“Fuu… Fuu...” Faint mists formed as I breathe, dissipating as it brushed against my cheeks. My fringes fluttered as the wind whistled into my ears. Then I sank myself into my scarf. “Kanna, I’ll rest for a bit,” with half-closed eyes, I said.
I rested my chin on Kanna’s shoulder. My hands snaked around her waist as I pressed my body against her back. Then my eyelids fell. The last that I saw was rich brown and yellow leaves from the trees past Birby’s black wings.
“It’s okay, we still have a few hours of gliding. I’ll wake you up once we’re about to descend.”
Kanna was probably holding onto Birby’s reins. But I could not completely tell whether she needed to or not. Because, for all I knew, Kanna could sit on Birby without the help of the reins.
“But Lia, do you want me to wake you up once the sun rises?”
“Fuu… I’ll try.” Then came a yawn.
“Is it really fine to leave without informing anyone?”
“I left a letter to Erina, telling her to explain the circumstances of my sudden leave. But I’m sure I’ll get a scolding once I return. Anyway, I’ll deal with that later. First things first, I need to go to the Tribe.”
Since I did not have any official business with any of the fiefs in Laurel, I could now freely fly back to the Tribe.
“I still don’t get why you suddenly came up with the idea of immediately leaving. I mean, we could always leave after a day or two of your return.”
“Fuaah… I’ll explain later. For now… I’ll sleep.”
At that time, I forced Kanna to come with me to the south of the Duchy. Using my own seal, and an illusion to disguise myself, I had the Duchy’s Guards open the personnel gate and let me leave with Kanna.
Although the Guards themselves were of my own, I avoided revealing my identity. It was all because of the presence of my Father. Though I was the Lord of the Duchy, Father could still exercise his rights. With that in mind, it was necessary to not directly inform the Guards of my whereabouts—leading to the scenario of the Guards barring me from leaving while my Father is present.
And in fact, not even Maize knew that I left. The trick was simply to use Cloak of Concealment in a chant-less manner.
It took me a while to get a hang of chant-less magic, but even then I was not complacent. Because the ones I got a hang of forming, were the basic forms of the magic circles—adding the fact that I could only manifest a select few. The modifications, additional runes, and additional inscriptions were still in progress. More-so the concentric, layered, or the overflow forms of magic circles. However, I could still manifest the magic at its base form.
In any case, with the help of the Concealment, I escaped. I fled with Kanna down south—just before the forest by the foot of western front of Alabaster. By then, it was a whistle away in calling Birby from its temporary nest. It all happened a few hours before sunrise.
“But Lia, have you not slept yet?”
“Other than the nap… none…”
“Eh? What were you doing at night? Are you studying again?”
“Kind… of…” Then my head buried deeper onto Kanna’s shoulder. “Suu… Suu...”
Kanna nestled her cheeks against Amelia’s head. “Good night Lia,” she whispered. “But I guess you won’t be able to greet the rising sun.”
Kanna looked ahead, to the east. Though faint, the clouds on the horizon started to paint itself into a bluish red. Along with it are the stars shying away from the light.
Kanna clutched Birby’s reins with two hands. “Birby, although it might be a bit of a burden, let’s maintain this for now.”
In consideration of Amelia, Kanna made Birby glide at the average gliding speed for most wyverns. Any more than that would exponentially increase the brunt of the cold wind. “It’ll be winter soon, Birby. It might be best for you to sleep for a while. Maybe look for a mate while at it.”
Birby responded with a short and low growl.
“Don’t worry, two months is quick when you sleep most of the time. And it’s not like Lia is going anywhere again.” Kanna flashed a smile. “I’ll try to convince Lia to fly with you after she finishes what she needs to do in the Tribe.”
“...” Erina stared at the letter she had just read. She did not know how many times the clock ticked, or the number of thoughts that passed through her mind. But in the end, she heaved a sigh. “Goodness gracious Amelia. What are you up to now.”
Her voice was indifferent, and her expression distraught. Despite that, the manner she was holding the letter was somewhat restrained. Or simply, the letter remained intact.
Erina’s worries had recently begun to pile up. And obviously, the main reason was Amelia. Though she partly understood that Amelia was changing, in a way she had no idea of, she couldn’t repress her emotions.
While she was calming herself in silence, a knock came from the door.
“Amelia? Are you there?”
Erina, familiar with the voice, hurriedly opened the door. “Apologies, Your Royal Highness, Her Highness Amelia seemed to have left early this morning.” Then Erina offered Lara an opened letter. “This is what she left behind.”
“Left, you say?” Puzzled, Lara took the letter and read it. “I see.”
Erina waited in silence, but deep inside, she was preparing a logical excuse for Amelia’s sudden absence.
“Say, Erina, would you like to tour the Duchy with me?” Lara, wearing a comfortable one-piece dress, looked to Erina with a smile.
Erina hid her surprise by playing an unperturbed expression. “Pardon?”
“Would you escort me around the Duchy?”
Erina did not understand Lara’s reasoning, however, she complied. “As you wish.”
Within an hour, Erina and Lara met by the antechamber inside the Duchy’s mansion. Following closely behind Lara were eight Guards wearing short swords and light-armor.
“Are you ready to leave?” Lara smiled.
“As Your Royal Highness pleases.” Erina bowed.
“When we’re outside, you may call me by Lady instead. Calling me as ‘Your Royal Highness’ is too long.”
“I understand, Lady Lara.”
Then Erina and Lara’s unexpected tour began. Starting with the mansion, which was at the center of the Duchy, they headed towards west. Obviously, using a carriage.
“It sure has grown.” Lara roamed her eyes as soon as she alighted the carriage.
“True.” Waiting diagonally beside Lara was Erina.
Here and there, from the corners and from the windows, ears peeked. Some were long, some were round, and some triangular. Gradually, the ears emerged and revealed the faces of the citizens. Just as their appearance said, they were not ordinary citizens of the Duchy. For they, who used to be slaves, were mostly Half-beastmen. And although extremely rare, there were Half-elves.
Despite that, Erina and Lara were not surprised. They looked at the non-humans just as how they looked at ordinary humans.
Shortly after, a small group of the non-humans approached Lara and the others. The Guards surrounding Lara and Erina placed their left hands on the scabbards of their sword.
[Welcome to our residence.] The being who spoke was followed by three others. The being itself was a purebred. He had the features of a bull, but at the same time, he had a body structure similar to a human—a Minos. However, despite his overpowering appearance, his horns were broken. He was the standing chief for the non-human residents of the Duchy.
The other three that followed behind him was a Half-elf, a pure Lycaon, and a Destolion. The Lycaon, the Destolion, and the Minos were the only pure non-human residents of the Duchy.
The Lycaon was more of a bipedal wolf. However, his fur mainly revolved around golden brown and black. That aside, the Destolion was in every bit distinct from anyone inside the Duchy. In fact, there were no Half-destolion around. The same was true in the other Human kingdoms.
The main reason was its appearance. It had an appearance similar to Damselflies or Dragonflies. It also had an exoskeleton taking a dark-green shade.
Often times, the Destolions were mistaken as beasts. But through and through, they are able to speak and understand language just like any other race.
However, unlike the small Damselflies and Dragonflies, the Destolions stood on two well-developed legs. In addition, its body width was similar to an adult human male. Its four arms, accounting for an overall of six limbs, had claws suited for digging. Its eyes were more repressed rather than the large round hexagonal eyes that flies usually had. Lastly, its four wings were small. They seemed like small gills jutting out from their backs.
“Thank you for your kind greetings,” Lara replied.
[The pleasure is ours.] Though somewhat rough, the Minos bowed. The other three followed. [May I ask what reason does our Lord’s guest had for coming here?]
“There isn’t anything special.” Lara shook her head. “I simply wanted to see the current state of this residence.”
It had been three years since non-humans had started taking up residence in the Duchy. The first two years were more of the construction of the Duchy and the facilities it needed to preserve life. However, despite those three years, the wall separating the humans and non-humans have yet to be fully broken.
Maybe it was due to trauma, or something else that made the non-humans hesitate in communicating with the humans. On the human side, maybe it was baseless fear that hindered them from treating the non-humans like how they usually treated others.
But there was hope. For three years, the relationship between the humans and the non-humans gradually softened. Although it comprised of only a few steps, it was a huge step to diversity. Sadly enough, Amelia was not usually around to be able to observe these changes. It was through reports that she was informed of the usual situation in her fief.
“In any case, could you suggest a few places where you think we could get a good sight of the place?” Lara smiled. “A place where unique meals are served would be fine too.”
The Minos look behind and asked the Half-elf, [Could I leave this to you?]
[Yes.] The pale-green haired Half-elf nodded. Her hair was trimmed to her shoulders.
The half-elf approached Lara and stopped at about a meter away. [My name is—]
Lara and Erina’s tour continued. They roamed the western part of the Duchy and visited various establishments suited for entertainment. Among those were establishments that tried to provide the natural habitat of the Beastmen.
There were also musical pubs that provided a distinct form of music. Hurling ranges, fields for rabbit hunts, farms for cattle, altars made of stones or wooden logs, and more. It was a mix of a human culture and the culture of the non-humans. However, the human traits were more prominent. It was the result of having multiple races in one spot while being influenced by humans.
“How is it?” Lara turned to Erina who sat opposite her in the carriage. “Have you had enough time to prepare an excuse to Auguste?”
“It is all thanks to you, Lady Lara.” Erina bowed.
Lara turned back to the window. “A place that shouldn’t have existed.”
“Pardon?” Erina was puzzled.
“This place, the Duchy, it wouldn’t have existed if not for that tragedy.”
Erina kept silent. She was trying to probe Lara’s intent for uttering such words. Because, for one, she lost Gust and Lily during that event. Ria and Mira too.
“The life of others served as a stepping stone for others.”
“Excuse my words, Lady Lara, but I do believe that pertaining to the lives that were lost during that event wasn’t anything pleasant.”
“True. It isn’t anywhere pleasant. But isn’t this what the Late King would have wanted to see? A place where humans interact with non-humans.”
“Yes.” Erina shared the same thoughts, but the way Lara pointed out to the lost lives was not the least appealing.
“In that case.” Lara turned to Erina while bearing an unsmiling expression. “Won’t you stay here and have this place secured in place of Amelia?”
Erina was thrown into confusion. The sequence of Lara’s words was not forming a coherent point inside her mind. Much more of the reason why Lara suggested that she stay in the Duchy.
“Something happened, right? It’s not you to dish out a broth and serve it to the Guards and the other servants.”
Erina froze. It was true that Amelia issued a gag order. However, the matter of the broth—which could be deemed nothing but trivial—was not included among those. In fact, even if an order was issued, the Guards would not able to help but have an idle chatter regarding the broth.
“Something happened. Something that Auguste mustn’t know.”
Erina squinted her eyes. “What are you after? Is this perhaps a struggle—”
“You’re mistaken.” Lara shook her head. “It’s not for Elaine. It is not my intention to separate Elaine from Amelia. Such a pointless battle for power is nothing but a waste of time. And besides, Amelia would easily notice if someone was trying to use Elaine against her.”
“Tell me what happened.” Lara brought her right hand to her chest. “No matter what it is, I’ll be your ally.”
Erina closed her eyes. That was when she thought that her agitation got better of her. “I don’t understand, Lady Lara.”
“What do you mean by me staying in the Duchy? What reason do you have to suggest such?”
“I may be wrong, but I think the reason Amelia left you uninformed is a sign that she doesn’t want you to get involved. In fact, it is also the reason that more or less confirmed my doubts from our recent meeting. Now that I think about it, it wouldn’t be far-fetched for her to trick Auguste using illusions.”
“That… might be true.” Erina clenched her fist.
“So, do you think she could succeed by her own?”
Erina mulled in silence. “… No.”
Although Erina believed that Amelia would make it through with her wits, the uneasy feeling dwelling inside her did not. “No, I don’t think she would.” She knew it was a gamble. And a gamble would not ease her worry. Not at a time that she might lose her daughter. Not for a second time.