Chapter 168 : Baiting
There’s a group of people gathered at the junction of the highway where Rio and the others were about to pass through, but then he noticed that the female knights from yesterday were amongst them. Naturally, the other side had also noticed Rio and Flora as well. Elena walked towards them, separating herself from the formation.
Rio thought as he looked at the approaching Elena. Though he had his doubts, backing off now would only make them look even more suspicious. So greeting her remained the only viable choice.
「We meet again huh.」
Just as he expected, Elena came to greet him once she reached a certain distance. Rio also politely replied to her in the proper manner he was taught.
「Yes, so it seems.」
「My apologies but, we have decided to close this highway for the time being. Where are you guys headed for? 」
Elena asked Rio as if it were the most natural thing to do.
「Our destination is on the other side of this highway. For what reason is this highway blocked?」
Rio told her a soft lie before turning to ask the reason for the blockade.
「We were looking for a runaway. That’s all I can say. Well, it’s got nothing to do with you guys who want to go to the other side though. See ya」
After giving that cold reply, Elena briskly went back to the other female knights, no longer paying them further attention.
Does that mean the runaway is so dangerous that they have to block the highway? It’s still suspicious though. What are they hiding?
He looked at Elena’s back as he considered the current situation. Before he could think about it more deeply, Flora’s timid voice interrupted his musing, questioning him.
「………… Uhm, Haruto-sama. What shall we do now?」
「We can’t just force our way through if the highway is blocked. Though this made our journey slightly more troublesome than expected, I suppose we’ll just change our route. Let’s go via the southeast highway first and from there, we will enter the southwest highway at an appropriate time and location.」
Heaving a sigh, Rio adjusted their itinerary and proposed an alternative plan.
「But, is that really okay? I mean…the highway is blocked but if we advanced further, that will mean we…and before this, you also avoided…」
Maybe it was due to her honest nature, but Rio could detect Flora’s bewilderment at his suggestion of secretly sneaking into the blocked highway. He noticed that she had finally realized that he had been avoiding the highways along their journey. Nevertheless, the current situation was markedly different, with the “No Entry Allowed” sign in front of them.
「Maybe, the reason for the blockade is some sort of tactic against this runaway they’re trying to capture. Perhaps as a way to restrict their movement. Let’s not get into any trouble now and just enter the southwest highway after we have some distance on the southeastern one. Please think of this as a little detour on our journey. Besides, haven’t I told you before? Our journey won’t always be smooth sailing.」
Looking up at the sky, Rio told her with a slightly troubled expression. The explanation he had given her was done in an extremely dignified and serious tone since he thought that it would fan Flora’s resistance even more if he did it in any other way. And, he dared not touch the root of the problem.
In the first place, trying to sneak directly from the southwest highway gate was a bad choice. There was a possibility of clashing with female knights who were in the middle of their duty, if we deign to do so after all. So our only choice was to enter after taking a detour. It was also the safest option we had. Though their journey would become slightly more troublesome, there wasn’t any special obstacle to overcome.
「Yeah, I understand.」
Flora readily accepted Rio explanation, chuckling.
「Well then, let’s get going.」
Their course decided, they thus went towards the Southeastern highway. Meanwhile, Elena who had returned to the group of female knights――,
「………….. Is that all I need to do? 」
She asked Lucci, who had hidden his presence in the shadow of the tree to her right.
「Yeah, that was splendid. Well, since I too have a business to attend to, the aftermath is up to you.」
Lucci then turned around and went even deeper into the forest.
「Eh, OI! ? 」
Flustered, Elena called out to Lucci loudly, earning her a displeased expression from him as he asked ――,
「What now？ 」
When she kept silent, Lucci displeased countenance deepened before it turned into apathy.
「I said I have another business, right? There’s nothing you can do even if you guys go there too. If you insist, then be a good girl and go back to your inn. See ya!」
He said with an apathetic manner, and then left towards the eastern forest.
「What the hell is wrong with that guy?」
Elena murmured to herself with a vexed face. The job tasked to Elena and the other female knights was to lead Rio and Flora to the southeastern highway. There were no further instructions after that. Due to that, her subordinates and her felt an unpleasant premonition.
The female knights called out to the pensive Elena, query evident in her tone. They wanted to know what they should do after this.
「…….. Those guys might be up to no good but we’re lacking the information to make a decision. You two, go to Silvi-sama and ask for further instructions from her. He told us that we could go back to the inn after all. Hurry up!」
Though hesitating, Elena gave the order to her subordinates immediately.
「What about you and the others, commander? 」
One of the female knights, the vice-commander, asked with stiff voice.
「I’ll try looking for him in the forest. Whether Silvi-sama comes in person, or whether you guys bring back the instructions from Silvi-sama, someone will have to stand by in this place, if I am not back by that time that is. If something unexpected happens along the way, I’ll leave the judgement to you.」
Elena explained as she gave her order to the vice commander.
「I understand. We’ll be very careful.」
The vice commander replied immediately.
「Ah. Yeah, godspeed.」
After saying that, Elena walked even further into the forest to chase after Lucci.
◇ ◇ ◇
Meanwhile, Silvi and the others were house sitting in the inn that they had reserved since yesterday. And the one left behind to watch over them was Arein.
「…………….. Hey, Silvi, what are you going to do? 」
Renji asked Silvi in small voice.
「What do you mean by “What are you going to do”? 」
「I mean those guys, what are those guys trying to do in this post-town? And why did they take us along out of that abandoned village? Does this have something to do with your little sister? 」
Renji’s questions came one after another with nary a pause, trying to ascertain the current situation as best as he could.
「…It may be the case. But, we have no other choice but to not make any move for now. We don’t have enough information yet. Otherwise, in the worst case scenario, everything will come to nothing.」
「Then, doesn’t that mean we have to wait quietly in this place? 」
Renji was unwilling to just wait, doing nothing. And perhaps that’s why, combined with his disobedient nature, he asked that kind of question.
「… We don’t actually have enough information. What they are trying to do, what’s their purpose… Who knows if their plan somehow involved that runaway who Elena and the others met yesterday. Furthermore, we don’t know what sort of people they are. And honestly, we actually have no legal right to investigate them. Hence, our current situation, where our actions were severely limited in regard to them.」
Silvi replied, embarrassed.
「Regarding what those guys are trying to do or why they need your knights, that man over there might know the reason. …………… Eh？ 」
Renji muttered as he Looked at Arein who was yawning with a bored look on his face in the corner of the dining hall. Soon, another man entered the dining hall, and drew a surprised sound from Renji.
Renji didn’t know the one who entered, but it seems that he knew Arein.
When Silvi looked at the man who just entered the dining hall, she spoke out hesitantly.
「You know him? 」
Renji noticed her hesitation, and bluntly asked her.
「I saw him along with Reis before. If I’m not wrong, his name was Ven.」
When Silvi told that man’s name to Renji, he turned to look at Ven with a sharp glint in his eyes.
「Yo, Ven. What’s the matter? You are………..」
Arein tried to say something, but he changed his mind and shut his mouth when he spotted Silvi and Renji from the corner of his eyes. He didn’t think that it was suitable to discuss about this matter in front of those two.
「I’m gonna tell you something. Follow me.」
Perhaps Ven also noticed his hesitation, for he just told Arein to follow him as he left the dining hall.
「Okay…….. Guys, I’m gonna leave the dining hall for a while okay. Don’t try anything funny!」
After sternly warning them, he moved to stand beside Ven. Then he looked towards Renji and Silvi, gauging their reaction. To that inspecting gaze, they turned their faces away, visibly displeased.
Seeing their reaction, Arein hum to himself, considering, before he decided to shrug his shoulders and dismiss them. Before he could do so though, Ven spoke.
「Let’s get going, Arein. I’ll make it short.」
After saying that, Ven left the dining hall at once. Closely followed by Arein who was asking him a question.
「Oioioi, what’s this all about? 」
Meanwhile, Renji and Silvi was watching them going further away. Eyes contemplating the limited information that slipped through the brief interaction between the two.
「That man called Ven was in hurry, huh…」
Renji offhandedly stated his observation as soon as he saw them leave the dining hall.
「Ah. It seems that they met an unexpected situation. I think listening to their conversation would be our best course of action. And I could do that by strengthening my physical abilities, but……….」
Silvi agreed with Renji’s observation, and shared her own observation with a grim face, whilst also proposing a risky plan. After all, she did have a magic tool that would help her out. One that was loaded with Hyper Physical Ability, but Reis’s group had banned her from using it in the inn.
But, if she didn’t use her magic sword, which really had no real need in this place, perhaps she could use that magic tool to strengthen her physical ability and eavesdrop on the conversation. The tool would strengthen her body to the point she would be able to eavesdrop even if they happened to lower their voice to mere whisper after all. Though that was limited. The tool was only effective if they were in the same room as her, and currently, those two just had left the room, making her unable to eavesdrop on their conversation.
While she was musing on the obstacles she had to overcome in order to gain the information they needed, at this critical moment, Renji suddenly told her something that shocked her.
「Leave it to me. I might be able to eavesdrop on their conversation」
「I’ve told you before right, my Cocytus is rather special? I can still strengthen my physical ability even without holding it in my hand. Those guys have yet to realize this fact though.」
Renji’s mouth curved to a full smile as he looked at Silvi’s confused countenance with her head tilted.
「What? Can I…leave this to you then?」
Renji nodded assuringly.
◇ ◇ ◇
Meanwhile, Ven and Arein’s conversation unfolded just outside of the dining hall.
「Now then, tell me what’s the matter? You’re in charge of doing the dealing right? Why did you come to this place then? You know your duty is elsewhere! 」
「There’s another troublesome matter…」
「In short, princess Estel has escaped.」
Arein’s raised voice showed his great surprise.
「Keep it down, you idiot!」
Ven rebuked Arein somewhat harshly. They did not want this information to be leaked in any way.
「…what will happen with our deal then? That man and the girl accompanying him have left the post town, haven’t they? Lucci led them to the meeting point using those female knights, right? 」
Arein asked, voice lowered as instructed.
「Yeah, he succeeded in leading that man to the assigned place. And just as planned, he headed towards the assigned location, leaving those female knights on the highway behind. By now, those female knights should be bewildered by their orders but………」
「The matter about Estel’s princess escaping has left us in a bad situation, huh? She might be found out by those female knights if she uses the highway.」
Arein quickly caught on to Ven’s train of thoughts and continued out loud, impatience already seeping into his tone.
「Yeah, that’s why I told you that I‘ll make it short. No deal would happen if we didn’t even have princess Estel in our grasp. Much less to say if she were to be found by the other party. They would lose any reason to go through with the transaction if that is the case. You know what will happen in that situation right? And, we need this transaction to happen.」
Ven asked Arein somewhat rhetorically as he glanced at the entrance of the dining hall.
「Though I can understand your reasons, this isn’t the kind of place where you can talk about such things so openly right.」
Contrary to what was said, Arein seemed to be deliberate when he said such line. As if he was letting someone know that the next thing that was to be said was a secret. Ven quickly caught on to his plan, hence his prompt response.
「That’s right. Let’s head to the forest. We need your assistance. I’ll explain the details along the way.」
「………. What about those two in the dining hall? Who will watch over them if I leave with you? 」
「’Just leave them be’ Was what Reis-sama told me. It seems that they’ve served their purpose. It was his intention to let go of them in this post town.」
Ven told him as he chuckled.
「I see, let’s get going.」
Arein’s lips also curved into a smile as he nodded in silence.
They exchanged glances and then went back to the dining hall. Not even ten seconds later――,
「Princess Silvi, we’re going to leave for a while since we have some minor business to attend to. Wait here for a while, will ya?」
Arein told so to Silvi.
「…………… What did you say? Where are you going? 」
Surpressing her anger, Silvi asked with sharp tone.
「I’m under no obligation to answer that question.」
Arein replied, scorn and derision obvious, and turned around.
Renji raised his voice as he called out to them.
「Cut it out, Renji.」
Silvi stopped him immediately.
Silvi tightly grasped Renji’s hand as if to hold him back.
「Well, unfortunately we’re in a hurry right now. See you again.」
Arein then left with Ven. After they left, Silvi stood quietly for a second and then went out of the dining hall.
「Wait, what are you going to do, Silvi! ? 」
Renji called out to her immediately.
「I’m going to steal a march on them. I have no choice but to get more proof since what we have now can hardly hinder their move. If we have more proof, perhaps we can use it to affect their plans somehow. We have to chase after them right now. Renji, will you…………」
Silvi calmly informed Renji of her next actions as she turned around to face him.
「Naturally, let me in too」
Renji eagerly offered his help, wanting a piece of the action.
「…………. Come with me then. I also want to get help from my knights, but we can’t wait for them to get back now.」
Silvi’s hesitation last only for a moment, before she folded, agreeing to have him followed along with her. After all, she knew that time was running out, and there’s a time and place for hesitation. Right now…was not that time, nor the place.
After leaving the inn in a hurry, they met with the other two female knights that were sent their way by Elena’s order. They were part of Silvi’s royal knights.
「You guys, what’s the matter? 」
Silvi’s eyes opened wide in surprise.
「Elena-sama told us to come back. We were supposed to report the situation but………」
They seemed to be in a hurry.
「Wait a minute. Let me hear your report while we’re walking.」
Saying so, Silvi looked around the post town, surveying it from north to south. There, she saw the figure of Arein and Ven heading towards in the southern direction.
「………….. Let’s go, follow me.」
Squinting her eyes, Silvi began following them. She desperately restrained her pace to prevent herself from dashing at full speed immediately.
There’s something strange in the air. What………. Is this sense of ominous foreboding in my chest?
An indescribable anxiety formed in Silvi’s chest.