Lucia and Eric Sneak Out
Luck was with us; we found the innkeeper at the counter and were able to ask the location of the Gorgonne warehouse. After that, we found Eric’s horse in the stables and led it towards the town gate. Sneaking out of the inn was a success. Once we were out of the town, we mounted the horse.
“I’ve never ridden with a passenger before, so this might be uncomfortable,” Eric said apologetically. “Sorry about that.”
“It’s fine. I’ll try to hang on so I don’t fall off!” I told him.
“Do that,” he agreed. “And I’ll let the horse go slow. Now, let’s go!”
Although Eric and I were almost the same height, I was ever so slightly taller. So unlike when I’d ridden with Sir Gaius or Sir Celes, this time I sat behind Eric rather than in front. My heart was in my throat at the unfamiliar arrangement, but this wasn’t the time for such worries.
The two of us rode silently. Neither of us had the breath to spare for talking. Eric was keeping
the pace relatively slow, but even so, hanging on took all of my attention.
“Is that it?” Eric murmured.
He’d noticed a faint light in the darkness ahead of us. When I looked, I realized that even with my unsteady field of vision from the bouncing, I could see a light flickering.
After we continued a short while, the shape of the warehouse, rather like a large mansion, appeared. It was perhaps a little smaller than the inn we were staying at in Amarith? But compared to a regular house, it was much larger.
“I don’t see Celes’s or Gaius’s horses,” Eric commented. “Wonder if they hid them.” “Should we hide ours?” I asked.
“Yeah. Though that means we’ll have to walk a bit — you okay with that?”
“I am very good at walking,” I assured him.
To avoid being seen, we extinguished our magical lantern and hid the horse in the shadow of a convenient shrub. Then we softly made our way through the darkness.
“Looks like the others are already here,” Eric whispered, as we reached the warehouse.
Near the door, I could see several figures fallen on the ground. For one moment, my heart skipped a beat — but then I realized that they weren’t Sir Celes or Sir Gaius, but unfamiliar men.
“Well, the door is oh-so-conveniently open, so shall we just walk through the front door?” Eric said. I was twitching at every little thing, but he seemed to have nerves of steel. He continued onwards steadily, cool as a cucumber.
“Aren’t you scared?” I asked.
“Well, I trust my own strength,” he said. “I’m not going to lose to the sort of people a merchant house like this can hire.”
I glanced at the deep red robe he was wearing. If he was wearing that color of robe when he wasn’t even an adult yet, then Eric had to be truly powerful.
“I think I heard something over that way. Shall we check it out?” “Yes!”
I hurried after him, following Eric’s lead as we advanced deeper into the building. If Sir Celes and Sir Gaius found us they would surely be furious, but I was worried about Miss Maria.
Although this was supposedly a warehouse, the interior was strangely complicated. Corridor after corridor branched off from the one we were following, as if deliberately designed to thwart
intruders such as us. “Who are yo—”
A door suddenly opened ahead of us and a man appeared from inside… But before I even had time to startle, and before he could even finish demanding to know who we were, there was a sharp crackling sound and a flash of light, then the man collapsed to the floor.
Unable to understand what had just happened, I looked at Eric. Perhaps he noticed my stare.
He turned around, the mischievous grin of a child who had just pulled off a prank spreading across his face.
“Ah, don’t worry, we’re good. I made sure he couldn’t move. It’s just a handy little application of lightning magic I came up with — if I focus on the body and zap them, the muscles all contract and they can’t move. Oh, and I’ve tested it a lot, so I’m sure he won’t die from it! Probably!”
I kept staring at him, too stunned to think of a response, so he followed up with, “When I tried it before, I knocked them out. This guy’s still awake, so I don’t think he’ll die.”
I could certainly understand why he’d protested so much about being left behind as a noncombatant if this was what he was capable of. He was certainly a far cry from me, demanding to go when I had no fighting skills at all. He also scared me just a bit, but I’d let that be my little secret.
“Keys, keys, where’re the keys…” Eric said in a cheerful sing-song, going through the man’s pockets. “Oh, found something! Score!” From an inner pocket, he pulled out a small keyring. He turned to me with a broad grin. “I’d say we’re doing pretty well!”
“Ah…right.” I wasn’t confident that I could smile back. It was no wonder he’d been chosen to accompany the Sacred Maiden. He was on a whole different level — both in terms of ability and in terms of guts!
“It’s too bad that he can’t talk like that,” Eric said. “I have a lot of questions I’d like to ask. Oh, Lucia, can you tie this guy up?”
I took the rope he passed me and, as suggested, used it to bind the arms of the unmoving man. While I was wrapping it around his wrists, Eric apparently got tired of waiting and lent a hand.
If it turned out that this man had nothing to do with the incident, we would owe him such an apology…
“Okay! Now, which way did that noise come from? If they wanted to hide something, it’s either in the back or in a hidden room. And if they’re involved in selling people, they’d definitely want to hide it.” Eric peered into the room that the man had come out of. “Huh. This looks like a parlor.”
When I craned my neck to peer around him, I saw an elegantly designed set of parlor furniture, upholstered with luxurious fabrics and sitting on a thick rug. Everything, from the beautiful floral wallpaper to the curtains made to match the fabric of the sofa, was exactly as you
would expect of a parlor for receiving high-class customers. “I wonder what he was doing in there,” I murmured.
“Huh. That’s a good question,” Eric said. “He doesn’t look like he was going to get goods from the storage rooms, either.”
The magical lamp next to the hearth was dark, but when I touched it, I could feel a faint
warmth, so it must have been lit until very recently.
“I wonder if there’s a hidden door in this room or something…”
“Seems likely!” Eric agreed eagerly. “Let’s check it out. Although, it’s kind of dark. Let’s turn that on. Even if someone finds us, we can handle them.”
“I think it would be better not to be found in the first place…”
“Oh, come on, it’ll be such a bother if we don’t. I hate bothersome stuff,” Eric said haughtily, and flipped the switch for the magical lamp. The room immediately lit up, and I began nervously looking around, when—
“This, maybe?” Eric muttered. “Nope…I was sure the hearth looked suspicious, but maybe not? Although, there’re no ashes, and it looks really suspicious…”
“…What are you two doing?” someone said behind me.
The ice in that voice went straight down my spine. I didn’t even have to turn around to know: he was furious. So furious that it scared me.
Another familiar voice followed, “What’s this? You guys follow us here or something? Good job finding this place, little guy.”
“Hmph! I could have done all that before breakfast!” Eric replied nonchalantly. I was even more impressed that he could talk so normally, faced with that voice. Eric, do you fear anything at all!?
“Besides! Check this out! Not bad, huh? We got the keys!” he said brightly. “Sure, but the keys to where?” Sir Gaius countered.
“Who knows? But they’re the keys to something!”
“Well, yeah, that much is obvious.”
Listening to the light banter flying back and forth in front of me, I very carefully turned and peeked at the expression of the man standing behind me.
“You’re…angry. Aren’t you,” I said.
“…Not so much angry as surprised,” he admitted. “What are you doing here? We don’t even know that there’s anything to find. And you were told to wait.” Sir Celes muttered the last, sighing heavily.
I burst into apologies. “I’m so sorry! But I was so worried about Miss Maria!”
“I know that,” Sir Celes told me. “I’m just…surprised you were so active about it.” Abruptly, Eric stepped between me and Sir Celes.
“Don’t be mad at Lucia!” he insisted, as if worried for me. “I’m the one who brought her here. Anyway, now you’ve got more people, so let’s start searching!”
“If we try to search with this many people, we’ll be noticed—” Sir Celes started.
“True! So let’s just bull our way through with force, Cap’n,” Sir Gaius said. “Anyone finds
us, we just put them down!”
As Sir Gaius and Eric enthusiastically agreed with each other, Sir Celes sighed again. I’m so sorry!