handle the Hero as you wish.'”
So there's no point in hiding it from Mother huh... Well, at least I have Mother's backing.
“Another test huh...”
“There's also, 'You can stop and return whenever you give up.'”
After a moment of silence, I said, “... Then please pass this message to Mother, 'I won't stay put.'”
“Understood,” he said, smiling.
“Then the others?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Don't play a joke with me,” I said, “the details about the movements in Brent, Niveria, and Libet regarding the war. You have it, don't you?”
Snickering a smile, he said, “You like to cut to the chase.” Under the table, he took out another stack of paper and dropped it on the table with a thud. “That's everything,” he said.
“This will be heavy...” I muttered as I switch my sight between the two stacks of paper I'm supposed to read.
With a slam, stacks of paper were lined up on the table. From the left side, a report of the Heroes from Max, statements of the imprisoned church girl, investigation results from the borders including rumors spreading among the Nobles, and details regarding the war. As I looked at it one after the other, my body started to feel heavy. Then with a sigh, “I wonder if Fairy Tales included this reality in books, will the children still look up to us?” I said and pulled a seat brushed my hair towards my back.
“The children will stop dreaming of becoming prince and princesses,” Erina said from my side.
“Figured,” I replied. “Erina, please tell anyone not to disturb me, and please prepare tea along the way. And biscuits, preferably sweet ones to add.”
“Understood,” she replied and left with light steps.
“Now then,” I said, stretching my arms, “time for some heavy reading.”
Starting with the report regarding the church girl's statement, I flipped through the pages while noting details on another paper on my right. While reading, Erina set-up another table to my left and placed the tea and biscuits that I requested.
“Your Highness,” she said, “I'll prepare a proper meal later, so make do with this amount.”
Without moving my eyes away from the report, “It's okay,” I replied. “And oh, regarding the orphan boy, did he reach the orphanage in the duchy?”
“And oh, please inform Max that I'll join his travel back to Brent two days from now. And one more thing, please send a message to the duchy that Father will come. For the treatment, let Father tour around the facilities, and inform him that I'll be late.”
“Understood,” then again, Erina turned towards, the door.
“Last thing,” I called. “Please get me a map of Laurel.”
Pages after pages of the report, I contemplated on the information I’ve read. With tea and biscuits to fuel my mind, I kept flipping on the pages with my other hand on a piece of paper scribbled with notes. As I read through the church girl's statement and compared it to the information gathered, my expression started to scrunch in confusion.
What? If I remember correctly, the Hero was supposed to be passed on to twelve other zealots at the west. The problem is, what are they doing there? I thought as I traced my finger on the map on my right.
Weird, I thought, they could've gone east and rode an illegal shipping vessel to escape, that is, if they're lucky to get through ours and Brent's sea patrols. But why west?
With my finger pointed at the forest to the left, “I’ve already asked Maize to do a preliminary investigation on the Forest, but there wasn’t any result. Perhaps, deeper into the forest? Then to the Great Volgan Lake? Or maybe to the side of Twin Peaks then to Brent? Heading to Brent is probably the best idea since the church still has some control there, but Academia -- probably not unless they're conspiring, but that's highly unlikable.”
After all, Academia thinks on proving things rather than blindly believing that things happened due to unknown and unexplained circumstances; which leaves me to Brent. However, teleportation is still possible. But I wonder, will the evidence remain until I arrive?
Leaning my back on the seat, “This is difficult,” I muttered while scratching my head.
“Are you giving up?” Erina asked.
“Of course not,” I answered. “I’m just starting. Besides, there’s still the rumors to check. I’ve only read the testimony and the results of the forest investigation.”
“Then what of the statement of the rasc- girl?”
“Ah, that,” I said. “That girl spoke about their attempt to crush the Hero's will to run away by using the refugees as hostages. She also stated the Nobles they managed to pull into their grasp, which further proves the result of the advanced investigation done by Mother in the borders. Aside from that, she’s a pawn promised with a higher position if she succeeded. In fact, she stated that there's someone else that'll handle the transfer.”
“So we managed to grab the tail.”
Meanwhile, in a room inside the Duchy.
“Mola, what are you writing?” asked Kanna from below the bunk bed.
Scratching her messy hair while sitting on a chair beside the bunk bed, Mola said, “I don't think you'll understand.” Then she continued writing on a stack of paper with a shard in hand.
“That's mean!” replied Kanna.
“Kanna,” said Meiko, while blinking her eyes with a puzzled expression, “I agree with Mola. And I don't think I'll understand this either...”
“What's it for anyway?”
“From what I understood, it's an analysis report on a Dasbalite.”
“Oh! A Dasbalite! I know that!”
“Oh, so Heroes can understand our writing too. Quite a handy blessing you have.”
“Eh?” surprised, Meiko said in disbelief. “You know what that is? And Mola, I can’t read what you’re writing, but when I look at it, I kind of understand the meaning of the words-- it’s hard to explain.”
At the same time, Kanna said, “Of course! It's a crystal that the Dwarfs back in the Tribe used to mine, but stopped.”
“Yes, that's the one,” Mola joined. “It's quite a burden to analyze. We'll also need specimens of those Rikeas if we want to get through this roadblock. So I'm writing a report for a request for specimens while detailing what we've understood so far.”
“... I have no idea,” commented Meiko on Kanna’s response.
“Hey Mei!” shouted Kanna, “I think you're being mean too!”
Meiko then looked to the side silently, then said, “I don’t know what you’re referring to.”