~ KAY ~
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Marquis Fedorov’s home was blown up, and the capital guards had arrived to douse the fire. They brought the Marquis and his family, along with the servants, to the guard station. After the situation had been confirmed, I made my way back to Duke Barga’s estate.
When I’d left the estate, I had taken a carriage halfway to my mission. Now, I could only return on foot. The explosion had shaken the capital, and the areas around the Marquis’s residence were in chaos. As the sun had set some time ago, I walked down dark streets to avoid being seen before climbing up to a roof via a wall run. From there, I ran from roof to roof until I reached Duke Barga’s estate.
When I arrived, Laptiricia-sama and Ashley were there. Duke Barga had left right after he got back – perhaps because he’d gotten the evidence from Vi, along with the target’s residence had been demolished. Was he going to confront Marquis Fedorov right away? Well… I’ll just leave that to him. As of now, my duty was to escort Laptiricia-sama.
I confirmed things with Volker. Lapitirica-sama was resting in her room, and Ashley was on standby. As for the young knight who’d taken my place in disguise, he was on standby in another room. When I entered the waiting room, I found Ashley perched on the sofa. She was reading what appeared to be a letter.
“Welcome back, Shaft.”
“I’m back, Ashley. Were there any problems at the ball?”
“Eh – since it was at the Royal Palace, Marquis Fedorov couldn’t afford to do anything there. His face when he saw Latiri was truly a sight to behold.”
“His residence was burnt down right in front of his face after all.”
“And ‘Black Mask Shaft’ is apparently, very well known in the capital. That poor young knight nearly broke down after being bombarded relentlessly with questions and all the flirting ladies.”
What ladies! They sounded more like kids finding a new toy…
“Maybe I should thank him tomorrow.”
Our conversation was cut abruptly there. Ashley didn’t look too good – maybe because of the letter’s content?
I took a seat on the sofa facing Ashley. Now, should I ask her, or wait for her to tell me?
The odd silence continued on. Now that I thought about it, I hadn’t spent much time with Ashley during the mission. After a few days, we’ll be returning back to the Fort City of Barga. The mission would end, and I’ll finally be able to resume my postponed plans to conquer the Wolf Labyrinth.
What would she do when she returns? Go back to work as a guild investigator at the General Guild?
“Ashley, are you going to return to work at the guild after this?”
“Ee?…. I’m not going back. I intend to quit the guild after this.”
“Quitting? You want to quit your job as a guild investigator?”
“Yes… Ermm, Shaft, have you heard anything about my family?”
“Yeah, a little bit.”
“Un… I made an appearance in the capital after a long time, and they found out about it. The elder sent me this letter.”
She waved the letter as she said so. By the elder, she probably meant the first one of the Zephanel Clan, who still held the position of Honorary Prime Minister of the Kurtmerga Kingdom.
“That letter, is it related to your decision to quit?”
“Indeed, it is. As soon as the request is completed, not immediately, but after a few arrangements, I am to head south to the family’s main estate. As the candidate for the next head, I need to complete one task.”
South… South? I think I heard something about the south before.
“Pirates… is it?”
Hearing my mutterings, Ashley’s hand stopped waving the letter. Not entirely though. It seemed that she’d been doing that to cover up that they were trembling.
“So you know?”
“No, not in detail. Some time ago, during dinner I think, I overheard someone talking. The pirates in the south were gaining momentum, or so they said.”
“Right… And the task I was assigned was to defeat them.”
“The Kurtmerga’s navy… Don’t they have others who should be dealing with this instead?”
“They aren’t completely unaware of it. It’s just that… Rather than the southern port where the main house is located, Kurtmerga’s Nazy Headquarters is on the eastern coastline. Thus, the fight against the pirates is to be spearheaded by the Zephanels. Four years ago, both sides engaged in a great naval battle; taking heavy damage from it. It resulted in fewer pirate attacks until recently. This time though, the Zephanel’s naval forces haven’t fully recovered, so it’ll be a tough battle.”
“I see… In that case, I’ll go with you.”
“Ee?! Wait a minute, Shaft, I didn’t mean to involve you in this matter!”
“Does my company trouble you? I want to come with you on my own free will. So, no need to worry about that. It’s been a very long time since I’d last seen the sea, so I want to look as well. In addition, I won’t be returning to Barga for a while.”
“It’s not that I feel trouble— What do you mean you won’t be returning to Barga.”
“As soon as this mission is completed, I planned to enter the Wolf Labyrinth to defeat the gatekeeper, and hopefully, the Labyrinth Master as well.”
Hearing my declaration to conquer the labyrinth, Ashley dropped the letter in her hand. She reclined back into the sofa.
“The 25th floor… Can you pass through that rain safely?”
“No problem. If there is, would I dare to say that I’ll defeat the gatekeeper and its master? However, now that I have my next goal set, I really can’t afford to lose.”
Once the Wolf Labyrinth was conquered, there’d be no way to hide Schwartz’s fighting prowess. I’ve been wondering how to avoid this, which was the reason why I picked the less popular Labyrinth. But since my name would be recovered upon entering it, if the labyrinth is conquered, everyone would know about my involvement.
When that happened, Schwartz would be known for his combat strength. One that allowed him to transverse the labyrinth alone.
I’ve been avoiding showing my powers off to avoid being solicited by guilds and clans; channeling that to Shaft instead… But if I want shaft to take the credit for conquering the labyrinth, I’d have to register as an adventurer all over again… How troublesome.
Ashley’s expression told me that she was lost for words. I didn’t need an answer anyways.
“I’ll come with you.”
The next day, Ashley and I were in Duke Barga’s office for a briefing on last night’s events.
“Shaft-kun, you had it hard last night. But thanks to that show, it saved me the trouble of winning Marquis Fedorov’s heart over.”
“Glad to hear it. How about the encrypted message we found last night?”
“That was a written contract from the Dark Guild. The deadline for the assassination was the day before yesterday. With the dark guild withdrawing quietly, I believe the danger has come to pass.”
“And the other magic nobles?”
“It was resolved last night as well. With this, my future worries have disappeared. I guess all that is left now is to wait for the Royal Family to make a decision.”
What still bothered me was how Cactus would move next. Although it’s written on the contract that the failing clan would be purged, it was already on the verge of destruction in the first place. Perhaps they’ll hunt down the remnants to keep up appearances. If possible, I don’t want to become their next target.
“So, what’s left is the return trip to Barga.”
“Indeed. We’ll be departing tomorrow. I hope you don’t mind if I ask you to stay up until the end.”
“Yes. I’ll keep that in mind.”
This escort mission had felt longer than I’d expected it to be. In my idle thoughts, I turned on the mask’s FLIR mode. I thought Vi would be in the corner like last time, but she was standing right behind Duke Barga… That woman is kinda scary…