Chapter 162 : Interlude~Part 5~
Across the southwestern border of the Paladia Kingdom lay their beloved neighboring country, the Kingdom of Rubia. In a certain deserted village, two people were walking along the streets. They were the First Princess of Rubia, Silvi Rubia and her chamberlain.
The two were dressed like adventurers and had grim expressions on their faces. They continued walking until they arrived in front of a run-down house which looked like it hadn’t been part of the village for a long time.
「Your highness, please leave this job to me.」
The princess complied with her maid’s request, nodding her head in approval. Elena then knocked on the door of the house at timed intervals. A while later, the old door opened with a loud creak.
Inside sat a man who didn’t look older than thirty. His name was Arein.
After confirming Elena’s face along with Silvi’s, he bid them to enter the house with a polite but cynical voice.
「Welcome. I’ve been waiting for you. It’s my honor to be able to meet the famous Knight Princess. Please enter.」
The man turned around and led them deeper into the house, walking into the darkened rooms.
Silvi let out a small sigh at the blatant disrespect while Elena felt greatly offended and snorted loudly. This did not stop them from following him inside, though.
「Please sit anywhere you want.」
The living room they arrived in had high-quality furniture neatly arranged, apparently brought from somewhere else. This shocked Elena, who looked around the room with a curious look on her face.
A brawny man, looking to be in his late twenties, sat in the inner part of the living room. His name was Lucci. He greeted both women with a frivolous smile.
Elena was visibly displeased by his attitude and clicked her tongue in response. Ignoring the situation, Silvi briefly scanned the room and saw someone she didn’t recognize.
「… What about that man?」
Silvi’s question seemed to confuse Arein.
She unconsciously used a harsher tone with him.
「Ah, Master Reis usually wanders around aimlessly. He only returns when there’s an urgent matter.」
Lucci replied nonchalantly.
「What? And he was the one who summoned me to this place…」
Elena unintentionally spoke her mind, which prompted Arein to sigh heavily and shrug his shoulders.
「There’s nothing we can do, Your Highness. We were just told to wait.」
「… Can you at least tell me why he called me here?」
「Ah, it’s for an objection. And to ask for compensation for our request, along with the extra rights.」
Arein replied while scratching the back of his head.
Silvi instantly became suspicious of him.
「Truthfully, while we tried to save your little sister, the Second Princess Estelle… A youth came to attack Master Reis.」
「… What? 」
Silvi’s body stiffened as if she had been electrocuted. Her eyes opened wide in surprise.
「Oi, Lucci. Bring him.」
Arein instructed Lucci, who immediately left the room.
Somehow controlling her shock, Silvi confronted Arein.
「… Oi, what’s the meaning of this?」
「Hahaha! You really are new to this, aren’t you? Since you already grasped our intentions, shall we begin?」
Arein spat those words at Silvi, a sneer twisting his face.
As he spoke, Lucci came back. Behind him, he dragged a shackled young man into the room, tossing him on the floor as if disgusted with the boy.
The young man rolled on the ground and moaned in pain.
Silvi shouted in astonishment.
She couldn’t believe the boy in front of her, bound by chains as if he were an animal, was Renji.
They hadn’t gone as far as gagging him, so he was still able to speak.
Still, Renji averted his gaze from Silvi in silence.
Silvi unintentionally stared at Lucci and Arein, waiting for an explanation.
「… Oi, what is the meaning of this!?」
「I’ve already told you. This fool tailed Reis-sama while we were saving Second Princess Estelle. Now, the hunter became the hunted. Do I need to elaborate further?」
Arein appeared to be stifling his laughter as if explaining a funny situation.
While he tried to contain himself, Silvi and Elena were speechless. The princess continued to stare at Renji, but since he was avoiding her gaze, she merely stood there looking dumbfounded.
「What the… 」
「Well, the price you’ll pay for that hasn’t been settled yet. We do have the intention to ask you to do some of our requests. But we’ve decided that Your Royal Highness will stay in this house, under our supervision, for the time being.」
Before Silvi could finish her sentence, Arein interrupted her. He spoke very casually as if he was talking about the weather instead of keeping someone under surveillance.
Elena was the first to absorb what he had said, and she immediately protested.
「… WHAT!? DON’T JOKE AROUND! WHAT DO YOU MEAN, MONITORING SILVI-SAMA? YOU WANT HER TO STAY HERE, IN THIS FILTHY HOUSE, WITH BASTARDS LIKE YOU!?」
「Exactly. You got a problem with that?」
「LOADS OF PROBLEMS!」
Arein’s answers were calm and collected, while Elena was almost blue with how much she was screaming at this point.
Lucci gave Renji a kick, then turned to Elena with a frown.
「Oi oi oi, are you telling us to overlook that shitty brat who tried to hinder our movements? Are you kidding me?」
「WE HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH HIS ACTIONS!」
Elena was quick to deny any involvement with Renji.
Arein opened his eyes wide, appearing surprised.
「Oh, is that so? Then why did this shitty brat try to save Second Princess Estelle? Where could he possibly have heard such confidential information from?」
Silvi stared at the chained boy on the floor with an extremely sour face.
Renji’s body shook when Silvi spoke his name, but he kept his silence and avoided her gaze.
Lucci noticed the boy’s resolve and kicked him again.
「You probably don’t want to do that. Power aside, all he has left is his pride. Stubborn and reluctant to admit his own faults, he’s just a little brat who’ll mellow out as soon as you show him the slightest troubled look.」
With each sentence, he gave Renji another kick.
The boy trembled as he glared at Lucci, who sneered back.
「Oo~h, so scawwy!」
「Leave him be, Lucci. So, what will you do? We propose that you live in this house for a while in exchange for monetary compensation. Do you agree? Ah, I promise that I won’t do anything strange to you, and you’ll be free to move around the house as much as you want.」
A quick and short rebuke was enough to silence Lucci.
Arein once more prodded for an answer, but disapproval and disgust were evident on Silvi’s face.
「… I have to consider my position as royalty. This is not a decision I can make on my own.」
「Hahaha, I see. In that case, I suppose I should make Second Princess Estelle pay your debt.」
A smile appeared on the man’s face as if provoking a reaction from the princess.
As expected, she was unable to control her anger.
「WHAT!? YOU SCOUNDREL! DON’T YOU DARE TOUCH ESTELLE WITH THOSE FILTHY HANDS OF YOURS!!」
「Heh. I don’t know what you think we’ll do, but we have no plans to hurt Princess Estelle. For now, atleast.」
His words hinted at something even worse than what Silvi was imagining.
It was a blatant threat, implying that they’d do something to her sister if she forcefully revoked their agreement.
She felt extremely embarrassed. She silently clenched her fist…
… and gave in.
Elena couldn’t believe what she had just heard.
「A-Are you really going to do as they say, Silvi-sama?」
「I have no choice.」
Silvi murmured her reply, so low it was barely audible.
She looked at Renji while pondering her options.
(Any more than this might be impossible, but… )
Elena couldn’t hold back her anger anymore and glared at Renji as if blaming him for that whole situation. The boy trembled where he lay as if feeling the maid’s resentment toward him.
Meanwhile, Arein was enjoying Silvi’s reaction.
「So you agree. It’s the best choice and we can also finish this with no casualties. Well, rest assured that as long as you do as we say, the day of the Second Princess’ return won’t be far.」
「… Humph. I wonder about that.」
Lucci sneered at Renji. He might have decided to needle the boy because Silvi’s reaction was not what he had expected.
「Oi, you should thank her. The First Princess is cleaning your mess for you. With how stupid you are, the least you could do is feel grateful.」
Renji whispered back in defiance.
Sighing heavily, Arein got up and moved toward Renji. He nonchalantly grabbed the boy’s hair and pulled, lifting his head forcefully to look at his face.
「Now what will you do? The talk with Her Royal Highness has ended, and your role as a hostage is over. Are you going to escape?」
Renji glared at Arein.
It sounded like the man was instigating him like he wanted him to escape.
「What are you glaring at me for? You were the one who embarrassed yourself in front of Princess Silvi. Don’t you feel ashamed of yourself?」
Arein sounded almost giddy with his remarks, but Renji could only gnash his teeth in rage.
「Hahaha, your face tells me you’re really angry right now. But results are everything in this world, that’s why you’re at fault here. We’ve experienced what you are feeling before. Disgraceful, isn’t it? Let me guess, you must be pretty annoyed now, right?」
Arein sneered at Renji and glared at him glaring back.
「… What the hell are you talking about?」
「Oh, nothing. I’m just taking pity on your situation, you know?」
An enigmatic smile and a pat on the shoulder were all Renji received from Arein.
「Thinking about it, you’ll bring nothing but trouble. You might not even want to live in the same country as that princess over there… In fact, you might want to go as far as you can, right? You lost to our leader, but you’re quite skilled, so you can go. Leave this place and go wander to wherever you’d like. Isn’t that why you became an adventurer?」
The whispers were extremely seductive to Renji’s ears. For someone who only brought misfortune wherever he went, Arein’s encouraging words were akin to the Devil’s whispers.
Despite being allowed to escape, he didn’t want to do it. He always did as he pleased. Poking his nose in someone else’s problem and then running away when things went south was the very definition of lack of responsibility.
A slight tremor in Renji’s eyes did not go unnoticed by Arein. He snickered.
「So? We’ll overlook this matter as long as you promise not to interfere with this matter later on. If you break out the agreement, you’ll put the little sister of that princess over there in a tough spot. You’re not that kind of idiot, are you?」
Silvi had heard enough. She couldn’t overlook this conversation, so she swiftly forced her way into it.
「Ok, wait a minute. What is your goal? Renji, ignore the nonsense he said just now.」
「Look what we’ve got here… You are quite unreasonable, Your Highness. Don’t vent your frustrations on a young boy whose heart has been wounded by reality.」
「SHUT UP!! The only way of life that a bastard like you is to become an outlaw. It’s nothing like being an adventurer, it’s just how bandits live. Renji, you have to escape! You’re not that kind of man, are you? Don’t tell me you forgot what you said to me when we first met!?」
Silvi spoke over Arein and used a very strong tone to talk to Renji, who trembled.
His condition rapidly worsened. Then, a while later he seemed to recover, using a sharp tone and a bone-chilling glare to speak to Arein.
「… Don’t look at me with such eyes. I won’t let you guys die easily. It’s already too late for your regret. Are you ready for that? I will not hesitate to kill garbage like you.」
「Hah, as expected, you’re just an egotistical brat.」
「Yeah, that one is a hopeless case.」
Despite being just like Arein, Lucci was amused.
Arein laughed then shrugged his shoulders.
But his words were purely sarcasm.
◇ ◇ ◇
In the Kingdom of Bertram, the headquarters of Restoration was located in Rodania, the capital of Marquis Rodan’s territory.
Two weeks had passed since Christina had been informed of Flora’s disappearance.
The hero Sakata Hiroaki was summoned to Rodania.
He forced his way through the government room while dragging Roana behind him with no regard to proper procedures.
「Oi, Duke Euguno, what is the meaning of this!? How could Flora just disappear like that? Doesn’t that mean there was a problem with her escort!?」
After barging into the room as if he owned it, Hiroaki dared to say something so rude.
Worst of all, the Duke wasn’t alone in the room. High ranking nobles, starting from Marquis Rodan, were seated around the room.
In the innermost part of the room, standing beside the main chair, was Christina.
「… It’s my pleasure to meet you, Hero-sama. Welcome to this mansion.」
Despite being slightly surprised by his sudden appearance, she could still smile at him.
Hiroaki’s eyes landed on Christina and the other nobles around the room in confusion.
「… Uhm, y-yeah. And you are? Could it be… ?」
He just stood there timidly with all his vigor sapped away.
He noticed he had done something unexpected. And it was not only Duke Euguno in the room, but there was also Christina, who he had never met before. There were also the upper echelons of Restoration.
Christina’s identity had been easy to guess since he had already heard about her. Not to mention how much she resembled Flora.
Roana stood idly behind him in silence.
「I’m Flora’s older sister, Christina Bertram. In fact, I want to have a pleasant conversation in a more comfortable place but unfortunately, we’re in an emergency situation right now. If I have to guess, you want to know the current situation, right? 」
「Y-Yeah. I heard that the magic vessel which she boarded on was attacked and she’s still missing.」
Christina decided to wrap things up quickly before Hiroaki regained his pace. But he replied in a slightly blunt tone.
He silently observed the lady in front of him.
Hiroaki had seen many beauties throughout his life, but Christina was a level above them.
「It is as you’ve said. Unfortunately, we have no news regarding her whereabouts so far. We’ve managed to find the location of the magic vessel, but her corpse wasn’t found. We’ve dispatched our personnel to sweep the area, but…」
「… I see.」
Christina explained the situation in a very business-like voice, but her face betrayed her feelings. The dark shadow that crossed her face made Hiroaki mindlessly nod, even though she spoke to him with such a firm tone.
He had barged into the room, seething with rage and ready to give the ones responsible for the search a piece of his mind. As expected, the room’s atmosphere did not allow him to act as he pleased.
「Of course, we must place our faith in her survival. However, Hero-sama must prepare for the worst outcome as well.」
「Y-Yes. O-Of course… 」
The way she spoke was as if the matter didn’t concern her. If he didn’t know better, he’d think she wasn’t related to Flora at all.
Hiroaki frowned but nodded anyway.
「I personally didn’t want to do this now, given our current situation, but it is my duty as the Restoration’s representative. Since doing it later will cause us many problems, may I cancel your engagement to Flora?」
Without batting an eyelash, Christina requested the break-up.
The expression of the nobles present, including Duke Euguno, stiffened as soon as they heard her words. But the change in their expressions was completely ignored by Hiroaki.
「What…? No, I mean, that is… It really… Can’t be helped?」
Perhaps the sudden change in topics muddled his mind because Hiroaki didn’t know how to reply. He looked back at Roana, clearly expecting her to help him.
But Roana herself had no idea what to say in that situation.
「Uhm, that is… 」
「Pardon me for the late greeting. It’s been a while, Roana.」
Christina greeted Roana, who immediately bowed toward her with an extremely grateful expression.
「Ye-Yeah. It’s been a while, Christina-sama. It’s my greatest pleasure to be able to meet you again.」
「You did your best to help Flora and Hero-sama. There are a lot of things I want to talk to you about. Shall we meet again later?」
Roana nodded respectfully to Christina, while Hiroaki just watched their exchange, curious.
He quietly analyzed the person in front of him.
(Hm, to be able to make Roana this scared… Is she really that scary? She’s a beauty too, but her lineage is more evident. She feels more like royalty than Flora.)
「We’ve strayed away from the main topic. Naturally, we won’t force Hero-sama to make his choice immediately. But it would be best if you gave it some thought. Please carefully consider your engagement to Flora.」
Christina returned to the main topic and immediately bowed deeply to the Hero.
Hiroaki’s eyes widened when he saw Christina being extremely courteous to him. He sighed deeply and bowed in return to show that he understood the situation.
「Hm? Yeah, well… I guess you’re right. It really can’t be helped, huh. Though Flora’s accident is a sad occasion, many things will be impacted due to our engagement, right?」
(There’s no guarantee that Flora is safe. Her ship was attacked by a dragon, so she’s probably… Dead, right? Even if I hold on to this engagement, with her currently unclear status, it’ll only make more problems pop out.)
The Hero deeply pondered about the current situation.
Silently staring at him with cold eyes for a moment, Christina bowed to him again.
「…. You have my gratitude.」
(This might be the first time a template type of royalty bowed so courteously to me.）
The reason for his good impression toward Christina was probably that he felt something close to sincerity coming from her.
He shrugged at her.
「Well, don’t worry about it. As her elder, it must be painful for you, too. But you can’t show weakness to an outsider, so if you need anything, I’m here for you.」
「… I’m honored to receive such an invitation. Let’s have a pleasant conversation with a meal when I find some free time on my schedule.」
Christina replied with a forced smile on her face.
Hiroaki nodded as if satisfied with her reply.
「That sounds good. I’m staying in Rodania for the time being, at least until Flora’s matter settles down.」
「It’ll be our pleasure. Though there are no witnesses that saw that dragon-like creature after the crashing incident, the usage of magic vessels is still restricted around this area and the neighboring kingdoms. If something happened to Hero-sama as well, then it would be a problem that couldn’t be undone. You must have been in a hurry to come to our side, right?」
Squinting her eyes, Christina questioned Hiroaki.
「Hm? Ah… It seems someone saw that dragon a while ago. That’s why I gave the okay to the captain of the magic vessel. Moreover, if I, the Hero, am also on the magic vessel, I can easily beat that flying lizard if it shows up.」
Hiroaki averted his gaze and scrambled to come up with a believable excuse. Christina only sighed at him.
「From now on, please refrain from such reckless actions until we confirm it’s safe. As I’ve warned you, it’ll be a big problem if something happened to Hero-sama. Moreover, your arrival added considerable burdens and concerns to the Galwark Kingdom.」
She emphasized her warning, but Hiroaki replied as if it was bothersome to think of all that.
「Yeah, I know that already. I just couldn’t stand by when I heard that the magic vessel Flora boarded had crashed. It’s also my fault for forcing the magic vessel to be operated.」
「Anyway… This whole journey must have tired you. We’ve prepared a room for you, how about resting for a while?」
「Yeah, that sounds good. I shall be on my way, then.」
Christina urged Hiroaki to leave the room and the Hero eagerly accepted her offer.
「May I borrow Roana for a while? It’s been some time since we last met.」
「Yeah, I don’t mind.」
「Thank you very much. Well then, please guide him.」
After expressing her gratitude, Christina signaled to a maid standing in the inner part of the room. The maid exchanged a look with her and guided Hiroaki outside.
Turning back, Christina called Roana, who stood still as if feeling ashamed. Her complexion was quite pale.
「You don’t need to be that nervous, Roana.」
「N-No. That’s… 」
「You had nothing to do with what happened to Flora. Dragons and their sub-species are regarded as disaster-level creatures. It wouldn’t have changed anything even if you had been on board along with Flora. Such a situation might only be avoidable if a Hero with legendary powers was on board the magic vessel.」
Roana nodded but didn’t move from her spot.
Seeing her like this made Christina sigh tiredly. However, she still needed answers.
「There are some things I’d like to ask you. Please answer honestly.」