~ KAY ~
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I’d just finished reporting to Duke Barga on her prior request, then he suddenly threw another one at me.
“A new request?”
“That’s right. What? It’s not like I’m going to ask something difficult of you.”
“I didn’t mean that. Anyways, please give me the details.”
When the Duke spoke, his sharp eyes bored into my mask. Perhaps he was trying to look into my eyes. But, of course, only his reflection would be found there.
“Very well. Originally, I’d planned on not letting you refuse after you heard my request. But I’ll relent. We’ll talk about the request first. You can make your own judgment afterward.”
“Then go ahead.”
“First of all, regarding the employer of the assassins that attacked Lapitirica. After securing your service in escorting her, I contacted every other magic noble all over the continent. I tried to ensure they wouldn’t cause a problem until Lapitirica’s wedding–”
As it turned out, during the time we escorted her, Duke Barga had been negotiating with the nobles who might’ve opposed his daughter’s marriage with the third prince, Ark Kurtmerga. Among these nobles, naturally, there were a few who remained abstinent. He hadn’t been able to tell who was, but after seeing the Airmask and the Mage Masher – he’d become sure of who the culprit was.
There was no mention in the records where the knights suffered a loss where the Mage Masher was employed. Moreover, taking into consideration that the attack happened in a secluded area, and during the night, it was basically unthinkable that it’d fail. In other words, there would have been no information leaking of the chemical agent’s usage. But after seeing the ID number on the mask, the Duke knew who the supplier of those masks was. One of the noble’s he’d been unable to reach an agreement with.
“In other words, you want me to enact punishment on this noble?”
“It’s a bit different this time. I want you to destroy this one… His name is Marquis Dennis Fedorov. His residence is in the capital. I want you to destroy everything he has.”
“His residence, you say?”
“It’s our role as nobles to judge other nobles for their wrongdoings. But we have to do so responsibly. You see, Marquis Fedorov is also a rather powerful mage. He’d certainly have many things hidden up his sleeve. Killing him wouldn’t be easy.”
“Then, why do you want me to destroy his residence?”
“To make an example out of him.”
“A-An example, huh…”
Duke Barga is really upset, isn’t he…?
“Not only that, I also want you to search the residence. Find anything that could connect him to the Dark Guild. Also, bring back any Mage Masher and Air Masks found. Of course, you won’t be alone in this task – -Vi]
“- Right here.”
A voice suddenly came from behind as a blip appeared on my map. I thought that there was only me and the Duke in this room. But apparently, there was one more person… I turned slowly and saw in the corner of the room was a… Woman? She stood in the corner and wore black leather armor with an uneven design. She also wore a face veil with an eye mask that covered most of her face. All I could see was her lustrous black hair. So lustrous that I could easily mistake it for silver when it caught the light.
I could tell she was a woman by her figure and voice, but I hadn’t realized she was there until she spoke.
“She’s one of my escorts, Vi. She’ll be accompanying you to Marquis Fedorov’s residence. I want you two to collect evidence before destroying the residence.”
“Can I confirm something first?”
“Of course, what is it?”
“If we destroy the residence as is, I believe the Marquis’ family and the servants will be caught in it. What about them?”
“First of all, let me tell you the date when you will do it. It’ll be on the day of the ball that’s being held within the capital. In other words, three days from now. The Marquis and his daughter will be present. There would only be a few soldiers and servants left within. It should be easy to sneak in at that moment.”
“The ball… Does this mean Lapitirica-sama will not be attending?”
“I can’t confirm yet, but we will do our utmost to allow her to attend the ball. With proper measures, there’d only been a minute amount of Mage Masher left in her body to affect her. And as the third daughter of Duke Barga, magical noble, and labyrinth conqueror, she does need to show herself among the other magical nobles.”
“That means I’ll be going to the residence instead of escorting Lapitirica-sama?”
“The ‘Black Shaft’ will still be there to escort Lapitirica. Exactly tomorrow, I will appoint someone from the Barga Knights to act as a replacement. He’ll disguise himself as Shaft.”
I see. The fact that I hid my identity behind the mask was also one of the reasons the Duke requested me. I do have the ability to destroy the Marquis’ residence in a flashy manner. While also being able to create a convincing alibi… The destruction of the Yagoche’s mansion and his trading office was certainly done by me. But I could afford to deny my involvement.
This was a complete backdoor job. I was going to decline if the duke asked me to kill the Marquis and his family. Being Lapitirica-sama’s escort was just a temporary job for me. I had no intention to swear loyalty, nor prolong this contract. Since I considered it ‘just business’, all I had to do was work hard until the job’s done. However, assassinations were a different matter. It wouldn’t be ‘just business’, and I never intended to take those kinds of jobs. If it was left to us on how to deal with the servants, then I guess I could take the job.
Personally, I couldn’t forgive the Marquis for harming Ashley.
“I’ll accept this request.”
What followed afterward was negotiating the reward, as well as the strategy. This time with Vi being involved.
After the meeting was over, Duke Barga reminded me to clean up before I left the office.
“Shaft-kun, you should change your clothes before the stench of blood suffuses your body.”
Now that I thought about it, I headed here without changing clothes… I entered the waiting room next to Lapitirica-sama’s private room. Then, I used the avatar editor to replace my clothes, including my mask, with fresh ones. Then I washed the blood out of my hair. As I was done, I noticed a dot on my map; a carriage judging from its movement. It closed in on the residence. It appeared that Lapitirica-sama and Ashley had returned. I immediately left the room and headed directly to the entrance of the lobby.
There, the Duke and Duchess of Barga along with the servants had gathered in a neat formation to receive them. As the two girls approached, I noticed Ashley’s eyes immediately found me among the servants. She walked fine, but her countenance was still sickly. She walked towards me with the support of a servant.
“Lapitirica-sama, I’m terribly sorry that I wasn’t able to bring you home unscathed.”
I kneeled before Lapitirica-sama, and apologized for the results of the mission. I didn’t know how to control the damage. I thought it was the best I could do for the moment, but I still felt I could have done better. As a result, not only did a lot of guards die, the client was put in grave danger. There was more to escorting than just having an insane amount of firepower. I realized that after this.
“I should apologize as well. Your Excellency, Laptirica-sama. As a member of Duke Barga’s escort team, this lowly one hadn’t been able to bring satisfactory results. My incompetence has caused my subordinates to lose their lives.”
The escort commander also spoke up and kneeled before the Duke and Lapitirica-sama.
“Shaft-san, and Escort Commander too. Please raise your heads. As a former adventurer, I feel inadequate for being unable to do anything else other than being protected. What should I say to the deceased…?”
“Mere words of appreciation will do. We of the Duke Barga’s escort team gathered together for the purpose of protecting the family after all.”
The fact that Lapitirica-sama and Ashley survived the incident was already good enough. It was our fault after all.
“Commander, what about the bodies of the fallen? It is my duty to mourn for them properly.”
“They’re in Shaft-dono’s care.”
“All the bodies from the fight are inside my item box. Other than the bodies of the assassins, I made sure to take great care when stashing them in—”
“So, you also kept the bodies of the assassins? I’m interested in seeing them. Volker, please guide Shaft-kun to the warehouse later. But first, this here is more important.”
“Please, the commander and Shaft-kun should stand up already. You two did well already. Lafiri is now safe and sound back home. For now, return to your rooms to rest. Let’s talk about the details tomorrow.”
The mood then shifted to a celebratory one. There was no use regretting anymore. Putting Ashley’s hand over my shoulders, I supported her as we walked back to the waiting room.
“Shaft – thank you. Have you been wounded anywhere?”
The waiting room where I and Ashley had our lodgings were on the second floor. A large staircase led to it from the lobby, but I felt that climbing would be tough for Ashley. She was still exhausted from the Mage Masher. So – I took the initiative to put one hand across her back, and one behind her knees before lifting her in one fell swoop.
She tried to protest with a fleeting voice. Ignore her for now, ignore her for now. I looked back as I carried her and called out to Volker.
“I’ll be back after putting her to bed. You can guide me to the warehouse then.”
“As you wish. I’ll be waiting.”
I noticed the female servants standing behind Volker turn scarlet. Were they alright..? And why did Duke Barga laugh like that? I excused myself to the Duchess and Lapitirica-sama. Then I carried Ashley upstairs to the waiting room. Meanwhile, I could feel Ashley tug on my coat as she leaned into me.