Charles put on a mysterious face.
“You are really…,” he stared at Azriel piercingly, blurring his sentence, and shook his head. “That’s fine. It was a nonsensical doubt from the beginning.”
He leaned back on his sofa with a glass in his hand and said. “Moreover, your help is something to be welcomed with open arms. Now, I have to think about what I should do for you.”
“You don’t have to do anything for me. I am the one who’s asking your favor in the first place,” Azriel said.
“I can’t do that since I didn’t even get to repay you. It’s easy to forget your gratitude if you continue to receive help without cost,” he said.
“You are not someone like that, Charles,” she said.
He glanced at her and clicked his tongue. “What if I become a friend who keeps asking for your help shamelessly?”
“I believe you won’t do so since you already know that,” she replied.
It was a similar context to what Rhema often said to Azriel. Seeing her saying it with a smile on her face, Charles let out something similar to a bitter smile. ‘Oh no, I want her more. It’s a problem,’ he thought. He wetted his dry throat with the drink in his hand and cleared his throat. “Very well. I will prepare the cost myself as an effort not to do that. As for participating in the investigation, it’s practically difficult to promise that I will disclose the whole process to you.”
He quickly changed the topic on purpose, in fear that she might refuse it. Azriel nodded. “Of course. I don’t want to go that far.”
“First, the ultimate force behind the incidents that we suspect is…,” Charles hesitated for a moment and said in a lower voice. “Talasin.”
“…Pardon?” Azriel asked. She had expected that Charles would mention another country when he talked about international matters a little ago, but it was surprising that he mentioned Talasin. It was the most powerful empire that conquered half of the continent and an abundant and warlike country. It was also the Talasin Empire that conquered the village of the northern minority before where Azriel was born and raised. However, such a suspicious and covert action did not seem to match the empire, not declaring war and forcing its way through with military forces. It was too big to think that it was the force behind the serial disappearance incidents happening in the kingdom.
“Why on earth is Talasin doing such things? It’d be faster for the empire to diplomatically pressure Aucandor if it wanted something.”
Charles looked at her as if it was unexpected. “You know about the political landscape pretty well. You are right. Its scale is too small for the imperial family of the empire, not to mention that there’s not much to gain from it. The emperor probably is not involved in this.”
“I’ll tell you the details another time. It’s not something I should say here,” Charles pointed beyond the curtain with his chin. She could see that the number of people in the hall had been reduced from the shadows reflected on the curtain. As the ball went on, people met partners and left to the garden couple by couple. “Although it’s a masquerade, there must be some people who recognized me. If we continue to stay together like this, there will be a quite interesting rumor even though it won’t be sn open gossip as it’s ‘the Night of Mayflower.’”
Charles said with a smile and put the mask back on. Azriel also grabbed her mask.
“This case can’t be investigated openly because of the empire’s involvement. So, the headquarters that is leading it outside the royal castle. Since the person who can guide you there is at this ball, I will introduce you,” he said.
The headquarters of the investigation outside the royal castle and the person concerned with this ball— ‘The Topaz Guild was the third case after all.’
Azriel could guess whom Charles wanted to introduce to her but did not show it to him since it would be troublesome if he asked about the source of her information. When she stepped out of the curtain, she could see a person in a wolf mask, who was standing as if he was looking at the scenery of the ball from a little bit far away. Charles let Azriel wait before approaching and whispering to him in a low voice. “Ash.”