—The trip from Priestella, the Watergate City, to the royal capital, Lugunica, ended up taking much longer than anticipated.
The reason they took a month, two weeks longer than they originally planned, was largely due to being forced to face various obstacles on the way there.
“I was so sure those Witch Cult guys would come try to get her back.”
“That wasn’t the case, it seems. I, too, thought it had been done on purpose, but the bandits and other obstacles we faced on the way here didn’t seem to have any connection to that.”
“—. Just ordinary bandits, right?” With her arms crossed, Felt gave a sidewards glance at Reinhard, who had raised his perfectly shaped eyebrows.
They were currently in front of a tower in the royal capital, Lugunica, on the same layer as the royal castle. Viewed from the castle, the tower appeared to be extremely high up, but the people there were treated worse than those who lived in the slums. The tower was naturally named the Prison Tower—a place where heinous criminals were imprisoned and awaited their punishments.
In front of the tower, Reinhard thought about the contents of the conversation they just had. He appeared to be uncomfortable and looked as if he didn’t understand, but compared to him, who didn’t rate himself highly, Felt was able to grasp the unnaturalness of the situation much more easily.
The dragon carriage carrying Felt and Reinhard had been stopped more than ten times by unforeseen obstacles. As Reinhard had already mentioned, the only attacks on their dragon carriage had been carried out by bandits or witchbeasts.
However, for Felt to be attacked like that. —That fact was quite strange.
“If you think about it normally, do you think the bandits, who only care about themselves, would be stupid enough to do something as dangerous as attacking people who are riding such a decent dragon carriage like this?”
“Perhaps they had no other options?”
“Are you sayin’ they wouldn’t be able to fill their bellies otherwise? Reinhard, stop makin’ excuses for those little scoundrels. Those guys are crafty. They wouldn’t be able to survive otherwise.”
“That’s why they don’t go after people they can’t handle. They don’t care about being buddy-buddy with each other, they only care about themselves.”
After hearing Felt’s reasoning, Reinhard held his tongue. It seemed to indicate that he thought her reasoning was valid. Though his strength was unmatched, and though he was extremely skilled with a sword, he was a bit naïve when it came to the ways of the world. This was what concerned Felt the most.
“…Why do I even need to worry about you so MUCH!”
“Lady Felt, please don’t kick your leg at me so suddenly. Did something happen?”
“And don’t you just avoid it like that!… Urgh, forget it.”
With scuff marks from her shoes on the hem of her white skirt, Felt bent her lips and snorted.
In front of the existence known as Reinhard, the bandits acted recklessly. It was forgivable that the ignorant bandits attacked a luxury dragon carriage, however, when discovering that they were in the presence of Reinhard, it was completely absurd that they did not cower in fear or lose their fighting spirit. Not only the bandits, but the witchbeasts who acted according to their instincts as well. Though, Felt did not tell him about that—
Her name was called, and Felt answered immediately.
Without having to say a word, Felt’s skin tingled, her instincts kicked in, and her very soul felt that existence—for it was evil, hated, and rejected by all living beings.
“I enjoyed the journey here. Thank you for taking the time to see me off. Thank you.”
Laughing, she lifted up her cuffed arms, revealing a freak covered in bandages—it was the evildoer Sirius, who Felt had been escorting on her journey. She had been tasked with bringing her to the Prison Tower so that she would cough up everything she knew about the Witch Cult, a mysterious and dangerous organization. That was one of the ways they could get some compensation for all of the damage she’d done in the Watergate City.
Even though she understood that, traveling with Sirius was a real pain.
“What’s up with you actin’ carefree like that. Hey you! Do you not understand what kind of situation you’re in? Or…”
“Dear me. It’s so sweet of you to worry about me. Thank you, I’m quite flattered, but please don’t worry about me, Miss Felt. This is just my trial to repay all of their precious, precious, precious love.”
“A repayment of love, a trial…?”
“Don’t take her words seriously. It’s just a load of hot air.”
Reinhard, who had been thinking seriously about Sirius’ incoherent comments, didn’t seem to have good chemistry with her. It was not unusual for those living in the slums to become mentally damaged by alcohol and the violence around them, thus losing their sense of reality and proper thinking.
However, Sirius’ evil spirit was quite distinct from such commonplace happenings.
“Sir Reinhard, she will be imprisoned now. Will you come along?”
The guard in charge of bringing Sirius to the prison asked Reinhard to go with them.
The power of a Sin Archbishop’s Authority was quite immense. Sirius’ in particular was capable of enveloping the entire city of Priestella. So they couldn’t half-ass it when it came to taking precautions.
“Have you taken the appropriate measures?”
“The four walls of the cell are sealed with Evil Sealing Stones, and her hands and feet are also restrained using the same thing. Additionally, other than during an interrogation, her mouth will be gagged as well.
“Your precautions are quite natural. That makes sense.”
Reinhard stroked his chin after hearing the guard’s response. Capturing and imprisoning a Sin Archbishop had never been done before, so even if they piled up precaution after precaution, they would still need to stay vigilant.
Then, as Reinhard and his colleagues spoke, Felt could feel a slight tingling sensation on her skin and realized it had been caused by the silent Sirius.
“…What the… she got irritated all of the sudden.”
“…Ah, really, Miss Felt, you really have an eye for people.”
Felt didn’t feel happy to be praised like that, but the answer Sirius gave was an affirmation of her point. Her lips were smiling, but her purple eyes were not smiling at all. On the contrary, she had revealed the anger she’d been hiding, which she hadn’t seen much in the past month.
She had just arrived here and suddenly got angry. What could possibly make her angry like that? It didn’t make sense for her to be angry due to getting imprisoned at this point.
“—Evil Sealing Stones.”
“I really don’t like Evil Sealing Stones. —It’s the same thing that was used to seal that damned Witch, that damned, damned Witch…!”
Felt squinted her red eyes at Sirius, who had hatefully clenched her teeth.
Felt had felt many times on their journey to the royal capital that Sirius, despite being in the Witch Cult, had very little respect for the Witch of Envy. She had always assumed that Witch Cultists believed in the Witch of Envy.
But for Sirius, the feelings she held for the Witch were not respect or faith, but were hatred or a grudge, and the fact that she pointed that towards a half-witch—Emilia, was a cause for concern for Felt.
“Lady Felt, we’ll be taking her to prison now… But we’ll be going into the Prison Tower.”
“You don’t want me to go with you, do you? But if you didn’t want me to be close to criminals, why did you let me stay in the same dragon carriage as the Sin Archbishop?”
“There are situations that are unavoidable and those that are not. You should discern between them.”
“Well, alright. So there are conditions.”
Felt scratched her head violently and let out a rasp of discontent after hearing Reinhard’s words, which seemed far more protective than cautious, and then held out her hand to the guard in charge of Sirius. In his hand was a gag that was meant to go into her mouth. Felt took it from his hand and stood in front of her. “Your words mean nothin’ to me, as if they were gibberish you said while sleeping. But I still need to be careful. Better to be safe than sorry.”
“Dear me, you’re being so cold to me now. Haven’t we been getting along for a long time though?”
“Then accept THIS as MY firm resolve to say goodbye to this whole month with YOU.” With her own two hands, Felt fastened the gag onto Sirius. It was essentially like a piece of wood that she bit on, which prevented her from speaking and trying to kill herself.
“Don’t even look her in the eyes. Put her in the prison as fast as you can and come right back.”
“It sounds like you’re speaking to a child… But I understand. I’ll be right back.”
Thinking there wasn’t much of a difference between the two, Felt snorted at his reply. After that, Reinhard led Sirius into the Prison Tower with the guards.
Just before she vanished into the tower, Sirius looked back at her once and their eyes connected. Felt could tell at once what she’d transmitted through those purple eyes, to her own horror. Since she’d been with her for the last month in the dragon carriage, she was used to such things.
“Damn, she’s such a freak. Saying “Thanks, and I’m sorry”? Don’t make me laugh!”
“—The value of an expression of gratitude changes greatly depending on the position or title of the person who says it. I believe your thinking is correct, Lady Felt.”
Felt, standing in front of the Prison Tower, had been seeing Reinhard and Sirius off. While she had been speaking her mind, someone suddenly butted in and expressed their own ideas as well.
In a bad mood, Felt turned around and said, “So?”
Then the other person, who had sharp eyes, raised their hands up as if in defeat. “I’m sorry. Terribly sorry. I happened to see you from a distance, so I just wanted to come over and say hello.”
Felt looked at the man from top to bottom, who’d been smiling and apologizing.
He had a dark blonde beard and dark blond hair and an expensive suit on. Based on her first impression, she could see that he was a man who wielded power. However, while this place was connected to the castle, he did not give off the aura of a knight or nobleman, but someone of a lesser position.
“…A merchant or something?”
“How discerning. I am Russell Fellow, Treasurer of the Royal Capital Commercial Union. I also have dealings with the royal castle, but this time I am fulfilling a special order.”
“Evil Sealing Stones?”
“Again, your eyes are quite perceptive. With all due respect, you have excellent eyes, Lady Felt.”
Nodding his head with his hands behind his back—Russell’s words sounded like flattery. However, Felt had a feeling that what he had on his mind was far more mysterious than simply a shallow intention of trying to get her win the royal selection.
But it didn’t give her a bad feeling. What she could feel was that this man simply had a strong will.
“Evil Sealing Stones, which have special properties compared to other magic stones, cannot be told apart from a normal lump of stones with a single glance. One need’s a special eye to tell them apart. Therefore, though it might not be enough, I also exerted my own efforts.”
“So you have “special eyes”?”
“Yes. It’s like an eye one gains through experience.”
Russell blurred the meaning of “special eyes” with a dubious smile.
Whether it was an eye gained from observation, like Russell said, or the result of a power derived from a Divine Protection, Felt could not tell. She didn’t know, but—
“Your clothing and face are merchant-like, but you aren’t acting like a merchant.”
Russell narrowed his eyes slightly at Felt’s suspicious words. The appearance of the complex emotions that passed through his eyes showed her a window into his true feelings.
She felt as if he gave off the appearance of appraising her, most likely with admiration—
“No one has really told me that before. I’d like to think that I act merchant-like…”
“I’m gettin’ more and more suspicious, and it’s keepin’ me on my toes. Who are you really?”
“Well, I wonder about that. I’d like to talk with you a bit more to let you know about that.”
He had apparently just invited her to dinner and business talks. That had probably been his objective from the beginning. It must’ve meant he had recognized her in some way.
“That isn’t going to work for me. If you want to talk, then go ahead and talk now. Our base is pretty far away. Anyways…”
“Oh, considering Reinhard’s personality, he would not leave the interrogation of the Sin Archbishop to anyone else, so won’t you be staying in the Kingdom for a while? I do not believe you to be foolish enough to leave one of your knights behind.”
“…You seem pretty pissed off. Did you start feelin’ like that when I told you you weren’t merchant-like?”
“No, not at all.”
Russell bowed politely to Felt, who exhaled through her nose and shrugged.
In fact, Felt’s future plans were exactly as he said. Her and Reinhard would stay in the royal capital for a while. At least… “Until those guys get back from the Sand Tower.”
Muttering that to herself, Felt was reminded of those who were going after different clues for the same purpose as her. Hearing her mutterings, Russell looked up at the Prison Tower with a thoughtful look on his face. “—The world is now going through a time of change. Do you understand, Lady Felt?”
“I’m surprised to hear you talkin’ about such a big thing all of the sudden. So the world’s changing?”
“A Sin Archbishop is now in prison, and two Sin Archbishops of the Witch Cult, who had not been known about before, were defeated, and two of the three Great Witchbeast’s that had threatened the world for 400 years were also defeated. Far too much has happened in just a year or two.”
“Including the extermination of the royal family?”
“Of course, that is also included. —400 years ago, the age of the Witch was also a tumultuous time. Perhaps the same thing will happen again.”
One could say that when merchants earned money ahead of time, it was an omen that the times were changing in a big way. It would be no exaggeration to say that the ability of a merchant largely depended on their level of foresight, but Russell’s current attitude didn’t seem to be focused on the future. And it was not hidden when his gaze shifted from the tower to Felt.
“Lady Felt, I expect the most from you in the royal selection. And I’m not saying so just because of hearsay, but due to taking many things into consideration.”
“You’ve been tellin’ everyone the same thing, haven’tcha?”
Russell, who’d acted shy, answered as if nothing had happened, and Felt responded by contorting her face in a grand manner. Her reaction caused him to clear his throat, and then he turned away.
“Please excuse me. I have an appointment after this. However, I’ll be home in the evening. Would you like to join me for dinner?”
“I’ll tell you what, half-assed cookin’ won’t be enough to win Reinhard over.”
“…And I’ll be sure to tell my kitchen staff about that.”
He waved, and Felt stuck her tongue out at his back as he was leaving.
Before she knew it, she’d already made a promise, but Felt was actually interested in what Russell was talking about. And that included the mask he wore, hiding his true face.
“…Similar to the era of the Witch, a tumultuous era.”
The absence of the King and the scrambling together of five candidates to find a replacement was part of it. It wasn’t the kind of story that’d make the parties involved shudder, but it seemed strangely compelling.
“Damn, it’s gonna be late again by the time I get back to Grandpa Rom’s place, ain’t it?”
Felt thought of the family that she hadn’t seen in a long time. Worrying about things like this wasn’t really like her.
—I really wanna leave some shoe marks on Reinhard’s white uniform.