It was a hot, sunny day that heralded the coming of summer. A lone carriage was parked in front of the Morgstad residence, drawn by no ordinary horse. A hybrid from different special breeds, it had high vitality. The carriage itself was solidly built, with a metal framework and bluish purple hood made out of monster materials. Its door was made of iron bars, complete with a huge lock outside.
「Come on now, East. Why are you sulking? We can finally return to the capital.」
「…It just doesn’t sit right with me.」
「You’re still thinking about that? The investigation on whether it was Lady Lavia who killed her father will be conducted in the capital. That should be enough.」
「The investigator hasn’t even arrived and yet they already pinned the murder on her.」
「He should be here tomorrow. Our dear commanding officer said to follow orders. Are you going to disobey, then?」
「I… I’m not disobeying. I just can’t agree with their decision.」he said adamantly.
His fellow knight simply heaved a deep sigh.
Around the same time, underneath the mansion, the knight that was almost stabbed by a maid went to the dungeon.
「It is time, My Lady.」
「I’m going to dispel the magic.」
The Alchemists Guild’s guildmaster held out his hand, chanting some sort of spell. His ring emitted a strange light, and the blue light particles around the iron bars turned dull.
「Lady Lavia, please hold out both your hands.」
「You’re going outside. For caution’s sake we just need to handcuff you.」
Lavia quietly held out her hands. The knight gulped as he watched her. She looked like she might break from a touch – no, if left alone, she might even just break on her own. Yet there was still life in her eyes. A tiny prick of light remained in those eyes – eyes as blue as the waters of the deepest lake.
A thought crossed his mind. There would be no greater joy for a man if he had this girl. He knew his place as a knight, of course. She was a person of interest – a suspect for the murder of her father. An order came from their captain in the capital, or perhaps someone even further up, to handle her with care.
The knight held out his hand and handcuffed her. The handcuff was a steel plate with two holes for both hands that split in the middle horizontally. One end had a hinge, functioning like a stapler. Once again, the guildmaster chanted a spell and bluish light ran across the handcuffs.
「This should hold until tonight. Any more and it would be too tough.」
「It’s fine. We should arrive at the capital in the evening.」
「I see. I’ll be taking my leave, then.」
「Thank you, Sir. Let us go, Lady Lavia.」the knight said casually as he opened the cell.
In that moment, the knight felt the air stir even though they were in a closed space underground.
Ignoring his suspicions, he led the girl out of the dungeon.
As they stepped out of the mansion, the strong rays of the sun blinded Lavia. She had been confined underground for a few days. Not only that, she barely went outside in the first place. The direct sunlight was too much for her body.
「Are you all right?」the knight asked, his brows furrowed as he supported her.
He was worried about the young girl. But there was one other thing that weighed heavy on his mind – the carriage that was supposed to transport her. Two knights – his colleagues – stood nearby. Furthermore there were four other people; the adventurers to escort the carriage. But the message they received was that a party of four high-ranked women adventurers would be dispatched for the escort mission. And yet there were four men. One of them was not even an adventurer, but a guild staff. Trouble had already begun as East and the man were having a heated argument.
「What’s going on here?! These are not the adventurers that were arranged to come!」
「Sometimes adventurers are simply not available.」
「You’re from the guild, right?! Why don’t you follow instructions?」
「The guild doesn’t see any problem as long as the men we send can complete the job.」
「Are you mocking the Royal Order of Knights?!」
「I believe you’re the one belittling the Adventurers Guild.」
The bad news was that the three adventurers appeared to be drunk, or perhaps hung-over. The kind East hated the most.
「That’s enough, submaster. Let’s go. There’s a place I want to go to in the capital tonight.」
「He’s right. There’s no point in spending another minute in this mediocre town… Oh, is that the girl we’re escorting?」
「Ohhh… She’s quite the fine girl.」
The men let out vulgar laughs. The corner of East’s eyes twitched.
「There’s no way you can do your job like this!」
「What did you say? I heard the request came to the Adventurers Guild because you knights can’t handle the job.」
「Oh, and you can? When you’re drunk?」
「It’s all… riiight. Besides she doesn’t have any relatives, does she? She has no noble friends either. So there’s no way someone will come to take her. We’re more like chaperons, really.」
「…Did you tell them that as well?!」
「It was necessary.」the submaster said with a nonchalant expression.
East ground his teeth in anger at the man.
「Can you walk, Lady Lavia?」
The knight – one who was gentle with the women – escorted Lavia properly to the carriage. The coachman undid the lock at the back and Lavia entered. From a quick glance, the inside was narrow but well-ordered. It would be a pleasant ride to the capital.
「…I think we should escort her instead.」East whispered to his two companions.
「Don’t be ridiculous. You know we can’t do that. We were in the mansion the night the Count was killed. We can’t make a move until the investigator arrives.」
「We can call for more knights from the capital.」
「We’re short-handed due to the war. That’s why adventurers were asked to be the escorts in the first place. Besides, there aren’t any female knights in our kingdom.」
「These are men!」
「Yes, but they’re not the ones we arranged to come. Give it a rest, East.」
Outside the bars, the three adventurers stared at Lavia, whistling. East watched them, a hateful expression on his face. The skirt-chasing knight seemed displeased as well.
「Can we leave soon?」
「Coachman, come here.」
The playboy knight called the driver over.
「You’re the only one with the key, right?」he whispered.
「Yes… That is correct.」
「If those adventurers whine about opening the door, don’t ever do it. Those guys have no self-restraint. A royal noble is involved in this case. You’ll be in trouble if something happens.」
Still not sure what was going on, the coachman returned to his seat. Seeing this, the adventurers mounted their horses as well. Soon the carriage drove farther and farther away.
「East, let’s go back inside. After writing our report we’ll prepare for the investigator’s arrival.」
But East didn’t answer. He simply stood there, glaring in the direction the carriage went.
The coachman felt dejected. Baited in by the high reward, he took the job not knowing that he was to transport a noble, and a murderer at that. Not only that, he was also threatened by a knight who said not to trust the adventurers with him.
「Next. Hmm, transporting a suspect to the capital. I’ve been told about this.」
The coachman showed the request papers to the guard at Pond’s gate. He checked the inside of the carriage and cleared them.
「The capital might be close, but still be careful.」
The coachman spurred the carriage onwards through the massive outer walls. The moment they passed by on the other side of the wall, he felt something odd.
Something was not right. Ever so slightly, he felt the legs of the horse grew heavy. The coachman had been travelling these roads for twenty years. He would notice even the slightest difference.
He turned around. Two adventurers on their horses were positioned left and right, stifling their yawns. Ahead of the carriage was the party leader Nogusa.
「Nothing seems out of the ordinary… It must be the road then.」
The road was rough outside town. It was a well-trodden path, although still unpaved. It’s probably because the road felt different that the horse’s legs turned heavy.
「I don’t really feel like it. But I just have to finish the job right away.」
The carriage advanced forward. A bunch of keys made small sounds as they shook.
The rank C adventurer, Nogusa, was in a great mood. He hadn’t expected to get promoted to rank C so soon. He was glad they managed to snatch the transport job from the four-woman party called the Four Stars of the East. He never really liked them. The brothel prepared for them in Pond – a town they ridiculed for being mediocre – was full of fairly beautiful women. And the girl they were escorting was pretty as well. Things were going great. Nogusa even thought the world revolved around him.
The escort job was an easy one. It would take six hours from Pond to the capital by carriage. They would let the horses rest every two hours so that meant they would take a break twice before they reached the capital.
The first break was over and they were moving again when Nogusa, who had mostly sobered up, suddenly gained interest in the girl inside the carriage.
Nogusa, who was riding up ahead, moved his horse closer to the driver.
「Hand me the keys.」
「The carriage’s keys. I’ll look after them.」
「I-I can’t do that…!」
「Do you have any idea who I am? I’m Nogusa, a rank C adventurer. You dare oppose me?」
「I-I-I would never! I-It’s just that nobles are involved in this matter and…」
As the coachman was explaining himself, stuttering…
「Hey, Nogusa! Up ahead!」
Immediately he reached for the sword hanging by his waist and surveyed his surroundings. He might be rotten to the core, but he was still a rank C adventurer.
「What’s this? Someone collapsed?」
From the shade of a tree by the side of the road, a man, who seemed to have gone to the forest to collect medicinal herbs, fruits, and mushrooms, appeared.
「E-Excuse me, Sir. Can you spare some water? I got lost in the forest and just now got out.」
Nogusa gestured to his comrades with his chin to go ahead. He got off his horse and handed him a flask.
「Here. Is this enough?」
「Thank you very much!」
The man accepted it, overjoyed.
「I only have this to show my gratitude…」the man said, presenting a wilted medicinal herb.
「Tsk. Keep it. Now go home.」
「Really? Thank you so much. You’re such a big-hearted man.」
「That’s right. You can show your gratitude by spreading my name. It’s Nogusa Garage. A man who will become a hero.」
「Hero… I understand, Sir. I will do just that.」
Nogusa mounted his horse and chased after the carriage. His colleagues, who were positioned at the front and back, returned to their original formation as soon they spotted him.
「Helping others sure is a lot of work.」
「They say that’s the best part of being an adventurer.」
「Sure, if it’s a woman.」
The three men burst out laughing. It was an uneventful escort mission and things were going well…
…or so they thought.
They were taking their second break. After a punch to the stubborn coachman’s face, Nogusa took the keys to the carriage.
「I’m just gonna say hi.」he said as he opened the carriage door with an indecent smile on his face.
The girl was lying down on the seat… No, it was a bulging sheet. He removed it only to find a pillow and cloths stuffed under.
Something to make it seem like a person was there.
Unable to comprehend what happened, Nogusa merely spluttered in confusion. A small, locked carriage. They kept their eyes on it all the time. And yet all of a sudden, the girl – Lavia D. Morgstad – had disappeared.